The Antarctica Maps
Among all the maps produced at the turn of the 16th century portraying an Antarctic continent, there are probably none more remarkable than those produced by French mathematician and cartographer Oronce Finé. Contrasting greatly with the Piri Reis World Map, Finé's maps not only present Antarctica as an independent landmass, but also render the continent with amazing accuracy.
Finé's 1534 World Map (Fig. 1) is rendered on a standard cordiform projection, a grid of latitudes and longitudes conforming to a singular heart-shaped frame. It is a colorful highly detailed map with Eurasia, Africa and the Americas highlighted in white while the Antarctic continent, splayed across a large portion of the map's lower perimeter, is rendered gold. The gold toned continent is also distinguished from the rest with a Latin inscription spanning its width, "Terra Australis nuper inventa, sed nondum plene examinata," translated "Southern land newly discovered, but not yet fully explored." Had it been fully explored it would have been found to be a rather small landform which we know today as Tierra del Fuego. Twelve years prior to the creation of this map, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the strait allowing passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Finé was one of many attempting to predict the size and shape of the unexplored land forming the strait's southern coast. Hence, the massive continent positioned just a few miles off the tip of South America to allow for Magellan's strait.
Figure 1 - Oronce Finé 1534 World Map. An early cordiform projection which features the Antarctic continent splayed along its southern edge some 300 years before it is believed to have been discovered. An inscription spans the width of the continent, "Southern land newly discovered, but not yet fully explored."
While Finé 1534 map renders a fairly accurate shape for Antarctica, it is not so easy to discern within the cordiform projection. His 1531 world map (Fig. 2) includes the same design rendered on a double-cordiform projection, which places the world onto two heart-shaped hemispheres, one depicting the northern the other the southern hemisphere. The result being that the Antarctic design is presented with much less distortion, approaching the appearance of modern-day Antarctica presented on a standard polar projection. Considering the map's remarkable resemblance to the actual Antarctic continent, one can easily understand Hapgood's reaction of awe and disbelief when he first stumbled upon it. While our current view of history dictates that this cannot be an authentic map of Antarctica, the accuracy in Finé's design strongly suggests otherwise.
Figure 2 - Oronce Finé 1531 World Map. A double-cordiform projection providing a slightly different perspective on his Antarctic design. Considering the continent's remarkable resemblance to Antarctica, one can easily understand Hapgood's reaction of awe and disbelief upon first viewing it.
Shaping A Continent
Viewing Finé's 1531 Antarctica and a modern-day map of the continent as they would each appear laid out on a standard polar projection (Fig. 3), we can proceed with a comparative analysis of Finé's map that more clearly reveals its dramatic accuracy. We should first point out one of the map's more noticeable discrepancies. Finé omits a substantial landform extending off the northwest corner of Western Antarctica, the Palmer Peninsula. In his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, Charles Hapgood addresses this anomaly by suggesting two sites on Finé's map possibly representing the reduced base of the Peninsula. These suggested sites are highly unlikely not only because they in no way resemble the peninsula, but they are also located far from the actual site where the Peninsula extends off the continent. Rather than correctly placing the peninsula at the northwest corner of Western Antarctica, Hapgood locates it at the northeast corner and unrealistically postulates a second possible location on Eastern Antarctica. We should expect a more sound explanation for the omission, but before making that determination other aspects of Finé's design need to be taken into account that should provide us a better perspective on the omission.
Beyond the Palmer Peninsula, the continent is composed of two major landforms. Finé correctly depicts the main landform as a large elongated mass that is roughly 1½ times taller than it is wide. This part of Antarctica is called Greater or Eastern Antarctica. Protruding westward off this mass is the second much smaller landmass called Lesser or Western Antarctica. Finé accurately aligns it to Eastern Antarctica with its flat northern and southern coastlines lying near perpendicular to the larger landmass with a slight tapering away of the two coastlines toward the west. Finé's shape, size, placement and orientation of Western Antarctica in relation to Eastern Antarctica are extremely impressive, as altering any one of these aspects would greatly compromise the integrity of the overall design. The critical arrangement accurately creates a wide-angled Weddell Sea—sans Palmer Peninsula—clockwise of an enclosed Ross Sea whose western shore forms a near right angle where it converges with Eastern Antarctica and whose eastern shore curves away toward the south. It is hard to imagine Finé randomly selecting these two very dissimilar landforms and forging them together to accurately mimic the Antarctic continent.
Figure 3 - Modern map of Antarctica with the Palmer Peninsula faded out (top-left) alongside Oronce Finé’s map of the continent (top-right) displayed as they would both appear on a standard polar projection. Both versions consist of a large, elongated eastern landmass that is roughly 1½ times taller than it is wide. This part of Antarctica is called Greater or Eastern Antarctica. Protruding almost perpendicularly off of the upper western side of this mass is a much smaller and uniquely squarish landmass called Lesser or Western Antarctica.
