Humans have always been fascinated by travel. For as long as our species has been around, we'vs been scurrying across the globe. Africa may have been where it all started, but we didn't rest until we had set foot on every rocky surface we could get to.
Maps were made as a way to prove that one had been to a place, and to help others find it as well. History is written in the lines of the map. Unfortunately, history doesn't always agree with the maps. That's usually when mythology steps in to do some heavy lifting.
But what if there is a map that doesn't agree with history? That's the case with the Piri Reis Map from 1513, which seems to show the continent of Antarctica. No problem, right?
The issue is that people from the global North made it to Antarctica only by 1820s, by earliest estimate. So how did Piri Reis know it was there?
The Global South Knew
So, just to cut through the colonialism and cultural-supremacy inherent in these discussions, the Polynesians already knew about Antarctica. The people of Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, have it recorded in their oral histories. They tell the tale of Ui-te-Rangiora, who sailed past New Zealand and found a frozen land to the south.
Ui-te-Rangiora wasn't the only one, either. Tamarereti, another figure from Polynesian Oral History, was also reported to have found the icy wasteland we now call Antarctica.
Because of course the Polynesians found it. They were masterful sailors and managed to explore much of the remotest regions of our planet using nothing but skill and advanced canoes.
Piri Reis & His Map
Piri Reis was an Ottoman Admiral and Cartographer. He would be executed for disobeying his lord in 1553, at the ripe old age of 90. Although, he is most famous for his work in cartography and geography.
The name Reis, is actually his rank – Admiral. His career was long and prestigious, and when he wasn't sailing the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, he was busy compiling maps.
Piri Reis compiled many maps, but the one we are focusing on today is the one he completed in 1513. The Piri Reis Map, as it is known, despite not being his only work, was created using several maps he collected from all over the world, including a now-lost map by Christopher Columbus.
What makes this map so mysterious is the large southern continental landmass it appears to depict. Many scholars attribute this to the ancient tradition of drawing in Terra Australis on maps.
Alternative history theorists point to the Piri Reis Map as proof that the global North knew of Antarctica from ancient times. Some claim that Piri Reis used an ancient, crumbling, map as his main source.
The main argument being that not only is this map a depiction of Antarctica, but it also shows the continent as free of ice.
According to Geologists, who obviously can't be trusted for conspiracy reasons, the great southern continent was free of ice as recently as 34 million years ago. So a bit before humans were a thing.
Professor Charles Hapgood, a controversial 20th century researcher, believed that the Piri Reis map's depiction of Antarctica was remarkably accurate. To him this was evidence enough to conjecture that the map was actually based off of a more than 6000-year-old map drafted by a lost super-civilization.
This hyper-advanced civilization could also only have mapped Antarctica's coastline so well if they had aerial photography capabilities. Others, not Hapgood himself, claim that extraterrestrial intervention is the only possible explanation.
This lost civilization lived on Antarctica, before it was covered in ice by a catastrophic magnetic pole shift. Professor Charles Hapgood's most controversial theory was that the Earth's magnetic poles flip periodically, creating global catastrophes which destroy civilization in a roughly 10,000-year cycle.
Scholars took it upon themselves to investigate Hapgood's claims. They found the map actually had an astounding number of errors, if it was actually a depiction of Antarctica. Many areas are off in terms of scale, and many other areas are missing entirely.
Charles Hapgood attributed these errors to simple copying error by Piri Reis himself. So he took to recreating the map by including the missing areas. This only caused his map's scale to be so off that it now featured 5 separate equators.
That's not something you can explain by a magnetic pole shift. He had to admit that he was wrong.
Piri Reis was likely following the norms of his time. He added Terra Australis to his world map, just like everyone else at the time did. Much like adding sea monsters to maps, it was for effect. There was no ice, because that wasn't what people expected to find down there.
Despite their best efforts, alternative history theorists were unable to make the map work for them.
Terra Australis first formed as an idea by Ptolemy in second century. He was a product of his own world. The Mediterranean is surrounded on all sides by land, so he assumed that the other oceans would be the same. He suggested that there must be a great land to the South which encapsulated the oceans of the world. Misguided, yes, somewhat correct, also yes.