The Secret Search for the Missing Map of Columbus

Did Charles Hapgood Enlist President Eisenhower in a Wild Goose Chase or Was It Something Much More Astonish ing?

A 1960 Memo to President Eisenhower Aimed at Locating the “Lost World Map of Columbus”

Here, Verbatim, Is the Message Which Revived a Centuries-Old Quest

To: President Dwight D. Eisenhower

From: Charles H. Hapgood Professor of History



For several centuries scholars have been searching for the lost map of Christopher Columbus. The map is referred to by Colum­bus’ contemporaries, and by the historian Las Casas, as one he used to navigate by to the New World.

In 1929 a map was discovered in the former Imperial Palace (The Seraglio) in Constantinople, authored by a Turkish admiral of the 16th Century, Piri Reis. In the inscriptions written on this map the author states that the western part, showing the American coasts, was copied from a map that had been in the possession of Christopher Columbus, but which had fallen into the hands of Piri Reis with the booty seized from eight Spanish ships captured by him in a battle off the coast of Valencia in 1501 or 1508.

The Piri Reis map (a copy of which accompanies this memorandum) attracted the attention of President Kemal Ataturk, and of the American Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, who, in 1932, asked the Turkish Government for a color facsimile of the map, and for a search of Turkish archives and collections to see if the lost map of Columbus might not be found. The facsimile of the map now hangs in the Map Division of the Library of Congress, but the original Piri Reis worked from— Columbus’ own map (or a copy of it)—was never found.

We now have excellent reason to believe that the original map still exists, and in the Spanish archives! The reason that this map has remained so long undiscovered appears to be, simply, that it is very different from the other contemporary maps and is not at all what scholars would expect to find in a map of Columbus. It is not a map Columbus himself made, but one he found in the Old World. It should resemble the western side of the Piri Reis map, if it can be found. Evidence of its present whereabouts came to me through my old friend and scientific collaborator, James H. Campbell, who, together with his father, a professional geographer, actually saw this map in 1893. I am enclosing a separate account of this incident in Mr. Campbell’s own words. It seems that in 1893, at the time of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, the Spanish Government built and sent to America replicas of Columbus’ three ships. The caravels were sailed across the Atlantic, and through the Great Lakes to Chicago. It was there that Mr. Campbell and his father were invited, as he describes in detail, to see Columbus’ own map in the chart room of the Santa Maria!

In addition to the important purpose of clearing up many mysteries relating to the Discovery of America, we have another pur­pose in asking that a search be made for the map now. Studies of the map by various scholars have shown that it contains many de­tails that were not known to geographers in 1513. These indicate that the map must descend from maps made in very ancient times, and that navigators (possibly of Phoenician origin) discovered and explored the coasts or Americas perhaps a millennium before the Christian era. This, of course, tends to give support to the tradition that Columbus brought a map from the Old World. It seems that Columbus left the Old World with quite a good map of America in his pocket!

The most remarkable detail of the Piri Reis map indicating its enormous age was pointed out by Captain Arlington H. Mallory some years ago. He stated that the lower part of this map showed the sub-glacial topography of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, and the Palmer Peninsula. After four years of study of the map we came to recognize that Captain Mallery’s statement was correct, but, desiring the most authoritative checking of our conclusions, we submitted the data to the cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Com­mand. I attach a letter from Col. Harold Z. Ohlmeyer, Commander of the 8th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron, SAC, in confirma­tion. Needless to say this is a matter of enormous importance for cartography and for history. The Antarctic ice cap is at present one mile thick over the areas shown on the Piri Reis Map. Consultations with geological specialists have indicated beyond question the truth that the data on the map is many thousands of years old. It seems that the Antarctic ice cap covered the queen Maud Land coast not later than 6,000 years ago. The map information must have been obtained earlier, either by the Phoenicians or by some earlier (and unknown) people.

If the Columbus map can now be found we shall learn whether it contained the Antarctic data, or whether Piri Reis used another source map. If the Columbus map did contain the data, then we will know he found the map in Europe, and that therefore he had a good idea of where he was going.

