The researchers used multispectral imaging to reveal the images and the text on the card. Credit: Image by Lazarus Project / MegaVision / RIDE / EMEL, thanks to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
A 1491 map that probably influenced Christopher Columbus’s conception of world geography is getting a new lease on life, now that researchers have revealed have disappeared, hidden detail, cutting-edge technology.
Researchers pulled off this feat by turning to multispectral imaging, a powerful digital tool that can recover the texts and the images of damaged documents, said the project leader, Chet Van Duzer, a member of the board of directors of the multispectral imaging group known as The Lazarus Project at the University of Rochester in New York.
“Almost all of the texts on the map had faded to illegibility, making it an almost unstudyable object,” Van Duzer told Live Science. But after the high-tech imaging discovered the card minutia, he was able to show that this 527-year-old map influenced not only Columbus, but was also an integral part of Martin Waldseemüller, the legendary 1507 map, that was the first to call the New World by the name “America”. [See Images of the Newly Deciphered 1491 Map]
Long and winding road
The map, created by the German cartographer Henricus Martellus in Florence — shows the world if Westerners knew that in 1491, before Columbus set sail. In his 4 ft by 6.6 ft (1.2 by 2 metres) map, Africa (albeit in a highly skewed) to the left, top, Africa, Europe, Asia to the east; and Japan is located in the neighborhood of the extreme right-wing corner.
Of course, the map doesn’t show North and South America, which is still unknown to the Western world. (Although, perhaps, the Vikings probably settled parts of Canada in about A. D. 1000.)
The card is so old, it’s a somewhat murky origin. It allegedly belonged to a family in Tuscany, Italy, for the years before the weather in Bern, Switzerland, in the 1950s. Then it was sold and anonymously donated to the Yale University in 1962, Van Duzer, writes in his new book, “Henricus Martellus World Map at Yale (c.1491),” that Springer is publishing next week.
The paper map was very vague in the 1960s. So, Yale researchers tried to decipher the text by taking ultraviolet photographs of. These images revealed previously unknown text on the card, but that would still not reveal all of the map, Van Duzer said.
The reveal of the technology
Intrigued, Van Duzer assured of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, together with The Lazarus Project and spent 10 days shooting Martellus’ map at Yale’s Beinecke Library.
The team used a number of different wavelengths to the photo of the card, from ultraviolet to infrared, “because Martellus was the use of different pigments in the writing of this text, and they respond differently to light,” Van Duzer said.
Roger Easton, a professor at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, sifted through the various images, noting which aspects looked best in different wavelengths. Then he made the digital composite images that revealed the illegible elements on Martellus’ map.
The whole process took months, Van Duzer said. “[It] was very exciting and fun” when he finally saw the digitally enhanced copy, he said.
For starters, the map does not have sea monsters, such as many other maps from the Renaissance. That is because many cartographers were not skilled draftsmen, and would often pay an artist to paint the monsters for them. This, in turn, increased the cost of the card, that the board sometimes couldn’t afford, Van Duzer said.
Second, the abundance of the Latin text on the map helped Van Duzer understand what had inspired Martellus, as well as whom he inspired. [Photos: Renaissance Map Of The World Of The Sport Of Magical Creatures]
Martellus used a number of books to inform his map, including the 1491 book, “Hortus Sanitatis,” which describes animals known all over the world. He has also obtained knowledge of the 1441-43 Council of Florence, where the African people talked about the geography of their homeland.
For inspiration, Columbus probably saw this map (or at least a different version) Van Duzer said. In his biography, Ferdinand Columbus noted that his father thought that Japan ran north-south, just like the one on this card. And Martellus’ creation was the only map of Japan at the time this orientation, Of Duzer said. In essence, this card is probably influenced Columbus’ ideas about the geography of Asia.
In addition, Martellus’ map, probably influenced Waldseemüller’s 1507 map. Waldseemüller described in the New World as “America”, based on the misconception that the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci had discovered the New World. When Waldseemüller realized his mistake, he tried to change it, but it was too late: The name “America” had caught, and was here to stay, Van Duzer said.
Original article on Live Science.