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Priceless Ox-hide - A National Treasure
Friday, April 28, 2023 @ 7:32 PM

Although Columbus was a mapmaker in his pre-expedition days, he left behind no known maps of his explorations. Luckily for us, Juan de la Cosa, who sailed with Columbus on three journeys, did - leaving us with the oldest known map showing America.

De la Cosa was the captain of the Santa Maria, and later, after she was shipwrecked, the master of the Marigalante, and finally sailed on La Nina. He also explored the lands of Colombia and Panama with Vasco Nunez de Balboa. He returned to Spain with his famous map but died in the New World after being fatally shot by a native with poisoned arrows in Turbaco, Colombia in 1509.

Drawn in or around the year 1500, this early style of map is known as a "Mapa Mundi" or "world map." Maps like this were highly valuable pieces of maritime information, each new map adding to the store of knowledge that kept ships from wrecking on uncharted hazards. They were also closely guarded state secrets, as they held the keys to one nation's superiority over another in maritime trade.

De la Cosa's map incorporates older information as well as the recent voyages of Vasco de Gama to India in 1498. Drawn on ox-hide, it measures 72" x 37 1/2".

The map is notable for several reasons. First, it is one of the earliest maps to show the New World, including the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America. Second, it includes a large number of detailed place names, both in Europe and in the New World. Finally, the map is significant because it is believed to have been based on the personal observations of Juan de la Cosa himself, as he was an experienced navigator and had sailed on several voyages of exploration to the New World.

The map was unknown before 1832 when it was discovered in a Paris shop by the French scientist and map enthusiast Charles Walckenaer. It is thought that the map had been taken from the Secret Archives at the Vatican in 1810 by Napoleon and found its way into a bookshop after his fall. After Walckenaer's death in 1853, the map was bought by the queen of Spain and brought back to Madrid.

The Juan de la Cosa map is now housed in the Naval Museum of Madrid, Spain, and is considered to be a national treasure. It has been extensively studied and reproduced and is a valuable resource for historians, geographers, and cartographers interested in the early European exploration of the New World.



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