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The Reality and Myth of the Piri Reis Map of 1513?

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).


The Piri Reis Map of 1513 is real. It’s one thing that can be confirmed when one examines the story surrounding this unique artifact. Made from animal skin (gazelle or camel according to different sources) and extremely detailed for its time, the map is considered the oldest post-Columbian map to still be in existence.

Its importance cannot be ignored either. It was created by a noted figure in Turkish maritime history, suggesting that the Ottoman Turks may have had the ability and technology to reach the Americas around the time (or before) Christopher Columbia set sail on his maiden voyage.

And, there’s no doubt the Piri Reis Map has captivated and mystified scholars, cartographers, and historians for years. Its seemingly accurate details of the African and Brazilian coast, representation of the newly discovered North and South American continents, and its plotted lines gives the impression that this chart was made by a cartographer way ahead of his time.

Not everything, however, is clearly understood about the map. The Piri Reis Map has become the source of modern myths and legends. Some claim that the map is far more advanced for its time. Others speculate that it’s proof that aliens may have created it while orbiting the Earth.

In some cases, the map has been used as proof for other alternative theories such as the early discovery of Antarctica and the possibility of pyramids existing on the frozen continent.

The story of the Piri Reis map is one that mixes reality and fantasy. It is an ancient document that has fueled modern mysteries and has led to some misleading answers about the era, the person who created it, and the map’s true purpose

the map represented proof that the Turks were once masters of the sea, and may have reached the New World like the other major European powers at the time

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Its Brief History

The map has been around for more than 500 years. But, at one point in its history it had been lost and long forgotten. The map may have stayed that way if it wasn’t for a Turkish museum director who came across it on November 29, 1929.

Halil Ethem found the chart during the renovation and conversion of Topkapi Palace into a Turkish national museum. A handwritten note found with it explained that it was a culmination of various maps and charts that had existed during the early 1500s. The person responsible for culminating and creating the map was Piri Reis, an admiral and cartographer in the Ottoman Navy (“Reis,” translated into English, means “admiral”).

Immediately upon the announcement of its discovery, the map piqued the interest of scholars. Some hoped it was the fabled lost charts from Christopher Columbus. It was believed that Columbus had maps and charts created during his voyage to the Caribbean. Also, Columbus may have used existing maps from other sources to chart his voyages. Many believed that Piri used these charts, which have been lost to history.

The stir it created was monumental; not only were scholar’s thrilled; the nation of Turkey was elated. Turkey had emerged from World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a modern republic with strong nationalist fervor.

To them, the map represented proof that the Turks were once masters of the sea, and may have reached the New World like the other major European powers at the time. As the result, the image of the map was placed on the back of its monetary notes (Lira).

The map appears to be part of a larger one. However, the part that exists shows Europe, Africa, and the two American continents. While much of the Atlantic coast of Africa and Brazil appears to be accurate, other areas such as the Caribbean and portions of the North American contentment were distorted or inaccurately depicted. In the Caribbean section, several islands were deleted while a mythical one called Antilia was included.

Another anomaly on the map was how South America was depicted. Near its Southern tip, the continent bends toward the east, taking up the bottom half of the map. For years, this part of the map would be seen as an error; however, others studying the map speculated that this curious delineation was Antarctica*.

originally posted at

originally posted at

Paranormal Twist

The map had other details: It showed mountain ranges, dry plains and other environs. The most curious detail was the “Antarctic” region. It was depicted as being dry and iceless (again, amateur theorists, historians and paranormal researcher will use this component of the map to support their beliefs).

Scholars and professional cartographers were not the only ones who were interested in the map. In the 1960s, theories and speculation into the origin and purpose took a turn toward the paranormal.

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Part of the reason for this shift had to do with the nature of the map. It was a portolan chart. It didn’t have the typical latitude and longitude lines that modern maps and charts use. Instead, it had lines called azimuth that emanated from a center known as a compass rose or azimuthal projection. There were several compass roses on the map. These were common on maps of the time.

