Click the above image to obtain an enlarged version of the map in question, drawn exactly five centuries ago by a German monk named Martin Waldseemüller [1470-1521], in a monastery in the province that is now Lorraine in France. This map, purchased recently by the US Library of Congress, includes for the first time ever the name America, which was possibly (but not necessarily) a reference to an Italian seafaring merchant named Amerigo Vespucci [1454-1512]. Recall that Christopher Columbus [1451-1506], who died a year before the creation of Waldseemüller's map, had always imagined, after crossing the Atlantic, that he had reached the eastern coast of Asia.
The most amazing aspect of Waldseemüller's map is the inclusion—in a vaguely-shaped form—of the great expanse of water that we now know of as the Pacific Ocean. The shape of the western seaboard of Waldseemüller's rendering of South America is remarkably realistic, suggesting that Waldseemüller, in 1507, had access to cartographical information from sources whose identity still remains a mystery.
Waldseemüller's map—now framed in a solid aluminum container filled with inert argon gas—is about to be displayed publicly for the first time at the Library of Congress in Washington.