The map was discovered in 1929 while Topkapı Palace was being converted into a museum. It is the extant western third of a world map drawn on gazelle skin. The surviving portion primarily details the western coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America. The map was drawn in 1513 by Piri Reis, a famous admiral of the Turkish fleet, and presented to the Sultan in 1517. Piri Reis stated that the map was based on about twenty charts and mappae mundi. According to Piri these maps included eight Ptolemaic maps, an Arabic map of India, four newly drawn Portuguese maps of their recent discoveries, and a map by Christopher Columbus of the western lands.
The Piri Reis map is currently located in the Library of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, but is not usually on display to the public.
Charles HapgoodCharles Hapgood began studying the map in the middle of the 20th century and published the book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings in 1966.
Hapgood claims this and other maps support a theory of global exploration by a pre-classical undiscovered civilization. He supports this with an analysis of the mathematics of ancient maps and of their accuracy, which he says surpassed instrumentation available at the time of the map's drafting.
Hapgood argued that owing to the map being assembled from components, the Caribbean section was rotated nearly 90º from the top of South America. He attributed this to either copying from a polar projection, or to fit in the space available by hinging the map at that location and giving it an "alternate north", of which other examples are known in maps of the era.
Gregory McIntoshGregory McIntosh, a historian of cartography, has examined the Piri Reis map in depth and published his research in the book The Piri Reis Map of 1513 (Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 2000).
He claims that the depiction of the Caribbean was developed from at least one of Columbus's maps. Hispaniola is depicted with a north-south axis similar to depictions of Japan on maps of the same era. At the time it was widely believed that the east coast of the Americas was in fact that of Asia. Columbus believed that Japan and Hispaniola were actually the same island and Cuba was part of a mainland. The mainland in the extreme northwest is labeled with place-names from Columbus's voyages along the coasts of Cuba. McIntosh claims the map shows double sets of Virgin Islands because Piri Reis took them from two maps. Many of the names of ports and geographic points are found in Columbus's written texts.
McIntosh, in comparing the Piri Reis map to several other portolan-style maps of the era, found that
The Piri Reis map is not the most accurate map of the sixteenth century, as has been claimed, there being many, many world maps produced in the remaining eighty-seven years of that century that far surpass it in accuracy. The Ribero maps of the 1520s and 1530s, the Ortelius map of 1570, and the Wright-Molyneux map of 1599 (‘the best map of the sixteenth century’) are only a few better-known examples.McIntosh intended for this conclusion to be part of a direct challenge to Charles Hapgood's theory about the historical roots of the map. McIntosh found that many of Hapgood's claims were problematic and that, in many cases, the accuracy of the map as Hapgood presents it is exaggerated and that some figures, such as Cuba, Hispaniola, part of Newfoundland, and others have to be rotated or distorted to appear accurately drawn.
Gavin MenziesGavin Menzies, in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered America puts forward a theory that the southern landmass is indeed the Antarctic coastline and was based on earlier Chinese maps. According to Menzies, Admiral Hong Bao charted the coast over 70 years before Columbus as part of a larger expedition under the famous Chinese explorer and admiral Zheng He to bring the world under China's tribute system. The television documentary 1421: The Year China Discovered America? casts doubt on many of Menzies claims.
AntarcticaScholars believe the resemblance of the coastline to the actual coast of Antarctica to be tenuous. For centuries before the actual discovery of Antarctica, cartographers had been depicting a massive southern landmass on global maps based on the theoretical assumption by some that one must exist, if only to balance the landmass of the North. The landmass in question on the Piri Reis map may be a continuation of this tradition, with its resemblance to the actual coastline being coincidental. It was widely believed that South America and, once its northern coastline was discovered, Australia, must be joined to this land mass, which was thought to be very much bigger than the real Antarctica. This theoretical southern continent, the Great Southern Land or Terra Australis Incognita (literally Unknown Southern Land), in various configurations, was usually shown on maps until the eighteenth century. An alternate view is that the "Antarctic" coast is simply the eastern coastline of South America skewed to align east-west due to the inaccurate measurement of longtitude or to fit it on the page.
Hapgood suggests that the Antarctic section of the map was copied at an incorrect scale to the rest of the map and resulted in the distortion and enlargement of the continent on several ancient maps. This would explain why there is no waterway between South America and Antarctica. He suggests several points of continuity between the Piri Reis Map and modern maps of the continent below the ice caps. Since the Antarctic continent was not officially sighted until 1820 and its full coastline was not known until much later, this claim, if true, would require major revisions to the history of exploration.
On 6th July 1960 the U. S. Air Force responded to Prof. Charles H. Hapgood of Keene College, specifically to his request for an evaluation of the ancient Piri Reis Map:
6, July, 1960South America
Subject: Admiral Piri Reis Map
TO: Prof. Charles H. Hapgood
Keene, New Hampshire
Dear Professor Hapgood,
Your request of evaluation of certain unusual features of the Piri Reis map of 1513 by this organization has been reviewed.
The claim that the lower part of the map portrays the Princess Martha Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctic, and the Palmer Peninsular, is reasonable. We find that this is the most logical and in all probability the correct interpretation of the map.
The geographical detail shown in the 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.
This indicates the coastline had been mapped before it was covered by the ice-cap.
The ice-cap in this region is now about a mile thick.
We have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographical knowledge in 1513.
Harold Z. Ohlmeyer Lt. Colonel, USAF Commander
There are many difficulties in the map of South America, including duplication of rivers, and the continent's southern end allegedly merging with an ice-free Antarctica. Close examination of the coastline supports the alternative theory that the "extra" landmass is simply the South American coast, probably explored in secret by Portuguese navigators, and bent round to fit the parchment. There are features resembling the basins at the mouth of the Strait of Magellan, and the Falkland Islands; also the annotations on the map itself, which state that this region is hot and inhabited by large snakes do not fit with the likely climate and fauna in Antarctica in the 1500s. Similarly the map states that "spring comes early" to the islands off the coast, which is true of the Falkland Islands but not of any islands close to the Antarctic mainland.