Was the Northeast Passage first navigated in 1660?

If true, it suggests periods of reduced Arctic sea ice during that time that made this feat possible.

Reposted from the blog Ecotretas with permission


A graphical comparison between the North East Passage (blue) and an alternative route through Suez Canal (red)

David Melgueiro, a Portuguese navigator, might have been the first to navigate the Northeast Passage (known now as Northern Sea Route), between 1660 and 1662, more than 200 years before Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld, who did it ​​in 1878. One of the most detailed accounts for this voyage is given by Eduardo Brazão in The Corte-Real family and the New World (French version here), 1965, in which he describes in pages 68 and 69:

Yet it is interesting to mention here the imaginary (so we believe) voyage of our Melgueiro, in which people believed for some time. On this topic we quote Duarte Leite (op. cit., vol. II, p. 261 et seq.):

«At the end of the 17th century the french naval lieutenant La Madeleine was in Portugal, on a mission from his minister, Count Louis de Pontchartrain, to get information on Portuguese navigation and trading in the East. In the course of his mission he heard, from a Havre sailor who lived in Oporto, of an extraordinary voyage from Japan to Portugal effected by a Portuguese with whom the French sailor was personally acquainted. In January 1700 he communicated the information he had got from him to his minister, who had it archived. It was reproduced in a memoir in 1754 by the French Philippe Buache, the distinguished royal geographer of Louis XV.

The French sailor told that on 14 March 1660 the Dutch sailing ship «Padre Eterno» under the Portuguese David Melgueiro was ready to set sail from the Japanese port of Cangoshima. It was loaded with rich oriental goods and carried passengers, Dutch and Spanish and perhaps also Portuguese, since they had already entered the Nipponic empire in the previous century. At that time Europe was in the throes of war, Holland against France, Spain against Portugal, Spain against England, Portugal’s ally, who was fighting for her independence. The Atlantic and the eastern seas were infested by armed warships, to which pirates should be added. If the tried to return by the sole route till then used, via the Cape of Good Hope it was almost certain to be taken, so that Melgueiro decided to risk taking the other route open to him, by the arctic seas surrounding the old continent. He thus sailed up the current which washes the eastern coasts of Japan and goes up as far as the Anian-Bering strait, sailed round the coast of North Siberia, presumably far off shore, since he did not know the area. He reached the latitude of 84º N, passed between Greenland and the Spitzberg archipelago and sailed down Norway, where he sailed to windward of Ireland and thus reached a Dutch port, where he disembarked his passengers and goods. His mission thus brought to a happy end, he set off in his ship for Oporto, ending his long and adventurous voyage at a date not known. In that city he died, shortly after 1673, and the Havre sailor had attended his funeral.

To his 1754 memoir Buache added the copy of a Portuguese map of 1649, by one Teixeira, which he examined in the French naval archives, on which he drew what he considered to have been Melgueiro’s itinerary. It goes from Japan via the Anian-Bering strait as far as the extremity of Siberia, then so far offshore that it goes beyond the pole and comes down between the islands of Greenland and Spitzberg, then down to the European coasts passing off Ireland».

This plan is nowadays considered to be impossible but in 1897 the scholar and diplomat Jaime Batalha Reis gave it a new form (in «O Comercio do Porto*, 3 February 1897, later re-edited in the collection of articles by the author, published posthumously, Lisbon, 1941) by moving it over to Siberia.

Recently, however, Teixeira da Mota has been able to identify the cartographer mentioned («Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica» vol. IV), and the possibility, hitherto considered implausible, of La Madeleine’s having seen a 1649 Portuguese map by one Teixeira in France is now admitted. But it remains to be found out whether at the date given a Dutch sailing vessel of the name «Padre Eterno» sailed from Congoshima and even more if there was any Portuguese of the name David Melgueiro, which hardly seems to be a Portuguese name. Perhaps it should be «Melguer».

This problem will remain for future study in the vast archives of historical fantasies.

This text refers to the writings of Philippe Buache, a French geographer. The original writings of Philippe Buache are in “Considérations Géographique et physiques sur les nouvelles découvertes au Nord de la grande mer“, 1753, and are available here. The interesting references to Melgueiro are available between pages 137 and 139.

Several expeditions seeked the Northeast Passage, many of them with few historical references. To find more about the real possibilities of Melgueiro’s voyage, we must understand who preceded him. Starting in the north of Russia, the Pomors entered the White Sea during the 12th century, through the Northern Dvina and Onega estuaries. From their base at Kola, they explored the entire Barents Sea, including Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya. Later, the Pomors discovered and kept the Northeast Passage between Arkhangelsk and Siberia. With their ships, called koch, specialized for navigation in the difficult conditions of the Arctic, the Pomors reached far-away places in Siberia, as Mangazeya, east of the Yamal penínusula. In this excellent document by Nataly Marchenko, we find a very interesting map of the Pomor navigations:

In the early 17th century, in the three summer months, the transport of goods by boat was frenetic. The disappearance of Mangazeya was mainly due to political reasons, as in 1619 the death penalty was introduced for anyone doing business in the region. This happened because in previous years the volume of trade there had surpassed the whole of Russia’s trade, with Russians being unable to collect taxes… Interestingly, Mangazeya was devastated by a fire in 1662, which led to its evacuation, being rediscovered in 1967. More information about Mangazeya can be seen in this document, in Russian.

In the meantime, in Rome, diplomat Dmitry Gerasimov, in 1525, suggested a possible route between the Atlantic and Pacific. In 1553, Hugh Willoughby, commanding three ships, with pilot Richard Chancellor, searched for the Northeast passage. The ships were separated by heavy winds, and while Willoughby landed at a bay near the present border between Finland and Russia, and died during the winter, Chancellor managed to reach the White Sea, and then return to Moscow by ground. Later, Chancellor was able to find out what happened to Willoughby, recovering some of his documentation, and discovering references to Novaya Zemlya. However, Steven Borough, who also participated in Willoughby’s expedition, in a second expedition in 1556 discovered the Strait of Kara, but had to turn back, because of the heavy ice. A century before Melgueiro, Borough spent the winter in Kholmogory, in the White Sea.

Willem Barentsz , a Dutch navigator, actively sought the Northeast Passage in the late 16th century. In his first voyage in 1594, he managed to reach the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, but had to turn back because of the ice. The following year, Barentsz made his second attempt, but encountered a frozen Kara Sea, and was forced to turn back. The expedition was considered a failure.

In the third and last voyage, in which he died, Barentsz first discovered Spitsbergen, from where he proceeded to Novaya Zemlya. After crossing the northern tip of the island, they had to spend the winter, having built a cabin with driftwood and timber from their ship. The following summer they returned South, but in the meantime Barentsz died. A good description of this voyage is available in the book The North-west and North-east passages 1576-1611, by Philip Alexander.

The Dutch were the most active in seeking the Northeast Passage. Note that this is an important factor in the equation of Melgueiro’s voyage, since the Eternal Father, in which they made ​​the Northeast Passage, was a Dutch ship. Even before Barentsz, Olivier Brunel in 1584 tried to find the route to the east through the Arctic. In the early 17th century, several navigators at the service of the Dutch East India Company actively sought the passage, including Henry Hudson.

