Dr. Gunnar Thompson’s technical review of the 1418 map
Gunnar Thompson, Ph.D., is Director of the New World Discovery Institute in Port Townsend, Washington. By occupation, he is an anthropologist time detective and a specialist in the study of ancient maps. He is the author of five books on the subject of ancient voyages to the Americas before Columbus. Thompson first learned about topographic mapping in the Boy Scouts; and he received further training at the University of Illinois Field School in Archeology. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with High Honors in Anthropology from the University of Illinois in 1968. He earned his Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1979 after studying psychology, anthropology, history, urban planning, and peace planning. He also worked for two summers as an archeologist, surveyor, and mapmaker at Cahokia Mounds in Illinois.
Gavin Menzies asked me to examine a photograph of the 1418 Ming Map in December of 2005. Since I have studied ancient maps for the past 15 years, I was immediately aware that the 1418 Map had many similarities with Renaissance European maps. I knew that traditional Chinese maps of the world were made in a circular shape. So, I suspected that the copyist of the map, Mo Yi-tong, might have modified this map in the 18th century after having examined world maps that had been printed in China by the Jesuits in the 17th century. The map also had several features that are commonly seen in the 16th century maps by the Dutch cartographer Gerhard Mercator. To begin with, there was the obvious European technique of showing the world map in the form of two adjacent hemispheres. There were other similarities including: Four Polar Isles, a distinctive Northwest Canadian Gulf, a peculiar “bulge” in the lower region of South America, and there was a bizarre island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that Mercator called “New Guinea.” With so many unusual similarities, it was evident that the maps were somehow related. Either Mo Yi-tong borrowed ideas from Mercator’s maps, or both cartographers copied portions of their maps from the same sources.
The question that I had to answer, and the question that confronts us today, is this: “Who copied from whom?”
Title: 1418 Ming Map—Diagnostic Review by Gunnar Thompson, Ph.D.
Is this the most important map in the world? It is certainly the most exciting document that has ever made a serious challenge to the traditional Western version of history. According to most Western scholars, the Chinese gave up the quest for world discovery just when they were getting started in the 15th century. Is this true? Was the famous Chinese Admiral Zheng He restricted to sailing only in the Indian Ocean? That seems to be the strange assumption of Western scholars. Or is Gavin Menzies right in saying that Zheng He led the Ming Navy in voyages round the world?
Let’s take a look at the evidence of cartography.
Title: 1418 Ming World Map—DGM Schematic
Text: At first glance, the antique map that Liu Gang purchased appears to be a remarkably accurate portrayal of the entire globe. However, a second, more discerning look gives completely the opposite impression. The map contains numerous anomalies or errors that can be used to assess the age and authenticity of the document. These features can be referred to as “Diagnostic Geographical Markers.” They have the same kind of usefulness that DNA markers or fingerprints have in a judicial investigation. They can reveal the time at which a geographical feature began or ended; and they can reveal the sources of geographical features on maps that were copied by later mapmakers.
We will examine the following geographical markers. In the Western Hemisphere: 0) North Polar Isles—where there really are none; 1) a mysterious Arctic Gulf in NW Canada—where there is none; 2) Hudson Strait along the Eastern Canadian shore—but no Hudson Bay; 3) a Perpendicular East Coast—which actually slants to the northeast—also no Florida, and no Gulf of Mexico; 4) an Island California—which doesn’t exist; 5) a southern bulge along the West Coast of South America—where there is no such bulge; and 6) a “South Seas Australia” just west of South America in a location where no such island actually exists. In the Eastern Hemisphere, we see: 7) a South Polar Australia—which is likely to be mistaken for Antarctica, but it is not Antarctica; a “Long Neck” version of Africa where the land area connecting Africa to the Middle East is more than ten times the actual distance of land in the region of the Isthmus of Suez; 9) the coast of Europe lacking England, Ireland, and Norway; and finally 10) a big northwestern island that represents a detached Labrador and Newfoundland. Actually, Labrador and Newfoundland should be part of the Canadian mainland shown in the Western Hemisphere.
