A Map That May Have Led Columbus To America Is Finally Being Deciphered

The primary way we share ideas today is the internet. In the 15th century, it was cartography. And now, researchers at Yale are giving us a glimpse of one of the most influential maps in history—parts of which, up until now, had been too faded and aged to read. 

Henricus Martellus isn’t a name you’d recognize unless you’re interested in map history, but he played a role in some of the most important events of the early modern world, thanks to a map he drew in 1491. It showed the world as Europe understood it, and scholars have long theorized that it gave Columbus the information he needed to find the New World (it also may have famously misinformed him about the location of Japan, today known as the Bahamas).

That a map could survive 500 years—524 years, to be exact—is pretty amazing. But much of the text on the 6-foot-wide map has been lost to history thanks to wear and tear. Since the map came to Yale in the 1960s, researchers have tried to decipher hundreds of words and shapes that were too faded to read.

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