Below is the Piri Reis Map with
modern maps superimposed. We can see that Europe and Africa are
pretty good but with lots of inaccuracy in detail. Promontories
and bays are exaggerated, a natural enough tendency in a day
when navigating by landmark was a matter of life and death. The
Azores, Canary Islands and Cape Verde Islands are accurately
located but again, exaggerated in size. Also note a hint of
cartographic breakdown where the coast of Africa meets the right
edge of the map.
Brazil is pretty recognizable, but South America is too big
compared to Africa and Europe, the Atlantic is way too narrow,
and South America is compressed east-to-west. Also, what are the
big islands offshore? North America is essentially imaginary.
Now one thing we can count on navigators of the 1500's being
able to measure accurately is latitude. On the east side we can
clearly see the tip of France, so the top of the map represents
about 50 degrees north latitude. So right away we can forget
about this map showing Greenland, subglacial or not. The coast
of subglacial Greenland, by the way, won't look very different
from the present coast, for the simple reason that most of the
Greenland coast is rock, not ice. There's nothing on the map
that even vaguely resembles Greenland.
The Piri Reis Map does not use any systematic projection,
although as noted above it's close to a cylindrical equidistant.
It tries to get features accurate to shape and relative
location, and it tries to plot accurate latitudes, but there is
no reasonable transformation of the present earth that will
yield the Piri Reis Map. (You can, of course, come up with a
mathematical transformation that will transform any map into any
other map, but any transformation of the real world into the
Piri Reis Map would be so convoluted and ad hoc that it would
The scale of South America above was chosen to give a good
fit in latitude from the north coast to the tip of Brazil,
presumably the best-mapped part at the time the map was drawn.
We can see that the match between the modern map and the Piri
Reis Map is pretty good for some distance south of that, both in
scale and in geographic detail.
That long stretch of coast on the bottom of the map has been
claimed to be Antarctica, a place not known to humans until the
19th century. So let's compare a modern map of South America
(left, below) with the Piri Reis Map (right).
Start with the obvious. The tip of Brazil is easy to place
(A-a). To the west (b) we have a large river flowing into a
broad recess. This can only be the Amazon (B). The big island to
the northeast on the Piri Reis Map may be Marajo Island, the big
island at the mouth of the Amazon. Whatever, the fact that there
is no island in mid-Atlantic as shown doesn't bode well for the
idea that this map drew on ancient advanced knowledge.
To the south, the sharp recess in the coast of Brazil (C-c)
is easy to see on both maps. At d we have a large river with a
big delta flowing out of a convex coastline, and a big island
offshore (e). It's a nearly perfect match for the Orinoco (D)
and the island is Trinidad (E). One of the two rivers at g is
almost certainly the Magdalena (G) but it's not clear what the
other one is. Possibly the Magdalena is the river to the east
and the Darien is the river to the west. The coastal bend north
of Panama is fairly clear (F-f) but everything north of that
bears almost no resemblance to any modern maps.
Moving south, it's tempting to identify the big river at h
with the Rio de la Plata (P), except the Rio de la Plata is too
far south and empties into a large bay, not on a bulge in the
coast. The Piri Reis Map actually matches the real coastal bulge
at H far better, except there's no river there. But there is
a city called Rio de Janeiro, or "River of
January" because the discoverer mistook the complex bays
there for the mouth of a large river. In fact, the real
coastline there looks rather like the Piri Reis coastline, if
you squint a bit. It certainly looks more like it than anything
on the map looks like Greenland! If we buy this, the smooth
concave indentation to the south (I-i) falls into place.
The southern compass rose on the map would place the tropic
of Capricorn on the small coastal bump halfway between c and h,
and that would favor the big river being the Rio de la Plata. So
we have to conclude that either the latitudes or the coastline
(or both) are inaccurate south of c. The coastal fit seems too
good to discard, and the marginal notes in this area explain how
Piri Reis synthesized his map from a number of sources, so it's
not hard to see how latitude might have suffered a bit in the
process. Remember, he didn't have the raw latitude observations
to go on.
Thereafter, the Piri Reis Map drifts into the Twilight Zone.
