Marco Polo’s Book of Travels, Maps, & New World Products

Marco Polo’s Book of Travels describes some of the New World lands in the 13th century. Marco Polo sailed with multiethnic teams of Chinese, Korean, Persian, and Vietnamese explorers. He was Kublai Khan’s roving ambassador and revenue agent. His book refers to New World lands at least 6 times.     Here is what he had to say:

1.     He sailed for 40 days east of Siberia. That’s sufficient time to reach the shores of Alaska.

2.     Marco says that he traveled to the Far North by compass. He reached a place where the Pole Star appeared to have a southerly bearing. We can tell from this statement that he had reached Baffin Island north of Hudson Bay.

3.     Marco says that Chinese merchants sailed on yearlong voyages to countries that were east of Japan. The only countries in that direction would have to be in North America.

4.     Marco’s book describes isles of the “East Indies.” As we shall see, this was a cryptic reference to the shores of the New World.

5.     Marco Polo mentions a “Southern Continent” that was so rich and so unusual that it was like seeing (quote) “Another World.” Columbus used that same expression when referring to South America. And . .

6.     Marco mentions three valuable red imports that were brought to Asia from across the seas. These imports were red pearls, red dyewood, and a red pigment that was used in the emperor’s currency.

Marco Polo spent 17 years traveling in the Far East. His Book of Travels was enormous; it comprised some 400 pages. However, just before he died, Marco Polo made an incredible statement. He claimed that “he had not told half of what he had seen.” What was the other half?

The missing “half” was the New World.

Marco Polo traveled with teams of surveyors who had been trained by masters of the previous, Sung Dynasty. They had developed excellent surveying skills that made possible the creation of extremely accurate maps. This is an example of a Sung Dynasty map of China that was made in the 12th century. The coastline on the Sung Dynasty map is very similar to a modern map of the China coast.


Marco Polo first traveled to the Canadian Arctic. His next expedition with Kublai Khan’s surveyors took him to the West Coasts of North and South America—as indicated by the arrows.

In the Far North, Marco Polo sailed along a waterway that was later known as the Northwest Passage. He traveled as far as Baffin Island. It was in this region between the Magnetic Pole (red triangle) and the Geographic North Pole where he described a peculiar phenomenon called “Magnetic Compass Declination.” He observed that the Pole Star appeared to be situated south by compass bearing. This observation proves beyond any doubt that Marco Polo had indeed sailed to a region north of Hudson Bay.

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