Ostrich-Egg Globe Depicting The New World May Be The Earliest Globe Of The Americas

on August 23, 2013 7:21 PM EDT

new world
A recently-discovered ostrich-egg globe is believed to be the earliest globe depicting the New World. Above, an 1893 lithograph imagines the departure of Christopher Columbus for the New World in 1492. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

An ostrich-egg globe depicting the New World is believed to be the oldest known globe showing the Americas. The globe, formed from two halves of two ostrich eggs, was likely created in Florence, Italy, in 1504. The grapefruit-sized globe depicts monsters, a shipwrecked sailor and 71 place names.

The one sentence written on the globe, hovering over Southeast Asia, reads "HIC SVNT DRACONES"--"here are the dragons." The only other map or globe to bear that phrase is the copper Hunt-Lenox Globe, which was previously thought to be the oldest globe depicting the New World. The ostrich-egg globe may be the cast for the Hunt-Lenox Globe, which was created about six years after the ostrich globe.

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"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," said collector Stefaan Missinne, author of an article on the ostrich-egg globe in the journal The Portolan. "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's sketchy provenance and ownership has raised some red flags, though. The owner of the ostrich-egg globe is anonymous; the dealer selling the globe at the 2012 London Map Fair had said it was from an old European collection.

"Where this thing comes from needs to be clarified," Chet Van Duzer, an expert in Renaissance cartography, told the Washington Post. "It is an exciting discovery, no question, but I also think that more testing should be done."

John W. Hessler of the Library of Congress claimed he heard from severl people that Missinne himself is the owner of the globe, a possible conflict of interest. 

"It very well may be an early globe, which is interesting in itself, but provenance issues come to mind," said Hessler. "The first thing I would have wanted to know is where it came from--where it was purchased, who had it before, what collections it was in."

Missinne declined to comment on the globe's ownership, according to the Washington Post.

"This is a major discovery, and we are pleased to be the vehicle for its announcement," said Tom Sander, editor of The Portolan. "We undertook a very extensive peer review process to vet the article, which itself was based on more than a year of scientific and documentary research."

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