A schematic template based on the shape of Antarctica (bottom-left) overlaid onto Finé’s Antarctica (bottom-right) demonstrates the uncanny accuracy of Finé’s design. The template is aligned to the shape of Western Antarctica and to Ross Island (E). Note how Atka Bay (A) is accurately rendered and aligned while finding itself placed just short of its actual location. Meanwhile the precise placement and alignment of Western Antarctica along the upper half of Eastern Antarctica allow for a very accurate rendering of the Weddell Sea’s wide-angled coastline (B). We find Finé’s rendering of Western Antarctica’s flat westernmost coast (C) running parallel to Eastern Antarctica. We also see a similarly angled chamfer extending off its southernmost point notched by Sulzberger Bay (D). Eastern and Western Antarctica converge forming a deep bay with a lone island sitting near its mouth (E). And finally, Ross Island is accurately portrayed just below a lone point along the coast of Victoria Land (F).
As we take a closer look at his rendering of Western Antarctica we find some very uncanny similarities with modern-day Western Antarctica. Like the actual continent, Finé's Western Antarctica can be described as being fairly squarish in proportion bearing some relatively flat coastlines. It is actually very astonishing that Finé constructs this portion of the continent in this way in that it contrasts significantly from all other landforms contained throughout his entire map. If this was merely an artful contrivance, it seems odd that Finé was compelled to go with such a seemingly unnatural shape and not extend it to the rest of his imaginary continent, but more surprising is that he happened upon a design that is also unique in the real world and limited to Western Antarctica. Finé accurately portrays the far western end of Western Antarctica as a very flat coastline running parallel to Eastern Antarctica. Following this coastline southward, a flat angled chamfer occurs at the joining of this coast with Western Antarctica's southeastern coast and here again Finé continues to defy the laws of probability by accurately cutting a bay into the chamfered coastline creating a compelling likeness of Sulzberger Bay. This is the first of four bays included on Finé's design and this one obviously hits its mark.
Where the two landmasses converge in the south Finé accurately depicts the second of four bays cutting deeply into Western Antarctica's southern shore and pointing upward toward the northern point of convergence along the Weddell Sea establishing a linear divide between Eastern and Western Antarctica. It should be noted that this bay is actually drawn as the mouth of a river with the typical oversized wedge shape trailing off into a river. So this is a bit of a stretch to include it with Finé's four bays, but the significant similarity to an existing bay sandwiched between the Gould and Amundsen Coasts is too significant to ignore.
At the mouth of this waterway is one of only two islands Finé associates with the continent. It appears to coincide with a small island currently engulfed in the Ross Ice Shelf with only an ice dome indicating its presence. Moving beyond this island the coastline forms the western coast of Victoria Land or eastern shore of the Ross Sea, but we find the curving coastline interrupted by an amazingly accurate set of features. Finé correctly depicts the Ross Sea's eastern shore as having a singular, rather pronounced point projecting into the sea and he pairs it with his second and last island depiction corresponding to Ross Island properly set along its southern coast. The combination of the large point and Ross Island as depicted on the Finé map are extraordinarily accurate in both proportion and positional relationship, closely mirroring the actual land features. Ross Island is composed of three volcanoes, the largest of those being Mount Erebus which rises to a towering height of 12,444 feet. Such a conspicuous island could have served as an important landmark and guide for ancient sailors and necessitated its inclusion on the source map.
Following the coast further around Eastern Antarctica it is hard to equate specific features with Antarctic landforms until we finally return to a point in the north at the eastern end of the Weddell Sea. Finé splits this point down the middle with the insertion of a small bay. This matches up to Atka Bay located on Queen Maud Land which defines Eastern Antarctica's northernmost point. The level of accuracy in detailing Atka Bay can be better appreciated by contrasting the significant structural differences between it and Sulzberger Bay. Finé captures the essence of Sulzberger Bay as a body of water recessed into the side of a flat coastline, while accurately rendering Atka Bay as a bay nestled between two points of land extending out into the South Atlantic. With only one bay left remaining, Finé's accuracy on bays extends to three-for-three.
The fact that Finé does well in proportioning the eastern part of the continent, but shows a lack of accurate definition of coastal features lying between Ross Island and Atka Bay may reveal the limits of the cartographers' familiarity with the continent, suggesting a civilization that most often frequented the western portion of the continent. This is a common trait shared with ancient maps. For instance ancient Greek Maps contain highly accurate renderings of the Mediterranean, an area well traveled and documented by the Greeks, but outside the Mediterranean lesser-known regions like Africa and Asia have very little resemblance to the actual continents in both shape and size. Similarly Finé's portrayal of the area around Western Antarctica far exceeds the accuracy in his portrayal of most of Eastern Antarctica.
