Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings

Rating: ★★★★★

Guest Review written by Paul F. Hoye and Paul Lunde,  originally published by Saudi Aramco World Magazine in 1980

Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age”  ISBN:0932813429

Charles Hapgood, after exhaustive research and imaginative mathematical and cartographic experiments, came to some remarkable conclusions and eventually published them in a book called ‘Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings’. Briefly these are the conclusions:

  • That the Piri Reis map, dated to 1513, the Portolano charts and many other ancient maps include information supposedly unknown in the 16th century and, in some cases, information that was not confirmed until the middle of this century.
  • That the Piri Reis map and other maps were inexplicably accurate, particularly with regard to longitudes, which neither mariners nor cartographers could calculate until spherical trigonometry was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • That some civilization or culture still unknown to archeology — and pre-dating any civilization known so far — had mapped North America, China, Greenland, South America and Antarctica long before the rise of any known civilization — and at a time when Greenland and Antarctica were not covered with their millennia-old ice caps.
  • That to have done this, the ancient civilization had to have developed astronomy, navigational instruments — such as the chronometer — and mathematics, particularly plane geometry and trigonometry, long before Greece or any other known civilization.
  • That the advanced cartographic knowledge appearing on the Piri Reis map, the Oronteus Finaeus map and other maps came down in garbled and incomplete fragments that somehow survived the destruction of the unknown civilization itself and the repeated destruction of such ancient repositories of knowledge as the library at Alexandria..

Charles Hapgood himself, quoting Thomas Edison, had said that some problems are too difficult for specialists and must be left to amateurs — and most scientists took him at his word. They largely ignored him.

This was not entirely unexpected. As writer J. Enterline put it, in discussing the response of science to the Hapgood hypotheses, acceptance “engendered the necessity of so many accessory explanations, rationalizations and postulates that it became untenable.” But their basis for rejecting it, said Enterline–who was also skeptical — was not because of any demonstrated counter proof but because it seemed to violate common sense and probability — which, he added, is also true of modern physics.

To put it another way, Hapgood’s work simply cannot be lumped with the lunatic fringe and he certainly cannot be held responsible for the “Chariots” level offshoots that fed on his research. Although unquestionably an amateur theoretician, he did do his homework and had it thoroughly checked by professionals. The U.S. Air Force SAC cartographers, for example, worked with him for two years and fully endorsed his conclusions about Antarctica.

Nonetheless, there are serious weaknesses in Hapgood’s case. For one thing, Hapgood’s theses depend entirely on mathematical projections and logic. While he admittedly reasons carefully from observation to conclusion–and had his calculations done by an M.I.T. mathematician — he obviously cannot produce any of the “advanced” maps or display a single artifact from the “lost”  civilization that supposedly mapped the Americas and Antarctica.

For another, he may not have accorded enough importance, at least in the Caribbean portions of the Piri Reis map, to the Christopher Columbus map — as a close examination of the Piri Reis map may show. Lastly, he was led by his own logic into postulating an ice-free Antarctic — which conflicts totally with accepted geological theory that says the Antarctic ice cap has been in place for 50 million years.

There are other arguments too. One is that many place names on the map, written in the Turco-Arabic script, are clearly transliterations of the Portuguese and Spanish. If, as the Hapgood hypotheses suggest, Piri Reis used maps drawn by ancient cartographers, why don’t the place names at least reflect their language?

The most compelling arguments against the Hapgood hypotheses, however, concern the Andes and–above all — Antarctica, both vital to Hapgood’s conclusions. Is the chain of mountains to the left of the map really the Andes? Is the coastline at the bottom really Antarctica? Are there any mountains shown there? And is Antarctica free of ice?

A cursory examination would certainly suggest that the mountains are the Andes; they are the most striking topographical feature on the map. But beside the mountains there is an inscription that doesn’t quite fit into Hapgood’s scenario. It reads: “In the mountains of this territory were creatures like this, and human beings came out on the seacoast. . .”

