Map: *Actual* European Discoveries

Columbus and his ocean-cruising colleagues were great at showing up late to the party and swaggering around like they owned the place, but every now and then, European explorers did bump into uncharted and uninhabited lands. Yale geography professor Bill Rankin has mapped these spots, mostly “diminutive islands that no human had ever seen before, along with extravagant amounts of ice and snow.” Today, just 0.05 percent of the world population, or 3.6 million people, live in these places. 

These islands make up roughly the area of Great Britain, or 0.14 percent of the land on Earth. But if you include the frozen expanses of land at the poles, the conquistadors can claim another 11 percent!

The map also reveals some interesting 16th-century geopolitics. The kaleidoscopes of color along the edges of the map show the spoils of whaling wars, Rankin writes, which led to a “free-for-all” land grab. The middle of the map is dominated by Portugal (green) and Spain (brown); Rankin would have readers recall the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which divvied up discoveries between the two imperial powers. Today, the population living on land (actually) discovered by Portuguese explorers comes to a whopping 3.4 million, far out performing Spain, with its measly 150,000. Vamos Portugal!


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.