The first known globe to include the New World was recently found at a London map fair—an impressive 500 year survival for it being engraved into ostrich eggs.
According to analysis by an independent Belgian scholar, Stefaan Missinne, PhD., the globe not only predates the previous record holder—a globe made of copper alloy between 1504 and 1506, now on display at the New York Public Library—but the evidence suggests it was actually the model used to cast that previous record holder. The two globes are identical down to their smallest details, from the wave patterns on the ocean to the disproportionate size of continents. The handwriting is the same, and even the typos match up: “HISPANIS” instead of HISPANIA and “LIBIA INTEROIR” in place of LIBIA INTERIOR.
The grapefruit-sized globe was spotted at the London map fair in 2012 by an anonymous globe and map collector. By that point it had already passed through two dealers’ hands since being purchased from a unnamed but apparently important European collection. Due to these layers of mystery, globe expert Stefaan Missinne was called in to figure out if the globe was legitimate, and if so, when and where it originated.
The globe’s northern and southern hemispheres each came from the round bottom half of an ostrich egg. To figure out its age, Missinne sent the globe to a radiologist who used CT scans to measure the bone density loss in the shell. By comparing the density to that of modern ostrich eggs, and eggs of known ages in museum collections, Missinne calculated the rate an ostrich egg loses bone density: about 10 percent each century. This means the ostrich egg globe would have been engraved around the year 1500, consistent with the idea of it being the cast for the copper globe. And since copper can be melted but egg cannot, the egg would have had to come first.