Assuming the inscription refers to the eastern coast, this means that “to come out on the seacoast,” those “human beings” would have had to walk all the way from, say, Peru, rather than from one of the ranges near the Brazilian coast. And as to the llama, is it really a llama? The animal shown on the map definitely has horns and the llama definitely does not.

The reference, of course, might have been to the Pacific coast. But that also poses an awkward problem–as a look at the map suggests. Hapgood assumed that the western base of the mountain chain coincided with the Pacific coast of South America. If so, Hapgood is correct that the west coast, the Pacific and the Andes must have been known before Balboa and Magellan. And thus those “human beings” could have come down from the Andes.

Unfortunately the heavy black line to the south of the mountains and the reddish line at the base of the mountains probably do not indicate the west coast. For one thing, the long inscription covers terra incognita–“unknown land” — and for another, neither the Pacific Ocean nor the Strait of Magellan are shown. Is it reasonable to suppose that the advanced mariners of ancient times could locate the Andes and miss the Pacific Ocean?

A similar argument applies to the section of coast which by rights should correspond with the Isthmus of Panama, Central American, the Gulf of Mexico and Florida. Even allowing for the necessary distortions that Hapgood’s “equidistant projection” would entail, this section of coast bears only the most tenuous relationship to reality — and raises still another doubt. Would Hapgood’s hypothetical, highly advanced civilization — capable of sailing to the New World and mapping it — have done such an  incredibly bad job?

The same question applies to the coast of South America where — as Hapgood admits — his advanced cartographers lost 900 miles of coastline. As a look at the map will show, the coast, below the Rio de la Plata, simply turns east and becomes, according to Hapgood, Antarctica. This part of the Antarctica hypothesis–the key part–is actually the weakest. First, the hypothetical cartographers left out the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. Next, they connected the  coastline of “Antarctica” to South America and extended it eastward.

There is, admittedly, a resemblance between the Piri Reis “Antarctic” coast and modern maps of the area. But the resemblance is slight. Indeed if this section of the map were to run vertically — that is, to the south — it would bear a much closer resemblance to the east coast of South America and could thus restore some of the missing 900 miles. This is by no means impossible: some of the more distinctive coastal features of the Piri Reis’ “Antarctica” do jibe remarkably well with those on a modern map of South America. But if it were true, “Antarctica” would not be Antarctica after all; it would be South America —  which, of course, was never covered with ice — and the animals drawn on the map would not be in an ice-free Antarctica, but in South America. Last–and a key point — the famous “mountains” in Antarctica that so excited Mallery and Hapgood, and were presumably “clearly indicated,” appear as islands, not mountains.

On the other hand, some of the objections are themselves open to debate and Hapgood himself anticipated and answered many of them.

To start with, Hapgood and his advocates knew full well that to suggest a “lost world,” with its echoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and subsequent science-fiction elaborations, might well evoke merciless public scorn from scholars and scientists–as the writings of the late Immanuel Velikovsky had in the 1950’s and as “Chariots of the Gods” did in 1968. The existence of this “lost civilization,” after all, could only be inferred; there were no artifacts.

Hapgood, therefore, pointed out in “Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings” that civilizations have vanished before. No one knew where Sumer, Akkad, Nineveh and Babylon were until 19th-century archeologists dug them up. And as late as 1970 — only ten years ago — no one even suspected the existence of a civilization called Ebla. It had existed. It was real. But it vanished without a trace. Why then, argue Hapgood advocates, couldn’t there have been other civilizations that vanished?

The same is true of Hapgood’s unspecified advanced technology. Greek fire — something like napalm — was developed in the ninth century but its composition has never been duplicated. Arab scientists of the Golden Age were able to perform delicate eye surgery — using advanced instruments — but these skills were later lost. In 1900, according to “Scientific American,”  marine archeologists discovered an astoundingly advanced gearing system in a Greek navigational instrument ( The Antikythera ‘Computer’). It dated back to 65 B.C. and its existence had never been suspected.