According to Leonid Sverdlov, member of the Russian Geographical Society, there is evidence that a trading venture, launched from the Ob or the Yenisey, circumvented the northernmost part of Eurasia, Chelyuskin Cape, as early as 1617-1620. Archaeological finds from 1940-1945 in the Sims Gulf and the Faddeyevsky island seem to serve as evidence for such a venture. In fact, the island associated with Faddeyevsky, “Kettle Island”, was officially discovered in 1773 by Russian discoverers Ivan Lyakhov and Protod’yakonov, and derives its name from a copper kettle they discovered there. Whoever left it there still remains a mystery…

In 1648 Semyon Dezhnyov became the first European to sail through the Bering Strait, or Aniane, as it was previously known. In the company of Fedot Alekseyev, Andreev and Afstaf’iev, they sailed down the Kolyma River to the Arctic Ocean, rounded the Chukchi Peninsula, and arrived at the Anadyr River, in the Pacific. Their feat was not widely advertised , and has even been the subject of doubt. Also, according to the legend, some of the boats of the expedition may have been diverted to Alaska, but there is no evidence of this, beyond the disappearance of much of the expedition, since only Dezhnyov’s koch, one of seven, arrived at the Anadyr river.

In the first half of the 17th century, notable Russian explorers Mikhail Stadukhin, Ilya Perfilyev, Ivan Rebrov, Elisha Buza, Poznik Zyryan and Dimitry Ivanov, all explored areas of the Yana, Indigirka and Kolyma rivers. Another credit should go to Kurbat Ivanov, who in 1660 (the year Melgueiro sailed from Japan) departed from the Anadyr Bay to Cape Dezhnyov. Following this voyage, Ivanov created an early map of the Chukotka and Bering Strait.

Around 1490, German cartographer Henricus Martellus produced a map of the world then known, visible in the first image below, where a strip of water is visible above northern Asia, thus indicating the possibility of a passage in the Northeast. Martellus produced more maps, visible in this link . In the early 16th century, in 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a conterversial world map. A detailed analysis of his work can be found here. In the second map below (taken from here), it can be seen that there is also a possibility of the existence of a Northeast Passage.

All of these maps, as well as those of Martin Behaim, working for Portugal at the time, suffer strong influence from Ptolemy, and his work Geographia.

Particularly relevant in this area were the maps of cartographer Gerardus Mercator. In 1569 he produced a map (picture below taken from here, more detail here) with his projection. Although it has notable errors in certain areas of the globe, the outline of northern Asia is close to real, except in the eastern part of Siberia. The Northeast Passage is given as a fact:

In 1570, Abraham Ortelius, encouraged by Mercator, compiled the first modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. As seen in the following image, the entire northern coast of Asia is also given as navigable:

In the National Library of Russia more interesting maps can be found. The first map below (image taken from here), from Abraham Ortelius, is given as from 1570, but another source dates it as 1584. The Aniane Strait is perfectly visible on the map, and it is clear that Siberia can de circumvented by the north. The second map of Jodocus Hondius, from 1600, is based on the Mercator map of 1569, incorporating the Barentsz expedition of 1595-1597. The third map, from Hessel Gerritsz, is from 1613, and maps Russia and its northern coast, also including Novaya Zemlya. An important detail about this map sequence is that all of them were made by the Dutch, whom Melgueiro was servicing.

Still before Melgueiro’s voyage, maps from cartographer Willem Blaeu also deserve some highlighting. He was also Dutch, and in 1633 was appointed the official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. In 1635 he produced the Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula, visible below:

Note how this map is much more real than the maps from Mercator and Ortelius. Blaeu later produced more detailed maps, also part of his work at the Company. In the first of the maps below (first two maps taken from here), from 1638, we see in great detail the northern coast of Russia. In the second map, from 1640 , we can see the full extent of Arctic sea. The third map (image taken from here), also from 1638, we can observe the extreme east of Asia, with a few more details than previous maps.

The mystery surrounding these maps, as well as others, is addressed in an interesting way in this article. In any case, it is safe to say that David Melgueiro would have had access to this information when he eventually made the Northeast Passage in 1660.

Edmund Burke, an Irish author, in his Annual Register of 1760, describes other details that show how a Northeast passage, and Melgueiro’s voyage, was indeed possible:

This testimony is confirmed by several collateral proofs of a north passage to India; the captain aud crew of a vessel called the Epervier, who having suffered shipwreck in 1653, near the islands of Japan, were thirteen years prisoners at Corea, affirm that many of the whales, which they saw in the sea between Corea and Japan, had hooks and harpoons in them belonging to the French and Dutch, who generally fish for these animals at Spitzbergen, the northern extremity of Europe.

Burke goes even further, advancing reports of the time:

Capt. Wood also reports, in 3 paper published before he performed his voyage, that two Dutch vessels had proceeded as high as lat. 89, which is within one degree of the pole, and there found the sea free and open, though of an unfathomable depth, as appears by four of their journals, which, though separately kept, concurred in this fact, Wood adds, that a Dutchman of great veracity had assured him, that he had even passed under the pole, and found the weather as warm as at Amsterdam. Nor will this appear strange, when it is considered that there being no ice in this part, for the reasons already assigned, the Sun must necessarily give a considerable warmth to the air, by remaining so long above the horizon: so that, upon the whole, the reality of a passage through the North Sea to India seems to be a fact supported by every kind of proof that the subject will admit, except the living testimony of mariners who have made the voyage.

This latter text is also reported by Johann Reinhold Forster, in his book History of the Voyages and Discoveries made ​​in the North, in pages 426-427.

Regarding the particular winter of 1660-1661, there is a very interesting observation in the diary of Samuel Pepys, writing of a particularly warm winter, for the United Kingdom, and that may expand the possibilities of better conditions for Melgueiro’s voyage:

It is strange what weather we have had all this winter; no cold at all; but the ways are dusty, and the flies fly up and down, and the rose-bushes are full of leaves, such a time of the year as was never known in this world before here.

All these guidelines enabled some historians to consider the possibility that David Melgueiro’s voyage was indeed possible. Perhaps the most recognized of these opinions comes from Damião Peres, who in his “History of the Portuguese Discoveries” from 1943, describes us (translation and highlights are my responsibility):

Viagem de David Melgueiro sob bandeira holandesa

Em 1701, o oficial da marinha francesa La Madelène, que se achava em Portugal ao serviço da diplomacia do seu país, como agente secreto, comunicou ao Conde de Pontchatrain sensacionais notícias relativas a uma viagem do Japão para Portugal, realizada, através do Oceano Ártico cerca de quarenta anos antes, por um navio holandês cujo comando era exercido pelo capitão português David Melgueiro. A dita embarcação, que se chamava O Pai Eterno, saíra do Japão em 14 de Março de 1660, correra a costa da Ásia para o norte, atingira cerca de 84° de latitude setentrional, e daí fora até às vizinhanças da Spitzberg, donde, passando entre esta ilha e a Gronelândia e por oeste da Escócia e da Irlanda, viera demandar a foz do rio Douro. No Porto veio a morrer, por 1673, o dito capitão português, como testemunhava um marinheiro do Havre, que aí então ainda o vira.

A carta de La Madelène onde tais informações se encontravam, datada de 14 de Janeiro de 1701, foi publicada em 1853 pelo geógrafo Filipe Bouache numa memória intitulada Considérations geographiques et physiques sur les nouvelles découvertes au Nord de la grande mer appellée vulgairement la Mer du Sud avec des cartes qui y sont relatives, cuja substância se repetiu no ano seguinte num artigo das Memoires de Mathematique et de Physique tirées des registres de l’Académie Royale des Sciences.

Publicando a referida epístola, Buache mostrou-se convicto de que Melgueiro descobrira de facto uma nova via de comunicação entre os oceanos Pacífico e Atlântico – a chamada passagem de nordeste – percorrendo o Ártico de leste a oeste, após ter ali penetrado pelo estreito que separa a Ásia da América, estreito que ele, Buache, vira representado num mapa português, existente em Paris, desenhado em 1649 pelo cartógrafo Teixeira.

