Carta Marina
posted by rr on 12 March 2010

Last Saturday I saw a picture of a map of Scandinavia dated from 1539 hanging on the wall of a bar in Kilpisjärvi that I really like. All the mixture of geographical data with info about the tribes and the sea monsters was rich. I took notes about it to check later on internet more about it. Then I saw it again at Tromso Museum but I could not discover more since all the information was in Norwegian (click on the map to make it bigger): Turns out that this map was made by a Swedish priest that was exiled in Italy called Olaus Magnus. Beside all the historical information that are already interesting per se, the map has very important scientific information, as mentioned by a group of researchers at the University of Rhode Island: "The Carta Marina took 12 years to complete and contains an extraordinary amount of information. The list of towns’, lakes and regions is far more comprehensive than any map preceding it or following until well into the seventeenth century. It is one of the first maps to give Finland and parts of Russia roughly correct proportions and it is the first map to fully portray the Baltic Sea, the Finnish Gulf and the Gulf of Bothnia in the north. The map reveals details of shipping routes at the time and warns sailors of drift ice in the north - illustrated by a stranded polar bear on a floe. The giant sea snakes and other monsters are taken directly from the imagination of fishermen and sailors, though some researchers suggest these monsters may reflect commercial tensions at the time between the Hanseatic League* and England. It has also been noted that the monsters are only attacking vessels from countries that had joined the reformation." Beside all these information, after one month of analysis of the eddy field, the researchers were able to confirm that the swirls on the map were not an artistic licence, but reflects real physical phenomenon in the area. It´s a good example of cultural, artistic and scientific expression that offers a complex and synthesized result. We should know better. Update: here you can download the paper about the mentioned study