“Since Time Immemorial” – What Ancient Maps Say About Humanity

When I was still working as a Foreign Service Officer, I once served as a member of a federal delegation from Washington, DC that visited the U.S. northwest to consult with Indian tribal leaders (we were consulting about the pollution that was flowing down rivers from Canada – thus the State Department involvement). In a meeting with the Spokane Tribal Council, one of its members made a blunt statement, “You white people may have descended from monkeys, but we Spokane have been here since time immemorial.” Later, when we were back in our hotel rooms, we members of the Washington delegation laughed at that remark; after all, science had “proved” that human beings are a result of a simple evolutionary process. But the more I read and the more I look at the data, the more I regret having laughed. There is considerable body of evidence that suggests humanity’s origins are more complicated than the story that conventional science provides.

We learn in school that modern humans developed 50,000 to 100,000 years ago at which time we migrated out of Africa. Although humanity’s ancestors started manufacturing crude stone or wooden tools such as hand axes and scrapers hundreds of thousands or possibly a couple of millions of years ago, our textbooks assure us that civilization only began 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture, or possibly not until 2,500 BC with the onset of written language in Sumeria. Civilization, we are told, functions just like evolution – advancing forward never retreating. When evidence is uncovered that questions the accepted theory, it is ignored, laughed at, or ridiculed.

Maps are a rather good indicator that those who created them have developed what we would recognize as a civilization. The presence of maps implies that there are communities where one lives and communities to where one travels. Maps imply trade relationships, political organization, education, and a fairly high technical proficiency.   The downside of maps is that they are not very durable; designed to be carried about, maps are made of material that is easily destroyed. Many ancient maps we know of today are credited by their drafters as being copies of other maps far older – much older than conventional science accepts as possible. This is because some of these maps illustrate our planet as it was tens of thousands of years ago, and show places and conditions of which modern human beings should have had no knowledge. While a lot of information can be found on the internet, a good review of ancient maps – with foot notes, source notes and bibliography – can be found in Charles Hapgood’s Map of the Ancient Sea Kings.

The Piri Reis Map

Piri_reis_world_mapThis is the map with which most people will be acquainted. In 1513 the Turkish general Piri Ibn Haji Memmed (known as Piri Re’is) drafted a map that he said was compiled from 20 older maps. While there are several mistakes and omissions (not surprising when you try to piece together 20 different maps, all drawn to different scales and of different magnitudes), several points give one pause. For example, the depiction of the continent of South America contains more details than should have been available at the time (recall this was only 21 years after Columbus). Europeans had not yet discovered the Andes mountains, they did not know what a llama was, nor had they explored 300 miles up the Atrato River (located in present day Colombia). More remarkably, the Piri Reis map shows the northern coastline of the continent of Antartica, which has been covered by glacial ice since prior to 4,000 B.C.

Oronce Fine/Oronteus Finaeus Map

Oronce Fine, a French mathematician and cartographer, drafted this map in 1531 using, just as Piri Reis did, older source maps. The shape and position of Antarctica are fairly accurate although the scale has to be adjusted (likely a result of using an oversized source map). Like the Piri Reis map, the Oronce Fine map depicts the coastline of Antarctica as ice-free, and details a stretch of mountains – a geographical feature that modern science confirms lies under the ice cap. The Ross Sea (located off Antarctica in the direction of New Zealand) is depicted as having open estuaries and rivers.

The Zeno Map

This map was supposedly created by the Venetian brothers, Nicolo and Antonio Zeno in 1380 during their voyage to Greenland and the surrounding islands, and possibly Nova Scotia. It was not brought to light, however, until 200 years later (in 1558) when a descendent of the Zenos found the map, along with a narrative of the voyage, among family papers and copied it. This descendent (also named Nicolo Zeno) appears to have removed some of the original lines of projection (used by mapmakers to account for the Earth being a sphere rather than flat) and substituted new ones.

It’s generally accepted that the Zeno map was not created by the Zeno brothers if, for no other reason, because the map covers a great deal of territory that the Zeno brothers never claimed to have visited. One theory is that the Zeno brothers brought the map forward in an attempt to make a retroactive claim for Venice as having discovered the New World before Christopher Columbus.

If the Zeno brothers didn’t make the map, who did? That’s still an unknown. Charles Hapgood, however, points out few curious facts. If one reconstructs the map’s line of projection using a polar projection (which Hapgood did), not only latitude but longitude (in modern times we did not develop a practical way to establish longitude until the 18th century) was remarkably accurate. Additionally, Greenland was depicted as having no ice cap – a condition that has not occurred in the last 400,000 years.

The Ptolemaic Map of the North

Are you getting tired of reading that the absence of ice caps in lands currently ice-bound is a possible indicator of extreme age in maps? We can look at the opposite situation: the Ptolemaic Map of the North depicts southern Sweden as having glaciers – something not experienced for 10,000 years. The maps of Claudius Ptolemy, a great geographer and mapmaker of antiquity, were originally drawn in the 2nd century AD, lost, and then rediscovered in the 15th century. However, many – if not most – of the Ptolemaic maps were not the work of Ptolemy himself, but of other expert cartographers who recreated maps using the coordinates that Ptolemy had previously established. The use of earlier source maps is also likely.

The Ibn ben Zara Map

Ibn Ben Zara MapAlexandrian cartographer Ibn Ben Zara drew this map in 1487, most likely using older source maps available to him in the Library of Alexandria. The map shows the remnants of glaciers in Great Britain and Ireland, which retreated at least 10,000 years ago. The map also depicts islands in the Mediterranean and the Agean (such as Crete and Rhodes, etc) as being more numerous and larger than they are currently. While those islands still exist, they are now either smaller or underwater. The Ibn ben Zara map shows much of the Mediterranean as it looked prior to the eruption of the Thera volcano 3,500 years ago.

And now back to the point…

How old is human civilization? Currently the experts tell us that it is no older than 10,000 years, but that is based at least partially on the assumption that progress marches relentlessly forward. But does civilization always advance? Does knowledge once learned remain forever in our grasp? The existence of maps that depict “impossibly” ancient conditions suggest not. While it’s comforting to have a simple theory (life evolves from simple to more complex, human civilization advances from primitive to modern), we should not reject evidence just because it challenges our beliefs. Similarly, higher standards of proof should not be required of data that questions an established theory than the standard of data that was originally used to establish it.

These maps suggest that at least a subset of humanity had developed a civilization that we today would recognize as advanced much earlier than generally accepted – most likely tens of thousands of years earlier. These people were capable of traveling throughout the world (and, more importantly, had reasons to do so) and were skilled mathematicians (spherical trigonometry was necessary to construct those maps so accurately). This does not mean, however, that this civilization was just like ours – a society does not need to have internal combustion technology, a steel-manufacturing industry, or a high-density population in order to be advanced.

But what it does mean is that we are not as small and limited as conventional wisdom would have us believe, and our story is far older, longer and more complicated than we had thought possible. Humanity is not separate from creation, but an integral part of its’ ebb and flow.

We just may have been here since time immemorial.




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One Comment

  1. Maps from time immemorial…Fascinating and more than a little humbling. Just when we think we have it all figured out…

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