A opinião de Buache não logrou geral aceitação, combatendo-a sobretudo o geógrafo Nordenskiold, alegando: a) ser inverosímil a facilidade com que a viagem fora feita; b) não atingir a latitude de 84 graus boreais a costa asiática, que a epístola de La Madelène dizia percorrida até aí.

Sem dificuldade alguma desfez Jaime Batalha Reis – ao divulgar em Portugal, há meio século, os estudos de Buache – os argumentos de Nordenskiold, afirmando: a) que nada se sabe a respeito das facilidades ou dificuldades encontradas durante a viagem, pois quanto a isso é totalmente omissa a breve notícia redigida por La Madelène; b) que nela não se afirma ter sido costeada a Asia até 84º Lat. N., mas sim o navio correra ao norte até 84 graus, tendo primeiro acompanhado a costa.

Recentemente, mostrou-se também pouco inclinado a aceitar como realmente seguido por Melgueiro o dito itinerário um historiador português – o Visconde de Lagoa. Para este autor são suspeitas as condições em que a notícia da viagem de Melgueiro se tornou conhecida: fixada, tardiamente, por «um tal M. La Madelène, oficial de marinha francês em serviço de espionagem diplomática em Portugal, notícia, por seu turno, inspirada na outiva de um marinheiro do Havre que residiu no Porto e foi íntimo confidente de Melgueiro, a cujos derradeiros momentos assistiu», não tendo havido, por parte dos holandeses, qualquer esforço de propaganda dum tal efeito, que os honraria tanto como aos portugueses, mas antes, como até já La Madelène supunha, um deliberado propósito de ocultar o relato coevo, decerto redigido. Quanto à citação do mapa de João Teixeira, feita por Buache, crê o Visconde de Lagoa haver nela um equívoco, devendo tratar-se não dum mapa do dito cartógrafo português, mas sim duma das cartas do atlas anónimo atribuído a Baptista Agnese, de que existe um exemplar na Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, e na qual «se vê, de facto, o traçado da viagem em questão».

Observaremos, quanto a esta última afirmação, que no referido mapa atribuído a Baptista Agnese está de facto marcada uma viagem em regiões nórdicas, entre o Extremo-Oriente e um porto setentrional da costa ocidental da Península Ibérica, o qual bem pode ser o Porto. Simplesmente, tal percurso de nenhum modo corresponde à descrição da viagem que se atribui a Melgueiro, realizada pelo norte de Ásia e da Europa, ao passo que aquele liga o Pacífico ao Atlântico pelo norte da América setentrional, parecendo corresponder à discutida viagem de Maldonado (1588), em que se diz ter tomado parte o piloto português João Martins.

Furthermore, what Buache said was not that a path as that of Melgueiro was drawn in a Portuguese map of 1649, but that in this map a strait was marked between Asia and North America; this modest claim has nothing extraordinary, as this strait, with the name Aniam, is actually in many maps preceding the date in which it is said that Melgueiro made ​​the voyage. And so, in our view, the fact that the strait was already known, gives credibility to the initiative attributed to Melgueiro, where he would stick through, seeking a passage to Europe, much shorter than the usual one across the Pacific, Indian and the Atlantic. However, it must be recognized that there is no documentary evidence for an absolute statement provided by La Madelene’s document, published by Buache, and that the extreme difficulty of an extensive voyage through the Arctic waters, seeded with ice, should put on guard against optimism acceptance.

However, even this extreme difficulty does not mean it is impossible – not only because one may believe in the possibility of having existed exceptional weather conditions, but also because the Arctic currents run westward across northern Asia and Europe – nor the document relied upon and its authorship gives us a motto for a possible fraud. And so, unable to peremptorily assert that the discovery of the Northeast Passage was made in 1660 by Portuguese captain David Melgueiro, nothing prevents in believing that so great feat was actually performed.

This detail of the Arctic currents is verifiable in several sites. The analysis of those currents naturally favors a Northeast Passage from east to west, especially given the characteristics of the ships of the time.

Equally curious is the fact that the Blaeu map of Spitsbergen from 1662 (image obtained here and visible below), is the first that maps the north coast of Spitsbergen. Note that references to Melgueiro’s voyage report that he had passed between Spitsbergen and Greenland, and he would have had to make the voyage along the northern coast of Spitsbergen. Even if it has no relation to Melgueiro, it is an evidence that those waters would have been free of ice during the summers before 1662.

I knew well that there were no reliable temperature records for the time. But I also knew temperatures for that century had been calculated by dendrochronology. Of all the work to date, there is one paper that is highly referenced in the scientific community: “Annual climate variability in the Holocen“, by Keith R Briffa, published in 2000 in the Quaternary Science Reviews, and available here in PDF. Visual analysis of the average temperatures of that paper’s Figure 1, visible in the chart below, actually shows a rise of temperatures around 1660:

I was also aware that Steve McIntyre had already analyzed this paper, and in this post I found important information on how to contextualize Briffa’s work, as well as his original data. The importance of Briffa’s work is that the average Briffa uses is called “Northern Chronology Average”, because it is obtained from a temperature series for high latitudes. These temperatures represent a good estimate of the temperatures experienced throughout history, for the area where the Northeast Passage is possible. I finally arrived at the following chart, using the average data compiled by Briffa:

We can verify that in the year of the beginning of David Melgueiro’s journey, but especially in the immediately preceding years, temperatures in the north of the northern hemisphere were well above average. In fact, temperatures were the highest in almost two centuries! Such temperatures may be a proof that there were “exceptional weather conditions”, as Damião Peres wrote.

For a better contextualization of the records of the Northeast Passage, I noted in the previous image the most important dates regarding the Northeast Passage. Particularly relevant are the cold years experienced by Barentsz, and yet he still managed to get around the northern part of Novaya Zemlya, not far from Cape Chelyuskin, the most northern part of Asia. Note that the temperatures experienced by Melgueiro would have been better than those experienced by Nordenskiöld, who also had in his favor, in his two years of travel, temperatures above average…

This evidence does not prove, however, that David Melgueiro’s voyage really existed. It just makes it more likely, according to the words of Damião Peres. Virtually no hard evidence exists, and a cloak of secrecy seems to have wrapped this part of history. Buache even complained that Dutch records weren’t made available. Who knows, maybe the definite proof is somewhere out there…

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February 13, 2012 3:18 am

In the middle of the Maunder Minimum ?
If correct than the SSN hypothesis needs revising.
The 1661CET at 9.75C was nearly a degree warmer than the 2010 CET at 8.83C.

Dave in the "Hot" North East of Scotland
February 13, 2012 3:23 am

I once read a book about the extraordinary navigational feats fo the Chinese in the 14th Century and remember some interesting maps in there. Sadly I can’t remember what the book was called.
All of these historical records and claims continue to point to no significanct anthropogenic causes of climate change.

Dave in the "Hot" North East of Scotland
February 13, 2012 3:28 am

I think this was the book – but it was a tad ‘popular’ in it’s presentation and methodology. Still a good read though.

