04
May
12

hidden ‘inks’, paper patches – cartographic secrecy 1500′s style.

Taken from our educational blog for K-12 Schools, Maps101:

A significant breakthrough has been made in a long running search for the first colony established in North America by British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, according to London’s Independent Newspaper.

Roanoke map with hidden colony

The map that contains the ‘hidden’ colony.

Raleigh’s 1587 expedition landed a group of around 100 settlers on Roanoke Island in modern day North Carolina, but they experienced serious hardship when supplies ran out, and they had arrived too late to grow crops before winter.

Roanoke Islands Hidden Settlement

Examination reveals a fort symbol hidden in the map.

John White, destined to be the governor of the newly established “Cittie of Raleigh” returned home to bring back supplies, but on his return the whole colony had disappeared without trace. The journey back was delayed significantly by Atlantic Blockades by the Spanish, who were at the time at war with England, and it is not known if the colonists were massacred by local tribes or  Spanish colonials, starved to death or met some other fate.

White created a map of the region, but the actual location of the colony has only now been revealed after tests were carried out on the map. It appears that an ‘invisible ink’ – which could have been lemon juice or even urine, was used to draw the outline of the colony and also the location of a fort. A tiny, almost invisible piece of paper was also added over the fort location – a contemporary way of editing maps.

Historians believe he may have kept the location hidden due to fears of what spies   looking to depose then Queen Elizabeth I may have done with the information.

Research has been carried out by the British Museum – where the map currently resides – at the request of University of North Carolina professor and Director of the First Colony Foundation Brent Lane.

The foundation is looking to excavate at the site shown in the map, in an effort to uncover the original colony and fort following its 400+ year disappearance. The location is today the site of a golf course.

1. Would you be averse to new bunkers on your favorite PGA course if they revealed a 420 year old colony? What would Arnold Palmer, who designed the course, have to say?

2. Should cartographers revisit the idea of ‘hidden print’ on modern-day maps? Would you pay extra for a map partially drawn in lemon juice or Urine?

Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Responses to “hidden ‘inks’, paper patches – cartographic secrecy 1500′s style.”


  1. 1 moemaps
    May 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Hmmm, lemon juice maybe…

    Once upon a time, copyright cues were common on street maps and other hidden gems were placed in all sorts of maps. One example that carries on to this day are the credit card street and subway maps from Anton Miles Co. http://www.antonmiles.com/

    For example, on their Washington DC Subway/downtown map, there is a veeeery tiny dog pooping on the White House lawn. And no, you can’t see it in the product thumbnails on their site. You’ll just have to buy one to see – or email Mike Anton and maybe he’ll tell you the story behind it.

    How do I know about that one? I’m the one who figured out how to get something that small onto a really small map back in the days when we were producing them with film and scribers (man, that makes me sound old). And it’s still there.


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