Archive for the ‘Mysterious Destinations’ Category

Monomotapa, Mutapa, Ophir, and King Solomon’s Mines

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

Anyone looking at map of Africa predating 1800 will be immediately struck by its overall blankness. Despite Africa’s known coastline the interior was a mystery. However, looking at this same map, it is perhaps more interesting to take note of the parts of the interior that have been mapped. Until the mid 19th century, Africa was a largely unknown continent, however, there are a few places that appear in considerable detail on even the earliest maps. These include Morocco and Algeria, Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia, the Niger Delta, the Congo, parts of South Africa, and the land of just opposite Madagascar, noted on old maps as Mutapa or more commonly Monomotapa. It is this last area, the Kingdom of Monomotapa, on which this post will focus.

Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Our story begins with the well known ruins of Great Zimbabwe. The construction of these magnificent stone structures began around 1150 AD and continued over the next three hundred years. We unfortunately know little of the history of Great Zimbabwe or its builders, however, most evidence suggests that they were a Shona people who migrated from the south. At the time, the nearby Zimbabwe hills were extremely rich in gold and other mineral resources and an active trade network, largely facilitated by Arab traders from the Swahili coast, was established. Evidence at various archeological sites around Great Zimbabwe suggests that, by 1400 AD, this trading network extended from the Swahili coast to India and China.

Around 1300 or 1400 a prince of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe conquered a territory to the north and established the Kingdom of Mutapa. Within the next fifty years years Mutapa had attained ascendancy, asserting control over much of southeastern Africa. The ancient capital at Great Zimbabwe was abandoned in favor of a more northerly capital with easier access to the Indian Ocean trade routes via the Zambezi River. Arab merchants, seeing a trade opportunity, established posts on the coast and inland along the Zambezi River at Sena and on the Solafa River at Solafa where the gold of Zimbabwe could be traded for luxury goods from India and China.

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Such was the state of the Empire of Mutapa, or as the Portuguese called it Monomotapa, when the explorer Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 1490s. Tome Lopes, who accompanied De Gama on his 1502 voyage to India, wrote an important narrative of the journey that was widely read back in Portugal. Impressed with the abandoned ruins of Great Zimbabwe and convinced that they could not possibly be the product of an African people, Lopes was the first to identify Mutapa with the Biblical land of Ophir and King Solomon’s Mines. Even Milton jumped on the idea in his epic poem Paradise Lost, where he also associated Monomotapa and Ophir. Back in Portugal, the reports of De Gama and Lopes led to covetous expectations for the region. In 1505, a joint military and trading venture had taken control of the Arab trading centers of Sofala and Sena. The association of Monomotapa with Ophir also lead to an dramatic overestimation of the wealth to be found in the Zimbabwe hills.

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Within fifty years, on the opposite side of the world, Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro had conquered the Aztec and Inca Empires. Gold and wealth had begun to flow into Spain by the galleon. Dom Sebastian of Portugal, seeking to match Spain’s conquests in America with his own conquests in Africa, sent Francisco Barreto to Monomotapa to take over the kingdom’s legendary gold mines. Barreto’s push inland was initially successful with a number of important military victories to his credit. However, before he could push further inland toward the coveted mines, he was forced to return to Mozambique in order to answer slanders made against him by a rival, Antonio Pereira Brandao. This delay proved disastrous, for most of Barreto’s soldiers had in the meantime become sick and many ultimately died of malaria and other tropical diseases common to the region. Barreto himself also fell ill and died at Sena in 1573.

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

It was left to Vasco Fernandez Homen, Barreto’s deputy and successor, to finally push inland via Solafa. When Homen finally reached in mines he sought at Manica, he discovered their output to be much poorer than expected. By this time they had been exploited for several hundred years and King Solomon’s Mines were close to running dry. As for the Portuguese in Africa, they did not attempt another military conquest of the region, but did maintain their trading centers. By the end of the 17th century, the Kingdom of Mutapa had destabilized from within and was facing pressure from the Rozwi empire to the north. Ultimately, they were forced to turn to the Portuguese for military support and paid for it with vassalage. Despite support from Portugal, control of Mutapa changed hands several times vacillating between independence, Rozwi dominion, and the Portuguese vassalage.

In 1885 H. Rider Haggard revived interested in King Solomon’s Mines with the publication of his genre defining novel of the same name. Its publishers in London, Cassel and Company, touted King Solomon’s Mines as “The Most Amazing Book Ever Written.” Today it is considered to be the first novel of the “Lost World” genre.

RELATEED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Africa2-boulton-1794
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AfricaS-covensmortier-1730
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthernAfrica-pinkerton-1809
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AfricaEast-bonne-1770
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/TerrarumOrbis-bormeester-1685
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/World-sanson-1691

REFERENCES:
Oliver, Roland & Anthony Atmore (1975). Medieval Africa 1250-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 738. ISBN 0-52120-413-5.
Owomoyela, Oyekan (2002). Culture and customs of Zimbabwe. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 163. ISBN 0-31331-583-3.
Stewart, John (1989). African States and Rulers. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc.. pp. 395. ISBN 0-89950-390-X.

Terra Australis, Terre de Quir, and the Great Southern Continent

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

1691 Map of World by N. Sanson showing Southern Continent

1691 Map of World by N. Sanson showing Southern Continent

One common feature of 15th to 18th century maps of the world and particularly of the South Pacific, is the land known as Terra Australis, the Southern Continent, or Magellanica. The great southern continent was supposed to cover much of the Southern Hemisphere extending north well into the Tropics and including today’s Australia, Antarctica, and many of the Polynesian Islands.