Michael Schaefer
February 13, 2012 3:33 am

The Dutch, like the Spaniards and the Portugese during the 15th, the 16th and the 17th century, respectively, in their days summoned the death penaly for everyone who disclosed details of their far-flung trading journeys to others. Especially the Portugese and the Spaniards went so far as to burn old maps and ship logs when they were worn out rather than store them, so as to prevent theft and, thus, distribution of their secret knowledge among competing countries.
In that light, it’s remarkable and admirable, how much detail of Melgueiro’s travel through the Northeast Passage Ecotretas has brought to light here, disregarding.
Excellent work, Ecotretas. It was educating and entertaining to read at once. I admire and appreciate your work, as much as I admire the skills and the tenacity of those sailors, who braved the dangers of such perilous journeys in their wooden sailing ships in the old days – boy, where they tough!

February 13, 2012 3:43 am

Gavin Menzies investigated whether the chinese fleet of Emperor Zhu Di circumnavigated the globe in 1421, and visited Venice in 1434, therby triggering the Renaissance. There is some evidence that they also explored a north Siberian route (see his web pages and books http://www.1421.tv/ ). What motivated his research initially was the fact that maps prior to Columbus (Colon) showed the Americas, Australia and various other features of the globe.

wayne Job
February 13, 2012 4:01 am

Ice clogging the northern seas in the height of summer is some thing that should be made illegal perhaps the UN can ban it. Billions in freight costs and millions of tons of bunker oil could be saved, the arctic sea ice going away in summer would be a bonus, certainly not a problem.
Those brave souls that did it in centuries past in wooden sailing vessels obviously encountered nothing bigger than an ice cube.

P. Solar
February 13, 2012 4:19 am

Very interesting article. Some solid research. I’ll look deeper into what you found in Briffa’s data.
One thing I note in the “Terrum” map is the apparently huge extent of Antarctica. Allowing for inaccuracies of these times etc it does still seem to have an extent almost twice of what it is currently.
The fact that the two polar regions tend to behave in opposing trends may support the idea of a much larger ice coverage in Antarctica and less in the North as is suggest by this article.

P. Solar
February 13, 2012 4:23 am

PS I was referring to Typus Orbis Terrarum map by Ortelius

February 13, 2012 4:28 am

It seems ironic that the supporters of Capt. Melgueiro must have felt just the same as those supporting the anti-CAGW camp today – you just can’t get the widespread publicity.
Regarding whether Melgueiro is a Portuguese name, we have Mr. de Luca playing Rugby for Scotland and Mr. McLean playing for Italy.
And there is no doubt that Columbus knew well that there was land to the west of Europe – he had spoken to Icelandic captains when he was in Copenhagen and knew of Leif Ericson.

February 13, 2012 5:45 am

“Equally curious is the fact that the Blaeu map of Spitsbergen from 1662 (image obtained here and visible below), is the first that maps the north coast of Spitsbergen.”
I’m not sure I see the relevance of this … waters north of Svalbard are ice free in summer. Svalbard was being exploted for its resources long before 1662 so it’s hardly surprising that there is a map of it.

TG McCoy (Douglas DC)
February 13, 2012 6:22 am

Actually there is some evidence that Columbus was also aware of Portuguese Fishermen
who have according to good evidence-been fishing the Grand Banks for 150 years…

February 13, 2012 6:32 am

Don’t let A Physicist know about this. He has already conceded that one voyage may have happened in the northwest passage to find another would not sit well with him.

February 13, 2012 6:52 am

sorry, off-topic: heads-up, Anthony, breaking news Feb 12, 2012:
Synopsis of Report #4: Rossi’s NASA Failures
Andrea Rossi, an Italian man who claims to have invented a practical low-energy nuclear reaction device, will not have his device tested and evaluated by NASA. In the past year, Rossi has had mixed success in gaining support at two NASA laboratories: Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
On July 14, 2011, Rossi asked staff members at NASA Marshall to test and evaluate his device. Marshall staff accepted Rossi’s offer. The two parties began negotiating details of the test protocol. NASA asked for a test that avoided phase change of water into steam because steam would introduce unnecessary confusion to the test. A few days later, Rossi withdrew his offer.
New Energy Times obtained this story as it took place; however, in an agreement with NASA, New Energy Times agreed to embargo the story until 2012.
On Sept. 5 and 6, a private demonstration of Rossi’s device in Bologna, Italy, took place before a group of visitors: Jim Dunn, the former director of the NASA Northeast Regional Technology Transfer Center and a close associate of Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA Langley; John Preston, a Boston investor; and at least one technical expert. The objective of this demonstration was to perform basic due diligence that, if passed, would lead to a second chance at a full-fledged test by NASA.
Despite the team’s best efforts, its members were not able to confirm any excess heat from Rossi’s device. The demonstrations on Sept. 5 and 6 both failed.
Link and more info at Dr Lubos Motl’s blog.

February 13, 2012 7:05 am

A very interesting read, many thanks for the work! This was of particular interest for me, since I recently read a novelization of the much later Lost Franklin Expidition, Dan Simmons’ The Terror. (http://tinyurl.com/6nqhc8x). It took their mid 19th Century search for the Northwest Passage, things that might well have happened to them, and blended Inuit mythology into the story. A very good read for learning about life on an Arctic expidition, with a good story wrapped around it. A hefty read (~1000 pp) but was worth my time at least.
I’m always happy with Anthony’s place, whether it’s him writing, the contributors, or the commenters. I mostly lurk, as I don’t have much to add to the scientific conversations, but enjoy all (okay, most) that y’all contribute to furthering my education.

Jason Calley
February 13, 2012 7:06 am

“This evidence does not prove, however, that David Melgueiro’s voyage really existed. It just makes it more likely, according to the words of Damião Peres. Virtually no hard evidence exists, and a cloak of secrecy seems to have wrapped this part of history. ”
Although Melgueiro was commanding a Dutch ship, there is every chance that he would have left some record in Lisbon. Unfortunately, the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of the record of early Portuguese exploration. Pity that… imagine the treasure trove of maps, rudders and logs that were lost!

More Soylent Green!
February 13, 2012 7:09 am

Headline Editor — The Northwest Passage is on the other side of the globe, around North America, no Europe and Asia.

The headline says Northeast – Anthony

Jason Calley
February 13, 2012 7:10 am

@ T.G. McCoy “Actually there is some evidence that Columbus was also aware of Portuguese Fishermen who have according to good evidence-been fishing the Grand Banks for 150 years…”
In addition, Columbus is reported to have visited Iceland prior to his trans-Atlantic voyage. No doubt he heard stories there of Greenland and of lost Vinland.
It is said that when John Cabot (who was actually a fellow Genoese with Columbus) first “discovered” Newfoundland, that he had to maneuver around the Basque fishing boats already anchored in the harbor.

February 13, 2012 7:21 am

Zhu Di Blue Ice.

February 13, 2012 7:22 am

Prob. better ‘Zhu Di blew ice’.

William Abbott
February 13, 2012 7:30 am

The the persistent SSW polar events of the last few years are (Probably) responsible for both the cold, hard winters in Europe and North America and the diminished Arctic ice. We already know about the Maunder Minimum’s correlation to colder winters in the No. Hemisphere. What do we know about Arctic Ice during Maunder and Dalton? This is an interesting observation. If we are entering a grand minimum and we are experiencing diminished ice in the Arctic – perhaps there is a similar correlation to past Grand Minimums.

More Soylent Green!
February 13, 2012 7:34 am

More Soylent Green! says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
February 13, 2012 at 7:09 am
Headline Editor — The Northwest Passage is on the other side of the globe, around North America, no Europe and Asia.

The above mistake is from the copy editor.

More Soylent Green!
February 13, 2012 7:48 am

More Soylent Green! says:
February 13, 2012 at 7:09 am
Headline Editor — The Northwest Passage is on the other side of the globe, around North America, no Europe and Asia.
REPLY: The headline says Northeast – Anthony

Sorry. In my defense, I just had eye surgery.

