Oldest Globe of New World Carved on Ostrich Eggs?
A long-forgotten globe carved onto an ostrich egg and dating back to the early 1500s has resurfaced and may be the first ever globe to depict the New World. Purchased anonymously at the 2012 London Map Fair, the globe found its way into the hands of collector Stefaan Missine, who published the results of a yearlong analysis in this week’s edition of Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society.
According to the analysis of its origins, which include consultations with more than 100 scholars and experts, the globe not only predates the previous earliest surviving globe of the New World – a globe made of copper alloy between 1504 and 1506, now on display at the New York Public Library – but evidence suggests it was actually the model used to case the previous record holder.
The two globes are identical down to their detailed contours, wave patterns on the ocean, handwriting, and labels. Even the spelling errors match up – ‘Hispanis’ instead of ‘Hispania’ and ‘Libia Interoir’ in place of ‘Libia Interior’.
The globe’s material makes it a rarity regardless of its age. Most maps of the time were drawn on calfskin parchment, sealskin or wood, but globes engraved on ostrich eggs are almost unheard of. The advantage is that it has made it possible for experts to determine its age by comparing the density of shells to newer ostrich eggshells and analysing how much calcium bone density it has lost in the aging process. Through this analysis, Missine dated the globe to 1504, making it the oldest yet identified to depict the New World.
Aside from its curious material and origin, the map itself is fascinating. In the Indian Ocean, a sole ship can be seen tossing on the waves, its origin and destination unknown, and off the coast of Southeast Asia, the Latin inscription warns of an ancient legend: it says ‘Here are the dragons’.
North America is made up of just two tiny islands, consistent with those happened upon by Christopher Columbus. Other details reflect latest information from the then-recent exploratory accounts of Marco Polo, the Corte-Reals, Cabral, and Amerigo Vespucci who coined the name New World, as it is labelled in Latin on the globe. The globe was created at a time in history when brave explorers were just returning from their journeys, which profoundly changed the way people saw and understood the world.