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The Lost Maps of the Ancients

15 Jul

While it is often supposed that the earliest human civilizations date back only six thousand years or so, it has long been argued that they may be far, far older than historians now recognize. The conclusions drawn from the study of old maps are that as long as twelve thousand years ago ancient seafarers may have been sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. The story began in 1956, when a cartographer at the US Navy Hydrographic Office found himself looking at a copy of a strange map that had been presented to the Office by a Turkish naval officer. Even though the map dated from 1513 AD, it showed the correct longitudes for a large part of the Atlantic from North Africa to South America. This was a remarkable – in fact, almost unbelievable – achievement for those days, when most maps were laughably crude. What was even more surprising was that it apparently showed Antarctica, which was not discovered until 1818. Oddly enough, it showed the mid-Atlantic ridge, which seems an astonishing piece of knowledge for any period before the invention of sonar depth soundings – unless, of course, it had been observed while it was still above water. The original mapmaker was a Turkish pirate who had made the interesting statement, before he died, that he had based his map on twenty old maps, one of them from the great library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in 640 AD. On closer study it was revealed that the Turkish map not only showed Antarctica, it had seemingly been made before the Antarctic continent was covered in ice! This seems an absurd proposition given that the last time that human beings could have seen Antarctica without ice was many thousands of years ago, long before the earliest known maritime civilizations. That could mean only one of two things: either that ships had sailed the seas at a time when, according to historians, our ancestors were still living in caves or – perhaps equally outrageously – that there had once been a flourishing civilization on Antarctica itself, whose inhabitants made maps that have been copied down through the ages.

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