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Part 1: The Mosaic Goths, to about A.D.800 (FIRST PAGE)
Part 2: The Atlantic Colonies, 9th to 15th centuries (SECOND PAGE)
Part 3: The age of rediscovery, from about A.D.1450 (this page)


#05 Pining and Pothorst (and Corte Real snr.)
Didrik Pining and Hans Pothorst (or Pothurst), mariners in Danish service, are claimed to have visited America in the 1470s on a mission for the Kings of Denmark and Portugal, for which Pining was rewarded with the governorship of Iceland in 1478. Their story, with reference to a famous 1551 letter about them by Carsten Grip [also spelled Karsten], can be found in Paul Herrmann's "Conquest By Man" (start at p. 290). This book also mentions the possible involvement of Joao Vaz Corte Real, father of the Portuguese brothers who explored the northern route to America around 1500. The letter quoted by Herrmann mentions a map of Iceland, made in Paris, which seems to be related to Hieronymus Gourmont's, made in 1548.
In addition to Corte Real's much later credit for discovering Newfoundland and the cod-fishing grounds, details of the grants to him of land and an official position on Terceira in the Azores still survive, from early in 1474 (NB the Portuguese version of this reference, now available only through the Internet Archive, had additional information). It has usually been claimed that these grants were a reward for the success of his trans-Atlantic mission, but the Pining goverorship in 1478, and the next two entries below hint that if the 1470s mission did take place, the 1474 activity on the Azores was part of the preparation.
#07 The Toscanelli Letter
The notebooks of Christopher Columbus contain a copy of a letter written by the scientist Paolo Toscanelli to Fernan Martinez ("Fernam Martin"), a close associate of King Alfonso of Portugal, on 25 June 1474, explaining the theory that it should be possible to reach Asia by sailing west over the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the map Toscanelli drew to illustrate his theory is not preserved.
#09 Johannes Scolvus (aka John C. Columbus?)
A voyage to North America in 1476 by one Johannes Scolvus is mentioned in a caption on the famous globe of the world by Gemma Frisius and Gerard Mercator from the 1530s (no detailed online image available). Subsequent elaborations of this story may conceivably all be based on extrapolation from this one caption. For example, he is later described by some writers as "pilotus" (possibly to explain why he has never been mentioned as a captain); but some sources substitute the word "Polonus", meaning Polish- leading to several elaborate theories attempting to identify this Polish hero. Similarly, some sources spell Scolvus as "Scolnus", which is very handy for those who believe that Christopher Columbus (who was known to have visited Iceland at about the same time as the alleged Scolnus voyage) was in fact the Catalan mariner John Christopher Columbus, misheard by his northern crew as John Scolnus...
Rather than postulate two or more almost-unknown voyages to North America in the 1470s, many theorists have suggested that Scolvus was indeed a pilot, on the Pining and Pothorst voyage.
#81 Sea chart of 1477
..."a chart I sent you the other year where you can see a lightbrown map with darker brown drawings and the background behind the map is black".
That's all the identification we're given. My best guess is that this is the Catalan chart (undated but probably about 1480) in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, which shows "Fixlanda" and "Illa verde"- presumably Iceland and Greenland (and further south, tantalisingly, the "Illa de brazil"). It may have been made with help from English fishermen. Not available online as far as I know, but see page 212 of "The Frozen Echo" by Kirsten Seaver (1996) for a detail.
#82 Martin Alonso Pinzón and the Vinland Tithes, in The Catholic Encyclopaedia (New York, 1911)
Thomas Kennedy's article on the Pinzón brothers gives two versions of how Martin became involved with the Columbus voyage: either he was "dismissed from the maritime service of Dieppe" and met Columbus in Spain through Prior Juan Perez de Marchina [recte Marchena] of La Rábida, or "During a visit to Rome he learned from the Holy Office of the tithes which had been paid from the beginning of the fifteenth century from a country named Vinland, and examined the charts of the Norman explorers".