0. North Polar Isles
1. NW Arctic Gulf
2. Hudson Strait
3. No Florida
4. Island California
5. Southern Bulge, SA
6. South Seas Australia (I)
7. Polar Australia (II)
8. Long Neck Africa
9. No England, No Norway
10. Detached Labrador/Newfoundland
Title: Mercator’s Map 1569
Text: We notice immediately that Liu Gang’s Chinese document has many similarities to maps by the 16th century Dutch geographer Gerhard Mercator. Since Mercator’s maps were regarded as the standard in Europe for over a century, we need to evaluate the possibility that a Chinese cartographer such as Mo Yi-tong might have borrowed from such a map in the 18th century. We first notice the style of presentation that uses two adjacent hemispheres. This style was common in Renaissance Europe but virtually unknown in ancient China. However, let us not be hasty and assume that this design feature originated in the West. Most Western cartographers in the Middle Ages also had a tradition of showing the entire world within the confines of a single circle that was centered on Jerusalem. It is quite possible that this was an innovation of the original Ming cartographer. It should be noted in this regard that the Ming version has two overlapped hemispheres; whereas all known European models feature adjacent circles. Liu Gang has suggested that the Ming artist used overlapping hemispheres in order to place China near the physical center of the map. This seems to be a plausible rationale.
Most of the other similarities between the 1418 Map and Mercator’s Map can be seen in a comparison of the Western Hemispheres from both maps.
Title: Western Hemisphere Comparison
Text: A comparison of the 1418 Map (on the left) with the Western Hemisphere from Mercator’s Map (on the right) reveals some striking similarities. Both maps have Polar Isles (0); both have a Northwestern Gulf along the Arctic coast of Canada (1); both have a Northeastern Strait—but no Hudson Bay (2); both have the unusual, non-existent Southern Bulge along the West Coast of South America (5); both have the South Seas Australia (6) as well as the Polar Antarctic version of Australia (7).
We would have to say that there is a strong relationship between these two maps. The creators of the maps must have used some of the same sources. On the other hand, it is also clear that the maker of the 1418 map did not copy from the Mercator Map. Indeed, Mercator’s Map has many geographic features that are not seen in the Chinese specimen. For example, Mercator features the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in the Northeast; and he also shows an accurate Gulf of Mexico complete with Florida and the Antilles. California on Mercator’s Map is not shown as an island—but it is instead accurately portrayed as a peninsula. If Mo Yi-tong had copied from Mercator, there would be more similarities.
Related DGM Significant Differences
0) Polar Isles –Gulf of St. Lawrence
1) NW Gulf –Florida
2) Hudson Strait –Gulf of Mexico
5) Southern Bulge, SA –California Peninsula
6) South Seas Australia
(a.k.a., “New Guinea”)
7) Polar Australia
Title: Eastern Hemisphere Comparison
Text: The similarities between the 1418 Map and Mercator’s Standard Map diminish with a comparison of the Eastern Hemispheres. Only the Polar Australia (7) stretching across the bottom of the map reveals a limited relationship from some common source. In both cases, Polar Australia can be identified by a “U-shaped” gulf directly below Asia. This gulf is a vague representation for the Gulf of Carpenteria. We also note that Mercator preferred the accurate “Short Neck” variety of Africa as opposed to the “Long Neck” monstrosity that is seen on the 1418 Map. It is clear from the few similarities overall that Mo Yi-tong did not copy from Mercator.
Related DGM Significant Differences
7) Polar Australia –Short Neck Africa
Title: Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)
Text: Western historians typically feature the Jesuit geographer Matteo Ricci as the European who most influenced the course of cartography in China. Ricci believed that the style of European scientific mapping as seen in the works of the Dutch Masters, Mercator and Ortelius, was superior to what he saw in China. Ricci traveled from Italy to the Philippines in 1580; by 1582 he was in Macao. He reached Beijing in 1601 carrying maps that he hoped would win converts to his own religion.
Labels: Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)
Title: Abraham Ortelius Map 1570
Text: Abraham Ortelius presented the 1569 Mercator World Map in the form of a single planispheric projection. This is the kind of map that was most in favor with the Jesuits. Note in particular the South Seas Australia (6) in the far left-hand corner of the map. Mercator identified this as the island of “New Guinea” that the Portuguese had conquered in about the year 1530. Of course, New Guinea isn’t actually located so close to South America.
Labels: Abraham Ortelius Map 1570
Title: Jesuit Map Conversion 1584—Temporal Marker
Text: In order to appeal to his Chinese associates, Matteo Ricci converted the map by Ortelius into one that had China and the Pacific at the center of the map. By comparing a modern European map with the out-of-date Ming world maps (such as the Shanhai Yudi Quantu of c. 1425-1430), Ricci hoped to convince the Chinese that Europeans had developed superior mapping technology. In this manner, he hoped to persuade the Chinese that the European God and religion were also superior to the traditional religion and deities of China.
