New technology looks to uncover hidden text on map that influenced Christopher Columbus


The map is referred to as the Martellus map. It is named after its creator, the German cartographer Henricus Martellus, and is thought be have been produced in or around 1491.

The only known surviving copy lives at the Beinecke Library at Yale. Being a large wall map, it is 4 by 6.5 feet, and having survived for over 500 years it is understandable that the map has seen better days. 

The map, which is usually on display by Beinecke’s service desk, has been relatively unexamined following a peak in interest after its acquisition in the 1960s because it is largely illegible.

Now thanks to a new technique called multispectral imaging it just might be possible to unearth the map’s text that is buried under all that wear and tear inherent in its age.


Here’s the process:

Setting up the map for scanning took two and a half days.

Scanning the map took another day.

The team used an automated camera system developed by a digital imaging company called Megavision. The system uses LEDs to deliver light within a narrow band of wavelengths and minimize the amount of heat and light the map was exposed to. The camera has a quartz lens, which transmits ultraviolet light better than glass. The team photographed 55 overlapping tiles of the map, using 12 different types of illumination, ranging from ultraviolet to infrared.

Then the experts go to work trying to decipher.

They hope to finish up sometime next year.

The results will then be posted on the website of the Beinecke Digital Library

Full story at WIRED: Uncovering Hidden Text on a 500-Year-Old Map That Guided Columbus

A 21st Century Literary Atlas of Europe

literary atlas 1

The impetus for the project is simple:

Where is literature set and why?

For over a hundred years “literary criticism has been struggling with the question of how best to depict literary spaces on maps in an adequate and objectively accurate manner”

Combining the fields of literary geography and cartography researchers at the Institute of Cartography and Geoinformation in  Zurich have been at work since 2006 compiling new interactive tools to assist researchers and others with an interest in literature and place.

Subjects like “fictionalization processes over time (of a region, a city); interactions between fiction and reality; and last but not least coherences between natural phenomena, historical or political events on the one side and the quality or quantity of fictional spaces on the other side”

Current projects include a look at Historical Novels Set in PragueBerlin Novels and Urban Topography and Central Switzerland in Fiction.

literary atlas berlin

Berlin Novels and Urban Topography

literary atlas praquemap from Historical Novels Set in Prague



The research is serious and technical but hopefully, at some point, it will trickle down to be a great tool for an interested student, reader or history buff.

Project website

h/t BibliOdyssey