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Striking Early World Map with Apocryphal Appearance of the West Coast of Australia

Decorative example of Heinrich Bunting's unusual map of the known world: Europe, Africa, much of Asia, the tip of the Americas, and the Indian Ocean. It depicts the fast-changing geography of the sixteenth century, which was being altered by the European voyages to the Americas and beyond.

Shirley refers to Bunting’s “strange geographic license;” indeed, his woodcut maps are often unique representations with few predecessors or descendants; for this reason they would make a special part of collections of world maps or biblical maps. This license stems in part from Bunting’s purpose.  As a theologian, not a geographer, he sought to use the maps as illustrations of the movements of biblical actors.

This world map was included in Bunting’s Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae, one of the bestselling books of the sixteenth century. Although the precise number and content of the maps in the volumes shifted over time, this map was included from the very first edition, published in Magdeburg in 1581. This interesting map focuses on the oikumene, or the ancient known world, showing Europe, Asia, and Africa in outline with the locations of the principal cities.

However, these continents have been updated. For example, the Portuguese discoveries have been integrated as to the extent and shape of Africa. Additionally, America, the New World, peeps out of the western border, while a bit of the East Indies, shaped tantalizingly like Western Australia, are in the lower right corner. South of the Indian subcontinent is a large island labeled Taprobana. Taprobana was what the Greeks had called Sri Lanka, but late-medieval and early modern geographers also applied the toponym to Sumatra and a phantom island. Here Bunting seems to follow the Greek example. At sea, several sea monsters patrol the waters.

In Africa, the Nile originates from tributaries in the Montes Lunae, or Mountains of the Moon. While this follows the conventional model set out by Ptolemy, Bunting has improvised with the placement of the large lake attached to the Nile. Contemporaries like Ortelius, himself following Gastaldi, also believed a large central lake fed the great rivers of Africa, including the Nile. However, they placed this lake in far southern Africa. Bunting is nearly unique in putting his lake father north.

While the main cities are placed in the Middle East, closer to the epicenter of biblical events, it is in Africa where Bunting seems to have added the most detail. In northern Africa, he includes the label, Der wiessen Moren, or the White Moors, while farther south is Der Schwartzen Morenland, Land of the Black Moors. He has been sure to include Meroe in the center of a large island in the Nile River. This refers to the mythical tombs of the Nubian Kings. Just southeast of Meroe is the kingdom of Prester John, the famed Christian King was thought of as a hero for holding out against the Muslims who surrounded him.  

An Early Appearance of the West Coast of Australia?

Bunting's map charts a landmass, India Meridionalis, in the far southeast of the Indian Ocean. To modern eyes, it strikingly resembles Australia's west coast. Shown to be in roughly the correct position of Australia, its presence is thought by some to indicate the possible Portuguese knowledge of Australia prior to the Dutch discovery in 1606. However, this theory has not been widely accepted and the more likely explanation is that the land mass is either a depiction of the southern part of the Malay Peninsula, based upon maps such at those by Martellus and Cantino, or perhaps Tierra del Fuego, as described in Tramezzino's world map.

This map contains several interesting geographic constructions and is a strikingly original representation of the sixteenth-century world. It would make a significant contribution to collections of African, world, biblical, or early Americas maps.

Richard L. Betz, The Mapping of Africa: A Cartobibliography of Printed Maps of the African Continent to 1700 (Hes & de Graaf Publishers BV, 2007); Oscar I. Norwich with Jeffrey C. Stone and Pam Kolbe, Norwich’s Maps of Africa: An illustrated and annotated carto-bibliography, second edition (Terra Nova Press, 1997); Francesc Relano, The Shaping of Africa: Cosmographic Discourse and Cartographic Science in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2002); R. V. Tooley, Collectors’ Guide to Maps of the African Continent and Southern Africa (Carta Press, 1969); R. W. Shirley, Mapping the World, map 143, pl. 120.
Heinrich Bunting Biography

Henrich Bunting was a Protestant theologian and teacher born in Hanover, in what is now Germany. He attended the University of Wittenberg and graduated in 1569. He then began work as a preacher but caused some controversy with his teachings; he was dismissed from appointments in both Lemgo and Goslar.

He is best known today for his book, Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae (Travel book through Holy Scripture), a travel collection and commentary of the geography of the Bible. The book provided the most complete summary of biblical geography then available and described the Holy Land by following the travels of various notable people from the Old and New Testaments. First published in Madgeburg in 1581, Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae was a very popular book for the time. Over 60 editions were published between 1581 and 1757.  

A particularly notable feature of the book were its many woodcut maps, many of them showing unique depictions of geographic features and continents. In addition to the conventional maps, the book also contained three figurative maps; the world depicted using a cloverleaf design (thought to possibly represent the Trinity with Jerusalem in the center), Europe in the form of a crowned and robed woman, and Asia as the winged horse Pegasus.