On a chilly winter day in 1929, Halil Edhem, the Director of Turkey's National Museum, was hunched over his solitary task of classifying documents. H
On a chilly winter day in 1929, Halil Edhem, the Director of Turkey’s National Museum, was hunched over his solitary task of classifying documents. He pulled towards him a map drawn on Roe deer skin. As Halil opened the chart to its full dimensions (two feet by three feet wide or 60 X 90 cm) he was surprised by how much of the New World was depicted on a map which dated from 1513.
The document was the legacy of a pirate turned Turkish Admiral, Piri Reis ( circa 1470-1554). He was born in Gallipoli, a naval base on the Marmara Sea and was the nephew of Kemal Reis, a pirate who had reinvented himself as a Turkish Admiral adventurer who had made his name in naval warfare. At the time, the distinction between pirate and Admiral was more flexible than might be expected from looking back through a Hollywood lens.
Map of the world by Ottoman admiral Piri Reis, drawn in 1513. ( Public Domain )
Piri Reis sailed with his famous uncle from 1487 to 1493. During these voyages, he was introduced to the lucrative spoils of piracy. The fleet fought pirates and captured and plundered enemy ships. In 1495, Kemal Reis’ great skill in the art of battle earned him an invitation to join the Imperial Turkish Fleet. His nephew accompanied him to his new assignment. The pirates were transformed into respectable Admirals.
After Kemal was killed during a naval battle in 1502 Piri Reis turned his back on the seafaring life and began a second career as a map maker. A perfectionist – Piri Reis would not tolerate the slightest error in his drawings – he created his famous map in 1513 using older source maps; including charts captured from Christopher Columbus. The Turks had boarded one of Columbus’s ships before the crew had a chance to throw the charts into the sea; standard practice in a time when the contours of the planet remained veiled in mystery and maps held secrets that were invaluable to pirates, admirals, kings and queens.
‘Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492’ (1855) by Emanuel Leutze. ( Public Domain )
A Columbus Controversy
The general public first learned of the existence of the Piri Reis map in the 27 February 1932 issue of the Illustrated London News . Entitled, “A Columbus Controversy: America – And Two Atlantic Charts”, the article noted that: “… Columbus got little further than the mouth of the Orinoco, in Venezuela, in his voyage along the coast of South America in 1498, so that the stretches of the South American coast given in the Piri Reis’s chart must have been copied from other sources.”
In the July 23rd edition of the magazine Akcura Yusuf, President of the Turkish Historical Research Society, wrote a more detailed account. The author pointed out a significant fact: “…the map in our possession is a fragment. If the Other fragments had not been lost, we should have had in our possession a Turkish chart drawn in 1513 representing the Old and New Worlds together.”
U.S. Navy’s Hydrographic Office.
An amateur scientist by the name of Captain Arlington Mallery made it his mission to determine the age of the source maps used by Piri Reis. So radical were Mallery’s conclusions that he hesitated to reveal them. In August 1956, he finally decided to reveal his findings on a radio show sponsored by Georgetown University. He explained that in June 1954 he was working in the map room of the Library of Congress when his friend “… the Chief Engineer of the Hydrographic Office handed me a copy of a map which had been sent to him by a Turkish naval officer. He suggested that I examine it in the light of the information we already had on the ancient maps. After making an analysis of it, I took it back to him and requested that the Officer check both the latitude and longitude and the projection. When they asked why, I said, ‘There is something in this map that no one is going to believe coming from me, and I don’t know whether they will believe it coming from you.’ That was the fact that Columbus had with him a map that showed accurately the Palmer Peninsula in the Antarctic continent.”
1753 world map by the French cartographer Philippe Buache. ( Public Domain )
Mr. Warren, the host of the radio show, interviewed Mallery and M.I. Walters of the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office:
“HOST: You say that these maps have been checked by the Hydrographic Office of the U.S. Navy?
HOST: As far as you are concerned, are they accurate?
WALTERS: Yes, they are.
HOST: How old are the maps?
WALTERS: These maps go back 5,000 years and even earlier. But they contain data that go back many thousands of years previous to that.”
Walters remarked on the comparisons between the Piri Reis Map and the newly (1954) discovered sub-glacial features of the Queen Maud region of Antarctica:
“We have taken the old charts and the new charts that the Hydrographic Office produces today and made comparisons of the soundings of salient peaks and mountains. We have found them to be in astounding agreement. In this way, we have checked the old work very closely. We put very much confidence in what Captain Mallery has disclosed.
Charnockitic rock needle, northern Holtedahlfjella (Kurze Mountains), Queen Maud Land, aerial photograph in SSE direction. (Wilfried Bauer/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
HOST: Mr. Mallery, this must then lead to the conclusion that there were competent explorers and map makers along the coast of the Atlantic long before Columbus.
