Does the Mysterious Piri Reis Map of 1513 Really Show Antarctica (Then Yet Undiscovered) Without Ice?

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
January 6, 2024

The Piri Reis map, one of the oldest surviving maps that shows the Americas, has been the subject of much debate and speculation among historians, geographers, and conspiracy theorists.

Does the Mysterious Piri Reis Map of 1513 Really Show Antarctica (Then Yet Undiscovered) Without Ice?

The Piri Reis map is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic artifacts of cartography. It is a world map drawn on a parchment of gazelle skin by a Turkish admiral and cartographer named Piri Reis in 1513. The map is remarkable for its accuracy and detail, especially for the regions that were barely explored or unknown at the time. It is also the subject of many speculations and controversies, as some claim that it shows Antarctica before it was officially discovered, or that it reveals ancient secrets of lost civilizations.

Piri Reis was a distinguished naval officer and a skilled mapmaker of the Ottoman Empire. He was born in 1465 or 1470 in Gallipoli, a port city on the Dardanelles strait. He started a life of seafaring at a young age, first as a government-supported privateer (basically a pirate with papers), and later as part of the Ottoman navy, where he rose through the ranks to become an admiral. He participated in many naval campaigns and battles, such as the conquest of Egypt in 1517 and the siege of Rhodes in 1522.

Piri Reis was also interested in geography and cartography. He collected many maps and charts from various sources, including European, Arab, Chinese, and Indian ones. He also interviewed sailors, merchants, and travelers who had visited different parts of the world. He used this information to compile his own maps and books on navigation and geography.

In 1513, he completed his most famous work: a world map that he presented to Sultan Selim I as a gift. The map was based on about 20 different sources, some of which were ancient and some of which were contemporary. He claimed that he used a partial copy of a map by Christopher Columbus, which is now lost, as well as maps by Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Indian cartographers.

The map apparently depicts South America with accuracy and detail, and includes notes in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic. It also shows parts of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Moreover, the map is richly decorated with illustrations of ships, animals, plants, and human figures.

The map was praised by the Sultan and kept in the imperial treasury for many years. However, it was eventually forgotten and neglected until it was rediscovered in 1929 in the Topkapi Palace library in Istanbul. The map was then studied by various scholars and experts, who were amazed by its quality and precision.

This map features English translations of the primary inscriptions found on the Piri Reis map, originally in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic. Additionally, it provides translations, transliterations, and identifications of numerous locations depicted on the map (in green text). Click image to enlarge and zoom in. Image: Rjjiii

The Piri Reis map has also generated a lot of curiosity and controversy among historians, geographers, and conspiracy theorists. One of the most intriguing aspects of the map is its depiction of a landmass south of South America that some believe to be Antarctica.

According to Piri Reis himself, he used a map from Columbus that showed this landmass as an island separated from South America by a strait. He also wrote that this land was discovered by an unknown explorer who sailed there in 1501. However, some argue that this land is actually Antarctica (which was not officially discovered until 1820), and that it is shown on the map being free of ice and snow.

The most prominent proponent of this theory was Professor Charles Hapgood, who came up with it in his 1965 book on the Piri Reis map titled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, and claimed that the presence of Antarctica on the map indicates that Piri Reis had access to ancient maps that showed the seventh continent before it was covered by glaciers.

Does the Mysterious Piri Reis Map of 1513 Really Show Antarctica (Then Yet Undiscovered) Without Ice?

Possible interpretation of the Piri Reis map, with Central and South America on the left, North Africa in the upper right, and the south Atlantic Ocean in the middle. The interpretation of especially the southern part is disputed. Some believe that it represents the ice-free Antarctic coastline. Image: TMg

But how could Piri Reis have access to such information? Some suggest that the ancient maps he used came from lost civilizations, such as Atlantis or Lemuria, that had advanced knowledge of geography and astronomy. Others claim that he had contact with extraterrestrials or secret societies that revealed him the secrets of the world. Some even propose that he had psychic abilities or time-traveling skills that allowed him to see the future. These theories are based on various interpretations of the symbols, colors, and shapes on the map.

However, most scholars reject these theories as unfounded and implausible. They point out that the Piri Reis map is not a perfect representation of reality, but rather a synthesis of different sources with various degrees of accuracy and distortion. They also note that the landmass south of South America is not Antarctica, but rather Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego, which were known to some European explorers at the time.

Does the Mysterious Piri Reis Map of 1513 Really Show Antarctica (Then Yet Undiscovered) Without Ice?

Along the map’s Western edge, a headless man or Blemmye (left, holding flowers) converses peacefully with a monkey (right, holding fruit). In antiquity and later, various species of mythical headless men were rumored to inhabit remote parts of the world.

Several authors have also observed visual resemblances to regions in the Americas that were not officially explored by 1513. However, it’s important to emphasize that there is no supporting textual or historical evidence suggesting that the map represents territories south of present-day Cananéia in southern Brazil.

The Piri Reis map is a valuable and impressive piece of cartography that reflects the state of knowledge and exploration in the early 16th century. It is also a testament to the skill and curiosity of Piri Reis, who tried to capture the whole world on a single sheet of parchment.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Written by Tamás Varga

A sociologist and English major by degree, I’ve worked in the area of civil society & human rights and have been blogging in the fields of travel, nature & science for over 20 years.