The outline of both stories is plagiarised, apparently from an earlier reference work "Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography" (1887-9), which gives the second version in the following words: "being called to Rome on business, he heard of the projects of Columbus, and made inquiries at the holy office. There he learned of the dimes and tithes that had been paid to the holy see before the beginning of the 15th century by a country named Vinland, and saw charts that had been made by the Norman explorers, after which he resolved to trust Columbus." Note the extra information, and one crucial difference of dating. Unfortunately, no source references are given.
I have also found a combined version, again lacking source references, in which Martin visits Rome on one of his Mediterranean trips and checks the Vatican library for material relating to Atlantic navigation out of personal interest, then is introduced some time later to Columbus at La Rábida. In this version, what he obtains at the Vatican are "copias de un mapamundi y de un libro que contenía 'Avisos para saber la navegación de las Indias'." No tithes, no Norse, no Vinland, but a very specific title.
Can anybody find the sources for these variant stories? Neither version appears in the major 19th century biographies of Columbus by Washington Irving and Edward Everett Hale, or in Fernando Colombo's biography of his father. However, newsgroup discussion has revealed that S.E. Morison's biography of Columbus "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" (chap. X) refers to testimony by Pinzón's son during their notorious lawsuit, claiming that his father had obtained from the Vatican a document about a voyage westward to Japan by the Queen of Sheba!
#13 Juan de la Cosa's world map
Juan de la Cosa (at least once misspelled by Inger as "Costa") took part in all the first three Columbus voyages, and Amerigo Vespucci's 1499 discovery of the (South American) mainland. In 1500, having returned from that voyage, he managed to obtain details of the first two voyages by John Cabot to the (North American) mainland, and by combining all this information he created a map proposing that the West Indies (including Cuba, which Columbus had insisted was a peninsula) were islands in a huge gulf between the mainlands discovered by Vespucci and Cabot. Unsure whether the northern and southern mainlands were joined together, he coyly covered the western limits of the gulf with a picture of St. Christopher. NB: The above link is to an enlargement of the western half of the map; for the full map see here, and for a just-about-legible detail of the placenames from Cabot's exploration, see here.
#14 World maps by Contarini and Ruysch
These world maps, made in 1506 and 1507-8 on a conical projection, are discussed on my other site. Images of the Contarini map are here (and detail here), and the Ruysch map here.
#15 World map by Rosselli
The miniature world map by Francesco Rosselli, now at the UK's National Maritime Museum, attempts much the same as Ruysch, but uses an ingenious oval projection to avoid the northern hemisphere bias of the conical projection (copy of the original map here; outline sketch here). Although explorers had not ventured very far into the southern hemisphere, it was assumed that new lands would be found there, and Rosselli included a theoretical representation of such a continent to the south of Africa. It has been claimed that this bears a remarkable resemblance to the outline of the real Antarctica as it would be if the ice were removed. Both the atlases I have at home show Antarctic sub-ice contours, and they don't look anything like the Rosselli version- online you can even see CGI movie flyovers- the claim seems to have been devised solely in order to explain the otherwise-inexplicable presence of the peninsula at bottom right of Rosselli's Antarctic. For more on such claims about this and other maps like Oronce Fine's, see Sean Mewhinney's "Minds in Ablation" website.
#55 The Piri Reis Atlantic map fragments
Turkish naval officer Pirï Reis produced some remarkable maps in the early decades of the golden age of European exploration. His most famous work, made in AD 1513, is the bottom left-hand section of what appears to be a world map, showing the Atlantic Ocean as far north as Spain. Less well known is another fragment, the upper left section from a map made in 1528, showing the north-west portion of the Atlantic. Piri listed his sources (including maps by Christopher Columbus himself), and comparison of the Caribbean, which appears on both fragments, shows that he kept well up-to-date with the progress of exploration.
Before proceeding I should explain that one web-page recommended by Inger, although it contains superb reproductions of the 1513 map, makes a disastrous mistake in its presentation of another, flattened-oval world map, centred on the Pacific, from the atlas known as the Kitab i Bahriye. Although the first version of this superb work was produced by Pirî Reis in 1521, many later versions exist, and the map in question was actually taken from one made over 150 years later!
