Donald S. Johnson
Frisland is the name given to one of the legendary islands of the North Atlantic, ‘located’ just south of Iceland. The story goes that it was discovered around 1380 by the Venetian, Nicolo Zeno (1326-1402) and that a record of his adventures there, together with a now famous map (see below), were published in 1558 by a descendant. A decade later the celebrated Flemish cartographer, Geradus Mercator (1512-1594), published a comparable map, which also showed Frisland at much the same location and with a similar outline. Cornelius Wytfliet produced a map of the North Atlantic in 1597 depicting Frisland at the same location(c). It did not take long for doubts to be expressed about both the map and its accompanying narrative. Donald S. Johnson in his excellent Phantom Islands of the Atlantic concluded that Frisland was probably a case of ‘mistaken identity’, incorporating “the geography of the Faroe Islands and the contour of Iceland.”
*A January 2018 National Geographic article(e) also discusses the story of non-existent islands, including Frisland, which are the subject of a new book, The Un-Discovered Islands, by Malachy Tallack.*
Riaan Booysen who controversially locates Atlantis on a large landmass of which Australia is a ‘remnant’(a) has also written about Frisland(b). He concluded that Frisland along with many other ‘mythical’ North Atlantic can be matched with present-day underwater features in ‘relatively’ shallow waters suggesting that they were dry land during the last Ice Age when sea levels were considerably lower. He believes that their inclusion on extant maps is the result of copying much earlier charts that recorded those exposed landmasses.
D.S. Allan & J.B. Delair in their acclaimed book Cataclysm discuss the Zeno map at some length and concluded that its depiction of Greenland is based on earlier maps, “which apparently antedate Greenland’s present glacial regime” and “there are, apparently no genuine arguments for regarding the Zeno map – curious though it may seem to modern eyes – as portraying anything but that which actually once existed on Greenland in the not so very remote past.” (p.249)
Jason Colavito has highlighted the controversy surrounding the Zeno Map(d).
Cartography is defined by The International Cartographic Association “as the discipline dealing with the conception, production, dissemination and study of maps.” The earliest land maps can be traced back to Babylonia around 1400 BC. In 2017, Evangelos Livieratos, Professor Emeritus of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki Cartography Department, offered evidence that the ancient Greeks were the first to develop a primitive GPS system, using the stars and their relationship with the earth’s surface(g).
The subject entered the Atlantis arena in 1665 with the publication of a speculative map(a) of Atlantis, situated in the Atlantic, by Athanasius Kircher. It was allegedly based on earlier Egyptian maps, but unfortunately there has been no corroborative evidence to support this contention. Kircher’s map had been used to bolster a variety of location theories – Azores, Russia, Baffin Bay and Greenland, Kircher himself favoured the Azores.
Hy-Brasil was reputed to be an island to the west of Ireland and frequently associated with the story of Atlantis. The Genoese cartographer, Angellino de Dalorto (fl.1339), placed Hy-Brasil on a map as early as 1325. However, on some 15th century maps, the islands of the Azores appear as Isola de Brazil, or Insulla de Brazil. Apparently, it was not until as late as 1865 that Hy-Brasil was finally removed from official naval charts.
Another feature on ancient that can confuse is the placing of south at the top of old charts, two examples of which are Kircher’s map of Atlantis and Al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana. Caroline Williams has an interesting article(e) on the BBC website relating to the history of map orientation.
The unreliability of early maps is highlighted by the manner in which California has been depicted. In the 16th century the maps of both Mercator and Ortelius correctly show Baja California as a peninsula, but in the following 17th and 18th centuries it became an island on many charts despite written evidence to the contrary.
Donald S. Johnson in his well illustrated Phantom Islands of the Atlantic discusses in detail the history of seven legendary islands. This fascinating book offers every reason to treat the details of early cartography with extreme caution.
Further difficulties with old cartography are the result of early mapmakers having a dread of blank spaces, a view outlined in a recent (Nov. 2017) National Geographic online article(h).
The most widely referred to map in relation to Atlantis as well as advanced ancient civilisations is the Piri Reis chart. This arguably depicts an ice-free Antarctica and has been used to develop the idea that Atlantis had been located there and was destroyed when a sudden pole shift caused the southern icecap to move to its present position. Rose and Rand Flem-Ath are the leading proponents of this idea based on the findings of Charles Hapgood. Other maps such as that of Phillipe Buache, the renowned French geographer, published in 1737, are claimed to show an ice-free Antarctica.
