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New Copy of 'Birth Certificate of America' Found
July 11, 2012

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Even though Christopher Columbus "discovered" the American continents, he didn't get his name on anything other than a whole bunch of cities and towns and monuments — nothing like having the continents themselves named after him. That honor went to another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, because of a historical inaccuracy.

A pair of German cartographers several hundred years ago drew a map of the world that included a land called "America," after Vespucci, in the mistaken belief that Vespucci had gotten to that part of the world before anyone else. In fact, Columbus was first. However, that's not what is written on the map.

The cartographers were Matthias Ringmann and Martin Waldseemuller, and their map has been called the "birth certificate of America." A copy of the full wall map, issued in 1507, resides in the Library of Congress, a present from Germany in 2007. A few other copies exist in segmented form and are in museums or private collections.

Now comes word that a fifth copy has been found, literally stuck between two old books. A pair of 16th Century texts were bound together in the 1800s, and the map was somehow included in the binding.

The newly discovered version is slightly different, in that some of the letters are shaped a bit differently. (This was often the case when people made multiple copies of something.)

The "new" map lay for some time obscured in the library at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich. Library officials are not sure how the map came to be in their possession.

The original version contained the name "America," historians believe, because Ringmann and Waldseemuller had read a copy of a letter by Vespucci claiming that he had discovered a "new world." The pamphlet in which the copy of Vespucci's letter appeared was titled Novus Mundus, which is Latin for "new world." In those days, the phrase didn't have near the meaning as it did today. In fact, it was a common enough phrase, used by several European explorers.

Even though Columbus made four voyages in all to the "new world," Vespucci gets the "credit."

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