Map errors have been occurring for centuries. In some cases a phantom island or even the fabrication of an entire mountain range has gone unnoticed for hundreds of years. Just as intriguing as the amount of time that can pass without an inaccuracy being disputed is the reasoning behind it. Did the cartographer simply make a mistake or did they intentionally mismark the chart? The following five locations are extreme examples of mapping gone awry.
Mountains of Kong
English cartographer, James Rennell, recorded the presence of a mountain range in 1798, which he claimed ran along Africa’s western coastline. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Rennell contrived the supposed existence of the Mountains of Kong from afar (perhaps from the deck of his ship?) and combined his findings with previous explorers’ observations. The records during this period illustrated another fake mountain chain (the Mountains of Moon) south of the phantom Mountains of Kong. Maybe he was just playing some map dot-to-dot? A French pioneer, by the name of Louis Gustave Binger, finally amended Rennell’s false accounts almost one hundred years later. It took yet another century to remove the mountain range from atlases around the world; the last correction was made to Goode’s World Atlas in 1995.
Last November, the un-discovery of Sandy Island made headlines worldwide. Captain James Cook recorded the alleged island’s presence off Australia’s eastern shore in 1774. Since then, and until 2012, it has been documented in many maps. Google Maps even pulled-up an illustration of the isle until Australian scientists finally set records straight last year. When they measured the depths of the ocean floor, it revealed that the shallowest water in the area was 4,300 feet deep. The Royal Australian Navy publicly announced that they believed Sandy Island was not intended to be a phantom island* and that it was likely a centuries’ old mistake. *Throughout history cartographers have intentionally placed minor errors in their maps to deter other map makers from copying their work.
23/24 Leinster Gardens
Look closely at this picture of 23/24 Leinster Gardens in Bayswater, London. There’s a reason that there aren’t any window treatments in the center building. No one lives at this address, and no one ever will. It is actually a five-story façade, which has been hiding an opening to underground railway tracks behind a five-foot thick wall since 1863. The trains were steam powered at the time the tunnels were excavated, and built up exhaust needed to be vented into the open air during various points along its route. What makes this Leinster Gardens location so unique is the amount of effort and architectural detail that was put into constructing such a well thought out train track disguise for this upscale neighborhood. Click here to view more photos of 23/24 Leinster Gardens.
In 2008, the head of web services at a university in the UK spotted the fictitious village of Argleton on Google Maps, which was supposedly situated in the district of West Lancashire, England. Google searches began showing results for real-estate, hotels and employment opportunities in Argleton. If you try to visit the town, the only thing you will find there is a large, empty field. There are several theories about how or why the paper town (another term for a cartographer’s copyright trap) sprung up: Some people think it was a Google prank (one anagram for Argleton is not real G), others believe it was a Google copyright trap, and Google claims it was just an error. The location has since been removed from Google Maps, but internet searches for Argleton still list hotels and weather for the term.
Senkaku Islands / Diaoyu Islands
China and Japan contend ownership of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which are also referred to as the Diaoyu Islands, Pinnacle Islands or Tiaoyutai Islands. Authority of the territories wasn’t questioned until 1968, when it was revealed that there might be oil reserves beneath the sea along the coastline. Before Apple switched back to and officially began using Google Maps again, the iPhone map app was notorious for having many glitches. One of the more comical errors that occurred with the app came about when looking up the Senkaku Islands or the Diaoyu Islands. Two identical sets of islands would appear side by side; one pair belonging to China and the other to Japan. Some people joked that Apple had solved the political dispute, in regards as to who had rule over the isles, by creating islands for everyone.
Historical and modern times alike have had their share of mapping blunders. Just because X marks the spot on a piece of paper or the screen of an electronic device doesn’t guarantee you’ll find what you are looking for at said coordinates. So, if your GPS seems off while driving your rental car in Australia, Europe or anywhere else in the world, don’t assume the technology is correct. Pull over and ask someone for directions.