What Can We Learn From the Piri Reis Map?

Mikael Kindborg and Gösta Lindwall, April 29, 2020

Who Was Piri Reis?

Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis was born sometime between 1465 and 1470 in Gallipoli on the Aegean coast of Turkey. He died sometime in 1554 or 1555. His full name was Hadji Muhiddin Piri Ibn Hadji Mehmed. "Reis" means "captain", or the rank of admiral.

The world map from 1513 by admiral Piri Reis has been said to show Antarctica ice free (see image below). This map has been pointed to by Charles Hapgood, Graham Hancock and others. The Antarctica aspect of the map has been questioned by skeptics, so consensus is lacking.

The Piri Reis World Map

Turkish nautical science and cartography advanced greatly in the 16th century. The world map by Piri Reis is said to have been compiled in 1513, and the surviving half of the map was found in 1929, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. It is one of the oldest known maps to show the American continent.

World map by Piri Reis from 1513

World map by Piri Reis from 1513. The map bas been claimed to show the north coast of Antarctica, a continent not yet discovered in the 16th centrury.

The map is a so-called portolan chart, which means that rather than using latitude and longitude grids, compass roses with azimuths (navigational lines) were used to indicate relationships between geographical locations.

The world map is well known in "Forbidden Archeology" circles, as it has been claimed to show Antarctica ice free. What might be less known is that Piri Reis created a book on navigation, the Kitab-i Bahriye (Book of Navigation).

The Book of Navigation

The Book of Navigation has detailed navigational information and accurate charts of the Mediterranean Sea, including major ports and cities, bays, islands, straits and so on. It also features descriptions of navigational techniques and navigational astronomy. There is also information in the book about the people of various places and their cultures.

The book is stated to have been written between 1511 and 1521, as was then revised and expanded. The revised version from 1525 has 434 pages and contains 290 maps. Kitab-i Bahriye contains a map of the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa and Europe (image of the map is included in this post).

Source Maps

The world map from 1513 is said, in a note on the map itself, to be based on 20 older source maps and charts collected by Piri Reis. Some of these charts were designed by Columbus, and were obtained when Piri's uncle, Kemal Reis, captured seven Spanish ships outside the coast of Valencia in Spain. It has been suggested that some of the source maps Piri Reis used were maps from an ancient civilization, or descendants of such ancient maps.

The Antarctica Claim

Regarding the claim that Piri Reis' world map shows Antarctica, it seems to originate from an event in 1956, when a Turkish naval officer presented the map to the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office. The map came to the attention of Captain A. H. Mallery at the Hydrographic Office, who studied the map and came to the conclusion that it showed Antarctica free of ice.

In 1960, Professor Charles H. Hapgood contacted the Hydrographic Office with a request for information regarding the map and the alleged depiction of Antarctica. Hapgood got a reply from Lt. Colonel Ohlmeyer, USAF Commander. Here is a quote from the reply:

"The claim that the lower part of the map portrays the Princess Martha Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctic, and the Palmer Peninsular, is reasonable. We find that this is the most logical and in all probability the correct interpretation of the map."

In 1966, Charles Hapgood then published his book "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age", referencing the Piri Reis map.

A Heated Controversy

The map has since been a subject of controversy regarding the claim that it depicts Antarctica. The map has been used as evidence by multiple authors on ancient civilizations, and it has been targeted by skeptics and debunkers.

The debate has been heated, and the Wikipedia page on the Piri Reis map shows signs of people battling over the interpretation of the map.

Our position is that the work by Piri Reis is genuinely interesting, and that it is counter-productive to rule out the idea that he used ancient source maps when he compiled his maps. We believe that it is beneficial for multiple viewpoints to coexist for further advancing the search for ancient human civilizations.

Other Maps

Piri Reis created many maps. One of them is a surprisingly accurate map of the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and Europe. His book of navigation (Kitab-i Bahriye) contains many other beautifully crafted maps (see link below at the end of this article).

Map by Piri Reis of the Mediterranean and Europe, from between 1511 and 1525

Map by Piri Reis of the Mediterranean and Europe, from between 1511 and 1525

What Can We Learn From the Piri Reis Case?

We believe that cartographers like Piri Reis were genuinely skilled, but that they also had access to notes and source maps. These maps likely provided substantial military value, as well as great value for trading routes. The nations and rulers of the time likely collected and closely guarded their maps and navigational secrets.

The question is, to what extent did they build on earlier source maps? Possibly maps created by an ancient civilization that had advanced cartography skills. It took until 1770 for navigators and cartographers to be able to accurately determine longitude (east-west position). What did they use to achieve such impressive maps before 1770?

Lt. Colonel Ohlmeyer stated in his reply to Hapgood:

"We have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographical knowledge in 1513."

Have we underestimated the skills of Peri Reis and other cartographers of the time? Did they possess greater knowledge than we usually attribute to them? Or were their maps not that exact after all?

How did they know about landmasses beyond their reach, places where no one supposedly had traveled?


Here we list links to various sources related to Piri Reis.

Historical account of Piri Reis

Translation of notes on the world map

Kitab-i Bahriye (Book of Navigation) by Piri Reis (images from the book and information in Turkish)

Book: Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age, by Charles H. Hapgood(includes the correspondence with the Hydrographic Office)

Another link to Hapgood's book

Book: Secrets of the Lost Races: New Discoveries of Advanced Technology in Ancient Civilizations, by Rene Noorbergen

Book: The World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries, by Lionel Fanthorpe, Patricia Fanthorpe

Book: Piri Reis Map of 1513, by G. C. McIntosh

Links to debunking pages:

Example of de-debunking

Wikipedia Talk page that shows information that has been removed from the Wikipedia entry for the Piri Reis world map

Reddit discussion

This article has also been published on Facebook in the group Forbidden Archaeology and other Mysteries.

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