February 13, 2012 7:53 am

“David Melgueiro, which hardly seems to be a Portuguese name. Perhaps it should be «Melguer»…

Nope. “Melgueiro” sounds Portugese, “Meguer” sounds Spanish. On Facebook, there are a bunch of Melgueiros, and the information on their pages suggests that most of them are from Brazil.

Rob Crawford
February 13, 2012 7:55 am

If anything, this shows we should be hesitant to declare that we know the “proper” extent of the polar caps, as we’ve only had solid record keeping about them for 2, maybe 3 centuries.

ferd berple
February 13, 2012 8:09 am

Michael Schaefer says:
February 13, 2012 at 3:33 am
Especially the Portugese and the Spaniards went so far as to burn old maps and ship logs when they were worn out rather than store them, so as to prevent theft and, thus, distribution of their secret knowledge among competing countries.
Have Connolley and the RC’s replaced the Portuguese and the Spaniards?
Book burning (also biblioclasm or libricide) is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned or shredded. Book burning is usually carried out in public, and is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material.

February 13, 2012 8:37 am

Very interesting information !
Terrific job putting it all together.

February 13, 2012 8:38 am

I read of detailed maps of coastal Greenland showing details under todays ice. – http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/PiriRies.HTM
DNA of a Siberian descendant on Greenland.
Ancient map of Antarctica-http://www.world-mysteries.com/sar_1.htm
History even controversial, fascinating.

February 13, 2012 8:50 am

Remarkably Ecotretas manages to completely ignore The Great Northern Expedition (Velikaya Severnaya ekspeditsiya) which actually explored and mapped the northern coast of Siberia in 1733-43. As a matter of fact they traversed the entire northeast passage, though it was done by several separate parties and partially with sleds rather than boats.
Anyone familiar with the history of exploration knows that there is any number of fantasies of this sort. For example there are several similar tales about the Northwest Passage. However since these are supposed to have taken place by sailing through what is now the northern US or southern Canada they have not gained much credence.
To check whether there is any basis in reality for such stories the following criteria are useful:
1. Do the tales include any geographic or other factual information that was not generally known at the time?
2. Are there any maps that include geographical information not generally known at the time that may be related?
3. Is there any archaeological evidence?
As far as I can see this story fails on all three counts. Just a few oddities. By 1660 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had a monopoly on trade with Japan, but were allowed only a few ships a year from Batavia to Dejima. How likely is it that one of these dutch ship would be called “El Padre Eterno”? Remember that the dutch were calvinists and fanatic anti-catholics at the time. And how likely is it that it would have a portuguese captain? And that instead of returning to Batavia he should suddenly take it into his head to circumnavigate Asia instead? And where did those portuguese and possibly spanish passengers come from? The last non-dutch foreigners had been expelled 20 years earlie and Japan was completely closed to foreigners except for a very few dutch merchants who lived as virtual prisoners on Dejima island. And reaching 84 degrees north in a sailing ship with zero ice-breking capability?
Come on folks, this is a fairytale.

Harry Lebowski
February 13, 2012 9:00 am

[snip . . that kind of comment could have you characterized as a troll . . kbmod]

Carsten Arnholm, Norway
February 13, 2012 9:16 am

I would be more impressed if you found they travelled through the Suez Canal in 1660… 🙂

One Time
February 13, 2012 9:25 am

“It is said that when John Cabot (who was actually a fellow Genoese with Columbus) first “discovered” Newfoundland, that he had to maneuver around the Basque fishing boats already anchored in the harbor.”
Wasn’t Columbus actually from Barcelona, not Genoa? This claim is based on his written letters to family. He was not Italian or Spanish – had the wrong knowledge of the languages and writing style to have been anything but Catalan.
Any proof that Cabot was Genoese? Interesting idea.
The Templar Knights/Freemasons maintained a fleet of ships off the coast of Spain in the 1400’s and made numerous voyages to the West and kept quiet about it. Their temple in Scotland (built pre-Columbus) has maize cobs carved into the stone artwork proving they got to the New World. They were planning for ages to start their own country, ‘under a star called Merica.”
It seems there was a lot more movement around the planet than is taught in primary school.

Charles Gerard Nelson
February 13, 2012 10:59 am

One Time has hit the nail on the head.
There was a LOT more movement round the planet in early an pre historical times.

February 13, 2012 11:04 am

P. Solar (4:19 am)
Regarding the Antarctica controversy, please check http://www.newyorkmapsociety.org/FEATURES/TRAGER.HTM
Jon (5:45 am)
What you say is true. Blaeu’s map of 1662 is non the less very interesting. Please see comments at http://www.oldworldauctions.com/archives/detail/133-411.htm
Michael Palmer (7:53 am)
Interesting points on the Facebook finds. I’ll investigate it…
nc (8:38 am)
Very interesting map. I’ll check it!
tty (8:50 am)
I stopped at 1660. You are right: there were much more explorations before Nordenskjöld. Also right about other fantasies, notably Maldonado’s voyage. Regarding your criteria:
1-It was assumed that the 17th century was very cold, in the middle of the LIA. Briffa’s data, although, was not known at the time 😉
2-Map evidence is one that I explored significantly. Please see especially the link I put above for P. Solar (4:19 am)
3-No, not that I’m aware. But the Kettle Island detail is very intriguing… Harpoons in Korea from whales in Spitsbergen is also an interesting point about the possibility of going through the north of Asia
Regarding Japan, you are right with your historical facts. Don’t forget that in those times it was difficult do distinguish between a catholic and a Jew, much more Dutch from Portuguese. People had to do a lot of things to stay alive and not get slaughtered… Regarding 84N, he would have had to pass north of the Severnaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land islands. Not impossible.

February 13, 2012 11:04 am

“And reaching 84 degrees north in a sailing ship with zero ice-breking capability?”
Great story, but that was something I took note of as well; 84 degrees places you well out into the Arctic ocean, which is a bit hard to believe.

February 13, 2012 11:20 am

It’s a pity that the threads always manage to get contaminated by fringe garbage, e.g., Piri Reis, Chinese circumnavigators, and Knights Templar. And the reason Columbus wrote in Spanish is that he didn’t speak Italian–he spoke Genoese, which has no literary history. That is, native Genoese speakers never learned to write their native tongue. Nor did they learn Italian back then. They learned Latin.
The best evidence for the plausibility of this 1622 voyage is the simple fact that the maps showed the Arctic as an ocean–unlike the the ice surrounding Antarctica, which was mapped as land until the ice melted. Sailors were clearly acquainted with the northern coasts–requiring that they were ice free for extended periods.
M.A.Vukcevic says:
February 13, 2012 at 3:18 am
In the middle of the Maunder Minimum ?
If correct than the SSN hypothesis needs revising.
The 1661CET at 9.75C was nearly a degree warmer than the 2010 CET at 8.83C.
I’ve also wondered at the lack of correlation between Sol and LOD, but this chart
http://hpiers.obspm.fr/eop-pc/earthor/ut1lod/lod-1623.html (scroll to bottom)
indicates serious warming in 1622. At the same time it gives no indication of having to do with core/mantle coupling. –AGF

Rhys Jaggar
February 13, 2012 11:43 am

One wonders whether there are any indigenous tribes from Northern and North Eastern Siberia who might pass down their histories through stories.
Perhaps if there were, there might be evidence of ships passing through the NE passage sometime a few hundred years ago?
It’s not conclusive, but one wonders if it’s a possible line of enquiry?