We have found, in our long study of the Piri Reis map, a number of errors which explain, in our opinion, Columbus’ confusion as to whether Cuba was the mainland, and his underestimate of the distance to America.

The most important step at the present time is to push the search in Spain for the map that was on the replica of the Santa Maria during the summer of 1893. Success in this search will make it possible to rewrite, in a fundamental way, the history of the Discovery of America.

Very sincerely yours,

Charles H. Hapgood

Keene Teachers College

Professor Charles Hapgood’s memo got the President’s attention. He instructed the American Ambassador to Spain to use his influence to find the ancient map that Columbus had on board during his historic 1492 voyage across the At­lantic.

Hapgood was seeking the holy grail of ancient maps, the so-called mappa mundus thought to be the original map of the world. He believed the Piri Reis map was but a fragment of this much older complete and accurate document that predated the Age of European Discovery.

In November 1929, Halil Edhem, the Director of Turkey’s National Museum, was hunched over his solitary task of classifying documents. He pulled towards him a map drawn on Roe deer skin. As Halil opened the chart to its full di­mensions (two feet by three feet wide or 60 X 90 cm) he was surprised by how much of the New World was depicted on a map dated 1513.

The document was the legacy of a pirate turned Turkish Admiral, Piri Reis (circa 1470-1554). He was born in Gal­lipoli, a naval base on the Marmara Sea and was the nephew of Kemal Reis, a pirate who had reinvented himself as a Turkish Admiral adventurer who made his name in naval warfare. Piri Reis sailed with his famous uncle from 1487 to 1493. It was during these voyages that he was introduced to the lucrative spoils of piracy. The fleet fought pirates and captured and plundered enemy ships. In 1495, Kemal Reis’ skill in the art of battle earned him an invitation to join the Imperial Turkish Fleet. His nephew accompanied him to his new assignment.

The pirates had transformed into respectable Admirals.

After Kemal was killed during a naval battle in 1502, Piri Reis turned his back on the seafaring life and began a second career as a map maker. A perfectionist—Piri Reis would not tolerate the slightest error in his drawings. In 1513 he created his famous map. He relied on older source maps—including charts captured from Christopher Co­lumbus when the Turks raided one of his ships before the crew had a chance to throw the charts overboard.

A Columbus Controversy

The general public first learned of the map’s existence in the 27 February 1932 issue of the Illustrated London News. The article, entitled, “A Columbus Controversy: America—And Two Atlantic Charts,” noted that: … Columbus got little further than the mouth of the Orinoco, in Venezuela, in his voyage along the coast of South America in 1498, so that the stretches of the South American coast given in the Piri Reis’s chart must have been copied from other sources.

In the July 23 edition of the magazine, Akcura Yusuf, President of the Turkish Historical Research Society, wrote a more detailed account.

“Piri Reis himself explains, in one of the marginal notes on his map, how he prepared it:

This section explains the way the map was prepared. It is the only chart of its kind existing now. I, personally, drew and prepared it. In preparing the map I used about twenty old charts and eight Mappa Monde (i.e. the charts called Jaferiye by the Arabs, and prepared at the time of Alexander the Great, in which the whole inhabited world is shown); the charts of the West Indies; and the new maps made by four Portuguese, showing the Sind, Indian, and Chinese Seas geometrically represented. I also studied the chart that Christopher Columbus drew for the West. By re­ducing all these charts to a single scale, I compiled the present map. My map is as correct and reliable for the seven seas as are the charts that represent the seas of our countries.

The author pointed out a significant fact: “…the map in our possession is a fragment”. If the other fragments had not been lost, we should have had in our possession a Turkish chart drawn in 1513 representing the Old and New Worlds together.

Hapgood enlisted the help of the Cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in studying the map. The U.S. Air Force investigation determined that the southern part of the map did accurately depict portions of subglacial Antarctica. This conclusion flew in the face of conventional wisdom which dictated that the island continent hadn’t been dis­covered until 1818.

USAF Lt. Colonel Harold Z. Ohlmeyer wrote to Hapgood on July 6, 1960. This letter from Lt. Colonel Ohlmeyer was included in Hapgood’s 1960 Memo to the President.

