These enigmatic documents have kept their secrets for centuries

Piri Reis notes on the map that he compiled it from many sources, including Portuguese explorers and Christopher Columbus’s recent travels, but that doesn’t explain everything. The map contains information about an interior mountain range in South America—knowledge that, in theory, was unknown at the time. Even more puzzling, the document is said to show Antarctica with great topographical detail—although its first sighting wasn’t until centuries later, in 1820—and without ice. Antarctica has been covered in ice for about 6,000 years. 

For these reasons, some researchers surmise the map must have been cre­ated thousands of years earlier by an unknown, advanced civilisation. The mystery remains: Who charted these details, and why has history forgotten these early explorers?

The Jamestown Slate 

In 2009, excavations in an old well in Jamestown, Virginia, America’s first permanent European settlement, uncov­ered a colonial-era slate tablet covered with layers and layers of overlapping, scratched inscriptions. They include drawings of a man with a ruffed collar, what appears to be a pal­metto tree, and words reading either “A minion of the finest sorte” (a minon, or minion, being either a servant or cannon), or the more modest “I am non of the finest sorte.” The slate’s marks and original owner, or owners, remain a mystery. The palmetto tree suggests the artist had been travelling south of Jamestown—he may even have been William Strachey, who survived a shipwreck in Bermuda to become the colony’s first secretary.

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