The earliest inkling of Terra Australis emerged more as a philosophical construct than a geographical one. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle asserted that all of creation was in balance maintained an essential symmetry. Hence, the land masses of the Northern Hemisphere, called Arktos referencing the Greek term for the constellation Ursa Major, must inevitably be balanced by a southern continent, Anti-Arktos. Later the Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy included the Terra Australis in his own work though he did specifically note that it was inaccessible due to an interstitial “torrid zone” occupied by “monstrosities”.

Ambrosius Macrobius' View of the World

Ambrosius Macrobius' View of the World

By the late Roman times and in the Middle Ages, the concept of Terra Australis evolved into both a religious and scientific construct. From a religious perspective it was associated with the Biblical lands of Ophir and Tarshish, from whence Solomon acquired the gold with which he built the Temple. From a scientific perspective, the influential 5th century Roman philosopher Ambrosius Macrobius includes what is possibly the first representation of the southern continent in his work In Somnium Scipionis Expositio. Macrobius divided the world into various “zones” and embraced Aristotelian and Ptolemaic theories that the mass of Asia and Europe had to be counter-balanced by a similar mass in the Southern Hemisphere.

Kircher's 1665 Map of the World Showing Terra Australis

Kircher's 1665 Map of the World Showing Terra Australis

Terra Australis next appears in the journals of Marco Polo – which were widely read throughout 14th and 15th century Europe. Polo describes two islands some 700 miles southwest of Java which themselves lead to a rich mainland abundant in gold, brezil wood, elephants, birds and dogs. European scholars immediately associated the islands and lands mentioned by Polo with the Biblical land of Ophir and Tarshish. While it is difficult to say what specific lands Polo was actually referring to (some argue Madagascar, others Australia, and still others that Polo’s geographical descriptions were fabricated), many 15th and 16th century navigators, including Columbus and Magellan, were inspired by his text.

When Magellan began his voyage, the goal was not to circumnavigate the world, but rather to discover a southwestern route to India and the Moluccas. Nonetheless, one must image that the gold of Tarshish, Ophir, and the associated southern continent must have been on his mind. When Magellan navigated the Straits of Magellan between Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia he fully believed that he had discovered the northernmost headlands of Terra Australis. Many early maps subsequently labeled this land, and the southern continent attached to it Magellanica. Frances Drake’s 1577 circumnavigation of the globe a few years later proved conclusively that Tierra del Fuego was not in fact attached to a southern continent, but the search of this land would go on.

The next major exploration in the region was accomplished by the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana. Mendana set sail from Callao, Peru in 1567 with the intention of discovering both the rich lands of the southern continent and the Biblical islands of gold, Ophir and Tarshish. Nearly a year later Mendana chanced upon a significant Polynesian Island group. These islands were subsequently identified with Ophir and Tarshish and named after King Solomon. Perplexingly, when Mendana attempted to return to the Solomon Islands, in 1595, this time with Pedro de Quiros as his pilot, he was unable to find the islands he once discovered. Mendana contracted malaria and died shortly thereafter leaving the fleet in the hands of his wife, Isabel Barreto who, becoming the world’s first female admiral, eventually returned it to Peru.

Terre de Quir from Sanson's 1691 Map of the World

Terre de Quir from Sanson's 1691 Map of the World

Perhaps the most significant proponent of the southern continent theory was the late 16th and early 17th century Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quir, or as he is more commonly known Quiros. Quiros was a religious zealot and passionate advocate of the southern continent theory. After serving as a pilot on Mendana’s second expedition, Quiros petitioned the Spanish crown for his own commission to explore and convert the inhabitants of the Solomon Islands. He set out in 1567 and, though he roughly followed Mendana’s path, was unable to locate the Solomon Islands. He did however land on Vanuatu’s Sanma Island which, believing himself to have discovered the Southern Continent, he named Australis de Espiritu Santo. Not long afterward Quiros returned to Europe where he published his voyages, proclaiming to the world that he had, indeed, discovered Terra Australis. Unfortunately, Quiros died shortly after returning to Peru and was never able to return to the Pacific Islands.

1747 Bowen Map of the Western Hemisphere showing Quiros' Land

1747 Bowen Map of the Western Hemisphere showing Quiros' Land

Nonetheless, Quiros’ claims and fame had a significant impact on the mapping of the region. Numerous early maps depict the “Terra de Quiros,” “Quir Land,” or “Terre de Quir” with indefinite southern and western borders thus suggesting that it could indeed be part of the Terra Australis mainland. Later many early maps depicting the tentative borders of Australia refer to it as “St. Espiritu” or some variation, again alluding to Quiros’ discovery of Vanuatu. Some, well in to the 20th century, claimed that Quiros had discovered Australia, but this was merely a confusion of the term “Australis” originally applied to Vanuatu. In nearly 200 subsequent years, no other European would encounter Samna.

