Dutch Pre-Barentsz Maps and the Pomor Thesis about the Discovery of Spitsbergen
The Pomor thesis has been the subject of an ongoing debate among historians and archaeologists for over a century. The (Soviet/Russian) protagonists of the Pomor thesis claimed that Pomors from the White Sea region discovered Spitsbergen/Svalbard prior to the official discovery of this Arctic archipelago by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz in 1596. So far, neither the study of written sources nor archaeological investigations have offered generally accepted conclusive evidence in favour or in rejection of the Pomor thesis. This article examines this question by using a hitherto neglected source material, namely cartographical documents. A significant group of Dutch maps covering the present Svalbard region made prior to the Barentsz expedition of 1596 is investigated for references to an early Russian presence on Spitsbergen. Dutch pre-Barentsz maps, both sea charts and geographical maps, are selected as these are probably of greater importance for studying this topic than any other single group of available maps.