Ostrich Egg Globe Has Oldest Depiction Of The Americas

ostrich egg globe
Used with permission of The Portolan, copyright Washington Map Society

A depiction of the world engraved on an ostrich egg in 1504 may be the oldest depiction of the Americas, the Washington Post reports. The globe, which was purchased by an anonymous collector at the 2012 London Map Fair, shows the rough outline of South America, along with bits of the Caribbean and North America as small islands.

Created just twelve years after Columbus’ first voyage and in the early days of Europe’s Age of Discovery, it shows many parts of the world that had only recently been visited by Europeans, such as Japan. These regions are rather vague, while areas closer to home such as Europe and North Africa are fairly accurate.

A detailed study of the globe has been published in The Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society. One thing that emerged from the study was that the ostrich egg globe was used as the mold for a copper globe dated to 1510. The Hunt-Lenox globe is kept in the New York Public Library and was the previous record holder for the earliest depiction of the New World.

Actually the globe is made from two ostrich eggs. Discover Magazine notes that the rounded bottom halves of two eggs were used to make a more globular globe, but it’s still a bit too elliptical. The globe’s history is unclear but stylistic clues hint at an Italian origin. It may have been created for an Italian noble family by an artist associated with Leonardo da Vinci.

Earliest Map Naming America Discovered

map A copy of the earliest map that names America has been discovered.

The map was created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 based on explorers’ accounts. Only four copies are known to exist, but a fifth has just been discovered inside a 19th century book at the Ludwig Maximilian University library in Munich.

This map is slightly different than the others and appears to be a second edition.

Waldseemüller named the vaguely drawn land after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. His map is important because he shows America as being separate from Asia. Until this time the common assumption was that it was part of Asia.

The map is actually a globe gore, designed to be cut out and pasted onto a globe. It never was, and how it ended up in a book published three centuries later is a mystery.

To celebrate the Fourth of July, the library has put the map online.

Image courtesy Badische Landesbibliothek.