1741 Covens & Mortier Map of Bouvet's Island or Cap de la Circoncision

1741 Covens & Mortier Map of Bouvet's Island or Cap de la Circoncision

As for the southern continent, or Terra Australis, others would continue to search for it well into the 18th century. The French explorer, Lozier Bouvet was heavily influenced by the work of Quiros. When he spotted the remote Antarctic island, which he named Cap de la Circoncision and which is now named Bouvet Island in 1739, he believed that he had at last rediscovered Terra Australis Espirtu Santo and the southern continent. Numerous maps published Europe following Bouvet’s voyage support this claim.

It fell to Cook’s voyages at the end of the 18th century to finally disprove the notion of a great southern continent. Cook was also first to correctly identify Quiros’ land of Terra Australis Espirtu Santo as Vanuatu’s Sanma Island. Nearly 60 years following Cook findings in the area, the first confirmed sightings of the Antarctic mainland were accomplished in 1819 and 1829 by William Smith and James Bransfield, respectively. Of course, though they both occupy the same geographic space, Antarctica and Terra Australis are in fact two very different places.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/GeoHydro-kircher-1665
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/World-sanson-1691
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/World-lattre-1775
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthPole-covensmortier-1741
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-bowen-1747

REFERENCES:
Camino, M. M., Producing the Pacific: Maps and Narratives of Spanish Exploration (1567-1606), New York, 2005.
Suarez, T., Early Mapping of the Pacific, 2004.

Theoretical Cartography and the Sea of the West or Mer de l’Ouest

Monday, June 29th, 2009

The idea of a great inland sea occupying a vast part of the American west and opening into the Pacific attained the height of its popularity in the middle part of the 18th century under the patronage of the influential French cartographers Guillaume de l’Isle and Phillipe Buache. Under Buache and De l’Isle’s influence the Sea of the West, Mer de L’Ouest, or Baye de l’Ouest reached its fullest expression and commonly appeared on maps from about 1740 to 1790.

The source of Sea of the West, however, precedes both Buache and De l’Isle by several hundred years. The idea of a Sea of the West is intimately related to the hope of either a Northwest Passage or a River passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Such a passage was actively sought after almost from the earliest days of American Exploration. The idea had at its core the commercial interests of British and French traders who, unlike the Spanish, had no easy access to the Pacific and the rich trade with Asia.

Munster's iconic 1841 Map of America.  Verrazano's Sea is seen extending from the north towards Carolina.

Munster's iconic 1841 Map of America. Verrazano's Sea is seen extending from the north towards Carolina.

In it most embryonic form, the Sea of the West can be associated with Verrazano’s sea. This great sea, pictured here in Munster’s classic 1540 map of the Americas, was identified by the Italian navigator Verrazano. Sailing along North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1524, Verrazano saw the sound on the eastern side of the isthmus and postulated that it must be the Pacific.

. . . where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which, from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay …

This concept was taken up by various cartographers back in Europe and, subsequently, a great indentation along the western coast of America starting just north of California was a common characteristic of many early maps of the continent. Even in the 1670s, when John Lederer made his famous explorations of Virginia and North Carolina, most colonial settlers believed that the western sea was only about 10 or 15 days inland from the coast.

Nonetheless, Verrazano’s Sea was largely discredited in the late 18th century when prominent cartographers like Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, and Blaeu removed it from their maps. It was not until the 17th century that it began to reappear on maps though reformatted to a reduced size and moved farther west.

Jansson's 1631 Map of America showing a mysterious inlet...

Jansson's 1631 Map of America showing a mysterious inlet...

The next serious first hand evidence of the Sea of the West appears in the account of Juan de Fuca’s voyage along the western coast of America published by Samuel Purchas in his 1625 book Purchas His Pilgrimes. The veracity of de Fuca’s account has been the subject of significant debate over the last 100 years or so. Most argue that de Fuca’s account was fabricated by the Englishman Michael Lok to promote his own ideas of a Northwest Passage. However, we find a grain of truth in the narrative. De Fuca was supposedly a Greek Captain active in the Americas in the late 1500s. Colonial records to indicate that such a figure did in fact exist and was an active pilot in New Spain from about 1585 to 1600. De Fuca’s account does ring somewhat of truth if we assume that he actually sailed into the strait now named after him:

…until he came to the Latitude of fortie seven degrees, and that there finding that the land trended North and north-east with a broad inlet of sea, between 47 and 48 degrees of Latitude; he entered thereinto, sayling therein more than twenty days, and found that Land trending sometime North-west and North-east, and North, and also East and South-eastward, and very much broader Sea than was at the said entrance, and that he passed by divers lands in that sayling…

Regardless of any actual veracity De Fuca’s account may or may not have, what is important for our purposes is the effect this report had on European cartographers who widely trusted it. In accounting for De Fuca’s 20 days of sailing, European cartographers, began mapping a large open inlet extending well into the continent – though perhaps not so far as the 16th century Verazanno’s Sea.

Janvier's 1762 Map of North America Showing Buache's Sea

Janvier's 1762 Map of North America Showing Buache's Sea

The next incarnations of the Sea of the West – and perhaps it fullest realization – came through the work of the aforementioned Guillaume de l’Isle and his brother in law Philippe Buache. In the early 17th century it became increasingly important for French and English settlers along the northeastern coasts of North America to find a passage to the Pacific in order to compete with the Spanish for the lucrative East India trade. Both nations sent out several expeditions both by sea and by river. By this time, most agreed that an Arctic route was unfeasible and instead turned their attention to the lake and river systems of the continent. Some believed they would find a river system extending westward from the Hudson Bay along the passage mapped out by Juan de Fuca. Others postulated a more southerly route through the Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnepeg. Still others believed that a route could be found by following the Missouri River.

