Compréhension de l’écrit – Entraînement – B2
Durée indicative : 25 minutes


Buache's Map of 1739

Philippe Buache's map of 1739 has been cited in books and journals from the past forty years as evidence of an ancient civilisation that mapped Antarctica - when it was free of ice. Unfortunately, these claims are deeply flawed, and the Buache map is actually a part of European attempts to understand the continent.

Over the last forty years a large body of literature has emerged, forwarding an alternative history of the world. Often referred to as 'pseudoscience' by critics, the theories fall into two main groups - those concerning ancient alien visitors, and those concerning a very advanced, but now extinct, civilisation, normally attributed to either Atlanteans or fallen angels. Although the substance of these ideas has little to do with modern European history (and many would add any serious study of history), the growing popularity of these ideas, and the material cited as evidence, is beginning to impinge onto traditional historiography. This article focuses on Philippe Buache, a cartographer of the 18th century whose important contribution to map-making is being increasingly eroded by the work of 'pseudoscientists'.

The major claim made for Buache's map of 1739 - often incorrectly dated to 1737 - is that the chart has a wholly accurate drawing of Antarctica's subglacial topography. This means that the map shows the solid landmass of Antartica, which is currently concealed beneath a vast sheet of ice. Such a feat would be truly amazing, as scientists believe that Antarctica has been covered by ice for over forty thousand years, and sub-glacial mapping was only possible during the 20th century. From these suggestions, the map has been cited as evidence of an ancient civilisation that navigated the globe and recorded their findings, while Buache has become the final person in a long line of copyists, who reproduced earlier maps carrying this antediluvian knowledge. Thanks to Graham Hancock's multi-million selling Fingerprints of the Gods, Buache has Web sites devoted to his map, and he is named in books, journals and television programs because: "...the extraordinary feature of Buache's map is that it seems to have been based on source maps made earlier, perhaps thousands of years earlier...What Buache gives us is an eerily precise representation of Antarctica as it must have looked when there was no ice at all." (Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods (London, 1995) ).

Most of the claims regarding the 1739 map's apparent topographical detail stem from a 1966 book by Charles Hapgood, entitled Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, which claimed that Buache had accurately depicted Antarctica as it would look without ice. Hapgood's methods, and those of his later followers, have been criticized from many angles, but there is one astonishingly simple problem with their ideas - nobody knows, or is likely to know for thousands of years, what the polar landmass would be like without ice. Present sub-glacial mapping merely reveals what the land looks like today, with many tons of glacier sat on top of it; should this melt, either over millennia or in a few days, the removal of such a vast weight would allow the compacted landmass to expand. In some places, the Antarctic bedrock has thirty tons per square foot pressing down on it - without this, the land rises and grows, and we have no way of predicting the result. In short, it is ridiculous to conclude that Buache has drawn accurate sub-glacial topography, because there is no evidence on which to judge. Equally, if the map resembles the current, crushed, landmass, then that is mere coincidence and, to summarise many pages of cartographic argument, it doesn't. So what does Buache's map really show?

Buache's 1739 map is complete, and clearly depicts the Southern Hemisphere. A large landmass fills the centre of the map, divided into two halves by a channel and sea, while the southern peninsula's of South America and Africa are visible, as is the southern coast of Australia. The map contains considerable annotation, and the first thing anybody dealing with a document in a foreign language should do is to obtain a translation; the last thing you do is publish. Hancock and friends appear to have done the opposite. Buache's heading describes the area depicted: "MAP OF THE SOUTHERN LANDS, encompassing the area between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Pole, where one sees the new discoveries in 1739 south of the Cape of Good Hope."(Quache) The question of accuracy is particularly straightforward; New Zealand is shown as part of the larger landmass, a clear inaccuracy. However, notes on the map render any claims of sub-glacial geography moot, because Buache states that the map is a composite taken from the accounts of sailors who had scouted the ice-cap.

The right hand side of the map contains an account of this expedition that mentions icebergs. Indeed, you don't even need to translate the document to see that icebergs have been illustrated on the map, but if you do, Buache has provided descriptions of their size. This is clearly not an ice-free Antarctica. Buache's annotations are very honest - he never claims the map is accurate, even writing “ Conjecture” on some of the features. These annotations are always overlooked in works attempting to prove the existence of ancient civilisations, but for anyone interested in European history they are fascinating. They document the concerted effort European sailors were making to explore, and map, the Antarctic regions in the 1730's. Bouvet is recognised as a pioneer in Antarctic exploration, and on his voyage of 1738-9, documented on Buache's map, he discovered an island which still bears his name. The discoveries of Yves Kerguelen de Trémarec, and James Cook, followed Bouvet several decades later. Buache has added the route of Abel Tasman, whose name has been given to Tasmania.

