The Map At The Bottom Of The World (cont.)
By Doug Fisher
Figure 5 - The route taken by Portuguese sponsored sailors laid out
on Schöner’s 1515 version of South America (left) reflecting Schöner’s interpretation of the cape that extended into the sea beyond the 40th parallel. And the same route laid out on a modern map of the continent (right) which clearly shows that the point extending beyond the 40th parallel was merely the northern shore of the San Matias Gulf.
Schöner relies wholly on the account provided by the sailors who, undoubtedly elated over the possibility of having discovered the prized passage to the Pacific, relate an overly optimistic description of the region. They had actually discovered the San Matias Gulf as this complies with the sailors’ account of rounding a point of land 180 miles beyond the 40th parallel. That point appears to be the San Matias Gulf’s convex northern shore. If we trace a course along the coastline from the 40th parallel, the shoreline begins to rise at around the 160-mile mark. At 180 the sailors noticed this continuing rise and believed they were heading up the western coast of the continent. Had they been able to sail another 40 miles they would have viewed the closed western end of the bay, but they were deterred by a northwest wind which blew them down and out of the gulf. A wind out of the northwest would have directed them toward the gulf’s southern shore and past the Valdez Peninsula. After spying this southern coast they began to piece together the extent of their find.
While all that was truly witnessed was a waterway of undetermined depth flanked by shorelines to the north and south, it did not prevent the sailors from embellishing with some of their own presuppositions. And though not directly stating that the inlet was a through passage they do make a strong intimation by equating their brief encounter with the bay as mirroring passage through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. To whet the reader’s imagination a bit more they add that this new inlet was similar to traveling eastward through the Strait of Gibraltar “to go east in ranging the coast of Barbary”, the vast North African coast, generating strong implications of an extensive coastline composing the strait’s southern shore although only a few scant miles of coastline were actually spied.
Equipped with the misleading account, Schöner was ready to begin the process of incorporating the new discovery onto his globe. He was left visualizing a South American continent that tapered to a point just beyond the 40th parallel, hovering just above the coastline of a land of indeterminable size creating a strait between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Incorporating this newfound strait onto his 1515 globe may not have been too great a task in itself, but based on so little detail, how would Schöner determine to depict the land south of the strait? This leads us to Step 1 in Schöner's methodology:
Step 1: Referencing Ancient Source Maps
The first step to establish in Schöner's process is the most crucial as it sets out to validate both Schöner's 1515 and 1524 Antarctic continents as designs based on ancient source maps rather than randomly contrived designs. Yet upon first glance at his 1515 globe, it definitely appears that Schöner did not do anyone any favors by choosing a particularly unconventional design for his Antarctic continent, a design that looks every bit the part of an object lesson in creative design.
Schöner renders the Antarctic continent as a large irregular C-shaped landmass that looks a bit out of place on his globe when compared to the other continents and their more realistic geographical forms. The only real-world landmass that even comes close in appearance is an atoll, but an atoll approaching this size does not exist. The largest existing atoll is the great Chagos Bank and Schöner's continent dwarfs it a thousandfold. Yet it is within the realm of feasibility that Schöner may have misinterpreted and scaled a map of an actual atoll onto his globe, which would at the very least support the theory that he was referencing earlier existing source maps for his inspiration.
It does not take long in the process of screening hundreds of atolls in a world atlas before it becomes wholly apparent that while a few atolls approach the C-shape of Schöner's continent, there are none that would be near enough in overall likeness to build a compelling case. Throughout the screening process, there is one unique feature on Schöner’s design that prohibits locating a match, a set of two prominent peninsulas located just clockwise of the opening in Schöner's C-shaped continent and extending into the interior body of water. However these two peninsulas, which prove to be impediments in attempting to associate the southern landmass with an existing atoll, become a bit more accommodating as we readjust our sights from two peninsulas extending into a small lagoon to two much, much larger peninsulas extending into a very sizable sea.