Chronicling Cartographic’s Oldest Record: The Polus Antarcticus Map

Always a staff favorite, the Polus Antarcticus atlas page, found within the Cartographic Branch’s holdings, shows an early map of the South Pole region and includes interesting (although rather inaccurate) illustrations that decorate the edges of the map. The Cartographic Branch actually holds two copies of this historically significant map. Both can be found within donated collections belonging to Arctic researchers and explorers Paul A. Siple and A. Lincoln Washburn. These maps also represent what are likely the oldest items held by the Cartographic Branch, as the atlas pages likely date to the 1600s.

The map Polus Antarcticus was first published in the late 1630s by Henricus Hondius, a Dutch cartographer and engraver. The map represents one of the first to depict the South Pole area, which was not fully explored or mapped until centuries later. The map underwent numerous revisions and was reprinted by a number of publishers over a period of about sixty years.

Polus Antarcticus Atlas Page (NAID 70187161). From the series Personal Research Materials Related to Antarctic Expeditions and Climate Research (Paul A. Siple Collection).

One of the two copies of Polus Antarcticus, seen above, can be found within the Paul A. Siple Donated Materials Collection (NAID 46756393). This map can be identified as a Second State version of Polus Antarcticus using the characteristics laid out in an article by Michael Ross. Unlike the original version of this map, which was published by Henricus Hondius in the 1630s, this version was published by Johannes Janssonius (also known as Jan Jansson), a noted Dutch cartographer and publisher. His name can be seen in the decorative title cartouche on the map.

Polus Antarcticus Map (NAID 70187163). From the series A. Lincoln Washburn Maps and Papers.

The second copy of Polus Antarcticus, seen above, can be found within the A. Lincoln Washburn Maps and Papers (NAID 41023749), also a donated collection. The Washburn copy of the map is a later revision, as it includes Tasmania (shown on the map as Ant. van Diem Landt) and New Zealand (shown on the map as Nova Zeeland), which had both been discovered in the 1640s.

Because little was known about Antarctica at this time these maps were published, the color drawings that decorate the edges of the atlas pages depict a variety native peoples and activities based upon known discoveries elsewhere. The drawings illustrate scenes of hunting, fishing, and boating, and depict a green (even tropical) landscape. They also provide an interesting look at some unusual native animals – penguins and “sea lions.” In the background of the illustration in the bottom right cover of the atlas page (see below), natives can be seen hunting a penguin with a spear. A large penguin also stands next to a person in the foreground. Penguins, which are also found at the southern tips of South American and Africa, are pretty accurately depicted, although perhaps a little large. However, “sea lions,” which must have been much less familiar to European publishers, appear as African lions frolicking in the shallow sea water rather than the flippered marine mammals that we are familiar with today.

Cropped selection from the bottom right corner of the Polus Antarcticus Map (NAID 70187163). From the series A. Lincoln Washburn Maps and Papers. For the complete map, please see above or click on the link to view the item in our catalog.

Be sure to zoom in on these maps (click on the maps to enlarge them or view them in our online catalog by clicking the linked NAID in the caption) to view the details and drawings found on these wonderful maps. We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at these two amazing atlas pages!

Works Cited:

Barber, Peter, et al. Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita To Australia. National Library of Australia, 2013.

Ross, Michael. “Polus Antarcticus: A Catalogue of the Four States” The Globe 54, 2003.

“Teaching with Unique Collections: Polus Antarcticus by Jan Jansson.” University of Melbourne, Australia.

3 thoughts on “Chronicling Cartographic’s Oldest Record: The Polus Antarcticus Map

  1. Thank-you. I’ve been to Antarctica 2x on the Coast Guard Icebreaker POLAR STAR, so this is of great interest. I will share to a few Antarctic fb groups.

  2. From my understanding, Antarctica wasn’t sighted until a Russian expedition in 1820 (and some islands were seen by the British in 1819). In the centuries before, people assumed there had to be a land mass at low latitudes to “balance” the northern land masses. They thought it much bigger than it was, the borders had to be shrunk as explorers discovered more and more ocean where it wasn’t.

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