We can get a better grasp of this lopsided accuracy by placing a schematic template of Antarctica over Finé's map articulated so as to align with Western Antarctica and Ross Island (Fig 3e). While Eastern Antarctica does well to match the overall size, the coastlines rarely align or share common features. This changes dramatically at Atka Bay (Fig. 3a) where we see the coast rise to a similar point and then drop into the similarly aligned Weddell Sea (Fig. 3b). The accuracy continues with the flat stretch of coastline at Western Antarctica's westernmost coast (Fig. 3c) which transitions to a similarly angled chamfer where we find Sulzberger Bay (Fig. 3d) located. Eastern and Western Antarctica converge forming a deep bay with a lone island sitting near its mouth (Fig. 3e) and lastly we find Ross Island (Fig. 3f) positioned along the southern coast of a point extending from the coast of Victoria Land.
Accuracy of Topography
Along with coastal formations, Finé provides topographical elements on his map which also exhibit amazing accuracy. Again confirming the cartographic realm of familiarity, the range of accuracy is mostly confined to the western region of the map extending from Ross Island in the south to Atka Bay in the north. Topographical depictions east of Atka Bay and Ross Island are strewn with inaccuracies. Finé portrays an extensive array of nonexistent mountains lining most of Eastern Antarctica's southern and eastern coast, while along the eastern coast of the Ross Sea Finé accurately portrays the Queen Maud Mountain Range, even placing wider lateral mountain arrangements where the range is denser (Fig.4). Thus while the range is normally rendered with two laterally arranged mountains representing its standard width, three additional mountains accurately extend the range out toward the point adjacent Ross Island and five more islands are placed further south to accurately depict the extension of the range out to the southernmost point bordering the Ross Sea.
Figure 4 - Finé’s Antarctica with inland waterways and mountains. Mountains, seas and bays are inscribed with the names of their modern-day counterparts.
Moving directly to Finé's depiction of Western Antarctica we find three well-defined mountain ranges: A) Ellsworth Mountains, B) Executive Committee Range and C) the northern tip of the Queen Maud Mountains (Fig. 5). The significance of these mountain ranges is not limited just to their correct number for the region, but also to their uncannily accurate placement and orientation. Finé not only accurately depicts two of these as coastal ranges, but he also accurately centers the Ellsworth Mountains along the northern coast of Western Antarctica while the second mountain range, the Executive Committee, is accurately centered along the westernmost coast. The last mountain range, the northernmost tip of the Queen Maud Mountains, lies at the divide between Eastern and Western Antarctica and again Finé accurately positions it by placing it on the eastern side of the bay which lies there. He also correctly depicts the Queen Maud Mountains as being a dividing barrier between this southern bay and a deep basin or ancient bay (Fig. 5d) in the north.
This is the last of the four bays depicted on Finé's map. It is a large waterway which he extends inland off of the Weddell Sea at the junction of Western and Eastern Antarctica. This location coincides with the Foundation Ice Stream which rests in a basin bordered east and west by the Pensacola and Whitmore Mountains respectively. While the Foundation Ice Stream extends 150 miles into the basin, the basin itself extends a total length of 300 miles inland coming to a point where the two mountain ranges converge, virtually mirroring the deep bay depicted on Finé's map. This is significant in that the bold depiction of a large inland body of water is placed in a seemingly accommodating location whereas placing the bay at the location of an impassable coastal mountain range like the Queen Maud Mountains would immediately invalidate the feature.
Figure 5 - A bathymetric view of Western Antarctica. While the inclusion of nonexistent mountain ranges along the southern and eastern coasts of Eastern Antarctica expose the cartographer’s lack of full familiarity with Eastern Antarctica, the inclusion and accurate placement of A) the Ellsworth Mountains, B) the Executive Committee Range, and C) the northern tip of the Queen Maud Mountains in the area of Western Antarctica suggest that the civilization that charted the continent most often frequented the western half of the continent. Meanwhile, Finé’s incorporation of a lengthy narrow bay extending southward off the Weddell Sea mimics a basin (D) existing between two converging mountain ranges that form a similar point at its southern extremity.