Such was the competition to get to the Pacific that, when De l’Isle and Buache “discovered” the Sea of the West, they chose to keep it a secret for the benefit of France and never published it in any of their works. It was left up to the competing map publisher Nolin to abscond with a copy of De l’Isle’s map and publish the first Buachian “Sea of the West” map. De l’Isle subsequently filed a law suit against Nolin for copyright infringement,

Il (Nolin) a represente une Mer a l’Occident de la Louisiane, qu’il appelle Mer de l’Ouest. Cette mer estoit une de mes decouvertes, mais comme il n’est pas toujours a propos de publier ce que l’on scait, ou que 1 ‘on croit sqavoir, je n’ai pas fait graver cette Mer sur les ouvrages quej’ai rendus publics, ne voulant pas que les Etrangers profitassent de cette decouverte quelle qu’elle pft estre, avant que l’on eut reconnu dans ce Royaume si l’on en pourroit tirer quelque avantage..

Even so, the damage was done and the Sea of the West began to appear on a number of influential maps of the period.

Of course, one wonders at De l’Isle and Buache’s sources. On this we have some certain evidence and a great deal of speculation. Reports from American Indians of a salt sea far to the west were hardly uncommon in the 18th century. De l’Isle would have had access to numerous missionary reports that were, at the time, streaming into Paris from the new world. At the very least, he would have had access to the narrative of Lahonton (who heard about the Great Salt Lake from his American Indian Guides), Juan de Fuca’s legend, the De Fonte letter, the influential though possibly fabricated tale of the American Indian traveler Moncacht-Ape, as well as the explorations of Pierre de La Verendrye.

Vaugondy's 1772 Map of America Showing the Sea of the West

Vaugondy's 1772 Map of America Showing the Sea of the West

With so many sources and such a history, one might be tempted to ask why De l’Isle and Buache claim to have “discovered” the Sea of the West. The stems from the a cartographic approach embraced by Buache. Cartographers had the difficult job of piecing together legends, missionary reports, astronomical observations, and nautical references into a cohesive whole. It was their job to present the known world in a comprehensible manner. Even with reports from navigators and missionaries coming in from all over the world – much was unknown and much else was unreliable. In these instances cartographers resorted to a number of different strategies. Some filled the space with sketches, drawings, text or cartouches. Others simply left unknown areas blank. Some coped the speculations of other cartographers. By early 18th century, a new movement had evolved in France to address these problems. Though undefined at the time, today it is called “theoretical cartography”. Buache was the leading theoretical cartographer of his day. Theoretical cartography attempted to used known geographic patterns and scientific theories to fill in blank spaces when little else was known. The Mer de la Ouest is the perfect example Though a salt water inlet from the Pacific had long been speculated upon and hoped for, Buache and De l’Isle embraced the theory because it supported both the ambitions of the French crown in the New World and the theoretical geographic theory that Buache was developing.

The Sea of the West remained on map until the end of the 18th century. The late 18th century explorations of James Cook and George Vancouver finally defeated the theoretical cartographers.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthAmerica-janvier-1762
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/DeFonteAutres-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-latter-1762
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Amerique-clouet-1785
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertes-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Amerique-brion-1786
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Florida-debry-1591

REFERENCES:
Lucie Lagarde, “Le Passage du Nord-Ouest et la Mer de l’Ouest dans la Cartographie Française du 18e Siècle, Contribution à l’Etude de l’Oeuvre des Delisle et Buache, Imago Mundi, Vol. 41 (1989), pp. 19-43.
Hayes, Derek, Historical atlas of the Pacific Northwest, p. 18-27.
Petty, C. M., When France was King of Cartography, p. 113 – 164.
Kellog, L. P., The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest.
Winsor, Justin, The Mississippi Basin: The Struggle in America Between England and France 1697 – 1763.

Fou-Sang or Fusang, a 5th Century Chinese Colony in Western America?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

East of the Eastern Ocean lie
The shores of the Land of Fusang.
If, after landing there, you travel
East for 10,000 li
You will come to another ocean, blue,
Vast, huge, boundless.

This ancient poem, written by a 3rd century Chinese poet, describes a place that is often referred to in Chinese folklore as the “Birthplace of the Sun”. It was a place well known in ancient China. It appears frequently in poetry and around the 2nd century BC, one Han emperor is said to have sent an expedition to colonize this land. Where was the legendary land of Fusang? Eighteenth century mapmakers placed it in North America, usually near what is today Washington or Vancouver. These cartographers, most notably De L’Isle and Zatta, mapped Fusang based on a popular essay written by the French orientalist historian Josepth de Guignes in his 1761 article “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique? ” De Guignes was a dubious historian at best, but with this he may have been on to something. Fusang is most fully described on by the 6th century itinerant monk Hui Shen.

Hui Shen is said to have been a mendicant Gondaran monk and to have appeared in the court of the Emperor Wu Ti at Jingzhou in Southern Qi in 499 AD. His adventures, which are described by Yao Sialian in the 7th century Book of Liang, describes his voyage in both known and unknown lands. Starting around 455 AD, he traveled to the coast of China, to Japan, Korea, to the Kamchatka Peninsula, then to Fusang. Fusang, he reports is some 20,000 Chinese Li (about 9,000 km) east of Kamchatka. This would place it somewhere around what is today British Columbia, roughly where Zatta and De L’Isle map the colony of Fusang.

