The Ancient World Map Anomaly

Gösta Lindwall and Mikael Kindborg, April 28, 2020

Why are world maps from before 1770, depicting a fairly correct distance between continents, an anomaly?

Historical maps are interesting and cartography has been around for a long time. Cartography is also intimately connected to navigation, they are dependent on each other.

Some old maps have been used as possible evidence for the existence of knowledge inherited from a lost ancient civilisation. Maps that have been put forward are the Piri Reis world map from 1513 and Mercator's world maps from 1538 and 1569.

In the Piri Reis case, his world map is anomalous because it has been interpreted as showing Antarctica (which was not known at the time). This is also the case with Mercator, but that is not, in my opinion, the most spectacular thing about his early world maps.

Mercator's map from 1569, shows, among other things, a quite accurate depiction of the American continents, and he has managed to catch the distance between America and Europe quite accurately (link to high resolution version of the Mercator world map from 1569 - 20 MB)

Interestingly, Mercator did not travel much, but relied on books, existing maps, and correspondence with other scholars.

The Mercator world map from 1569 with an enhanced outline to make continents more clearly visible

The Mercator world map from 1569 with an enhanced outline to make continents more clearly visible.

The ability to accurately determine the longitude (the east-west position) was not well developed in the 16th century. Using celestial navigation, it is quite easy to determine a ship's latitude (the north-south position). This is done by measuring the angle to a known object in the sky, commonly the Pole Star (Polaris). By measuring the angle between polaris and the horizontal sea-level plane, using a quadrant or similar instrument, navigators have been able to get an acceptable latitude position for more than thousand years.

To accurately determine the east–west position when navigating over longer distances was uncertain business until the 18th century. A captain had no reliable method of knowing when the coast would be spotted on longer voyagers. It was possible to make estimates using methods such as dead reckoning.

Navigating the seas was difficult before the ability to determine the longitude (east-west position)

Navigating the seas was difficult before the ability to determine the longitude (east-west position)

Distance was determined by a time and speed calculation. In the 16th century, the ship's speed was measured by throwing a piece of flotsam over the side of the ship. The navigator used a chant to time the movement of the flotsam past two marks on the side of the ship. The time taken to pass the marks was used as an indication of the speed of the ship. The navigator then calculated the distance on daily bases. Together with compass directions and the ability to determine the latitude, it was possible to keep a relatively stable course at open sea.

Keeping track of time was a major problem. Columbus himself used an hourglass to keep track of time, and someone had to turn it every half hour. It was possible to count the days, but then you had to take the time zone into account, and that was difficult when you could not reliably determine your easy-west position (longitude).

Pendulum clocks, invented in 1656, required to be stationary to work accurately. The pendulum clock was not usable on a ship that moved in the waves.

With this level of navigation technology, it would have been next to impossible for navigators and cartographers to accurately determine the longitude. This made it difficult to construct accurate world maps. Even if the early Spanish explorers could come up with an acceptable map of the Americas, they had no accurate method of calculating the distance between Europe and South America.

A lot of research was done to solve this problem, and find an accurate method to determine the precise longitude at sea.

The problem was solved in 1729 when John Harrison constructed an instrument that could measure the time accurately for months. His invention, the chronometer, became generally available around 1770, and this is the date when navigators and cartographers finally could calculate the longitude precisely.

Knowing the precise time is essential to determine the longitude. The method used is based on the position of the sun over the horizon. The angle between the sea level and the sun tells which time it is. On land you can easily measure this, using a stick in the ground (a sundial). The shadow of the stick will move as time passes. When the shadow is the shortest, it is 12:00.

It has been known since ancient times that Earth rotates 360 degrees in one day and night. This means that the sun will be at its highest position at a different time depending on the longitude. By dividing the day into 24 hours, we divide the Earth into 24 time zones.

To determine your position, you use the time zone at the location of your departure as a reference. The chronometer (the reliable clock) will always show the time in this time zone. At sea, you then use an instrument, like a sextant, to measure the angle to the sun.

If you measure the angle when the ship's chronometer shows 12:00, you get a value you can compare to your reference value. The difference between the current angle to the sun and the reference value is then used to calculate the longitude. Navigators had tables they had compiled, which helped with the calculations.

Here is an example. You use a sextant to measure the angle to the sun at sea when your chronometer shows 12:00. This value is a number of degrees. You look up the value in the table you have compiled at your reference location. According to the table the time is 13:00 (1PM) at the reference location. That means you are one time zone (1 hour) west of your reference location.

The equatorial circumference of Earth is about 40,075 km. If you are sailing along the equator, that means you are 1/24 x 40,075 km west from your reference location.

On land, you can determine noon (12:00) using the sun and the shadow from a stick. Then you don't need to know your latitude to determine the longitude. It will be enough to have your reference clock. But at sea it is more complicated. A ship rocks most of the time, so the solar stick method is not practical.

You can use a sextant to approximately determine noon, by taking readings of the time and the number of degrees around noon, to see at which time when the sun is at its highest position. To calculate longitude more accurately, one must take the latitude into account, as well as the time of the year.

From 1770 and onwards, you could then determine your position by measuring the latitude (using the Pole Star) and the longitude (using the Sun and a chronometer). Finally, captains could navigate with precision!

The invention of the chronograph was very useful for mapmakers. It meant that you could now precisely determine longitude on land using the length of the shadow on a sundial to get local noon, and compare that with the chronograph reference time. Now mapmakers could precisely determine the distance between continents.

Early mapmakers like Piri Reis and Mercator used previous source maps when constructing new maps. Like when the monks copied books. They sampled all maps in their naval library and combined them with new knowledge from explorers. Maps were certainly valuable, secret documents, saved and collected since antiquity. Piri Reis noted on his world map that he used many source maps in constructing it.

There is a method for determining longitude called Lunar Distance that does not require a chronometer. The method uses celestial navigation, and involves measuring the angle to the moon and certain stars (or the sun if both are visible). This method was published in 1763, and involves complex mathematical calculations. It might, however, be possible that this or a similar method was used by an ancient civilization.

Knowing these facts, it is very unlikely that Mercator and Reis managed to draw their world map using their own research (notably Mercator did not travel much, but relied on other sources). They relied on earlier source maps. Piri Reis writes on his world map that he used 20 source maps, including maps obtained from Columbus in a raid by his uncle.

People like Charles Hapgood and Graham Hancock have speculated, with good reason, that the older source maps must have been inherited, copied for generations. Possibly these source maps originate from an earlier civilisation that had the ability to map the world.

We speculate that history as we know it only tells parts of the whole picture. There are certain to have been achievements that have been lost, ignored or destroyed.

The problem is of course that we don't know what has been lost. That is why it is so easy for mainstream history to defend their timeline. This is also what is so fascinating about Forbidden Archeology and Lost Civilizations. Searching for the unknown.

Early maps and technology for mapmaking may have much more to tell us than we think. They are on the list of possible evidence for a lost ancient mother civilisation.

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

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