There is one very important characteristic that we should note in the 1584 Ricci Map: the Jesuit chose to eliminate the South Seas Australia (6) that had been a feature of maps by Ortelius and Mercator. Apparently, Spanish mariners in the Philippines informed Ricci that the so-called “New Guinea” (or South Seas Australia) did not really exist. At least, it did not exist in that location. This improvement in the Ricci Map serves as a Temporal Marker regarding the age of the South Seas Australia (6) on the 1418 Ming Map. Whoever made the original Ming Map must have used a source that was older than 1584. That discrepancy also rules out Matteo Ricci and the Jesuits as the source for Mo Yi-tong’s 17th century document. This mysterious isle, the South Seas Australia, effectively vanishes from cartographic sources in China after 1584.
Labels: Jesuit Map Conversion 1584—Temporal Marker; “New Guinea”
Ortelius Map 1570; Ricci Map 1584
Title: California Island on 1418 Map
Text: One of the more unusual features of the 1418 map is the portrayal of the West Coast of North America as an Island (arrow). We have designated this feature as “Island California” or Diagnostic Geographical Marker #4. Some critics have suggested that the 1418 Ming Map is actually a copy of a 17th century French map that features the concept of Island California. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Title: Nicholas Sanson Map 1656
Text: This is a French map from the 17th century. One leading Western scholar has suggested that the 1418 Ming Map was derived from this European source. As we can see, the portrayal of California Island on the French map is quite similar to the version of California Island that we see on the Ming Map. And that’s about where the similarities end. Note for example that the French map has no Polar Islands; it has a distinct Hudson Bay that is not seen at all on the 1418 Ming Map; and the French map shows distinctly Florida, the Antilles, and the Gulf of Mexico. There is no Southern Bulge on South America’s West Coast; and there is no South Seas Australia. Since Island California is the only significant similarity between the French map and the 1418 Map, we can reasonably say that Mo Yi-tong did not borrow from the French.
Title: Island California on Sanson’s Map 1656
Text: Let’s take a closer look at Island California on Sanson’s Map. There are two clues on this map that reveal the origins of this mysterious concept of Island California. At the very top of the map along the northern peninsula, we see the words: “Aquabella de Catio.” My associate Victor DeMattei, a Balkans historian, informs me that this is a Venetian phrase meaning: “the Beautiful Waters of Cathay.” Use of the word “Cathay” immediately brings to mind the wandering Venetian explorer, Marco Polo. There is substantial evidence that Marco Polo explored the West Coast of North America during his travels to the Far East in the 13th century. The Venetian’s Travelogue refers to a Vermilion dye that was used in China; and it mentions red pearls that were imported to Japan. Both the red dye and the red pearls have their origin in the region of the Gulf of California that is clearly indicated on this French map as the “Vermilion Sea.”
Title: Marco Polo’s California/Sylvanus Map, Venice, 1511
Text: Yuan Dynasty explorers with Marco Polo produced this accurate map of the California Peninsula in the 13th century. Marco Polo brought copies of the Chinese maps back to Venice; and they subsequently were incorporated into maps by Venetian cartographers. In this example from Barnardus Sylvanus, we see the Peninsula of California within 15-degrees of the actual longitude of Baja California. The name “Zampagu” on the map identifies this as an island that the Venetians mistakenly thought was Marco Polo’s “Japan.” In Mo Yi-tong’s day, California was known to be a peninsula of the American mainland. It therefore seems likely that he chose to portray the concept of Island California on his map because that was how it appeared on the original 1418 Ming World Map.
Title: Africa as Temporal Marker
Text: Africa serves as the best temporal marker for the age and accuracy of the 1418 Map. This continent was the focus of surveys by Yuan Dynasty mariners; and a copy of the Yuan map shown here is well known to scholars. A subsequent Ming Dynasty map of Africa was given to the Japanese circa 1402; and the resulting composite map is known in Japan as the Kangnido.
