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Mr Liu says he knew it was significant, but thought it might be a modern fake.He showed his acquisition to five experienced collectors, who agreed that the traces of vermin on the bamboo paper it is written on, and the de-pigmentation of ink and colours, indicated that the map was more than 100 years old.Mr Menzies and his followers are naturally extremely keen to establish that the 1763 copy is not a forgery and that it faithfully represents the 1418 original.This would lend weighty support to their thesis: that China had indeed discovered America by (if not actually in) 1421.In any event, his arguments convinced Mr Liu that his map was a relic of Zheng He's earlier voyages. The outlines of Africa, Europe and the Americas are instantly recognisable. Australia is in the wrong place (though cartographers no longer doubt that Australia and New Zealand were discovered by Chinese seamen centuries before Captain Cook arrived on the scene).The commentary on the map, which seems to have been drawn from the original, is written in clear Chinese characters which can still be easily read.The Library of Congress recently paid m for a copy of a 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemuller, a German cartographer.But Mr Liu says he is not a seller: “The map is part of my life,” he claims.

In the lower left-hand corner is a note that says the chart was drawn by Mo Yi Tong, imitating a world chart made in 1418 which showed the barbarians paying tribute to the Ming emperor, Zhu Di.Mass spectrography analysis to date the copied map is under way at Waikato University in New Zealand, and the results will be announced in February.But even if affirmative, this analysis is of limited importance since it can do no more than date the copyist's paper and inks.Mr Menzies, who is a former submariner in the Royal Navy and a merchant banker, is an amateur historian and his theory met with little approval from professionals. California is shown as an island; the British Isles do not appear at all.But it struck a chord: his book became a bestseller and his 1421 website is very popular. The distance from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean is ten times greater than it ought to be.

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