It shows South America swinging far to the east. Given that the
map so far has done fairly well in latitude, we can be sure the
coastline is not Antarctica. Also, if the map draws on
ancient knowledge to show things no 16th century explorer would
have known, why is the coastline continuous? So why isn't there
open water between South America and "Antarctica?" You
can't seize on an accidental resemblance to a couple of bumps on
the coast of Antarctica and blithely ignore the failure to show
the Drake Passage!
Most damning of all to the Antarctica interpretation is that
the marginal notes refer to the coast in this region being
discovered by Portuguese ships blown off course. One note refers
to the land being "very hot," which probably rules out
Antarctica. The Piri Reis Map itself explicitly says the
information in this area came from European sources. Atlanteans
and extraterrestrials need not apply. We have isolated sightings
of coast made by ships far off course and unsure of their
location. Small wonder the map is wildly inaccurate.
Considering that we have had a good match so far by assuming
the Piri Reis Map shows relative latitude accurately (although
not nearly as well as north of the equator; the scale of South
America is too large), and that coastal features like points and
bays are accurately rendered, then south of the smoothly curving
coast at I-i there must be a cusp on the coast (j-J). The next
prominent point k could be the point beyond the Rio de la Plata
(K). The latitude is about right compared to the rest of South
Above is an alternative interpretation of the mystery area.
It requires us to assume the latitudes are badly off, something
not hard to envision in maps of that era. However, it matches
the curves in the coast. Point k might even correspond to the
tip of Tierra del Fuago.
Above is a map of South America and Antarctica with the Piri
Reis coastline in magenta. Southern South America and Antarctica
are in the orthographic projection - in other words they do
look like they would as seen from space. We can see the Piri
Reis Map bears no resemblance at all to Antarctica. The 600-mile
wide Drake Passage is not shown, nor are the large islands in
the Weddell Sea. The latitude is thousands of miles off.
So in response to people who ask how to explain why the Piri
Reis Map shows the coastline of Antarctica accurately, the
answer is - it doesn't. It especially doesn't show the
subglacial coastline of Antarctica, which corresponds to the
existing coastline of Antarctica around most of the continent
Rule #1 For Interpreting Ancient Maps (If You Want A Best
Anything that matches (or can be made to seem like a match
to) existing cartography is proof that the cartographer had
access to secret knowledge. Anything that doesn't match, doesn't
- Omission of major land masses, bodies of water, etc.,
- Failure to draw your home country accurately doesn't
- Inclusion of non-existent features doesn't count, except
if you want to claim the map actually shows geography as it
was in the Pleistocene, Cretaceous, Precambrian, etc.
Rule #1 For Interpreting Ancient Maps (If You Seriously Want
to Learn Anything)
The map can be no better than its portrayal of the areas
that were well explored in the time and place the map was drawn.
If it has significant errors in known geography, claims
that the map shows unknown geography are simply
Some Real Mysteries About the Map
The map seems to show more detail than Europeans were likely
to have in 1513. Pizarro hadn't been to Peru, yet, so how did
Piri Reis know about the Andes? Did somebody hear tales of
mountains far inland? Also, the detail on the South American
coast seems a bit rich for 1513. Was the map begun then and
completed later? Was the map copied later and the date
miscopied? But if the map was derived from ancient sources that
contained details otherwise unknown to Europeans, why are so
many parts of it so crude?
There's also a marginal note opposite South America that says
"It is related by the Portuguese infidel that in this spot
night and day are at their shortest of two hours, at their
longest of twenty two hours. But the day is very warm and in the
night there is much dew." That would indicate a far
southern latitude, but note that the report explicitly comes
from the Portuguese, not from arcane ancient sources.
It's possible that some Portuguese expedition was blown very far
south, not to Antarctica where the days are rarely "very
warm," but perhaps to 50 south or so.
Let's Hear it for Piri Reis
For 1513, this map shows an astonishing amount of detail. The
notes on the map explain that the map was synthesized from about
20 maps, many of which were captured from Spanish and Portuguese
ships in the Mediterranean. It was also supplemented by accounts
given by captured Spanish and Portuguese sailors.