The azimuth and azimuthal projections became an obsession for paranormal investigator and ancient astronaut enthusiast, Eric Van Daniken. He made some outrageous claims about the map in his pivotal book, Chariots of the Gods?

Without testing this hypothesis, he believed that the projections shown on the Piri Reis fit well when the center was Cairo, Egypt. From this “theory” Van Daniken believed that:

1. The map was very accurate in terms of scale and

2. It was not humanly possible for a human in the 16th century to create such a map.

His conclusion was that the map was proof that the Ottomans were in contact with aliens who were helping them create new technology and knowledge (How he came to this conclusion – as with other findings in his book – is a mystery).

... amateur historian Charles Hapgood claimed it proved there was an unknown advanced civilization from the ice age that had explored the world.

Map of the Ancient Sea Kings and the Lure of Antarctica

Van Daniken’s questionable theory wasn’t the only one. In his 1966 book, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, amateur historian Charles Hapgood claimed it proved there was an unknown advanced civilization from the ice age that had explored the world.

He believed that the map was copied from a map from this ancient civilization. His proof was that the map showed a dry Antarctica. There’s nothing else that supports his theory.

In recent years, deniers of global warming have been using this map to support their belief that global warming is a hoax. The argument, again, points to the map’s depiction of a dry Antarctica. No other explanation that’s supposedly justified in the map has been given by these deniers.

Piri Reis Map superimposed on a modern world map.

Piri Reis Map superimposed on a modern world map.

The Skeptics Weigh in on Paranormal Claims

While Piri Reis Map has been embraced by researcher of the paranormals, some scholars have rejected it as a hoax. Many cartographers and researchers pointed out that the azimuthal projection Van Daniken proposed wasn’t accurate.

Others have pointed out the use of the written Turkish language on the map doesn’t correspond with the Arabic writing that was used by the Ottoman during the 16th century.

Also, the depiction of Antarctica doesn’t match the range or coastline that is known of the continents.

Interestingly enough many of the mysteries and questions about the map have been answered by Piri Reis himself. He mentioned in a handwritten note that the map was a culmination of information and details found on other existing maps of the time.

Mordern cartographers and researchers have also pointed out that the map corresponded with the evidence many cartographers and explorers knew of the known world during the early 16th century. In many respects, the physical map can be proven as real due to these findings. The paranormal stuff, however, still remains elusive.

There are many questions that still exist about the Piri Reis Map. While it represents national pride - as well as a possible link to lost documents - it has a dark shadow cast upon it. The map will continue to confound, captivate and infuriate those who try to study its wondrous lines.

Turkish currency depicting the map.

Turkish currency depicting the map.

*Update: The Map and its Connection to Antarctic Pyramid Myth

Several years ago, a viral article claiming that pyramids in Antarctica were discovered circulated blogs, alternative news sites and social media. The story was vague and contained a few questionable images that were touted as being the pyramids. Despite the many errors and inconsistencies found in the original article, many believed that this was definitive proof that there was a lost civilization on the frozen continent.

Many started to speculate that the Piri Reis Map may have the evidence to prove this story was true. Thus, many fringe sites such as Before It’s News added to the original story by inserting the map as evidence.

Most likely, Antarctica wasn’t depicted on the map. It was probably assumed that a huge land mass existed on the four sections of the planet in order to “balance it out.” Also, it appears that it was an extension (or an assumption) of what the South American Continent may have looked like.

Ancient Maps

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Dean Traylor


Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 01, 2016:

I've read about the ancient map since it was first rediscovered. It fascinated me at the time and still does today. Well written and I found out things I didn't know before. :)

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 25, 2016:

This was a very interesting read, Dean. Modern man always has a desire to unravel the mysteries of the past and wild speculation is often part of any thing that can't be definitively proven. Great hub.

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