Home Terra Australis Incognita Terra Australis Ingonita - 8 The arbitrary discovery of islands in the Atlantic Ocean
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Article Index
Terra Australis Ingonita
1 Description of Atlantis, the sunken continent
2 What one would be looking for ...
3 Ancient maps showing a vast continent that no longer exists
4 Terra Australis on the ocean floor
5 How did Atlantis sink?
6 The main obstacle - ice core dating
7 The lakes in the middle of the Sahara desert
8 The arbitrary discovery of islands in the Atlantic Ocean
9 Greenland ice free?
10 Conclusion
11 References
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8 The arbitrary discovery of islands in the Atlantic Ocean

From the discussion presented so far, it is evident that a civilization must once have existed, who had the ability to map the world, long before we were able to do so. It will next be demonstrated that many of the discoveries of the New World, by explorers like Christopher Columbus (the Americas in 1492-1500), were not discoveries in the sense that these explorers had no idea of what they may find, but rather that they had existing maps, though probably ancient and relatively inaccurate, to guide them. In other words, they went looking for these continents and islands.

Possibly the clearest indication that “all is not well” with the arbitrary, completely-by-chance discovery of several islands in at least the Atlantic ocean, is the discovery of the islands St Helena, Trinstan du Cunha and Trinidad (off the coast of Brazil). Before delving into the history of these discoveries, we must first take a look at the practicalities of the early exploration of the oceans, particularly during the early 1500s.

The typical ship of that time would have had masts with a crow’s nest at a height of about 16 to 20 m above sea level (like Christopher’s Columbus’ Santa Maria). One then needs to determine how far a person with good eyesight would be able to spot an island beyond the horizon, a problem similar to the modern concept of a ‘radar’ horizon, or line-of-sight detection. The geometry of the problem is shown in Figure 24. Here we have a sailing ship with an observer point Ho meters above sea level, trying to spot a target (island) of height Ht meters above sea leavel. The distances Do and Dt, in kilometres, are given by the equations shown in Figure 23. For a sailing ship like the Santa Maria, Ho=16 m and Ht=800 m for St Helena island48. On a perfectly clear day, with the sea perfectly level, a look-out on the Santa Maria would therefore only just be able to spot the island at a distance of 115 km. In practice the tip of the island would have to extend several meters above the horizon to be spotted. Nevertheless, the Santa Maria would have had to sail past the island within a range of 115 km or less, otherwise it would never be able to spot St Helena island. St Helena was discovered by Portuguese explorers around 150249, and the shortest distant to Africa (the Namibian / Angolan west coast) is about 1890 km. This means that 8 sailing ships sailing side by side at a spacing of 2x115=260 km, the first ship 115 km off the coast of Africa, would only just be able to spot St Helena (the furthest one).

How easily would the island have been spotted, given that it could only be observed during 12 hours of a 24 hour day (actually less, as visibility is reduced during dusk and dawn), and that rain or mist or any haziness on the horizon would drastically reduce the line of sight? And the look-out would have had to be fully alert all the time, constantly scanning at least the forward 180ö sector.

Figure 24. Line-of-sight problem for detecting a target (island) from a sailing ship

The same applies to the discovery of the island Tristan da Cuna50 in 1506 (sighted only), by the Portuguese explorer Tristöo da Cunha51. Da Cunha was appointed commander of a fleet of 15 ships sent to the east coast of Africa, on a mission to conquer Socotra and build a fortress there, hoping to close trade in the Red Sea. Tristan du Cunha rises 2062 m above sea level52, and if da Cunha’s ship had a look-out point 20 m above sea level, the tip of the island would become visible at a distance of 178 km. The shortest distance between Tristan da Cunha and the African coast is about 2750 km. Figure 25 shows the most likely route da Cunha would have taken to reach Socotra, Given his specific mission and instructions, why would he have veered so far off course into the unknown, unless to go looking for an island he believed to exist and hoped to find? Purely by chance? Would he not have stayed relatively close to the African coast all the way?

Figure 25. Tristöo da Cunha’s most likely route to Socotra

Finally, we now take a look at the anomaly associated with the discovery of the islands off the east coast of Brazil. On Mercator’s map a series of four islands or island groups are shown, extending well far into the Atlantic ocean (indicated by B to E on the maps in Figure 26). These islands are called Ascension, Trinidad, Santa Maria and Minuaes, respectively (see also Ortelius’ 1570 world map). However, today only one of these ‘islands’ actually appears above sea level, namely the archipelago of Trindade and Martim Vaz (E on the maps). This group of islands was discovered by Estövöo da Gama in 1502. The other ‘islands’ are in fact underwater seamounts, with peaks well below the surface, B = Montague Seamount (58m) / Jaseur Seamount (11m), C = Vitöria-Trindade Seamounts (33m) and D=Columbia Seamount (?). From the post-glacial sea level rise graph of Figure 3(a) in my Ancient Enigmas and Anomalies section, it becomes evident that these seamounts would only have been visible above sea level around 8000 BCE or earlier. In other words, it would seem that they had been mapped by ancient mariners at that time, and that some of those maps must have survived up to medieval times.

Figure 26. Islands off the east coast of Brazil: A=Abrolhos Bank, B=Montague and Jaseur seamounts, C=Vitöria-Trindade Seamount, 
D=Columbia Seamount, E=Trindade & Martim Vaz islands; F=Fernando de Noronha island, G=Ascension Island, H=?, I=Rocas Atoll

Apart from the above examples, there is some anecdotal evidence also suggesting that the early explorers had maps they used as guidance before they departed on their journeys. For instance, Ferdinand Magellan's name has been immortalized through his 1520 discovery of the strait that bears his name (Figure 27). Magellan was accompanied by an Italian writer Antonio Pigafetta, who recorded that Magellan had in his possession a partial drawing of the channel even before they 'discovered' it (Schöner’s 1515 globe?), and that he had memorized the other part for fear of being killed in a mutiny and the channel being discovered by his Spanish officers53. Magellan evidently had also admitted earlier that he had seen the passage on a map drawn by Martin Behaim. Pigafetta's account has never been accepted in academic circles as it did not make sense. It would, of course, make sense if ancient maps predating the discovery did in fact exist.

Figure 27. Strait of Magellan shown on 1570 world map of Ortelius, and actual 1520 discovery route

Furthermore, Piri Reis notes on his 1513 map (Figure 28) that he had made use of about twenty charts and maps of the world, which included eight Ptolemaic maps, an Arabic map of India, four newly drawn Portuguese maps from Sindh, Pakistan and a map by Christopher Columbus of the western lands54. Incidentally, on this map Terra Australis is shown as contiguous with the South American continent. One must ask oneself how it was possible for maps of the world to be disseminated to all and sundry so quickly after the discovery and mapping of new lands, particularly when such information would have been closely guarded by the specific explorers. Does this not suggest that more ancient maps must have been around at the beginning of the 16th century? The Piri Reis map does not appear to show the Brazilian off-shore islands discussed above, suggesting that he did not have access to those particular Portuguese maps.    

Figure 28. Piri Reis map (1513)