A physicist
February 13, 2012 12:46 pm

agfosterjr says: The best weakest evidence for the plausibility of this 1622 voyage is the simple fact that the maps showed the Arctic as an ocean.Fixed it for yah, agfosterjr! The common-sense point is that Siberia’s rivers all flow north … and therefore, early cartographers knew for certain there was an northern ocean that those rivers emptied into.
And so the legend of a Northwest Passage was born … of which seafarers told many tall tales (of course). `Cuz hey, the maps all showed that ocean, and what self-respecting adventurer would claim he had never sailed it?
As for the Northwest and Northeast passages actually being ice-free within the past few hundred years, the limnological data speaks against it.

February 13, 2012 12:46 pm

I say bogus. Melgueiro is a portuguese name, I know a family by that name (and of course today most Portuguese names will be from Brazil). It’s one of those stories where a single guy says something to someone who gets killed and the story comes out 150 years later. There’s no evidence whatsoever. Historically is also hard to buy.
From 1595 to 1663 Portugal and Holland were involved in what can be called the first war at a planetary scale, fought in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. By 1660 Portuguese and Dutch were still happily killing each other all around the world. In Japan fighting had been particularly fierce, by then all Portuguese in Japan had been expelled or killed by the Japanese with help from the Dutch. A boat in Japan with a Spanish and Dutch crew, with a Portuguese captain makes no sense whatsoever.

Jim G
February 13, 2012 1:10 pm

Jason Calley says:
February 13, 2012 at 7:10 am
@ T.G. McCoy “Actually there is some evidence that Columbus was also aware of Portuguese Fishermen who have according to good evidence-been fishing the Grand Banks for 150 years…”
“In addition, Columbus is reported to have visited Iceland prior to his trans-Atlantic voyage. No doubt he heard stories there of Greenland and of lost Vinland.
It is said that when John Cabot (who was actually a fellow Genoese with Columbus) first “discovered” Newfoundland, that he had to maneuver around the Basque fishing boats already anchored in the harbor.”
His actual name was Giovanni Caboti.

John F. Hultquist
February 13, 2012 1:19 pm

Ecotretas, Fascinating – thank you.
Anyone not having read “tonyb” on the history of Arctic ice ought to look here:
It was posted on WUWT also – if you want to look up the post.

February 13, 2012 3:09 pm

Winter 1662 HADCET 5.67 24th warmest. Warmer than 2000, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 etc
Only 2007 and 1998 were warmer in last 20 years.

February 13, 2012 3:18 pm

Samuel Pepys Diary 1661/1662
Janurary 26 “It having been a very fine clear frosty day-God send us more of them!—for the warm weather all this winter makes us fear a sick summer.”

February 13, 2012 5:06 pm

The Bianco Map of 1436 lacks detail in N Russia and E Asia, but it shows a continuous NE passage, FWIW. See http://digilander.libero.it/capurromrc/!0132bianco.html .
Perhaps this was speculation, or perhaps based on some actual knowledge — from the Pomors during the MWP? Bianco also drew a Ptolemaic Conic Map, based on ancient Ptolemaic data the Venetians had recently acquired from Byzantium, but which did not go far enough north to show a NE passage if there was one.
The Bianco Map is highly distorted, as is necessary whenever projecting a large portion of the globe onto a plane. In Europe, W is clearly to the bottom, and N to the left. However, I argue that Africa has been split and then stretched at the Gulf of Guinea, so that W Africa is to the bottom, but S Africa is to the top. The 3 points of land at the top are then the Malay Peninsula, India, and S Africa, from L to R. The Indian Ocean is highly compressed, and the Red Sea is depicted in red. There is no detail in China, and Japan is missing, as is Novaya Zemlya.

February 13, 2012 5:47 pm

I sailed into the Puntarenas Yacht Club in the estuary behind Punta Arenas, Costa Rica in 2007. THere was a 35′ steel Polish boat there that had gone from Poland through the NW passage, then down the west coast coast of America to Costa Rica where they were writing their story for their sponsors. I saw many pics and videos of their passage, including the GPS in the pics. The route is well established, but only open from time to time. This is not as big a deal as you armchair navigators think.

February 13, 2012 5:59 pm

John F.Hultquist; thanks for that link: http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/historic-variation-in-arctic-ice-tony-b/. I spent a couple of hours reading the post and some of the links; all very interesting historical records and well worth the time.

Brian H
February 13, 2012 9:49 pm

Anthony: “conterversial world map” That spelling is very controversial!
Jason C. “maps, rudders and logs that were lost”
I believe you mean “rutters”,

Rutter: rutter (plural rutters)
1.A thing that ruts.
2. A tool used in peat cutting.
3. A guide who leads the way through a difficult or unknown course.
4. A pilot book or seaman’s guide carried by navigators in the Middle Ages; a precursor to the modern navigation chart.

richard verney
February 14, 2012 3:55 am

scizzorbill says:
February 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm
Leaaving aside what it may or may not say about climatic conditions in the past, it is a much bigger deal when performed hundreds of years ago without the aid of GPS and other advanced navigational assistance, access to decent maps and charts including satellite images, radio assistance, efficient warm clothing and survival gear and if necessary knowing that there may be helicopter rescue etc.
Great feats of intrepid explorers of the past should not be underestimated or belittled.
A very interesting post and it is always important to know as much as possible about past history to put modern day matters in their right perspective.

February 14, 2012 5:38 am

Thanks, Ecotretas. Studying history and old maps is a fascinating perspective on the modern history of the planet. Well done for carefully sidestepping the many nutty theories that infest the field.
One thing that emerges is the hubris of contemporary people who assume that folks in ‘the olden times’ were somehow dumber than us. These mapmaking achievements, and the extraordinary adventures of seafarers, demonstrate the folly of that mindset. A linked mindset is that because we haven’t seen something in recent memory, it couldn’t possibly have happened before.
As a sometime student of the Dutch East India Company, I must agree that a Dutch ship with a Spanish name, a Portuguese captain and a mixed bunch of passengers is not very likely. But since they were supreme pragmatists, it is not impossible either.

February 14, 2012 5:58 am

There is also a suggestion that around the 1200s, Marco Polo traversed through Bering Strait over toward Greenland. A line in one of his diaries states he came to a location where the Pole Star appeared in the [Magnetic] South. Since his navigation was guided by lodestone as much as the stars, that implies his location was on a line lying between magnetic and true north: probably somewhere east of Hudson Bay at that time. In addition, one of his maps (Map with Ship) shows rather detailed coastline of Canada north of the Arctic Circle. It is a bit hard to get my head around it since it is drawn using magnetic headings instead of true headings, and the distortions can be confusing. Unlike some of the objections above to the 17th century voyage due to concerns about Little Ice Age, Marco’s voyages took place in the Medieval Warm period, so it makes more sense that the Arctic would be rather ice-free at that time.
Anyway, I definitely believe that an ice-free Arctic at certain times in history would not be a huge surprise..

February 14, 2012 7:08 am

Thank you and so interesting. Still reading.
Perhaps the history of the NE passage voyage in reverse?: –
Columbus ‘…he was Genoese by birth, but after being shipwrecked and washed up on the Portuguese coast he was befriended by the people of Lagos, and accepted Portugal as his adopted home’ ‘.. married a Portuguese girl, Felipa Perestrella, the daughter of the Captain of Porto Santo – thus joining a sea-faring family possessing traditional knowledge of Portuguese thrusts to the north-west. In every way he was well placed to imbibe Portuguese maritime lore. .. He crossed over to the service of Spain , and made his great jounrey to the West Indies in 1492.’ p35 Kenneth McIntyre 1977

February 14, 2012 7:19 am

They All Discovered America and America BC (before Columbus) are 2 books that explore a similar theme; earlier peoples doing things we now deem impossible. The first book, while somewhat of a “tough sell”, was written before physical evidence of Vikings in Newfoundland was found.

