Hidden images revealed on Elizabethan map of America

British Museum scientists investigating a late sixteenth-century map of America have discovered lines and symbols hidden for centuries beneath two patches of paper. Using a variety of non-contact scientific methods carefully chosen to be safe to use with early paper, researchers were able to look at and through the two small ‘patches’ applied to the map.

Drawn by Elizabethan gentleman and artist John White, the map shows parts of modern eastern North Carolina and Virginia, and is part of a large set of watercolours that gave England and Europe its first accurate views of the new world of North America.

The patches were imaged using visible reflected, visible transmitted, infrared-reflected, ultraviolet-reflected and ultraviolet-induced luminescence imaging and by infrared reflectography. Image processing was then applied to clarify the resulting images. The imaging work revealed that one patch concealed slight changes to the coastline. The other hid a large red and blue symbol and had a very faint version of a similar symbol drawn on its surface.

 Download the analytical report (18mb) 

Read more about the map 

Map of the east coast of North America 

"La Virginea Pars", map of the east coast of North America, John White, 1585-1593.