Labels: Yuan Africa Map—1290; Kangnido, Japan Map, c. 1402
Title: Strange Africa before 1500
Text: Prior to the year 1500, European cartographers made many maps showing Africa—and they all looked very strange indeed. A few examples are shown here. These examples have little relationship to that actual outline of Africa. However, there is one place where the maps seem surprisingly accurate; and that is in the region of Cairo, the Isthmus of Suez, and the Sinai Desert. This is the region of the so-called “neck of Africa” where the continent is joined to the Middle East by a relatively narrow isthmus. This isthmus is about 150 kilometers in length from north-to-south. This diagnostic geographical marker is known as “the short neck of Africa.” The irregular shapes of the continent indicate that European surveying and mapping technology were at a fairly primitive stage of development in the 15th century.
Labels: Africa Before 1500; Vesconte 1310; Borgia 1450; Mauro 1459; Genoese 1457.
Title: Long Neck Africa—a Cartographic Flash circa 1500
Text: Suddenly, in about the year 1500, Europeans witnessed an incredible jump in the cartographic technology. The focus of this jump was in Lisbon, Portugal. Albert Cantino, who was an Italian spy for the Duke of Ferrera, managed to abscond with a copy of the super-secret King’s Map of Portugal. This map portrayed Africa for the first time with incredible accuracy. However, there was a singular irregularity in the map. This was the first known map in the West to show Africa with a “Long Neck.” In this case, the neck appears to be about 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers long—or more than ten times the actual length at the Isthmus of Suez. Most European geographers realized that this was an incredible error. So it was a very short phenomenon in the history of cartography—lasting less than 50 years.
This same Cantino Map of 1502 has a number of other characteristics that seem to have been borrowed from Ming Chinese sources. These include the concept of a Detached Labrador (10) and a Perpendicular East Coast of North America (3). At the same time, other Portuguese maps bear evidence of borrowings from another Ming Map—the Shanhai Yudi Quantu (c. 1425). There are also accounts of European spies such as Nicolo da Conti (c. 1425) and Pero de Covilha (1487-1493) operating in the Far East. Their mission was to obtain copies of maps and to find out the secrets of commerce on the Indian Ocean. Thus, we have good reasons for concluding that the Portuguese obtained charts from Ming Dynasty mariners that showed a mistaken “Long Neck” version of Africa. The similarity of the Cantino Map to the Map by Mo Yi-tong suggests that this is an accurate portrayal of the original 1418 Ming World Map. In any case, this is a temporal geographic marker that predates any possible European source.
Labels: Transformational Marker c. 1500; 1418 Ming Map; Cantino 1502/Portugal.
Title: Normal Africa after 1500
Text: We can appreciate the sudden leap that took place in European geography by looking at some of the typical examples of how Africa was portrayed on maps after the Year 1500. Notice that the concept of a “Long Neck” Africa was quickly abandoned; while the accurate configuration of the African coast was retained. Only the Chinese in association with Muslim allies could have achieved this level of accuracy prior to the 16th century. It was certainly not an achievement of the Portuguese. Thus, we have the answer to our question of “who was copying whom.” The Portuguese spies must have obtained copies of Chinese maps such as the 1418 Ming Map.
Labels: Normal Africa after 1500; Waldseemüller 1507; Waldseemüller 1516; Gastaldi 1548; Mercator 1569.
Title: Shanhai Yudi Quantu Map c. 1425
Text: This map is a Ming Dynasty document that is called “Shanhai Yudi Quantu.” The geographic features on this map serve as Temporal Markers for the achievements of the Ming Navy in the early 15th century. When Matteo Ricci arrived in Beijing in 1601, he had his subordinates find an example of the traditional Ming world geography. They produced a copy of the Shanhai Yudi Quantu Map that was probably made between 1425 and 1435. The Jesuit motive in finding this map was to identify a bona-fide document that could be compared to a more recent European map by Ortelius. It was at this time that the Jesuits added such modern titles as “North and South America” to the traditional map. The Jesuit plan was to place the two types of maps side-by-side in order for the Chinese to make a comparison of the maps. According to Jesuit historian Victor DeMattei, it would be obvious to the Chinese that the European map was superior in its accuracy to the traditional Ming map. In this manner, the Jesuits hoped to gain converts to the European religion. Portions of the original Ming Shanhai Yudi Quantu showed up on Portuguese maps in 1436 and later on the Waldseemüller Inset Map of 1507. So we can be confident that the Jesuit copy of the traditional map was accurate.
