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‘Someone' explored and mapped South America before the arrival of Christopher Columbus

Paul Gallez, the famous historian born in Brussels in 1920 and now resident in Bahía Blanca (Argentina) has the honour of having discovered the river system of South America, from the Orinoco in Venezuela to the river Grande in Tierra del Fuego, on the map of the German Heinrich Hammer under his Latinised name Henricus Martellus Germanus.

This map dates from 1489, several years before Christopher Columbus's first voyages, and is kept in the British Library in London (68 verso and 69 recto of the Add Ms 15760). There are many maps of the world dating from the sixteenth Century, known as Ptolemaic maps (copies of the original map drafted by Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria) which depict South America as an immense peninsula joined in the north-west by the Mesoamerican isthmus to the Asian continent and to be more exact to China. In this way, the vast continent of South America forms the so-called ‘Dragon's Tail'. It is under this name that it is mentioned in Antonio Galvano's The Discoveries of the World from Their First Original unto the Year of Our Lord 1555 published in Lisbon in 1563. In order to situate ourselves historically, in time and place, it should be pointed out that before becoming regent of Portugal, the infante Dom Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, son of John I (John the Great, Master of Avis who reigned from 1385 to 1433) and brother of Henry the Navigator, made a long journey through England, France, Germany, the Holy Land, Hungary and Italy where he visited Rome and Venice. According to Galvano's Discoveries, in 1428, Dom Pedro came back from Italy with a map of the world which showed ‘the whole surface of the Earth' and where ‘the Strait of Magellan was in the Dragon's Tail' (Paul Gallez, La Cola del Dragón – América del Sur en los mapas antiguos, medievales y rencentistas, Bahía Blanca, Instituto Patagónico, 1990).