While it is a subject of ferocious debate, numerous scholars and historians have embraced the idea that the Chinese not only visited the New World but maintained regular contact with it. We have long known that, given the advanced stated of shipbuilding and navigation in ancient China, the Chinese were capable of launching expeditions across the Pacific. The real question is, did they? The story of Hui Shen is one of the few actual documents that describe such an voyage. Hui Shen’s tale, which offers anthropological and geographic commentary consistent with Pacific Coast of America, describes Fusang in considerable detail. Over the past 200 years numerous scholars, both eastern and western, have broken down the Hui Shen text. Some have declared it a fabrication, but most have embraced the idea that the Chinese did in fact not only visit America, but maintained a minor but active back and forth communication.

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

Though many scholars agree that the Fusang tale does have some element of truth, few agree on where it may have been. Some point to Peru (Hui Shen describes the leader of Fusang as the “Inki”), others to Mexico (Fusang = Maguey), and still others to British Columbia (most likely arrival point sailing east from Kamchatka with the easterly North Pacific Current). The name Fusang itself is derived from Chinese mythology where it is a land or tree in the east from which the Sun is born. This kind of plant, or something similar, is described as common in the Land of Fusang. Fusang is billed as a kind of all purpose plant which can be eaten, made into clothing and made into paper, etc. There is considerable debate as to what Fusang may have been, with some identifying it with the Maguay of Mexico, others with various types of Cactus, and still others ancient varieties of corn (which were common along the Pacific Coast of North America).

There is some, but not significant, historical evidence to support the idea that the Chinese were active in Ancient America. Ancient Chinese coins, ship anchors (James R. Moriarty of the University of San Diego), and other relics have been discovered along the American coast – some dating back as much as 2,000 years! Also, Hui Shen’s descriptions do correspond somewhat with what we know of the New World around 450 AD. It is far too much for this short blog post to breakdown the details of Hui Shen’s narrative, especially when it has been done so well and so well by others, however, our list of references below can offer significant further reading.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertes-vaugondy-1772
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AmericaWest-zatta-1776

REF:
San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1979.
Guignes, Jospeh, de, “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique?”, Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, tome 28, Paris, 1761
Mertz, Henriette, Columbus Was Last, Hyperion 1992.
Wei Chu-Hsien, China and America -Volume One, Shuo Wen Shu Dian Bookstore, 1982.

El Dorado, Manoa, Lake Parima, Patiti, and the “Lost City of Z”

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

1688 Coronelli Map of America

1688 Coronelli Map of America

Having just finished David Grann’s wonderful book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, which examines the obsessive hunt of Colonel P.H. Fawcett for a lost city in the Amazon, I felt compelled to write on the legend of El Dorado. This book is a wonderful read, offers some surprising insights, and is exceptionally well researched, we highly recommend it. Grann’s “Lost City of Z” focuses on Fawcett’s expeditions in the lower Xingu, a southern tributary of the Amazon. Here Fawcett believed he would discover a great lost city and indeed, modern archeologists are unearthing just such a site in this precise area. The modern day discoverer of these ruins is the archeologist Michael Heckenberger who had unearthed several great cities surrounded by massive moats and connected by gigantic arrow straight causeway-roads. Though now largely overgrown by the jungle and their once great populations vanished, such cities were indeed reported by the first Europeans to venture into the Amazon. It was long thought that the conditions in the Amazon were inimical to large populations and that the first conquistadors to travel the Amazon were simply lying. However, the truth is far more terrifying, for these first lonely explorers carried with them diseases and illnesses previously unknown to region and in the dark years that followed when few white men entered the Amazon, the great indigenous populations were all but wiped out.

By the time Fawcett began exploring the Amazon in early 20th century the legend and mythic quality of El Dorado was already firmly established. Thus when Fawcett started discovering these causeway-roads and pottery deposits in the middle of an area inhabited only by a few primitive seeming jungle tribes, the association with the mythical lost city of gold was natural. However, for centuries El Dorado had already been appearing on maps, though quite far from the lower Xingu. Instead most antique maps place El Dorado far to the north, on an island in the midst of a vase saline lake between the lower Orinoco River and the northern Amazon tributaries. How did it get there?

Map of the Amazon River System

Map of the Amazon River System

The legend of El Dorado, or “Golden Man”, seems to be an amalgamation of fact and fantasy. The legend, which describes a great king who is daily covered in gold dust so that he shines like a god before cleansing himself in a sacred lake, is in fact based on Chibcha rituals. The Chibcha, a tribe living in what is today part of Columbia, did exactly this, though not daily. By the time the Europeans had arrived, this practice seems to have been largely abandoned but it easy to imagine why Europeans, fresh from the conquest of Peru and Mexico, would be drawn to the idea.