Hapgood addressed more specific criticisms too. He had not overlooked the fact that on the map the Andes seemed to be in the center of South America, nor ignored the possibility that, maybe, they were mountains on the east coast drawn out of proportion, or drawn on the basis of information, rather than observation — or even drawn in to account for the great rivers emptying into the sea. And his answer is persuasive: could Piri Reis, entirely by chance, have placed a range of enormous mountains in approximately the same place where there is a range of enormous mountains? Furthermore, there is the notation on the Piri Reis map: “The gold mines are endless.”

Doesn’t this suggest Peru, which is rich in gold?

With regard to Antarctica, there is also the inscription on “Antarctica” describing night “two hours” long — which does suggest Antarctic latitudes.

There is, moreover, the perplexing problem of the Oronteus Finaeus map. Even if Piri Reis’ “Antarctica” turns out to be  South America — drawn horizontally — or even Australia, the Finnaeus “Antarctica” is surely Antarctica and his map was also drawn in the 16th century: 1531. Where did Oronteus Finaeus get his far more detailed and accurate information? and why does Finaeus also show Antarctica without an ice cap?

Furthermore, the Hapgood team identified 50 geographical points on the Finaeus map, as re-projected, whose latitudes and longitudes were located quite accurately in latitude and longitude, some of them quite close to the pole. “The mathematical probability against this being accidental,” says Hapgood, “is astronomical.”

There are other factors too. The cartography of the Age of Discovery, for instance, often seems to have been independent of the voyages themselves; that is certain early maps of America contain features before their supposed date of discovery.

The most notable example of this is the map of America made by Glareanus, a famous Swiss poet, mathematician and theoretical geographer, in the year 1510. This map, which was probably based on the 1504 de Canerio map, clearly shows the west coast of  America 12 years before Magellan passed through the strait that bears his name. In other words, Piri Reis was not the only one to include anachronous information.

The map of Glareanus, furthermore, was reproduced in Johannes de Stobnicza’s famous 1512 Cracow edition of Ptolemy and is unquestionably similar to the map of Piri Reis. Did Piri Reis have a copy of this early printed edition of Ptolemy before him  when he drew his map? Is this what Piri Reis meant by “maps drawn in the time of Alexander the Great”?

Again, this is plausible, since to the Arabs — and later the Ottomans–the second century (A.D.) geographer Ptolemy was often confused with the earlier General Ptolemy — Alexander’s general, Ptolemy I, who became king in Egypt in the fourth century B.C. and was an ancestor of Cleopatra. Still, where did de Canerio and Glareanus get their information?

The subject of the Piri Reis map, obviously, is enormously complex–as well as a great deal of fun. It involves Christopher Columbus, his sources of information, his conclusions and even  his motives. It involves two Ottoman naval captains and 20 unknown or vaguely identified maps. It involves the portolano charts that seem to be based on a single lost source, the Zeno map — with an ice-free Greenland — and the Finaeus map, possibly the most inexplicable of all. It involves, in sum, questions that are not only fascinating but, so far, unanswered–except by Charles Hapgood.

The Hapgood hypotheses, therefore, cannot be just dismissed – – if only because it is indisputable that famous maps known to have existed have been lost. None of the maps from the classical world, in fact, have survived. The maps accompanying Ptolemy’s great work on geography, for example, were quickly lost and the earliest maps based upon his test were drawn 1,000 years after he wrote. Marinus of Tyre, precursor of Ptolemy, is a shadowy figure whose works have perished. And the great library at Alexandria, the chief depository of classical learning, was repeatedly destroyed.

It is reliably reported by an Arab author, moreover, that a globe of the world by Ptolemy — the geographer — existed in Cairo in the 14th century. Arabic literature contains numerous tantalizing mentions of “lost maps.” The 10th century author Ibn Nadim, for example, speaks of a Persian map of the world drawn on silk in colored paints — conceivably a copy of a classical map, but in any case lost to history.

As maps by their nature are perishable — even maps by such well-known and relatively recent cartographers as Mercator are extremely rare–is it so improbable that Hapgood’s mysterious maps did exist and did vanish?

Abridged from:

‘Piri Reis and the Hapgood Hypotheses’ written by Paul F. Hoye and Paul Lunde, published by Saudi Aramco World Magazine, with thanks

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