Alix James
February 14, 2012 7:27 am

I’ll echo the idea that the fringe stuff isn’t helping the discussion at all, and only gives ammunition to the Warmers. Please knock it off, or von Daniken will be quoted next, I’m sure.
Anyone who wants a scholarly book on early Arctic exploration should pick up Kirsten A. Seaver’s The Frozen Echo: Greenland and the Exploration of North America, ca. A.D. 1000-1500.

February 14, 2012 8:06 am

A physicist says:
February 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm
So you think it’s easier to travel cross country over Siberia than to sail the coast? And what about the islands on the maps–they agree pretty well with what’s really there, till you turn the corner at the Pacific.
Did any of the ice locked Arctic explorers manage to survive by walking south? The point being, these rivers were discovered at their mouths–along the coast. The only thing river direction tells you is downhill. Poor Lewis and Clark–thought the Great Salt Lake would be the ocean.
Sorry, these old maps show the coast with enough detail to easily prove early exploration, hence warm conditions. –AGF

February 14, 2012 8:43 am

I apologize if my mention of 2 von Daniken type books were seen as an attempt to link this thread with the fantastic. There is more than enough historical evidence to suggest, that from time to time in the past, at the least temporarily, arctic waters have been less clogged with ice than they are now.

February 14, 2012 11:17 am

I read this interesting bit of news regarding ancient explorations with agrain of salt, but found it very interesting. Maybe, even credible. Why not? we have no evidence whatsoever, so we cannot put it into Wiki as the first crossing of the NW Passage, still… I plotted on Google Earths the likely route acrosse the north, and it seemed to make ense. I mean, 84 degrees North or something near it would be reached off the northern tip of Greenland. Assuming they were VERY lucky, they could have found vast open waters opening in the pack in the midst of summer (while I still wonder how would they cope with, ahem, the balmy climate of early spring in such pleasant land as Kamchatka, given their early departure from Japan…). How could the ship make this epic voyage? By regularly landing to replenish food, water and wood, obviously: You could find both along the Asian coast. Less, after the Bering/Aniàn strait. Anyway, assuming they steerd the ship always keeping land on sight, thy’de circumnavigate the Canadian arctic archipelago, then Greenland (maybe evn still thinking those remote lands were still “Asia…”, then plunging down the Atlantic near Iceland to Portugal, or wherever. Did they have some practical method for determining longitude, beyond latitude before the chronometer? Anyway it’s still an interesting tale; the original French documents should be recovered, and, maybe, a crew of madmen should try to repeat the voyage, accompanied for safery by military of civilian vessels of the various nations (Japan, Russia, USA, Canada, Denmark, Britain, Netherlands, Portugal…). It’d make for a pretty expedition, and an excuse to investigate the current state of the Arctic. ps I do believe the present climate change to warmer temperatures being exacerbated by human activities and pollution. Arctic is the best lace to study the phenomenon and evaluate its extent and consequences, while we work about the ways to mitigate (or exploit, according to the place) them in our interest.

February 14, 2012 12:59 pm

A few of you obviously need some help with analysis. “In 1570, Abraham Ortelius, encouraged by Mercator, compiled the first modern atlas of the world, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. As seen in the following image, the entire northern coast of Asia is also given as navigable.” Not only is the coast “navigable,” but obviously navigated– its outline is provided in reasonable detail–in 1570!
Take note, Lake Baikal and the Aral Sea aren’t on the map–you can’t reach them from the Arctic. And put on your thinking caps: you can’t explore these rivers without boats. Do you build one for each river, or carry them hundreds or thousands of miles overland, or do you drop them off your ship and row southward?
Ecotretas has provided excellent proof for the MWP. –AGF

David Law
February 14, 2012 4:24 pm

The book “1421 THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED THE WORLD” by Gavin Menzies and published by Bantam Books shows one of the Chinese routes from China around the top of Russia and around Greenland. The Chinese sent out many ships and went all around the world.
The Chinese fleets were believed to be the first world map makers and those maps were used by many of the later “discoverers”.

D. Patterson
February 14, 2012 7:01 pm

A physicist says:
February 13, 2012 at

You’ve made a false relationship between a published paper about the Arctic condtions at a location in Canadian North America to draw a false conclusion about the sea ice conditions at the other side of the Arctic Sea.
The Arctic sea ice tends to be transported by air currents and sea currents in patterns which result in the ice pressing more often upon the northern coastlines of North America and Greenland than upon Eurasia. Consequently, the sea ice conditons are often not comparable between these two regions and their coastlines. Today, the northern coastline of Greenland is rather consistently ice bound with ice ridges formed by the currents shoving the sea ice against Greenland. Nonetheless, the Dorset culture inhabited Northern Greenland and the other coastal regions of Greenland during the warmer periods of the last two millenia, and they navigated some open coastal waters with their skinboats. So, we know from their habitations and from the geological evidence of waves from open water along these shorelines that there has been significant periods of time from the past two millenia in which there was open water along the shores of Northern Greenland.
On the opposing side of the Arctic Sea along the Eurasian coastlines, the conditons are far more favorable for open water conditons than the North American and Greenland coastlines. Orbital satellite imagery of today illustrates how the gyres of the Arctic Sea produce large stretches of open water in the Arctic Sea closer to Eurasia. There is good reason to expect even more favorableopen water in the Arctic Sea in these earlier centuries. From a geological point of view, the presence of a permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic as we see today and in the last few million years is nearly unprecedented and certainly abnormal in the course of the Earth’s existence. The existence of periods in which the littoral areas were navigable by sailing ships to limited extents is not a very surprising circumstance, but it is to be expected. Finding the historical evidence of such passages is the more difficult task than determining the physical possibility of a navigable route through the Arctic Sea.

George Lawson
February 14, 2012 11:57 pm

More on the North West Passage
I’ve been reading Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, published shortly after Queen Victoria died, and covering all the developments in every field of life mainly during the Victorian era. Covering the fifty year period 1837 to 1887 and under the heading ‘Travel and Exploration’ there is the following few paragraphs on the exploration of the North West Passage.
“The foundation of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830 had given considerable impetus to the tracing and configuration of the earths surface and its causes, and the beginning of the
Victorian era witnessed considerable activity in exploration, particularly in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Thus in the year 1839 Sir James Ross started on his South Sea expedition, which established the continuity of the Southern continent from 70 to 79 degrees South, and which crossed the floe for over 1,000 miles until stopped by an impenetrable wall of ice. Again, in 1845 came the ill-fated expedition of Sir John Franklin to the Arctic Regions, consisting of the Erobus and the Terror, neither of which crews were returned to civilisation. Nevertheless, it is now known that Sir John Franklin was within very little of accomplishing the North- West Passage, when he became blocked to the North of King William Island in 70 degree 5 minutes N., and 98 degree 5 minutes W., where he himself died while his companions died one by one in attempting to reach the Great Fish River. Thereupon followed numerous Franklin Search Expeditions which added considerably to the knowledge of the Arctic Regions Thus Sir James Ross’s of 1848-49 discovered the western coast of North Somerset; while Sir Robert McClure, when relieved by Captain Mecham from the Bay of God’s Mercy, where he had been brought to a standstill, was able to accomplish the North West Passage partly by sea and partly by sledge, and return home safe and sound in 1854. Finally, Sir Leopold McClintock put an end to the uncertainty by discovering, during his voyage of 1857 to 1859, the pathetic document upon King William Island recording Franklin’s death, while dead bodies and information from the Eskimo were the authorities for the rest of the tale. After this there was a lull in the exploration of the Arctic zone by Englishmen ; and Americans, Swedes, and Austrians took up the race for the Pole in which so many succumbed. It was not until 1875 that another Polar Expedition started under the command of Sir George Nares, comprising the Alert and Discovery. Sir George brought the Alert farther North than a ship had ever been brought before, namely to 82 degrees 27 minutes N,; that Commander Markham reached 83 degrees 20 minutes with one sledge party; that Lieut. Aldrich discovered 200 miles of coast with another; and that Lieut. Beaumont surveyed much of North Greenland with a third.”