This map shows some of the improvements that resulted from Zheng He’s voyages. It no longer has a South Seas Australia. The Polar Australia is identified as a land that has parrots and is very hot. South America has lost its bulge along the Chilean coast, Norway and England are finally on the map, and the North Polar Isles have vanished.
The early Ming provenance of this map was established at the Zheng He Symposium at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, in May of 2005. Further details regarding this map can be found at the web site <http://www.marcopolovoyages.com>. The map is known by at least three somewhat different examples–one of which is at Yale University. It was originally printed in China in editions numbering in the thousands of copies. It was reviewed in John Harley and David Woodward’s book, The History of Cartography.
Title: Zheng He’s Achievements—Ming Maps of 1418 & 1425
Text: We can gain some further appreciation for the improvements that resulted from the expeditions of Zheng He’s mariners by comparing the North American regions on both the 1418 Ming Map and the 1425 Shanhai Yudi Quantu. The later map accurately shows California as a peninsula. The map also shows Labrador, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. By 1436, the Portuguese had obtained an accurate map of the Florida Peninsula—probably from Chinese sources (Andrea Bianco Map of 1436). By 1448, they had established the location of Brazil—probably with the aid of Chinese maps.
Title: Impact of the 1418 Ming Map
Text: This section from the Portuguese King’s Map of 1502 (as copied by Cantino) features the dividing line that Spain and Portugal established by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Using a map that was largely derived from the 1418 Ming Map, the two European superpowers effectively divided between themselves the rights to world conquest. Spain got Cathay and the New World in the West; Portugal claimed Brazil, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Spice Islands. In the far north, Portugal claimed the Detached Labrador/Newfoundland region that had been misplaced on the Ming Map in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Labels: Spain; Portugal; Cantino Map 1502; Newfoundland/Labrador; Brazil
Title: The Hunt for “Lost” Australia
Text: On this section from the Waldseemüller Map of 1507, we see the European concept of the East Indies Islands southeast of Asia. This version of the isles can be seen on Portuguese charts as early as 1489—at which time the source has been identified as Marco Polo. The island that is farthest to the East is called “Java Major”—which served for many years thereafter as an alternative name for Australia. It appears to be quite similar in shape and location to the South Seas Australia that we have seen on the 1418 Ming Map. Of course, there is no such island in that location in the Pacific Ocean. In 1569, Mercator renamed this island as “New Guinea”—believing that this was the location of the island that the Portuguese had captured in about 1530. Once more, we have a situation where Europeans got cartographic information from Asian mariners. The Portuguese Admiral Alfonce de Albuquerque mentioned that his capture of a map of the East Indies had aided immeasurably in the success of his conquest. With respect to the Ming misplacement of Australia on maps that were copied by Europeans, we perhaps have an explanation for why it took the Dutch and English so long to find it. They were looking in the wrong place!
Labels: Waldseemüller Map of 1507; Java Major or Australia; 1418 Ming Australia
Title: Zhu Di’s Map of the World Family
Text: In 1405, Zhu Di sent his favorite Admiral, Zheng He, on a mission to unite the peoples of the “Four Seas”—that is, the World Family. Midway through this enormous undertaking of many overseas voyages, a Ming artist prepared this elegant but somewhat stylized version of the world. It was based on information contained in a variety of field maps and navigational charts. The composite map was intended to represent the final unification of the World Family under the leadership of the Ming Dynasty. It was a visual testimonial about foreign nations (or barbarians) that paid homage to the Son of Heaven in Beijing. It was also a memorial to the role of world commerce in preserving the peace between nations; and it was a graphic representation of the system of transoceanic routes that formed Zheng He’s colossal maritime trade network. Zhu Di’s dream of a United Family did not last for very long.
Within a few years, Portuguese spies obtained copies of this map. And they used it as the principal tool in world conquest. During that conquest, Europeans claimed they were superior because they had better weapons and maps. They boasted that “the Victor writes the history.” And so, the legacy of Zheng He and the heritage of other ancient voyagers faded into the twilight of Western doctrine.
This is a revolutionary map. It will finally force Western scholars to abandon the doctrine of Eurocentrism that has dominated world history for the past 500 years. In the 21st century, the Global Community needs a factual history that reflects the true events of the past. This map can precipitate a paradigm shift in history. That paradigm shift is essential before we can truly build a philosophical foundation for the World Family.