Not a map from some ancient Atlantean civilization, not a map
created by extraterrestrials, but a first class piece of naval
intelligence. Considering that it was created by a sailor whose
country never participated in the age of exploration, and that
it's drawn wholly from second-hand sources, it's an astonishing
piece of work. It seems to contain up-to-the-minute details
derived from enemy maps, many of which would have been
There's a class of crank that hates the idea that other
people might have real accomplishments, because they never
accomplish anything themselves. So Shakespeare didn't write his
plays, other people did; Robert Peary didn't reach the North
Pole as he claimed, and so on. And Piri Reis wasn't a gifted
admiral and good intelligence analyst, but had to get help from
ancient lost documents. Get a life, folks.
Same Old, Same Old
Here's a recent e-mail I got. My
comments are in red.
So let me get this straight, regarding the Piri Reis map,
You feel that people are totally wrong and probably liars,
when they claim:
"In 1953 ... the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Bureau ...
Arlington H. Mallery, an authority on ancient maps ... Mallery
discovered the projection method used. ... the map was totally
accurate. ... The Hydrographic Office ... were ... able to
correct ... errors in the present days maps" <http://www.world-mysteries.com/sar_1.htm>
Yes, they are totally wrong. Certainly
the people who created the web page he cites did absolutely no
original work of their own but are merely parroting older
Reality check here. In 1953, we had
just fought a major war in the Atlantic, where errors in maps
could lead to ships being sunk and battles being lost. We're to
believe a 16th century map was more accurate than charts used to
fight naval warfare in World War II when ships and lives
depended on cartographic accuracy? And what specific errors were
found and corrected? Where's the documentation that any of this
ever actually happened?
Searching for Arlington H Mallery on
line is revealing. He was a prolific author of cult
archeological theories, and at least a couple of times he got
into professional journals, only to get smacked down soundly for
Regarding your own page http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/PiriRies.HTM
"Most of the bizarre claims made for the Piri Reis Map
utterly ignore the marginal notes, which pretty conclusively
show the map is entirely 16th century terrestrial in
Surely, assuming the translations of his notes are correct:
"The-hand of this poor man has drawn it and now it is
constructed. From about twenty charts and Mappae Mundi-these are
charts drawn in the days of Alexander, Lord of the Two Horns,
which show the inhabited quarter of the world; the Arabs name
these charts Jaferiye-from eight Jaferiyes of that kind and one
Arabic map of Hind, and from the maps just drawn by four
Portuguese which show the countries of Hind, Sind and China
geometrically drawn, and also from a map drawn by Colombo in the
western region I have extracted it. By reducing all these maps
to one scale this final form was arrived at. So that the present
map is as correct and reliable for the Seven Seas as the map of
these our countries is considered correct and reliable by
Which seems to conclusively prove that he may have drawn this
in the 16 century, but a lot of it is based on much older
Duh. If you draw a map from existing
sources, they are certainly older. Note the logical leap from
"older" to "much older."
"One note refers to the land being "very hot,"
which probably rules out Antarctica."
Well, if the ice was gone when they were there, it would be
hot, wouldn't it? He also writes "there are white-haired
monsters ... , and also six-horned oxen." - only quote what
fits, eh? ;)
Gee, come on up to Wisconsin in May.
The ice is gone (usually) but tell me if it's "very
hot." The quotes about white-haired monsters and six-horned
oxen further illustrate the inaccuracy of the source.
"The Piri Reis Map itself explicitly says the
information in this area came from European sources. Atlanteans
and extraterrestrials need not apply. "
Actually, it says what Piri Reis thought - not who actually
originally authored the maps (not that I'm trying to prove
extraterrestrials, you just seem unnecessarily arrogant and
Oh, here we go again. Saying something
based on technical information is "arrogant," arguing
about it with no background whatsoever, and expecting to be
taken seriously, isn't. More of the Self-Appointed
Expert syndrome. Aww, pity-poo.
Created 8 July 1998, Last Update 13
Copyright by Steven Dutch.
All Rights Reserved.
Presented with permission of the author.
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PIRI REIS MAP:
Introduction | Translation