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From the files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

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Oronteus Map used with permission of Adventures Unlimited Press Oronteus Map used with permission of Adventures Unlimited Press

How did they map antarctica ?

Last issue of TRJ you might recall I mentioned a lingering mystery concerning the moons of Mars, wondering how Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver,” could have predicted their number, size, and periods of rotation in his tales a full 150 years before their “official” discovery.

Virtually every aspect of human knowledge can likewise be found to have such an Enigma File. Take a simple thing like the South Pole or Antarctica; we all know from history class that Antarctica was “discovered” in 1818, right? How then do we explain maps and portolans dating from the 1400s to 1500s which show not only the correct bays and mountain ranges under all that ice, but appear to have been prepared using spherical trigonometry?

Looking at these old maps, and with Occam as our guide, we can only assume that some 6,000 to 8,000 years ago an advanced sea-going civilization (with a means of determining longitude, and using spherical trigonometry) mapped a large portion of the earth back when the South Pole was largely ice-free. (Modern science and ice core samples confirm that the last time Antarctica was ice-free was during a brief thaw 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.)

The Sandpoint Library (bless ‘em!) has a number of remarkable books on this subject, chief among them “Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings” by Charles Hapgood, 1996, Adventures Unlimited Press.

In this instance, Professor Hapgood and his team, including the U.S. Navy Cartography Department and top mathematicians, pored over hundreds of ancient maps and found that, almost without exception, the older the map was, the more accurate it was found to be.

Prince Kamal, a modern geographer, has stated in rather colorful language, “Our incurable ignorance as to the origin of the portolans and navigational charts will lead us only from twilight into darkness. Everything that has been written on the history and origin of these charts and everything that can be written hereafter can be nothing but suppositions, arguments, hallucinations.”

A few of the charts showing the apparently unglaciated and ice-free continent to the south are: The Piri Reis Map, dated reliably to 1513 AD but a note in the map’s margin by a Turkish Admiral states it was copied from one used by Christopher Columbus (presently in the Library of Congress); the Oronteus Fineas map of 1531 AD (shown at left); and Mercator’s Map of the Antarctic of 1569 AD. For brevity’s sake I’ll mention only those three but remember, the Antarctic wasn’t discovered for nearly another 300 years! Captain Cook nearly found it in 1799, reporting spying in the distance a great wall of ice below the tip of South America. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to swing by the library and check out “Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings.”

Another book with some cool old maps is “1421, The Year China Discovered America” by Gavin Menzies, 2002 Harper Collins Press, which details the Great 2,000 Ship Fleet of Exploration of Admiral Zheng Hei (some of the ships were 400 to 600 feet in length!). This book is also available at the Sandpoint Library. Exhaustively researched and highly persuasive, the author once commanded a British Warship and sailed the same routes pioneered by Magellan and Capt. Cook. In the course of researching 1421 he has visited 120 countries, more than 900 museums and every major sea port of the Middle Ages. A “cracking good read!”

Yet another Sandpoint Library find is “Strange Angel” by George Pendle, 2005 by Harcourt, Inc., subtitled “the Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Parsons.” No old maps this time but a really strange life history of one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was also (unbeknownst to most) the head of the Ordo Templi Orientis or “Black Magick” Crowleyan Church in America while designing the rockets that made him famous. Peopled by friends and co-workers such as a young Ray Bradbury, (R is for Rocket) L. Ron Hubbard, later founder of Scientology, and soon-to-be science fiction greats like Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) it evokes a bizarre time of blacklists and witch hunts. Nearly the entire staff of the JPL was fired for left-leaning politics during the McCarthy era, their positions filled by ex-Nazi V-2 rocket scientists who had run concentration camps with slave labor but who were solidly anti-communist. Parsons died mixing explosives in his home garage workshop in 1952 at the age of 37. The book’s frontispiece by Robert Lowell puts it thus; ”No Rocket goes as far astray as a man!”

 “I can conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.” Charles Fort

The Oronteus Fineus map is used with the permission of Adventures Unlimited Press.


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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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