Review of the Historical Importance of the Oldest World Map (continued)


1418 Ming World Map—DGM Schematic

At first glance, the antique map appears to be a remarkably accurate portrayal of the entire globe. However, a second, more discerning look gives completely the opposite impression. The map contains numerous anomalies or errors that can be used to assess the age and authenticity of the document. These features can be referred to as "Diagnostic Geographical Markers." They have the same kind of usefulness that DNA markers or fingerprints have in a judicial investigation. They can reveal the time at which a geographical feature began or ended; and they can reveal the sources of geographical features on maps that were copied by later mapmakers.

We will examine the following geographical anomalies. In the Western Hemisphere: 0) North Polar Isles—where there really are none; 1) a mysterious Arctic Gulf in NW Canada—where there is none; 2) Hudson Strait along the Eastern Canadian shore—but no Hudson Bay; 3) a Perpendicular East Coast—which actually slants to the northeast—also no Florida, and no Gulf of Mexico; 4) an Island California—which doesn't exist; 5) a southern bulge along the West Coast of South America—where there is no such bulge; and 6) a "South Seas Australia" just west of South America in a location where no such island actually exists. In the Eastern Hemisphere, we see: 7) a South Polar Australia—which is likely to be mistaken for Antarctica, but it is not Antarctica; 8) a "Long Neck" version of Africa where the land area connecting Africa to the Middle East is more than ten times the actual distance of land in the region of the Isthmus of Suez; 9) the coast of Europe lacking England, Ireland, and Norway; and finally 10) a big northwestern island that represents a detached Labrador and Newfoundland. Actually, Labrador and Newfoundland should be part of the Canadian mainland shown in the Western Hemisphere.


In 1569 Mercator presented a World Map that created a sensation when first published in Europe, because it was a drastic departure from the popular religious notion that the American mainland was just an extension of Asia. It conflicted with antiquated biblical interpretations that claimed that there could only be three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. Mercator introduced the geographical concept that there was a strait that Marco Polo had called "Strait of Anian" separating Siberia from Alaska. He also introduced the naming of all the West Coast provinces from Mexico to Alaska that Marco Polo had identified as "Anian," "Bergi," "Quivira," and "Toloman."

The dual-hemispherical representation of the globe shown here was created by Mercator's son, Rumold, in 1587.

We will examine the strong similarities that the 1418 Ming Map has with Mercator's Map by comparing the hemispheric projections from both maps.


Western Hemisphere Comparison

A comparison of the 1418 Map (on the left) with the Western Hemisphere from Mercator's 1587 Map (on the right) reveals some striking similarities. Both maps have Polar Isles (0); both have a Northwestern Gulf along the Arctic coast of Canada (1); both have a Northeastern Strait—but no Hudson Bay (2); both have the unusual, non-existent Southern Bulge along the West Coast of South America (5); both have the South Seas Australia (6) as well as the Polar Antarctic version of Australia (7).

Mercator's Map has many geographic features that are not seen in the Chinese specimen. For example, Mercator features the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in the Northeast; and he also shows an accurate Gulf of Mexico complete with Florida and the Antilles. California on Mercator's Map is not shown as an island—but it is instead accurately portrayed as a peninsula. If Mo Yi-tong had copied from Mercator, there would have been more similarities between the two types of maps.

5 .

Eastern Hemisphere Comparison

The similarities between the 1418 Map and Mercator's Standard Map diminish with a comparison of the Eastern Hemispheres. Only the Polar Australia (7) stretching across the bottom of the map reveals a limited relationship from some common source. In both cases, Polar Australia can be identified by a "U-shaped" gulf directly below Asia. This gulf is a vague representation for the Gulf of Carpenteria. We also note that Mercator preferred the accurate "Short Neck" variety of Africa as opposed to the "Long Neck" monstrosity that is seen on the 1418 Map. It is clear from the few similarities overall that Mo Yi-tong did not copy from Mercator—or the maps would have had greater similarities in both hemispheres. For example, Mo Yi-tong certainly would have updated his map to reflect the common knowledge concerning the existence of England, Ireland, Norway, and Labrador.

Western historians typically honor the Jesuit geographer Matteo Ricci as the European who most influenced the course of cartography in China.

©2006 Gunnar Thompson, PhD 1418 Ming Map