By David Alexander,
Posted: 2007-12-04 07:56:51
Filed Under: Science News
WASHINGTON (Dec. 3) – The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used the name America goes on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress, but even as it prepares for its debut, the 1507 Waldseemuller map remains a puzzle for researchers.
Why did the mapmaker name the territory America and then change his mind later? How was he able to draw South America so accurately? Why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific?
“That’s the kind of conundrum, the question, that is still out there,” said John Hebert, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.
The 12 sheets that make up the map, purchased from German Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg for $10 million in 2003, were mounted on Monday in a huge 6-foot by 9.5-foot (1.85 meter by 2.95 meter) display case machined from a single block of aluminum.
The case will be flooded with inert argon gas to prevent deterioration when it goes on public display December 13.
Researchers are hopeful that putting the rarely shown map on permanent display for the first time since it was discovered in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle archives in 1901 may stimulate interest in finding out more about the documents used to produce it.
The map was created by the German monk Martin Waldseemuller. Thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere, the Duke of Lorraine brought Waldseemuller and a group of scholars together at a monastery in Saint-Die in France to create a new map of the world.
The result, published two years later, is stunningly accurate and surprisingly modern.
“The actual shape of South America is correct,” said Hebert. “The width of South America at certain key points is correct within 70 miles of accuracy.”
Given what Europeans are believed to have known about the world at the time, it should not have been possible for the mapmakers to produce it, he said.
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