MALLERY: Several thousand years before. Not only explorers, but they must also have had a very competent and far-flung hydrographic organization, because you cannot map as large a continent as Antarctica as we know they did – probably 5,000 years ago. It can’t be done by any single individual or small group of explorers. It means an aggregation of skilled scientists who are familiar with astronomy as well as the methods required for topographic surveying.”
Hapgood and the US Air Force Cartographic Office
One of Charles Hapgood’s students told him about the radio broadcast. The Professor was immediately fascinated and decided to: “…investigate the map as thoroughly as I could… 4
Since Mallery had used the US Navy for his investigations Hapgood decided to get a second opinion from the Cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The U.S. Air Force investigation came to the same conclusions as the US Navy. They determined that the southern part of the map did in fact depict portions of sub-glacial Antarctica.
Subglacial lakes identified beneath the Antarctic continent. (AntarcticGlaciers.org/ CC BY NC SA 3.0 )
Conventional wisdom dictated that the island continent hadn’t been discovered until 1818.
USAF Lt. Colonel Harold Z. Ohlmeyer wrote to Hapgood on the 6th of July 1960.
“Dear Professor Hapgood,
Your request for evaluating certain unusual features of the Piri Reis World Map of 1513 by this organization has been reviewed.
The claim that the lower part of the map portrays the Princess Martha coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, and the Palmer Peninsula is reasonable. We find this the most logical and in all probability the correct interpretation of the map.
The geographic detail shown in the lower part of the map agrees very remarkably with the results of the seismic profile made across the top of the ice cap by the Swedish-British-Norwegian Expedition of 1949.
This indicates the coast line had been mapped before it was covered by the ice cap.
The ice cap in this region is now about a mile thick. We have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographic knowledge in 1513.
HAROLD Z. OHLMEYER
Lt. Colonel, USAF
Painting of James Weddell’s second expedition to Antarctica in 1823, depicting the brig Jane and the cutter Beaufroy. ( Public Domain )
Corresponding with Hapgood
Our adventure with the study of ancient maps began in the summer of 1977 when Charles Hapgood replied to an article we wrote outlining our belief that Antarctica was once the site of Atlantis. We’d concluded that Hapgood’s theory of earth crust displacement was the missing link that could unravel the mystery of the lost island continent. Charles replied:
“August 3 rd, 1977
Dear Rose and Rand,
I am astonished and delighted by your article which arrived here today. Believe it or not, it is the first truly scientific exploration of my work that has ever been done. You have found evidence for crust displacement that I did not find.
However, it would seem that you are not aware of a book I published in 1966 entitled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Since you are considering presenting your article to the Royal Geographical Society (of which I was a member until I stopped paying my dues), you should examine this book, and I am mailing a copy of it to you.
Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age. ( Amazon)
What I found, after long research, was that many maps considered of medieval or Renaissance origin are in fact copies of copies of maps drawn in very remote antiquity, and among them is one showing a deglacial Antarctica. I was able to solve the projections of these maps with the help of a mathematician, and have them confirmed by the Cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Command at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. …
A week later a copy of Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings arrived. Far from dampening our enthusiasm for the idea that Atlantis may have once been Antarctica, the book had the opposite effect. We concluded that the ancient maps of sub-glacial Antarctica provided stunning evidence in support of our theory.
After the publication of the first edition of When the Sky Fell in January 1995, we returned to the Piri Reis map to determine if there were grounds to support Mallery and Hapgood’s claim that the source maps used in the construction of the Piri Reis map were hundreds of years older than the 1513 date of its construction.
Sources for the Piri Reis Map: How old?
One of the oddities about the Piri Reis map was that it had been drawn using an extremely sophisticated projection. An “equidistant projection” depicts the features of the earth from a single point on its surface. This projection can be calculated from any spot on the globe. Perhaps the most familiar equidistant projection is the blue and white flag of the United Nations, centered on the North Pole.
The United Nations Flag is an equidistant projection as seen from the North Pole. ( Public Domain )
The equidistant projection was one that was very familiar to the cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Command at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. It was used to target Soviet military and economic assets. For example, a map drawn using Moscow as its center allowed the military to calculate the quickest delivery time for a missile to travel from any NATO base to the Soviet capital. The closest NATO missile base to Moscow was in Turkey. In November 1962 when Soviet missiles were introduced to Cuba, an equidistant projection map centered on Castro’s island revealed in stark detail how much United States territory could be targeted. The “Cuban Missile Crisis” was only resolved when JFK (secretly) proposed a delayed withdraw of NATO missiles from Turkey in exchange for Khrushchev’s removal of the USSR missiles in Cuba.
