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The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.Mythical Geography

Illusions, Confusions and Delusions
Mythical Geography in Antique Maps

[ California as an island | Non-existent lake in the American Southeast ]
[ Frisland & The Zeno Brothers | Kingdom of Prester John | Mountains of Kong ]
[ Mythical Geography Reference books ]

Other map pages:
[ Locations | Map themes & related | Cartographers ]


Old maps are filled with inaccuracies--rivers running a wrong course, cities placed incorrectly, coastlines lacking bays, and mountains, lakes and islands missing completely. The mistakes in old maps are one of the primary aspects which makes them interesting to us, and much of the history of cartography is the history of the correction of these errors. One category of cartographic error consists of what are called 'geographic myths.' These are geographic features that appear on the map but not on the earth; cities where none ever were, islands where there are but waves, lakes and rivers where there is dry land, and kingdoms of non-existent kings. Geographic myths populated most areas of the world and the history of exploration is filled with expeditions in search of chimeras that existed only on the map.

There were many reasons for the creation of these myths.... Delusions: many of the non-existent cartographic features came from beliefs with no real evidential basis, deriving from folk tales, legends, lies and hypotheses. Illusions: some myths were derived from the mis-perception of evidence. A cloud on the horizon might be seen as an island, or a native village perceived as a large, rich city. Confusions: other geographic myths were the result of evidence being jumbled or misinterpreted. A cartographer might misplace a lake from one region to another or an explorer might see a bay as a long-sought-for strait.

Once 'on the map,' geographic myths were very hard to get rid of. As Henry R. Wagner said, "There is nothing that has such an air of verisimilitude as a map." Failure to find one of these non-existent places or first-hand evidence that one of them was non-existent would not always lead to their banishment from the map. They would often simply be moved to another place or the evidence would be ignored. Some of these myths lasted for over a century despite evidence of their imaginary nature. Whatever their source or longevity, these geographical myths had a profound impact on the history of exploration and the story of discovery cannot be told without an understanding of these cartographic features.

In this section of our web site we describe some of our favorite geographical myths and list some maps from our inventory which illustrate these. Anyone who has questions, suggestions, or information about these or other geographic myths is encouraged to contact us on this matter.

BooksGo to list of reference books on mythical geography


North America

Mythical geographyCalifornia as an island

Mythical geographyNon-existent lake in the American Southeast

The Oceans

Mythical geographyFrisland and other Zeno Brothers' mythical lands


Mythical geographyPrester John

Mythical geographyMountains of Kong

Under Construction Under ConstructionThe following geographic myths are ones which we plan to describe and illustrate in the coming months.
If you have a favorite myth not listed here, or you would like us to accelerate our work on one of the myths listed below, please feel free to contact us.


The Poles


The Oceans


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