However, we digress, the real culprit responsible for several hundred years of mapping “El Dorado” and “Lake Parime” in Guyana must be Sir Walter Raleigh, who explored this region in search of the legendary kingdom of gold in 1595. Raleigh was the first to connect “El Dorado” to the the land or city of “Manoa”. Raleigh does not visit the city of Manoa (which he believes is El Dorado) himself due to the onset of the rainy season, however he describes the city, based on indigenous accounts, as resting on a salt lake over 200 leagues long somewhere in what today must be Guyana, northern Brazil, or Southeastern Venezuela. Nor does Raleigh precisely locate Manoa, but his second, Captain Keymis, does provide directions in his own narrative:

it lieth southerly in the land, and from the mouth of it unto the head they pass in twenty days; then taking their pro-visions, they carry it on their shoulders one day’s journey; afterwards they return to their canoes, and bear them likewise to the side of a lake, which the Jaos call Roponowini, the Charibes Parime, which is of such bigness that they know no difference between it and the main sea. There be infinite numbers of canoes in this lake, and I suppose it is no other than that whereon Manoa standeth.

Back in Europe cartographer Hondius, reading Raleigh’s narrative and enchanted by the idea, added the Lake Parime to his 1599 map “Nieuwe Caerte van het Goudrycke Landt Guiana.” Most subsequent cartographers followed suit for the next 300 years or so.

This lake may indeed have some basis in fact. Sir Robert Schomburgk, studied this region from 1835 to 1844 and made this interesting note:

From the southern foot of the Pacaraima Range extended the great savannahs of the Rupununi, Takutu, and Rio Branco or Parima, which occupy about 14,400 square miles, their average height above the sea being from 350 to 400 feet. These savannahs are inundated during the rainy season, and afford at that period, with the exception of a short portage, a communication between the Rupununi and the Pirara, a tributary of the Mahu or Ireng, which falls into the Takutu, and the latter into the Rio Branco or Parima.

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of South America

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of South America

The annual inundation of this region thus opened what must have been an ancient and popular trade route from the Orinoco, to the Rio Branco and hence to the Amazon tributaries, the Solimoes, the Japura, and the Rio Negro. Thus when European explorers in the lower Orinoco during the rainy season saw Indian traders appear with gold jewelry and trade pieces, the connection to El Dorado seemed obvious. When asked where the gold came from, the local tribes could only answer “Manoa.”

As late as the 17th century the Manoas were a large and populous trading nation, lead by the dynamic King Ajuricaba, occupying the banks of the Rio Negro. It seems that the Manoas were very secretive of their trade routes – as all good traders must be – and jealously guarded their territory. There are records of trade arrangements between the Dutch in Guyana and “Manoa” dating to the late 16th century. The range of the Manoa trade network extended over a vast region from the “mouth of the Jupura up and down the Amazon to Quito and Para, from the Cayari to Santa Fe and the Upper Orinoco, from the Parima to the Essequibo and its sister rivers of the northern watershed of Guiana”. This may partially account for the extraordinary diverse regions where legends of Manoa can be heard.

1780 Bonne Map of Guyana

1780 Bonne Map of Guyana

But where did all the gold come from? This may be impossible to answer, but we can speculate. The first European to “see” Manoa was Juan Martinez c. 1542. Martinez was a munitions master under the conquistador Diego Ordas. Ordas was searching for El Dorado in lower Orinoco where he perished. Before his own death, which is itself mysterious, Ordas condemned Martinez to death as the culprit in an unfortunate munitions explosion. Martinez was to be tied up and set adrift in a boat upon the Amazon. Many consider what follows to be a complete fabrication on the part of Martinez, but I generally consider the habit of attributing of anomalous elements in early travel accounts to intentional falsification an easy solution to a complex issue. Martinez claims to have been picked up by Manoan traders in the region who, finding him unusual due to his skin tone, conveyed him, blindfolded, to their city. Here, Martinez describes a great city. Curiously, he also describes meeting the heir to the recently conquered Inca Empire. Given the discoveries of Heckenberger and the new understanding that, at least in the earliest days of South American exploration, that the Amazon was indeed a populous and well organized region, this story is completely reasonable. That the Manoans may have had traffic with the Incas, given their range in the western Amazon is almost a given. It would also allow them access to gold mining regions on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Martinez’s association of Manoa with the lost heir to Inca Empire also brings up the possibility that this was none other than the long lost refuge city of Pattiti – though this opens an entirely new can of worms.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NEAmericaGore-coronelli-1688
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthAmerica-covensmortier-1730
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-t-1815
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/America-cary-1806
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthAmerica-cary-1807
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthAmerNorth-bonne-1780
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/TerrarumOrbis-bormeester-1685

REF:
Edmondson, George, “Early Relations of the Manoas with the Dutch, 1606-1732″, The English Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 82 (Apr., 1906), pp. 229-253. Edmondson, George, ” The Dutch on the Amazon and Negro in the Seventeenth Century. Part II.-Dutch Trade in the Basin of the Rio Negro,”The English Historical Review, Vol. 19, No. 73 (Jan., 1904), pp. 1-25. Von Hagen, Victor W., The Golden Man: The Quest for El Dorado (Farnborough, Saxon House, I974, 4.-25). Pp. xiii+338. Meggers, Betty J., “The Continuing Quest for El Dorado: Round Two”, Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 304-325. Raleigh, Sir Walter, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtifiul Empyre of Guiana. Grann, David, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, 2008.

Cayamay Lactus – Apocryphal Source of the five Great River Systems of Southeast Asia

Monday, May 18th, 2009

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

For nearly four hundred years many maps of Asia, and particularly India and Southeast Asia, depicted an enormous lake far to the northeast of the Bay of Bengal. This lake, alternately called Chiamay, Chiam-may, Chian-nay, or Cayamay, is postulated to be the source of four to five of the great Southeast Asian river systems, the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Chao Phraya, the Bramaputra, and the Mekong. Today we know that the Lago de Chiamay is entirely non-existent, but where did this persistent myth come from?

