Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Discuss Ancient Maps?

One might ask why we have spent the past several posts drawing attention to the limited knowledge had by seamen of the world in which they sailed as late as the time of Columbus’ discovery of what later became known as the Americas. One might also wonder of what importance such maps pose to us today. And one might wonder why we should become aware of such ancient development in map making.

The point of all of this is one thing. Those who, today, consider themselves knowledgeable enough to pick off the tops of their heads a maritime route taken by ancient peoples might want to realize that the map they know and are used to today, was hidden from view to those very same ancients.

Ships of Discovery: The invention of heavy and technically sound ships like Carrack and highly maneuverable ships like Caravel in 15th century allowed the Portuguese and Spanish explores to make long and difficult voyages across the Atlantic and along the coastline of West Africa.

The newly discovered sea route from Europe to India was not placed on a map until 1502. That map also showed, for the first time something no one had suspected before then, which was that India was a peninsula that extended southward into the Indian Ocean.

The coastline of several of the new discoveries jutted up out of the ocean at one point and disappeared back into the water at another. There was no linking of these discoveries nor any understanding that these lands connected to one another. As South America began to take shape in the minds of the map makers, it astonished people throughout Europe in its “monstrous size” that “literally dwarfed Europe.”

In the first decade of the 16th century Peter Martyr wrote upon seeing the map of the new continent of South American for the first time: “This continent extends into the sea exactly like Italy but is dissimilar in that it is not the shape of a human leg. Moreover, why shall we compare a pigmy with a giant? That part of the continent beginning at this eastern point lying towards Atlas (moving southward) is at least eight times larger than Italy; and its western coast has not yet been discovered.”

Maps became of such a commodity to seamen wanting to sail to the newly discovered lands that they were smuggled out of Portugal at the risk of death and sold for high amounts of gold. But such maps were necessary for someone sailing toward an unknown land, because seamen in that era well understood what is lost on modern man today who looks at a map and say, “They went that way.” Seamen knew they could not sail long distances across open sea without taking established routes. They couldn’t just point their bows toward the west and take off—Europeans had not been able to do that since the beginning of sailing because of the winds and currents pinning them against the mainland. Columbus had discovered, and others followed suit, a way where the winds and currents were behind them sailing in both directions.

A valuable knowledge to seamen over two thousand years after Lehi set sail for the Land of Promise. A knowledge of winds and currents that were still vitally important even in the 19th century, four hundred years after Columbus reached the New World.

It is simply foolhardy for modern man to say that the Lehi Colony “then sailed across the Pacific to reach Mesamerica” as Hugh Nibley did, or that “Lehi weaved his way through Indonesia, past the islands of the Pacific, and to Central America,” as so many Mesoamerican Theorists claim.

Even Columbus himself found that weaving his way through islands was extremely dangerous and ran his own ship, “Santa Maria,” aground off Hispaniola and had to be abandoned. The “Santa Maria” was a deep ocean vessel and had three masts (fore, main, and mizzen), each of which carried one large sail. The foresail and mainsail were square; the sail on the mizzen, or rear, mast was a triangular sail known as a lateen. In addition, the ship carried a small square sail on the bowsprit, and small topsail on the mainmast above the mainsail. Most of the driving force of the craft was from the largest mainsail with the remaining sails used for trimming. The “Santa Maria” also had a crow’s nest on the mainmast, a raised stern, and a forecastle in the bow of the ship—and simply could not just “weave its way through the island,” anymore than Lehi’s ship would have been able to do.

No, Nephi’s ship sailed where the currents and winds to it. The colony was “driven forth before the wind” where the wind blew constantly toward the Land of Promise, and there is only one place in the entire Western World where the wind blows constantly toward it from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and that is the western coast of South America.

Americus Vespucci—promoted to the very first pilot major of Spain’s House of Trade controlling all navigation and chart making—was caught in 1510 for leaking copies of his official chart to others. King Ferdinand was so angry, he wrote on June 15 to his agents in Seville, that “Vespucci must be found and made to swear that he will not again commit or consent to a proceeding so irresponsible and so promiscuous, but will issue maps only to such persons as the monarch or the House of Trade may order.”

Two thousand years after Lehi sailed, experienced seamen with the most advanced ships, would be buying charts of winds and currents on the “black market” in order to reach the newly discovered lands just three thousand miles from the Azores across the open seas.

Lehi’s voyage would have covered some 15,000 miles taking the most direct route by sea where the winds and currents continually blew from Arabia to South America. One of the reasons they did not need charts (other than having the Liahona of course) is there was no obstacles, islands, land mass, etc., along their entire journey across the Southern Ocean.

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