While pseudoscientific claims detract from Bouvet's achievements, they also ignore the whole life and work of Buache. Born in Paris in 1700, he studied at the French Academy of Sciences, where he won first prize for architecture in 1721, and then used his drawing skills to join the Ministry of the Navy. Here, he focused on cartography and geography, before becoming geographer to the king in 1729, and then geographer in the Academy of Sciences; he was the first to hold the position. Buache didn't simply draw maps, instead he was an academic who researched, eventually becoming a Professor of Geography in 1755. One of Buache's essays introduced the idea of drainage basins into the study of mountains, rivers and continental geography, while much of his work attempted to examine, filter, and combine reports from sailors, to deduce the shape of the world. He predicted the existence of Alaska years before it was officially discovered. Of course, Buache made mistakes that might look ludicrous to us - his 1739 map, with its large central polar sea, is proof enough - but for a theoretical geographer trying to predict the world that was inevitable.

Buache's map of 1739 is a combination of three basic factors. European explorers and geographers had been convinced for many years that a great southern continent existed, and representations are present on many maps; it would have been unusual not to find one on Buache's. Secondly, the 1739 map illustrates a procedure that Buache followed for much of his life - charting and understanding the first-hand reports of sailors. Finally, the map reveals the early stage of one of Buache's conclusions. In 1763 the Gentleman's Magazine, a journal famous in the 18th century, published 'Geographical and Physical Observations, including a Theory of the Antarctic Regions, and the frozen Sea which they are supposed to contain, according to the Hypothesis of the celebrated M. Buache'. In this he explained his ideas, that in order to produce huge icebergs the Southern pole must contain a frozen sea, fed by vast mountain ranges and rivers. The large central basin shown on his 1739 map is a precursor to this idea.

This examination has never intended to refute the myriad theories associated with ancient civilisations, or to single Hancock out for attack, rather, it has attempted to alter the recent depiction of Buache. However, his map does not depict an ice-free Antarctica, and nor was it ever meant to. Instead of being "based on source maps made earlier, perhaps thousands of years earlier..." (Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods), the 1739 map was a composite made from the first-hand reports of explorers. Buache was the senior geographer in France for many years, developing his theories with both some success, and a good deal of failure. His 1739 map is part of a European wide attempt to explore and record the shape of the world. Maps were made, records examined, and many theories were proposed which, even if they proved wrong, were still part of an grand intellectual effort.

Europeans did not inherit their knowledge of Antarctica, they had to go and find it.

Source: Title: A Corruption of European History - Buache's Map of 1739
Author: Robert Wilde
Date: 2001


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Read the text and answer the following questions:

1. Why is Buache's map famous?

It was the first map of Europe
It hinted to the existence of an Ancient civilization.
It was used by sailors in Antarctica

2. Which were the ‘pseudo science’s’ theories?

That Ancient Aliens have visited Antarctica.
That the Atlanteans used to live there.
That either of them might have existed in Antarctica.

3. Why is the drawing of Antarctica considered a feat?

Because Antarctica was covered in ice
Because this was feasible only in the 20th century
Because it shows the solid landmass under the ice

4. What does the writer mean by ‘antediluvian’ knowledge?

Knowledge of an ancient religion.
The name of an ancient extinct civilization.
A period of time in the past.

5. What is going to happen if ice melts in Antarctica?

The landmass will crash.
Antarctica will grow further away.
Nobody is able to foresee it

6. Why shouldn’t Buache’s map be published?

Because New Zealand seems a part of Antarctica.
Because the map is taken from accounts of sailors.
Because it had not been translated before publication.

7. What is appealing about the map to those interested in European history?
The attempt to understand the world better.
The attempt to prove the existence of an Ancient civilization.
Bouvet's discovery of an island.

8. Buache's work is well-known by pseudo-scientists.

We don't know

9. What does the writer mean by the word precursor?

a corsair
a forerunner / pioneer
a genius

10. How did Europeans manage to map Antarctica?

thanks to Buache's map.
with reports made by sailors.
they made many hypotheses and then checked them.

score : /10