The Map At The Bottom Of The World (cont.)
By Doug Fisher
Figure 3 - Polar projection of an Antarctic continent based on Johannes Schöner's 1524 globe.
The 16th century was a period of heightened world exploration driven by the thriving spice trade and a major discovery by Christopher Columbus in the latter part of the 15th century. In 1492 Columbus had set forth in search of a shorter route to the spice-rich East Indies by sailing west from Europe. Unfortunately he fell short of this goal when he encountered a rather large obstacle that would eventually come to be known as America, but the voyage and its surprising find captured the attention of Europeans intrigued by the adventurous tales of new discovery. From Columbus’ discovery on, many more expeditions set forth in search of the elusive western sea passage, and with the return of each expedition came word of new discoveries.
The fevered pace of exploration and discovery also drove a strong demand for charts and globes which presented the most recent, up-to-date portrayals of the world. It is with this backdrop that we find cartographers such as Johannes Schöner producing artistically rendered model globes depicting the latest geographical finds and it is here that we begin our determination of Schöner's methodology in creating his Antarctic continent.
Schöner's Methodology For
Cartographic Incorporation Of New Discoveries
In October of the year 1520 Ferdinand Magellan sailed into the annals of history when he entered the mouth of the strait that now bears his name. The strait, which separates the tip of the South American mainland from the small archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, allowed European trade ships direct passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, home of the Spice Islands. And so it was that shortly after reports of the epic discovery made their way back to Europe, Johannes Schöner incorporated the famous strait into his globe of 1524. What of course is not so clear, and what we will attempt to determine, is why it would lead Schöner and others to misrepresent the strait's southern coast as a section of an absurdly large continent.
Partial blame can be placed on an incomplete report on the area of discovery. News of Magellan’s discovery provided detailed information pertaining to the strait itself, but without navigation further southward there had been no full determination of the actual size of Tierra del Fuego and therefore interpretation was left to the cartographers’ individual discretion. Unfortunately, Schöner's 1524 World Globe initially offers little insight into the reasoning involved in opting for the continent-sized landform as a representation of Tierra del Fuego. We are extremely fortunate, however, that Schöner provides us the initial key to unlocking this mystery in the form of an earlier globe in which he incorporates his first depiction of the Antarctic continent in a most unique and unusual form.
Schöner took his first stab at depicting the Antarctic continent on a globe he fashioned in 1515. Antarctica as depicted on his world globe of 1515 (Fig. 4) shares very little in common with its 1524 counterpart. About the only similarity we can see is that it is an oversized rendering of the continent and is offset from the tip of South America creating a narrow passage similar to the Strait of Magellan. The inclusion of this strait has lead some to mistakenly suppose that the strait had been discovered prior to Magellan’s 1520 voyage, but this misconception is easily exposed under closer examination. The whole of Schöner's 1515 strait lies between 38 and 47 degrees latitude south whereas the Strait of Magellan lies below the 52nd parallel, placing Schöner's strait over 350 miles north of the actual Strait of Magellan.