A symposium to discuss Piri's work and influence was held in Istanbul in 2004, and papers from it can be found here; although the first language of the proceedings was Turkish (the word OTURUM on the index page means SESSION) every paper has at least an abstract in English. Also well worth reading are two online magazine articles dealing with some of the wilder claims about the 1513 map accurately showing the Antarctic etc. etc., from Saudiaramcoworld and Exploring Mercator's World. Yet more links appear in the Map Room blog.
#16 Olaus Magnus, "Carta Marina", c1539.
A very important advance in the mapping of Scandinavia and the northern Atlantic; the more useful because of its comprehensive letter reference system, leading to further information either in panels on the map or in Olaus' history of Scandinavia, "Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus" (1555).
#83 Maps by Agnese and Zeno
Although Battista Agnese produced numerous maps, it seems likely that the focus of interest here is his mapping of North America, in an atlas of 1544. This was based on the very latest discoveries by explorers such as Coronado, who had crossed Mexico and explored the eastern shore of the Gulf of California, seeing Baja California (which he correctly identified as a peninsula) on the other side.
Nicolo Zeno, on the other hand, could not correctly identify a barn door at 20 paces. His 1558 map, allegedly based on the voyages of his ancestors at the end of the 14th century, and the cartography of "Pope Urban's maps" (see #08 on the previous page) appears to contain information used by Columbus; notably, it marks the north-Atlantic island of Frisland, which Columbus visited some years before his famous voyage to the West Indies. Unfortunately, Frisland never existed- it was Columbus' mishearing of Iceland, which is also marked on Zeno's map. Other names applied to parts of the American continent (e.g. Estotiland) are equally fictitious, but Zeno's work was widely accepted by his contemporaries and his misconceptions appeared on very many later maps.
#84 The maps of Gerhard Kremer (Mercator)
The Belgian cartographer usually known by the Latinised name Mercator is most famous for his huge 1569 world map on the ingenious navigators' projection which retains his name to this day. After his death, an atlas was produced based on his mapping, in 1595, the maps from which remained in print for many years (and unfortunately Mercator was one of those who had used the Zeno map as a source for northern geography). Here is a link to a 1620 printing of the atlas map of the Arctic region.
#86 The Newport Tower and Norumbega on old maps
Mercator, thanks to his vigour in pursuing the latest information for his maps, was responsible for some of the earliest and most misleading references to the mythical land and city of Norumbega, and, though he would never have suspected it, for some of the misinformation which has been spread around about the existence of the Newport Tower, on Rhode Island, before the colonial period. Follow this link to my page demonstrating what early maps really showed- and why.
#17 Abraham Ortelius' mapping of America
In the 1560s, North America suddenly started to be depicted in roughly the correct shape, notably in Ortelius' "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum" around 1570- but no European ship would explore the west coast for many years, so how was this done? The best clue is what Ortelius (and all mapmakers after him until the 18th century) has omitted- the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. To a mariner these would be extraordinarily significant features, so their omission from maps means that no mariner had reported to Europe on their existence. It is most likely that the shape and size of North America was deduced by Ortelius from the direction of the known coastline of California and from geographical reports about the shape and size of Asia being sent back by Jesuit missionaries in the Far East.
#88 Virginia on a 1561 map
The claim, based on this online illustration of Girolamo Ruscelli's 1561 map of the eastern seaboard of America, is that the name "Virginia" was in use years before the English attempt to colonise the area. The catch is, that's not actually quite Ruscelli's 1561 map. It's a revision made in 1598, decades after the cartographer's death in 1566. See here for his original version, and here for a brief explanation of the revision history of that and other early maps of America.
#18 The Riksäpplet of King Erik XIV
This Swedish coronation orb is decorated as a slightly eccentric globe of the world. See my other site for details.
#19 Jesuit Map 56, allegedly c1599
This is the so-called "Hungarian Vinland Map" which, like the more famous Yale Vinland Map, turned up in the chaos of post-war Europe- and has similarly been demonstrated to be a modern fake. There's a picture of it online (an unnecessarily large pdf file) illustrating an online discussion (a small part of an even larger archive txt file). The fake map is adapted from the "Skalholt map" drawn about 1590 by Sigurdur Stefansson of Iceland. Inger has yet, of course, to prove her claim that both the Hungarian and Skalholt maps are derived from her mythical "Nicholas of Thingeyre's map".