500-Year-Old ‘Birth Certificate of America’ Discovered

A copy of a rare 16th century map known as “the birth certificate of America” has been discovered in Germany.

Munich’s University Library released this photo of the print of German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller’s map, which is believed to be around 500 years old. The new find shows the world divided into 12 segments which taper to a point at each end and are printed on a single sheet, which, when folded out, form a small globe. Photo: Ludwig Maximilian University

As the United States prepares for the Fourth of July, German researchers announced their discovery of a 500-year-old map that shows the country as a tiny boomerang-shaped island.

According to Spiegel, reseachers at the Munich University Library announced Tuesday they had discovered a long forgotten version of a map of the world by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller.

The map by the famous cartographer is credited with being the first to document and name the newly-discovered land of America.

It had been thought that Waldseemueller had only made four copies, but researchers at a Munich university have now discovered a fifth version.

The fifth copy was found by a bibliographer, who was revising the catalogue, “in an otherwise unremarkable volume that had been rebound in the 19th century.”

“We’ve made a sensational find,” library director Klaus-Rainer Brintzinger said.

Researchers believe the map is a smaller global map created by Waldseemüller, who lived from 1470-1522, and became famous for a three-square-meter world map he drafted.

This map is often referred to as America’s “birth certificate,” because it is the first map to describe the New World as “America”.

BBC writes that Waldseemueller named the new land after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, thinking he had been the first to discover it rather than Christopher Columbus.

The boomerang shape of the continent he drew is barely recognisable as the North and South America landmass we know today.

“Even in our digital age the originals have lost none of their significance and unique fascination,” Klaus-Rainer Brintzinger, the head of the library, said in the statement.

German researchers are going to make the map, printed in clear black ink on yellowing paper, available online from 4 July, Independence Day in the US.

“We intend to make the map accessible to the public in digital form in time for the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the USA,” he added.

Sven Kuttner, head of the library’s old books department, said the map was a “sleeping beauty” in the university’s collection until its recent unearthing.

“There hasn’t been a discovery of this dimension since World War II,” he said.

In 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Waldseemüller’s large world map to the United States as a gift to mark 500 years since the naming of America.

Merkel then described the it as “a nice symbol of the very close German-American friendship.”

Today it is part of UNESCO’s world documents list and can be viewed at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Another of the four copies was sold at auction for $1 million in 2005.

The Library of Congress said that despite Waldseemüller’s work remained obscure for many years, “it presented a radically new understanding of world geography based on the discoveries of Columbus and Vespucci.”

The map included data gathered during Vespucci’s voyages to the New World and christened the new lands “America” in recognition of the fact that what Vespucci had explored was, in fact, a new continent.

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