The oldest known globe to show the New World has been discovered, according to a Washington Map Society news release.
The 509-year-old globe was engraved on an ostrich egg the size of a grapefruit. The carvings show a group of scattered islands, South America, Japan, Brazil and Arabia, ABC News reports.
"When I heard of this globe, I was initially skeptical about its date, origin, geography and provenance, but I had to find out for myself," S. Missinne, an independent Belgian research scholar, said in a statement. "After all, no one had known of it, and discoveries of this type are extremely rare. I was excited to look into it further, and the more I did so, and the more research that we did, the clearer it became that we had a major find."
The globe was most likely made in Florence, Italy, from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs. Besides geographical figures, the globe also bears engravings of monsters, intertwining waves, a shipwrecked sailor, 71 place names, and the phrase “HIC SVNT DRACONES” over Southeast Asia, which translates to “Here are the dragons.”
The monsters, Missinne says, symbolize danger in parts unknown. “In early maps, you would see images of sea monsters; it was a way to say there’s bad stuff out there.”
The map reflects the knowledge gained from early European explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. The craftsmanship may also have been influenced by the work of Leonardo Da Vinci.
The anonymous owner, who bought the globe at the London Map Fair in 2012, let Missinne use carbon dating, computer tomography testing, an ink assessment, as well as a geographical, cartographic and historical analysis to date the map, NBC News reports.
“He’s put about five years of research into one year,” Thomas Sander, editor of the Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society, told the Washington Post. He called Missinne’s work “an incredible detective story.”
Missinne concluded that the egg shrank and warped over time, adding that the two eggs were cast separately and later joined together.
Sander thinks the egg originally belonged to a noble Italian family. “In that time period, the ostrich was quite the animal, and it was a big thing for the noble people to have ostriches in their back gardens,” Sander said.
While the map’s owner remains a mystery, some speculate Missinne himself bought the egg.
“If he’s the owner, more power to him; if he isn’t the owner, same thing,” Washington Map Society board member Jeffrey Katz said.