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

The earliest reference to the Lago de Chiamay that we have been able to come across is the c. 1550 geographical study produced by Jao de Barros. Barros, who is not known to have traveled to the orient himself, compiled his geography from reports from Portugese explorers in the region, who themselves no doubt extracted many of their ideas about the remote interior of Asia from indigenous authorities. His most likely source for our purposes is most likely Fernao Mendez Pinto. Today the Barros geography is unfortunately lost, but some of its commentary survives via G. B. Ramusio and his 1554 edition of “Navigationi et viaggi”. While some have argued that Ramusio could not have possibly have had access to Barros’ commentary, as it had not been published at the time, Ramusio himself provides clear reference that he did in fact have an unpublished Barros manuscript. Ramusio includes several maps in his “Navigationi et viaggi” that were drawn around 1550 and depict the Lago.

Fernao Mendez Pinto, Barros most likely source and the lake’s supposed “discoverer”, is the only European who claims to have visited the lake itself. Pinto apparently discovered the lake in 1744. Generally speaking, while Barros was well respected in his day, Pinto is considered an unreliable geographer at best and at worse has been dubbed the “prince of fiction”. Why this is the case when he was without a doubt actually in Siam, may be explainable when his own sources are evaluated. Pinto may have heard about the lake in the Royal Court of Siam, one of the kings of which is said to have invaded Chiamay and captured many cities around it.

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

That Pinto derived much of his geography from local sources is highly likely. What he and his readers back in Europe may not have counted on is the presence of a mythical and semi-mythical Hindu-Buddhist geography overlaying the actual geography. Hindu and related Buddhist mythology consider Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal, in modern day Tibet, to be the spiritual source of four religiously and geographically important subcontinent rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Karnali, the Indus and the Sutlej. As the Hindu-Buddhist culture expanded into southeast Asia, these four rivers and their source lake were reassociated with local rivers such as the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Mekong, and the Chao Phraya.

From a European perspective, associating these rivers systems with one another and with a single source is an almost natural assumption. All five rivers bear a great deal of similarity. That is, all seem to originate from roughly the same area, all flow along roughly parallel courses, and all have enormous fluvial volume. Associating a great lake with said source is equally natural. Given the size and orientation of these river systems, one naturally speculates that the source lake itself must be enormous. Such speculation was not uncommon for map makers working in the 18th century and earlier. Cartographers, who rarely traveled the world themselves, had the difficult job of piecing together and interpreting various vague and often contradictory traveler’s accounts as well as reconciling such new information with accepted mappings.

Whatever the original source for the Lago de Chiamay may have been, it begins appearing on maps as early as the Gastaldi map of 1550 (though some speculate that this map was actually drawn a few years earlier). The Lago was embraced by Ortelius in his c. 1570 mappings of Asia and was eventually associated with various hopeful fantasies of a river passage through central Asia to the North Sea. Almost all subsequent mappings until the late 18th century included the Lago de Chiamay in various forms. Later, as explorers began to penetrate the region with greater regularity, Chiamatwas at various point associated with any lake discovered in the area, including Koko Nor (Qinghai Lake) in China and the actual Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. By the late 18th century the lake had moved far west of its original location and been reduced to a fraction of its original size. By the 19th century, it disappeared entirely.

The source of the name itself, “Chiamay” may be derived from Pinto’s original discovery of the lake in the records at the Royal court in Siam. Pinto was told of a royal raid to conquer and claim Chiang Mai, once the Capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

The city of Chaing Mai, now fully part of Thailand was founded in 1296 and was frequently invaded and conquered by both the Siamese and Burmese empires before being formally incorporated into the Siamese empire in the late 18th century. Though there is no lake near Chiang Mai, Pinto, who is not known for reliability, may have misinterpreted what he was told. The Lago de Chiamay is most likely the result of Pinto’s misunderstanding of stories from the royal court of Siam, misassociations regarding the Buddhist-Hindu mythology associated with Lake Manasarovar, and natural assumptions based upon the observable similarities of the great southeast Asian river systems.

Sven Hedin discusses this lake and its origins in great detail in his fascinating and well researched 1919 article, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AsiaeNovaDescriptio-ortelius-1570
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/IndiaMogolis-seutter-1740
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Asiae-homann-1730
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/OrbisClimata-cellarius-1700
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/India-hmhr-1748

REF: Hedin, Sven, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 290-339. Carpentier, Jarl, Some Additional Remarks on Vol. 1 of Dr. Sven Hedin’s ‘Southern Tibet’, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 269-289

Lacus Aquae Dulces or Lake Apalachy – The Great Sweet Water Lake of the Southeast

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The 1606 Mercator Map of the Southeast

The 1606 Mercator Map of the Southeast - this map was the first place Le Moyne's fresh water lake north of Florida and established the precident of mapping in there for the next 100 years.

1564 Le Monye Map of Florida

1564 Le Monye Map of Florida

Lacus Aquae Dulces – Many students of rare maps of the American southeast will notice a large lake or inland sea of this name or something similar roughly located in what is today Georgia or South Carolina. This curious geographic feature, first seen in Le Moyne’s map of Florida drawn in 1565, persisted until the early 18th century. In later maps it was associated with the Apalache Indians and the Apalache (Appellation) Mountain Range where it was consequently renamed Lake Apalache. With a nearly 200 year history, Lacus Aquae Dulces is one of the more interesting and enduring errors in the early mapping of North America.

