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Several maps done in the 16th & 17th Centuries show a huge island off the western coast of America. At its lower end, it looks a lot like baja california, but it is clearly an island, as opposed to a peninsula.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Insel_Kalifornien_1650.jpg is an example link

How did it get this way, and who figured out that the maps were wrong?

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Google Maps - misleading people since 1500s! :) +1 - excellent question! – DVK Jan 23 '12 at 1:30
Is there any such map you can link here? – o0'. Jan 23 '12 at 15:55
It's dwarfed however by issues with the shape of Canada. – alan2here Jan 23 '12 at 22:40

So, in researching the link from sbi, I think he's got one piece of the puzzle, but there seem to be a few more.

  1. Juan de Fuca (the same guy from whom the straits around Vancouver Island / the Seattle area are named), had claimed to have found a Northwest Passage
  2. Sailors from the south had also found the Gulf of Baja California, and frankly its big - so big that it would have been real easy to say, 'Oh, that's Juan's strait'
  3. There was the romance novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, mentioned above.

Put them together, and you have an island.

Given the resources at the time, and a surfeit of targets for exploration, it makes sense they would have said, 'This is an island, we'll get around to mapping it later.'

That this was not an island was realized in 1744, when an overland expedition proved it be part of the mainland.

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Good find! +1 from me. – sbi Jan 26 '12 at 21:39

According to Wikipedia, this might be based on the romance novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, which contains the first written mentioning of the Island of California.

It is probable that this description prompted early explorers to misidentify the Baja California peninsula as the island in these legends.

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