Just a Dutchman
February 15, 2012 7:21 am

Great read,but…
Was not a Dutch ship, nor would we ever called a ship somting like that in those days.
This is a list of VOC ships http://www.vocsite.nl/schepen/lijst.html?sn=A

Just a Dutchman
February 15, 2012 7:23 am
February 15, 2012 8:48 am

Another thing, this northern cartography isn’t easy. In the first place the pole star is no help–even if you could see it during summer’s 24-hour daylight it would be nearly straight up–just barely northward. Compasses may have been available at the end of the LIA but they sure don’t point north when you’re already in the Arctic. The sun just circles around the horizon all day, so it’s hard to get a fix on latitude, let alone bearing–you have to compare max versus min solar declination. And of course longitude is impossible without a clock.
Imagine a ship at the north pole. It can’t even keep track of what day it is without a compass or chronometer. When the sun sets it’s late September, too late to head south, but once stuck in the ice it can start keeping track of things.
So you’re largely stuck with dead reckoning in the fog. That’s why the northern coast is no better on the maps than the African and South American coasts.
The Polynesians must have discovered America several times. That’s a whole lot easier than finding Hawaii and Easter Island. But the Chinese? What’s the evidence? –AGF

February 15, 2012 8:59 am

Just a Dutchman,
The Portuguese “Padre Eterno” was launched in December 1663: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gale%C3%A3o_portugu%C3%AAs_Padre_Eterno
Regarding VOC, I have searched extensively their databases, and found no references, nor to the “Eternal Father” nor Melgueiro. Buache, who wrote the first known reference to Melgueiro, called the ship “Pere Eternel”, but that is the French equivalent. Buache also seems to have made this investigation, but met resistance from the Dutch.
I’m aware that many aspects of this voyage don’t have documentary/hard evidence. But what amuses me most is that Briffa’s data supports the voyage. And what is really interesting is that there has been a lot of navigation in the Arctic, in the past. Please check out the Mangazeya references. And also Barentsz expeditions. If you follow the details of Barentsz last voyage, you will notice that he came very close to making the passage in 1596/1597. But if you check the northern latitude temperatures for that year, you will see how much more interesting were the 1660 temperatures… Barentsz just had bad luck…
I’ll continue investigating this. I’m following several leads… Any input is desirable!

February 15, 2012 9:16 am

I meant to say compasses might have been available at the end of the WMP. –AGF

February 15, 2012 2:28 pm

There is excellent evidence that 4000 years ago the Arctic was largely ice free. (Tree wood fossils found in places where trees no longer grow, shell composition on bottoms, etc.)
THE necessary prerequisite for a new entry into a glacial interval is an Arctic that STAYS FROZEN in summer. So it is foolish, at best, for the Warmers to be demanding an Arctic that stays frozen in summer… When that happens, we have started the Long Slide to mile high Ice in Scandinavia and Canada…
The Little Ice Age ALMOST put us into that circumstance. There was Ice in large chunks in Constantinople during some extreme events. But we have managed, barely, to escape from that interval as the 1800 year and 5000 year cycles turned warm for just a bit. (Now we are nearing the end of that…)
That right now the Arctic is returning a bit closer to it’s inter-glacial Holocene NORMAL state ought to be celebrated. (At least by anyone not wanting mile high ice…)
Now, in that context, we have some reported voyages during local temperature peaks (including the Chinese ones). I’m not surprised at all.
BTW, per the “what evidence is there of Chinese voyages to America”, well, there’s the genetics of the folks in South American pacific coastal areas along with Chinese / Japanese style pottery from earlier eras… Look at the mDNA map here:
Note that red/orange “B” type in the Americas, no red in the intervening land bridge, and the red type in Japan and China. ( At least I think it’s a “B” type, picking out the colors is not as easy as I’d like as my LCD has a tendency to slight variation with viewing angle, so when the legend is at the bottom and the ‘target’ at the top, it’s not exactly the same color…)
There is also a known volcanic event when a bunch of folks left Japan, and a matching arrival of people in Peru with the arrival of matching genetics, pottery, etc.
Also note that in the ‘wide parts’ of both continents the red type is highest on the West coast and drops off inland. Consistent with a coastal community origin.
BTW, Y haplogroups are less usable for this sort of thing as males tend to have wars that kill off the ‘competition’ but then tend to keep the females around. So male DNA says more about the history of dominance while female DNA says more about historic population types.
So if you look at the Y haplogroup you find a much higher dominance of a single type that looks to have arrived over the land bridge from north Asia (though some “China type” looks like it shows up in central North America, though with the coastal parts overrun by the more dominant north Asia type).
A full haplotype map would be better, but I don’t have a reference for that at the moment. (I’ve not looked for one…)
At any rate, the genetics COULD be due to an all land bridge arrival with a big wipe out of the earlier north American group… but that still leaves the pottery and some local legends and some historical records.
The bottom line is, as noted above, people in ancient times moved around a whole lot more than we recognize today. China had THE largest fleet in the world at that time and is KNOWN to have sailed as far as Arabia. ( Sinbad The Sailor is actually a Chinese sailor…) Given that, it would be easier in many ways to have followed the island chains to the Americas.
Oh, and the Sweet Potato is a South American plant that was widely grown in the Pacific Islands and reported in China (IIRC, along with some other S. American plants…) Also the S. American chicken looks to have come from China “before recognized contact”…

February 16, 2012 10:06 am

Mongolian types crossing by land is a far cry from Chinese sailors colonizing the Americas. Can you identify a single Chinese word in a single Amerind language? We know the Polynesians had the ability to introduce their plants and animals to the mainland, and we know they settled as far away as Formosa and Madagascar. And we know that the word for sweet potato is similar in various Amerind and Polynesian languages. We don’t need Chinese colonization to explain such things. The Chinese were literate; they kept records. We have no Chinese writing in America, and we have no record in China of trans-Pacific commerce.
Furthermore, the DaNe peoples are known to have emigrated much more recently than the first Asiatics, which easily explains any DNA discontinuity. So again, let’s see some evidence–real, scientific evidence. A word is worth a thousand pictures–or pottery sherds. –AGF

Bill in Sweden
February 17, 2012 2:06 am

The increase in European exploration beginning in the 1400’s was not because the climate for sea travel was improving. It was largely because the greater Mongol empire collapsed and the overland trade routes that they had maintained broke down. Europe was rather abruptly cut off from trade with the richer more advanced East.

February 17, 2012 7:46 am

Those trade routes had only been open for a century–since Marco Polo. But by 1400 the compass was probably available, and would have been very helpful for northern navigation. The trade through Timbuctu faced an opposite situation. The desert was growing, but Portuguese ships were competing with camel caravans. The great city became a ghost town. –AGF

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