Ancient Maps Show Islands That Don’t Exist


The treaty that drew the first borders of the newly established United States after the Revolutionary War refers to an island that does not exist. The northern boundary of the new nation, the 1783 Treaty of Paris declared, shall pass “through Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux.” It sounds clear enough, but when surveyors went out to map the border in the 1820s they discovered a problem: Isle Phelipeaux was not there.




The long and fascinating history of such phantom islands is the topic of Malachy Tallack’s new book, The Un-Discovered Islands, which he discussed recently in an interview with National Geographic. Inspired by the book, we’ve rounded up a collection of vintage maps that feature islands that don’t actually exist.

“Frisland,” for example, appears to have been the invention of a wealthy Venetian named Niccolò Zeno, who wrote a book in 1558 claiming that his ancestor had discovered the New World before Columbus. Historians now consider the claim bogus, but it was influential at the time, and the islands it described appeared on maps for more than a century. This was, after all, the era when people were just beginning to explore the world’s oceans, and news traveled slowly by modern standards.

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