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A Corruption of European History - Buache's Map of 1739
Part 2: The Atlanteans

More of this Feature
Part 1: Introduction
Part 3: Buache and the Europeans

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• Modern Antarctica

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Charting Imaginary Worlds

Over the last forty years a large body of literature has emerged, forwarding an alternative history of the world. Often referred to as 'pseudoscience' by critics, the theories fall into two main groups - those concerning ancient alien visitors, and those concerning a very advanced, but now extinct, civilisation, normally attributed to either Atlanteans or fallen angels. Although the substance of these ideas has little to do with modern European history (and many would add any serious study of history), the growing popularity of these ideas, and the material cited as evidence, is beginning to impinge onto traditional historiography. This article focuses on Philippe Buache, a cartographer of the 18th century whose important contribution to map-making is being increasingly eroded by the work of 'pseudoscientists'.

The major claim made for Buache's map of 1739 - often incorrectly dated to 1737 - is that the chart has a wholly accurate drawing of Antarctica's subglacial topography. Quite simply, this means that the map shows the solid landmass of Antartica, which is currently concealed beneath a vast sheet of ice. Such a feat would be truly amazing, as scientists believe that Antarctica has been covered by ice for over forty thousand years, and sub-glacial mapping was only possible during the 20th century. From these suggestions, the map has been cited as evidence of an ancient civilisation that navigated the globe and recorded their findings, while Buache has become the final person in a long line of copyists, who reproduced earlier maps carrying this antediluvian knowledge. Thanks to Graham Hancock's multi-million selling Fingerprints of the Gods, Buache has Web sites devoted to his map, and he is named in books, journals and television programs because:

"...the extraordinary feature of Buache's map is that it seems to have been based on source maps made earlier, perhaps thousands of years earlier...What Buache gives us is an eerily precise representation of Antarctica as it must have looked when there was no ice at all." (Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods (London, 1995), 18. His Italics.)

Most of the claims regarding the 1739 map's apparent topographical detail stem from a 1966 book by Charles Hapgood, entitled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, which claimed that Buache had accurately depicted Antarctica as it would look without ice. Hapgood's methods, and those of his later followers, have been criticized from many angles, but there is one astonishingly simple problem with their ideas - nobody knows, or is likely to know for thousands of years, what the polar landmass would be like without ice. Present sub-glacial mapping merely reveals what the land looks like today, with many tons of glacier sat on top of it; should this melt, either over millennia or in a few days, the removal of such a vast weight would allow the compacted landmass to expand. In some places, the Antarctic bedrock has thirty tons per square foot pressing down on it - without this, the land rises and grows, and we have no way of predicting the result. In short, it is ridiculous to conclude that Buache, or anybody, has drawn accurate sub-glacial topography, because there is no evidence on which to judge. Equally, if the map resembles the current, crushed, landmass, then that is mere coincidence and, to summarise many pages of cartographic argument (try Mewhinney), it doesn't. So what does Buache's map really show?

Next page > Part 3: Buache and the Europeans > Page 1, 2, 3

For Citation And Footnotes
Title: A Corruption of European History - Buache's Map of 1739
Author: Robert Wilde
Date: 2001

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