Sources for Piri Reis: How Old?

Hapgood and his students found, to their surprise, that this ancient map, which should have been full of errors, was remarkably accurate. It possessed a standard of technical excellence beyond what Europeans could have achieved in 1513.

It wasn’t until the 1730s when John Harrison invented and perfected the marine chronometer, a highly sophisti­cated mechanical clock, which determined longitude at sea was even possible. The incredible mechanical obstacles that the chronometer’s inventor had to overcome are documented in Dava Sobel’s, Longitude.

One of the oddities about the Piri Reis map was that it had been drawn using an extremely sophisticated projection. An “equidistant projection” depicts the features of the earth from a single point on its surface. This projection can be calculated from any spot on the globe.

Perhaps the most familiar equidistant projection is the blue and white flag of the United Nations, centered on the North Pole.

To draft a map using this method requires advanced mathematics, instrumentation, and knowledge unrealized by the Europeans of 1513.

The equidistant projection was one that was very familiar to the cartographic staff of the Strategic Air Command at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. It was used to target Soviet military and economic assets. For example, a map drawn using Moscow as its center allowed the military to calculate the quickest delivery time for a missile to travel from any NATO base to the Soviet capital.

Charles Hapgood explained to Arch C. Gerlach (Chief of the Map Division at the Library of Congress) that the Piri Reis map: “…required more astronomy than was known in the Renaissance. The mathematics require that whoever constructed it had to know the linear distance from Syene to the North Pole to within a degree of accuracy. Piri Reis did not know that, neither did Columbus…”

Hapgood, as well as the Air Force experts, had become convinced by their exhaustive studies that the Piri Reis map offered compelling evidence that an unknown, ancient civilization possessed advanced astronomical and geodes­ic knowledge.

Syene or the Tropic of Cancer?

Hapgood and his students spent months trying to determine the exact center of the Piri Reis Map. At first, Hapgood was convinced that it was the city of Syene where Eratosthenes, the librarian and father of geography, had made his famous calculations about the size of the earth. Hapgood submitted this suggestion to the cartographic crew at Westover Air Force Base. Captain Burroughs concurred. He wrote: “…Piri Reis’ use of the portolano projection (cen­tered on Syene, Egypt) was an excellent choice…”

The Piri Reis Map’s Projection

The 1513 Piri Reis projection is but a fragment of the secret map that Columbus may have possessed. When the lost map is found it will depict the entire globe using an equidistance projection centered on the ancient Egyptian city of Syene.

We see above how the complete map must have looked based on the same projection used by Piri Reis in 1513. The chart Christopher Columbus carried on his voyage would have resembled this projection.

Despite the fact that professionals had verified Syene as the center of the map, Hapgood remained skeptical. He thought that the ancients would have been more likely to use the Tropic of Cancer which divides the tropical from the temperate climatic zones. Hapgood was certain that such an important global marker would have been highly sig­nificant to the ancient navigators.

Today, the Tropic of Cancer lies near Syene but not precisely over it. The difference in distance is small, but Hapgood and his students wanted to be exact in their calculations. There was considerable debate whether or not to use the measurement from the ancient city or from the climatic marker. Hapgood mistakenly assumed that it had to be an either/or choice between Syene or the ‘Tropic of Cancer. It was a false choice.

There was a time when the Tropic of Cancer lay directly over Syene. We believe that a clue to that synchronicity of time and place lies within the very projection of the Piri Reis Map. When did the Tropic of Cancer and Syene share ex­actly the same latitude?

By calculating the difference in distance from the latitude of today’s Tropic of Cancer (23:27N) to that of Syene (24:05:30N), we discover the answer—about 5775 years ago—that is, circa 3767 BC.

The projection of the Piri Reis points like an arrow at a pivotal turning point in human history. Egyptian civiliza­tion dawned circa 3800 BC.

The Second Santa Maria

Hapgood feared that the Spanish authorities would not take up the President’s challenge to locate the source maps that Columbus had used to chart his trip to the New World. After all, they had no motive to re-write history since they were content with its outcome—Spain had discovered America. To overcome this problem Hapgood draft­ed a letter for President Eisenhower to send to Franco, Spain’s fascist leader.

