Pytheas was a 3rd century BC navigator from the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles) and is best known for his voyage in the North Atlantic, possibly around 240 BC. His trip took in the British Isles and as he ventured further North and claimed to have reached Thule.
>Gregory Douglas Wear, in his study of early excursions by Mediterranean peoples into the North Atlantic concluded that with the current state of archaeological and historical research, it is nothing less than impossible to verify with certainty, whether Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians or any other pre-Pythean Mediterranean dweller actually set foot on the British Isles, northern France, or anywhere else in north-western Europe north of Galicia(c).<
Thule has generated volumes of debate regarding its location. Pytheas described Thule as lying six days’ sail to the north of Britain. Iceland, Norway(a) and the Faroes along with the Scottish Shetland and Orkney Islands have all been proposed as Pytheas’ Thule.
Søren Tillisch, a Danish archaeologist, accepts that the identification of the Faeroes as the Thule of Pytheas is reasonable, but he still thinks that the Estonian island of Saaremaa in the Baltic is also a feasible candidate(b).
Rhys Carpenter devoted an interesting chapter of his Beyond the Pillars of Hercules in which he suggested that Pytheas’ voyage was undertaken with commercial objectives in mind, but on that level it was unsuccessful. However, as a voyage of discovery, it was an unparalleled achievement, earning for Pytheas Carpenter’s accolade of ”antiquity’s Greatest Explorer”.
Carpenter favours the idea that the term, ‘Pillars of Hercules’, when applied to the Strait of Gibraltar was used with the sense of boundary markers, indicating ”the limits of the Inner Sea that, for the Greeks, was the navigable world.”[p156]
Thule is the name given in ancient Greek and Roman literature for the most northerly part of the world. Around 300 BC the Greek navigator Pytheas claimed to have visited Thule, six days of travel beyond Northern Britain. This may have been Iceland and in support of this idea, a paper was submitted to the 2008 Atlantis Conference in Athens by two Italian researchers, G. Giancarlo and M. Stucchi. In Germanic and Scandinavian traditions the name is applied to a long-lost continent in the North Atlantic.
The archaeologist, Rhys Carpenter, in a study of Pytheas‘ travels in the North Sea, concluded that the Shetland Islands should be identified as Thule shown on Ptolemy’s map just north of the Orkneys, He argues that “it is an unchallengeable inference that Ptolemy’s data for the location of Thule must go back to Pytheas since no one else in late antiquity ever claimed to have visited that remote region.” [221.183]
Another candidate is the Estonian island of Saaremaa(d), which is also home to the Kaali meteor craters. This meteorite “was a coarse octahedrite, with surviving fragments being only a few grams in weight. Despite the intensity of investigation both inside the craters and outside in nearby peat bogs, the actual date of the impact has been estimated at four widely spaced times: 6400 BC based on microspherules in peat (Raukas 2000); 5000 BC on similar evidence (Tiirmaa and Czegka 1996); 1740–1620 BC based on bulk sediment samples from the near the bottom of the crater lake, or a similar 1690–1510 BC date based on associated terrestrial macrofossils from the deepest part of the lake (Veskiet al. 2004); and 800–400 BC based on peat associated with impact ejecta and iridium in nearby bogs (Veski et al. 2004). Veski and his colleagues argue for the calibrated date range of around 800–400 BC, speculating that the microspherules possibly relate to a separate earlier impact event.”
Felice Vinci is a co-author (with Syusy Blady & Karl Kello) of Il meteorite iperboreo . in which the Kaali meteor is discussed along with its possible association with the ancient story of Phaeton.
Marin, Minella & Schievenin in The Three Ages of Atlantis [972.375] propose that the island of Thule described by Pytheas was the legendary Hi-Brasil, which in turn they claim was part of the Porcupine Bank that they argue was only ‘recently submerged’.
A 2014 paper(b) by Cameron McPhail addressed the problem of Thule’s location. He “offers a new approach, using information supplied in the fragments of Eratosthenes’ Geography, supports assertions that Pytheas exited the Mediterranean sailing via the Strait of Gibraltar, and that Thule, the most distant locale reached, should be identified with Norway.” and concluded that “The problems of Pytheas’ route of travel cannot all be solved. The two discussed here, on account of the scant primary source information, will remain open to interpretation.“
>A recent article(c) on the National Geographic website noted that “Today, historians aren’t sure if Pytheas’s remote land was based on a real location or whether it is simply a stand-in for any place. Whatever the case, it shows up in the phrase “Ultima Thule”—any extremely remote place on Earth. And the name Thule lives on in Greenland with the Thule Air Force Base; in the Sandwich Islands, one of which is South Thule; and in the name of the 69th element, thulium, discovered by a Swedish chemist.”<
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.
>Marin, Minella & Schievenin in The Three Ages of Atlantis [972.375] propose that the island of Thule described by Pytheas was the legendary Hi-Brasil, which, they further claim, was part of the Porcupine Bank that they describe as ‘recently submerged’.<
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 were 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 coordinates that correspond to one of the Hy-Brasil locations were 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) ran an article with the adventurous headline “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.
(e) Archive 2272