Dale Drinnon has an interesting, if speculative, article on ancient maps and their possible relevance to the story of Atlantis(b). Another article in Atlantis Rising magazine (July/August 2014) argues that the quality of medieval navigational charts (portolans) of the Mediterranean exceeded the capabilities of the instruments and knowledge in the region at that time and must have originated elsewhere. However, Roel Nicolai at Holland’s Utrecht University, who expressed these sentiments, was unwilling to nominate Atlantis as the source of the maps(c).
Enrique García Barthe is an Argentinian cartographer who has an interesting Spanish/English website(d) dealing with pre-Columbian maps. Although many people have heard of the Piri Reis Map and the controversy surrounding it, García Barthe introduces a lot of new maps that appear to complement Piri Reis.
In 2015, Melissa Brooks used the data in the Atlantipedia chronology of location theories to develop a map(f) showing the distribution and level of support for the various theories on offer.
(b) http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot.ie/search/label/Atlantean%20Maps%20of%20the%20Ancient%20Sea%20Kings (link broken August 2018) (See: Archive 3591)
(d) http://globalizacion.no.sapo.pt/ingles/pon_ing_1.htm (Offline Sept. 2017)
Hi–Brasil or Hy–Brasil is sometimes referred to as the Irish Atlantis and is a name given to a legendary island to the west of Ireland. It is frequently referred to as the Fortunate Island, which has obvious resonances with the Hesperides. Another appellation in Irish is Tir fo-Thuin or Land under the Wave. A further explanation offered for the origin of the name is that it is derived from an ancient term ‘brazil’that refers to the source of a rare dye, which is reminiscent of the expensive purple dye extracted from the Murex snail, traded by the Phoenicians.
One theory is that in the dim and distant past a part of what is now known as the Porcupine Bank, just west of Ireland, was exposed when the sea levels were lower as a result of the last Ice Age. When the feature was submerged by the rising seas it was probably eroded further by the ocean currents. The claim is that a memory of the exposed land lingered in the folk memory of the inhabitants of the west coast of Ireland.
The Genoese cartographer, Angellino de Dalorto (fl.1339), placed Hy-Brasil west of Ireland on a map as early as 1325. However, on some 15th century maps, the islands of the Azores appear as Isola de Brazil, or Insulla de Brazil. Apparently, it was not until as late as 1865 that Hy-Brasil was finally removed from official naval charts. Also found on medieval maps was another mystery island south of Brasil, sometimes appearing as Mayda, Asmaidas or Brazir(d).
*Phantom islands have been shown on maps for hundreds of years and some as recently as the 20th century(f).*
One of the most famous visits to Hy-Brasil was in 1674 by Captain John Nisbet of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He and his crew were in familiar waters west of Ireland, when a fog came up. As the fog lifted, the ship was dangerously close to rocks. While getting their bearings, the ship anchored in three fathoms of water, and four crew members rowed ashore to visit Hy-Brasil. They spent a day on the island and returned with silver and gold given to them by an old man who lived there. Upon the return of the crew to Ireland, a second ship set out under the command of Alexander Johnson. They, too, found the hospitable island of Hy-Brasil and returned to Ireland to confirm the tales of Captain Nisbet and crew.
The last documented sighting of Hy-Brasil was in 1872, when author T. J. Westropp and several companions saw the island appear and then vanish. This was Westropp’s third view of Hy-Brasil, but on this voyage he had brought his mother and some friends to verify its existence.
The Irish historian, W.G.Wood-Martin, also wrote[388.1.212] about Hi-Brazil over a hundred years ago.
Donald S. Johnson has also written an illustrated and more extensive account of the ‘history’ of Hi-Brazil in chapter six of his Phantom Islands of the Atlantic.
A modern twist on the story arose in connection with the Rendelsham UFO(b) mystery/hoax(c) of 1980 when co-ordinates that correspond to one of the Hy-Brasil locations was allegedly conveyed to one Sgt. Jim Penniston who kept it secret for thirty years(a)!
In 2010, the September 11th edition of the London Daily Mail (and its sister paper, the Irish Daily Mail) they ran an article with the adventurous headline of “The Atlantis of Connemara” that included the accounts of 20th century witnesses to unexplained visions off the west coast of Galway. Included was a potted history of recorded sightings since 1460.
In 2013 Barbara Freitag published a valuable in-depth study of Hy-Brasil dealing with its cartography, history and mythology.