Included with the letter was James Hunter Campbell’s (1873-1962) account of his sighting of the elusive map. Campbell was only nineteen years old in the summer of 1893 when he accompanied his father to see the replica of the Santa Maria while it was docked in Toronto on its way to the World’s Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World’s Fair) held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America.

The mention of the chart being “four feet square” intrigued Hapgood since the Piri Reis map was about “two by three feet.” Might the map that Campbell saw actually depict the entire world and not just the Piri Reis fragment?

Hapgood was also curious about the senior Campbell’s reaction to the map. Campbell’s father was no ordinary examiner of the old document; he had written geography texts. The fact that he “poured over the chart with his nose almost touching the paper” was suggestive. We know that the senior Campbell was not puzzled by the inscriptions since he was a “Spanish scholar.” So what was it that fascinated him? We suggest it was the unusual equidistant pro­jection—uncommon in 1893.

The White House Acts

We discovered through President Eisenhower’s Archives that the US State Department, upon orders from Eisen­hower, directed the American Ambassador in Spain John David Lodge, to pursue the matter of Hapgood’s memoran­dum.

Ambassador Lodge’s younger brother, Henry Cabot Lodge (1902-1985) was Richard Nixon’s VP during the 1960 campaign. Despite the obvious distractions, Lodge followed through on the presidential order. The Spanish authori­ties came up empty handed.

We Take Up the Hunt

As librarians, we were challenged by the problem of finding this critical document. We began by contacting a friend in Toronto, Shawn Montgomery, to see if he could follow up on Campbell’s suggestion that the Royal Canadian Yacht Club might have log entries concerning the visit of the Santa Maria replica.

The logs from 1893 no longer existed.

We then turned to the Chicago side of the mystery and contacted Ray Grasse, an author and friend living in Chica­go. Ray suggested that we contact the Chicago Historical Society. The Librarian at the society, Emily Clark, told us that the Captain who sailed the replica of the Santa Maria in 1893 was named “V. M. Concas.”

Ms. Clark turned our request over to Cynthia Matthews who worked in the Archives. She hit on the mother lode and sent us an account of the trip written by the Captain himself.

From this we discovered that Hapgood’s logical assumption that the “lost Columbus map” was housed in the Spanish Archives was incorrect. In fact, according to Captain Concas, the Columbus maps were located in an entirely different location:

She [Spain] had sent also the original charts of America, but the difficulties attending the proper custody in the Convent of Rabida of this valuable collection of charts, where are also the original documents connected with the dis­covery of America (also belonging to Spain), has resulted in their being examined by a very limited number of per­sons.

Could the “lost map of Columbus” be found within the sand-colored walls of the modest La Rábida Monastery?

The Monastery was originally built by the Knights Templar in 1261. After they fell from power in 1307, the Franciscans chose the Monastery as one of their Spanish bases.

In 1485 Christopher Columbus began lobbying European royalty to finance an unprecedented voyage to India and China. He would sail west across the Atlantic, something that had never been done before. Until then all voyages to India and China had sailed south, hugging the coast of Africa before traveling east.

Frustrated in his attempts to enlist a patron to support his “westward” route to Asia, Columbus decided to join the rich pilgrims who regularly journeyed across Europe. His hope was that one of them would finance his venture or use their influence to obtain an audience for him with one of the royal families.

In 1490 he arrived at La Rábida. Fortunately for Columbus, the Prior of La Rábida took a liking to him and inter­vened on Columbus’s behalf with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The great explorer was at the Monastery when he received the exciting news that his ambitious voyage had been approved. It would not be surprising that he left his most valuable maps to the Prior who made his dream possible.

Is the lost map still lying in the shadows on a dusty shelf in a quiet Spanish monastery?

What could we discover from it if we could see its ancient face?

How would our concept of history be changed if Hapgood and Campbell were right?

The Flem-Aths are authors of When the Sky Fell. To learn how you can read a new revised edition of that book including the latest on the search for Columbus’ lost world map visit their web site: 07/welcome/.

By Rand & Rose Flem-Ath

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