Pîrî Reis Map of 151327 Feb 2021
The map drawn by an admiral of Ottoman Empire Muhyi-iddin Pîrî re‘is dated to 1513 CE is well known in the fringe literature, mainly for its alleged depiction of the Antarctica coastline.
It was featured on the Ancient Aliens and it’s often brought up by Graham Hancock1, among others, as proof of ancient civilization or technology we’re not yet aware of, as the first modern mapping of Antarctica wasn’t done until the 19th century. The argument is that Pîrî himself must have drawn from older, more ancient maps, which ties it into the general notion of ancient civilization theories.
It is an undeniable fact, that the precision of this map is astounding for its time. Made only 20 years after the Discovery, it is the most precise depiction of the Brazilian coastline from this period. Try to compare with other contemporary maps like Waldseemüller map from 1507 or even three decades older Sebastian Müster map. However, there are numerous misconceptions about this map that need to be addressed.
Despite Pîrî being a well-known and studied figure in Turkish history, the discovery of the map came surprisingly late. It was discovered by the Director of National Museums, Halil Etem Edhem only in 1929 when the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul was repurposed into a museum. It’s believed to be just a fraction of a bigger map, although no other parts had been found. Apart from numerous illustrations of ships, animals, and even mythical creatures, and more than a hundred of place-names (mostly corresponding with other contemporary portolan maps), it also features many inscriptions written mainly in Ottoman Turkish. There are about thirty of them and English translations are available online.2
By far the largest inscription, placed over South America inland, says the following:
These coasts are named the shores of Antilia. They were discovered in the year 896 of the Arab calendar [1491 CE]. But it is reported thus, that a Genoese infidel, his name was Columbus, discovered these places.
The lower part of the same text elaborates more on the source material:
No one now living has seen a map like this. I have composed and constructed it using about twenty maps and mappaemundi; these are the maps which were composed in the time of Alexander of the Two Horns, and which show the inhabited portion of the earth. The Arabs call these maps ja’fariya.
I have used eight ja’fariya maps, an Arab map of India and four recent Portuguese maps - these maps show the sea of Sind, India and China according to mathematical principles - and also a map of the western regions drawn by Columbus. The final farm was arrived at by reducing all these maps to the same scale. Therefore the present map is as accurate for the Seven Seas as the maps of our own countries used by sailors.
Interestingly, the previously mentioned video of Graham Hancock “explaining” the map doesn’t mention Columbus at all.
In regards to the lowest part of the map, often doubtlessly identified with Antarctica coastline, there are two inscriptions which say:
And in this country it seems that there are white-haired monsters in this shape, and also six-horned oxen. The Portuguese infidels have written it in their maps.
This country is a waste. Everything is in ruin and it is said that large snakes are found here. For this reason the Portuguese infidels did not land on these shores and these are also said to be very hot.
We will leave it to the reader to decide how likely it is that these lands refer to Antarctica. In any case, Pîrî clearly credits these parts of the map to Portuguese, not to some lost ancient maps as it’s often claimed.
The idea that the map actually depicts the Antarctica coastline seems to originate with captain Arlington Humphrey Mallery in c. 1956. Apart from being a captain, he was an amateur archaeologist who believed that North America had been extensively colonized by Celts, Vikings, and other Old World peoples, who possessed accurate maps lost to later ages.
Mallery’s accounts apparently inspired Charles Hapgood, famous mainly for his now-discredited Polar shift theory, who argued that Pîrî’s map and others are proof of a lost ancient civilization. Hapgood’s book show his correspondence with USAF Lt. Colonel Harold Z. Ohlmeyer, who agreed with Hapgood that “this is the most logical and in all probability the correct interpretation of the map” and “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 Antarctic Expedition of 1949” and “we have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographical knowledge in 1513.”3
However, there are several problems with Hapgood’s hypotheses. The map does not show Drake’s Passage or the Pacific Ocean. Also, what Hapgood identifies as the Andes mountains are not located along a coastline.
This theory was later revived by Erich von Däniken in his Chariots of the Gods?, where he basically just reiterated Hapgood’s claims within his own context of Ancient Aliens hypothesis. He says that “the only explanation is that it must have been made by extraterrestrials, either at an early date when Antarctica was indeed free from ice or because their technology revealed the underlying surface.”4
Another proponent of this view is above mentioned Graham Hancock, who also adds that one of the islands depicts the “Bimini Road”, which Hapgood identified as Cuba.
Nevertheless, serious scholarship holds that there is no reason to believe that the map is the product of genuine knowledge of the Antarctic coast. The general belief is that it actually depicts the South American coastline, just heavily distorted. This distortion could be caused by an error, motivated by the weird shape of the parchment, or even for political reasons. This well-constructed argument is proposed by Diego Cuoghi on his website, where he doesn’t rely only on the correlation of geography, but also on historical arguments and comparison with other historical maps.5
Speculation alert: Could this identification with Tierra del Fuego explain the “shores that are said to be very hot”? Yes, Magellan officially coined the name in 1525, but maybe some relation with fire was already present before? He apparently knew about the strait before he set out, as “he saw it, in the Treasury of the King of Portugal, on a map drawn by Martin de Bohemia” (Pigafetta).
Also, we should not toss out the possibility that although the map does state the year of its creation, some portions could be drawn later. As Cuoghi notes, we know that the chart of Pedro Reinel, kept in the same Library of Topkapı, was probably retouched after the discovery of the Strait of Magellan, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented.5
Another interesting subject that is often overlooked is the illustrations of animals and fantastical creatures. Apart from the above-mentioned large snakes, white-haired monsters mentioned in the inscriptions, the map also features a unicorn, a monkey dancing with what looks to be a dog-headed man, and a headless creature reminiscent of blemmyes.
|“In the mountains of this territory were creatures like this and human beings came out on the seacoast. The gold mines are endless.”||“These monsters are seven spans long. The space between their eyes is one span, but they are harmless souls.”|
These fantastic creatures had been occasionally depicted in medieval mappae mundi and many of them were associated with either Africa or Asia. De La Cosa’s map (1500) also shows blemmye and a dog-headed man in the Far East, in the approximate location of China, probably in a reference to the reports of Marco Polo.
After Pîrî Reis, they are also found on the chart of Guillaume Le Testu (1555) and associated with the New World on the map of Sebastian Cabot (1544) and that of Guiana by de Bry (1599).6
Hapgood, Charles H. Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, 1966 ↩
von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods?, 1968 ↩