The mysterious mysteries of the Mystery Map

I'm going to chalk that headline up to Friday afternoon malaise. Anyways... The Waldseemuller Map, created by a German monk in 1507, will be going on permanent display at the Library of Congress this month to mark its 500th anniversary. That's an old map. And a remarkable one, too. It is, more or less, the first map of the modern age, a fascinating relic from the beginning of the Age of Discovery. But the Waldseemuller Map is also pretty, well, mysterious.

The 6' x 9.5' map contains an accurate representation of the shape of South America, and also shows the presence of an ocean to the west of the continent- what we now know as the Pacific. But the perplexing thing is that Europeans didn't make it across South America, or to the Pacific Ocean, until 1520. That's 13 years after the map was created. So how the heck did the mapmakers know there was an ocean out there? Did they have access to information we didn't know they had? Was there a voyage to the Pacific we don't know about? Did they make a spectacularly good guess?

We may never know. But with the map going on display, at least everyone will have a chance to contemplate this historical oddity.


It doesn't look like much- but this map is eerily accurate. And it looks real purty.