Detail of Le Moyne's Map of Florida

Detail of Le Moyne's Map of Florida

The curious story of this lake begins with Jacques Le Moyne who was was part of an ill fated French Huguenot effort to colonize the mainland of North America in the mid 16th century. Le Moyne was commissioned to sketch the local inhabitants and map as much of the land as possible. In his short time in the New World, Le Moyne’s important map of Florida is a impressive achievement. Despite a few irregularities and a pronounced longitudinal distortion, it is a remarkably accurate. For our purposes we need to focus on the Lacus Auqae Dulces, which Le Moyne locates in central Florida as the source of the River May or today’s St. John’s River. Le Moyne maps the River May with a rough approximation of accuracy as an inverted V flowing north from Lake George, the true and original Lacus Aquae Dulces, and then in a southwesterly direction into the Atlantic.

1671 Ogilby's Map of Virginia & Carolina

1671 Ogilby's Map of Virginia & Carolina

Actual Course of the River May or St. John River

Actual Course of the River May or St. John River

Back in Europe most cartographers followed Le Moyne’s model until the 1606 Hondius edition of Mercator’s Atlas in which the lake and the river were transposed far to the north. How and why this happened is something of a mystery, but we can speculate. We know that many maps of this region made in the 16th and 17th century frequently placed latitude lines up to 20 degrees to the north. These errors can be associated with magnetic variation, temperature issues associated with isothermal lines, and navigational errors related to the erroneous confusion of the star Asfick with Polaris. While Le Moyne

Actual Course of the Savannah River

Actual Course of the Savannah River

correctly located the mouth of the River May at 30 degrees of Latitude, Hondius maps it between 31 and 32 degrees. This led to a misassociation of the River May with the Savannah River. Thus, while the River May dips southward, the Savannah River heads almost directly NW into the Appellation Mountains, forming the modern southern border of South Carolina. Hondius, no doubt taking his cue from navigators who rarely trekked inland, therefore rerouted the May River to flow from the northwest. Without an accurate picture if the interior, Hondius followed Le Moyne’s example and translocated the great freshwater lake to the north. The influence of the Mercator-Hondius firm was so pronounced in Europe that most subsequent cartographers followed their lead. Lactus Aquae Dulces appeared in maps by Jansson, Laet, Janszoon, Blaeu, Allard, Ogilby, Speed, Homann and others well into the 18th century. In the 1670s the German explorer John Lederer, probably the first European to actually enter this region, claims to have actually seen and sampled the water of this mysterious lake, which he called Ashley. While Lederer’s claim is undoubtedly false, as the lake does not exist, it is unclear why he chose to lie. Quite possible Lederer’s motivation was merely to validate an enhance the importance of his own discoveries. Around 1730 surveyors and other frontiersmen exploring the region added to the cartographic corpus and, failing to identify a major lake in this region, influenced its removal from most subsequent maps.

True, David O., “Some Early Maps Relating to Florida”, Imago Mundi, Vol. 11 (1954), pp. 73-84.
Cumming, W. P., “Geographical Misconceptions of the Southeast in the Cartography of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Nov., 1938), pp. 476-492.

Laguna de los Xarayes in Rare Maps

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
The Lake of Xarayes

The Lake of Xarayes

The Laguna de los Xaraies is a large and mysterious lake that appeared in maps of South America from about 1600 to 1850. The Laguna, located near Matte Grosso, was often associated with the gateway to the Amazon, legends of El Dorado, and the Earthly Paradise.

The Xarayes, a corruption of “Xaraiés” meaning “Masters of the River”, were an indigenous people occupying what is today parts of Brazil’s Matte Grosso and the Pantanal. When Spanish and Portuguese explorers first navigated up the Paraguay River, as always in search of El Dorado, they encountered the vast Pantanal flood plain at the height of its annual inundation. Understandably misinterpreting the flood plain as a gigantic inland sea, they named it after the local inhabitants, the Xaraies. The Laguna de los Xarayes almost immediately began to appear on early maps of the region and, at the same time, almost immediately took on a legendary aspect. Later missionaries and chroniclers, particularly Díaz de Guzmán, imagined an island in this lake and curiously described it as an “Island of Paradise,”

…an island [of the Paraguay River] more than ten leagues [56 km] long, two or three [11-16 km] wide. A very mild land rich in a thousand types of wild fruit, among them grapes, pears and olives: the Indians created plantations throughout, and throughout the year sow and reap with no difference in winter or summer, … are the Indians of that island are of good will and are friends to the Spaniards; Orejón they call

A view of the Pantanal.

A view of the Pantanal.


them, and they have their ears pierced in which are wheels of wood … which occupy the entire hole. They live in round houses, not as a village, but each apart though keep up with each other in much peace and friendship. They called of old to this island paradise Terrenal by its abundance and wonderful qualities.

To this north of this wonderful “Island of Paradise” appeared the “Puerto de los Reyes” which was considered by many to be a gateway to the Amazon and the Kingdom of El Dorado. Sadly, later explorers, in addition to being disappointed by the absence of an El Dorado, also discovered that the Paraguay River does not connect to the Amazon system.