Martellus, Henricus. (Map of the World of Christopher Columbus), 1489. (Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

A team of researchers have grown increasingly confident that this late 15th century map of the world -- or a version of it -- possibly guided Christopher Columbus along his expedition to the New World. Created at some point between 1489 and 1491 by a famous German cartographer based in the Renaissance-era Italian city-state of Florence, it offers an arresting snapshot of Europe's worldview at the cusp of its age of exploration and colonization.

As the Smithsonian magazine reports, a new analysis deployed sophisticated imaging tools to scan the now faint and indistinct marginalia etched on panels of what's known as the Martellus map. You can browse through a selection of the newly rendered images here, which include the discovery of text describing the presence of exotic sea monsters.

As an earlier story in Wired indicates, there's a historical consensus that Columbus was using this map as his guide to the world's spherical geography when he first made landfall in the Caribbean:

Writings by Columbus and his son suggest that he began searching for Japan in the region where it appears on the Martellus map, and that he expected to find the island running north to south, as it does on the Martellus map, but not on any other surviving map made before his voyage. (You can see Japan floating too far off the coast of Asia in the top right corner of Martellus’s map above).

The current analysis has uncovered hundreds of place names and 60 written passages on the Martellus map, according to the Smithsonian magazine. In northern Africa, there's "a serpent that makes the ground smoke." In Southeast Asia, a species of "torpedo fish" stun local fishermen. In north Asia, tales from earlier travelers, including Marco Polo, informed a passage detailing "seven kingdoms" whose inhabitants were mostly Christian.

"It’s a missing link in our understanding of people’s conception of the world," says Chet Van Duzer, the lead historian on the project.

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