Of course the real intrigue here is that the cartographers would have had to chart this region of the continent when it had been free of ice as the Foundation Ice Stream is thousands of feet thick, and even Atka Bay is currently occupied by a 600-foot sheet of snow-covered ice composing a portion of the Ekstrom Ice Shelf. This presents a conflict with scientific analysis and dating of ice core samples which have established that a deglaciated Antarctica last existed some 30 million years ago, vastly predating any civilization capable of charting the continent. If this is an authentic map of Antarctica we have either to believe the impossible that an advanced civilization existed more than 30 million years ago creating a map that somehow endured this span of time or believe the improbable, that scientific dating of the icecap is flawed and the ice is merely thousands of years old. This will of course add to the list of seeming discrepancies which will be addressed a bit later on in this work, but for now it is important to acknowledge Finé's accomplishment of not only creating an overall shape approaching the Antarctic continent, but also accurately aligning and positioning the few bays and islands the design carries. It is definitely hard to fathom Finé accomplishing this degree of accuracy equipped with luck alone. Keep in mind also that this is not one lucky design pulled out of a collection of thousands appearing at the turn of the 16th century, it is one of perhaps a dozen or so.
Mercator's Coats Land
Other maps as well add to the validity of an ancient charting of the continent with their accurate renderings of Antarctic features. The Mercator World Map of 1538 (Fig. 6) is similar to the Finé Map of 1531 in many respects. It does lack detailing such as topography and inland waterways while also altering the size and shape of Eastern Antarctica a bit. One significant difference is the omission of Atka Bay. The omission however reaffirms that this region was at the extreme edge of the cartographer's realm of familiarity. So it is not too surprising that while Finé enlarges the feature Mercator reduces Atka Bay to a small notch at best, although he still renders the continent coming to a point in this area. Still the overall appearance places it in the same class as the Finé map and if Finé's map of the continent were based on a genuine map of the continent, it is apparent that Mercator's map was based on a second, significantly varied source map.
The incredible feature which Mercator adds onto his map, however, is its rendering of Coats Land. This appears as a large lobe of land resting along the eastern shore of the Weddell Sea (Fig. 7). This is a rare feature on Mercator's world map, so it seems an astonishing coincidence to find Mercator placing it not only in the one position in which this formation actually exists on the Antarctic continent, but also chancing to scale it correctly and position it so that the lobed end is accurately aligned in the proper direction pointing southward.
Figure 7 - Coats Land as it appears on the northwestern coast of Eastern Antarctica (left) and replicated along the same coast in similar scale and alignment on Mercator’s map (right).
Evaluating these maps while focusing entirely on the volume and degree of accurate detailing they contain it would appear nearly impossible that these maps could be produced without the cartographers having referenced maps of the continent and yet there are enormously glaring inaccuracies which challenge the map's authenticity, the omission of the Palmer Peninsula being one mentioned earlier. There is at least one possible explanation for this omission and that would be that these maps of Antarctica were territorial maps similar to maps of the United States with their omissions of Canada and Mexico. The only contradiction to this are the multiple river inlets along the northwestern coast of Western Antarctica suggesting that the area was bounded by a body of water whereas an overland border between Palmer and Western Antarctica would bear a solid delineation. This of course is assuming that the Palmer Peninsula was attached to the Antarctic continent. Now with evidence of the charting of a large lengthy bay extending off the Weddell Sea and in turn the charting of a continent that was devoid of much or all of its current icecap, it is possible to conceive of a channel having separated Palmer Peninsula from Western Antarctica at one time where now an ice bridge connects them. One can imagine the same occurring over the George VI Sound between Alexander Island and Palmer Peninsula if the ice sheet were to expand significantly into that area.
Yet even if this were at all possible there are still the issues of the continent's orientation and overscaling which demand an explanation. Finé's Antarctic continent is rotated roughly 20 degrees counterclockwise from its actual alignment with South America, but much more troubling is the fact that Finé renders the continent 2-1/2 to 3 times its actual size. Hapgood attributes the error of overscaling to a copyist confusing the 80th parallel on the source map with the Antarctic Circle. It would seem that Hapgood spent little time investigating this particular theory. Had he done so he would have realized how flawed this idea actually was. If the copyist confused the 80th parallel with the Antarctic Circle—66.6° latitude—and the source map was inscribed with additional latitudinal delineations as Hapgood also suggests, this would mean that the source map had very little resemblance to Finé and Mercator's rendering of the continent and in turn have very little resemblance to Antarctica.
The error that Hapgood is postulating would have the copyist overscaling the continent's interior by enlarging it 13-plus degrees latitude in all directions, but maintaining latitudinal scaling beyond the Antarctic Circle with the aid of latitudes marked on the source map. The result would actually be a major distortion or shortening of the continent's perimetric features. This would be similar to an artist doubling or tripling the torso of a model, but maintaining the limbs at their normal size. In the case of both the cartographer and the artist, there is absolutely no possible way that they could overlook the fact that their resulting images in no way resembled the original subject. No, if we intend to validate these maps as ancient chartings of Antarctica, the overscaling of the continent requires a much more reasonable explanation.
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