New World, New Map

Cartography Series: Because who doesn’t love looking at old maps? This blog series looks at the cartographic development of Canada.

Juan de la Cosa’s Mappa Mundi (Map of the World) (1500) [Source]

Above is the earliest European cartographic work to depict the Americas. (Okay, so, it doesn’t really show Canada, per say, but if you are going to start somewhere you might as well start at the very beginning!) This is only part of the map, click here to see the rest of it.

As opposed to the highly visual Europe and Africa imagery, North and South America are mostly green and sparse on this map. St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel (and possibly a reference to de la Cosa’s fellow explorer, Christopher Columbus), separates the two continents and the Caribbean is right in the middle of the two. North America is marked with blue and red flags and the title, “discovered by the English.” De la Cosa himself explored the Caribbean and the northern parts of South America. Meanwhile, the North American coastline is vastly inaccurate because it was based off of details of John Cabot’s voyages to Newfoundland, which de la Cosa was not a part of. Unfortunately, if Cabot or his sailors made their own maps of their voyages, none are known to have survived.

De la Cosa was a Spanish navigator and cartographer as well as the owner and captain of the Santa María—the famed ship Christopher Columbus ~discovered America~ with. He joined Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World and did his own exploring of South America (particularly Colombia and Panama) afterwards. While in Turbaco, Colombia, de la Cosa was shot and killed with poisoned arrows from locals who were angry at the Spanish’s intrusion into their village. The men who survived the attack came back later on and murdered every single inhabitant of Turbaco to avenge his death.


Olin and Uris Libraries, “First Maps of the New World,” Cornell University Library. Last modified: March 22, 2012. Accessed from:

Luis A. Robles Macias, “Juan de la Cosa’s Projection: A Fresh Analysis of the Earliest Preserved Map of the Americas,” ALA Map and Geography Roundtable, Series A, no. 9, May 24, 2010. Accessed from:



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