Charles Hapgood explained to Arch C. Gerlach (Chief of the Map Division at the Library of Congress) that the Piri Reis map: “…required more astronomy than was known in the Renaissance. The mathematics require that whoever constructed it had to know the linear distance from Syene to the North Pole to within a degree of accuracy. Piri Reis did not know that, neither did Columbus…”
Syene or the Tropic of Cancer?
Hapgood and his students (notably Frank Ryan) spent months trying to determine the exact center of the Piri Reis Map. At first, Hapgood was convinced that it was the city of Syene where Eratosthenes, the librarian and father of geography, had made his famous calculations about the size of the earth. Hapgood submitted this suggestion to the cartographic crew at Westover Air Force Base. Captain Burroughs concurred. He wrote: “…Piri Reis’ use of the portolano projection (centered on Syene, Egypt) was an excellent choice…”
Eratosthenes, as imagined by a later artist. ( Public Domain )
The Piri Reis Map’s Projection
We see below how the complete map must have looked based on the same projection used by Piri Reis in 1513. The chart Christopher Columbus carried on his voyage would have resembled this projection.
The 1513 Piri Reis projection is just a fragment of the secret map that Columbus may have possessed. If the lost map of is ever found it should depict the entire globe using an equidistance projection centered on the ancient Egyptian city of Syene. (Author provided)
Despite the fact that professionals had verified Syene as the center of the map, Hapgood remained skeptical. He thought that the ancients would have been more likely to use the Tropic of Cancer which divides the tropical from the temperate climatic zones. Hapgood was certain that such an important global marker would have been highly significant to the ancient navigators.
Today, the Tropic of Cancer lies near Syene but not precisely over it. The difference in distance is small but Hapgood and his students wanted to be exact in their calculations. There was considerable debate whether or not to use the measurement from the ancient city or from the climatic marker. Hapgood mistakenly assumed that it had to be an either/or choice between Syene and the ‘Tropic of Cancer. It was a false choice because there was a time when the Tropic of Cancer lay directly over Syene. The clue to that synchronicity of time and place lies within the very projection of the Piri Reis Map. But first a critical question must be answered. When did the Tropic of Cancer and Syene last share the same latitude?
The Tropic of Cancer. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Astronomers have concluded that it takes a century for the Tropic of Cancer to drift 40 seconds of latitude. This gives us a formula for our calculations and enables us to bulls-eye the date when the original mapmakers were at work. Syene is 38 minutes and 30 seconds from today’s Tropic of Cancer. This is 2280 (38 x 60 to convert minutes to seconds) plus the 30 seconds give us a total of 2310 seconds difference. We then divide these seconds by 40 to find that the Syene was last on the Tropic of Cancer some 57.75 centuries ago. By calculating the difference in distance from the latitude of today’s Tropic of Cancer (23:27N) to that of Syene (24:05:30N) we discover the answer – about 5775 years ago –that is, circa 3760 BC. It’s noteworthy that the Jewish calendar begins on this date.
The projection of the Piri Reis points like an arrow at a pivotal turning point in human history. Archaeology teaches that Egyptian civilization dawned circa 3800 BC. Can it really be mere coincidence that the Piri Reis Map looks to date from the dawn of Egyptian civilization? Far more likely that the sophisticated source maps used by Piri Reis are remnants passed on by the survivors of a lost Ice Age civilization – a seafaring civilization that had mapped the world (including parts of Antarctica’s coastline when it was ice-free) long before the first Egyptian pyramids were built.
HMNZS WELLINGTON off the Antarctic Coastline. (New Zealand Defence Force/ CC BY 2.0 )
Top Image: Antarctica. Source: Christopher Michel/ CC BY 2.0
Rand Flem-Ath is a Canadian writer, librarian and independent scholar. He has co-authored several books with his wife, writer, Rose Flem-Ath. She is a novelist and two-time winner of the Canada Council grant for Fiction. They live in British Columbia, Canada. In 1995, Rand and Rose published the book ‘ When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis ’, and in 2012 they co-authored ‘ Atlantis Beneath the Ice ’, which updated and expanded the seventeen years of research found in When the Sky Fell. http://www.flem-ath.com/
The Illustrated London News, 27 February 1932, page 307.
Yusuf, Akcura “Turkish Interest in America in 1513: Piri Reis’ Chart of the Atlantic” in The Illustrated London News , 23 July 1932, page 142.
A transcript of the entire show appears in White, John Poleshift, Doubleday, New York, 1980.
Hapgood, Charles H. Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age , Chilton, Philadelphia, 1966, page 2.
Charles Hapgood to Mr. Arch C. Gerlach, the Chief of the Map Division at Library of Congress, 30 October 1960 (Hapgood’s Archives at Yale University Box 16).
Portolono is a “Port to Port” map familiar to Europeans in the 16 th century.
Captain Lorenzo W. Burroughs to Charles Hapgood, August 14, 1961, in Hapgood op cit. page 244.