Let's back up a few steps. First of all, the stories really were timed to appear early in the year, first in Italian magazines in December and January -- about the right time for a pre-Columbus-Day publicity dust-up. Trouble was, nobody seemed interested then, so another try for publicity is being launched now. It's not made much of a splash, but the author and his agents are getting a few interviews in Italian and British "news" magazines and those, they hope will be re-run in more respectable places.
One well known history bulletin board on the Internet has already reported the magazine stories of the "new discovery" that Columbus had made a secret voyage to America, the real discovery voyage, six years before 1492. As in all great Italian conspiracies, the Pope of the time had to be a big player. This was Innocent VIII, and he sent Columbus off to the west in search of gold to finance crusades. It was all kept secret, of course, except for a revealing inscription on the Pope's tomb that said that the discovery a "new world" had happened during his reign. The next Pope, Alexander VI, the second of the Spanish Borgias, turned the operation over to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus made several more voyages, and the rest is "history" as we've always known it.
So what's the evidence? According to Signor Ruggero Marino, a journalist and self-styled historian and the perpetrator of this "discovery", it's clearly written on the famous 1513 Piri Reis Atlantic map. This really is the first surviving map that shows the Americas (the Vinland map may be older, but it shows only a part of North America). The Piri Reis map shows Greenland, North America, the Caribbean, and South America (with an hypothetical Antarctica attached to its southern extremity). The map was made by a Turkish fleet commander (the Reis part of his name is his title, equivalent to Fleet Admiral), Piri Ibn Haji Mehmed. Piri Reis lived a long, famous, and productive life during which he accumulated the world's best map collection including some, like this one, which he made himself using information from other maps in his collection. He was beheaded in 1554 in his 84th year on orders of the Grand Turk, after an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf left him open to intrigues by jealous rivals.
At some point, the heavily annotated Piri map was lost, but half of it was finally rediscovered in 1929 by historians who were still taking inventory in storerooms in the harem section of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (Constantinople) after Ataturk's 1923 Turkish revolution. According to some accounts the map had already been trashed and was only later pulled from a rubbish heap.
There is no doubt as to the authenticity of the map -- it has been known and studied thoroughly by cartologists for 70 years. All 24 of the annotations on its surviving half have been translated from the Turkic dialect of the time, and one of them, known as PR note V to the experts, is the key to the Marino theory. It boils down to an idiosyncratic reading of a date: Mr. Marino says that note V gives an Arabic calendar date of 890 (1485-6) for the discovery of America by Columbus. Everybody else agrees with the authoritative reading of the date as 896, which, of course, corresponds to the 1491-2 date historians have always given for the first Columbus voyage to the Americas.
So where was Columbus in 1485? He made it easy for conspiracy theorists by being "out of town" for several years. He said he was in Portugal trying to raise money for a voyage of discovery, but who knows? He may already have been seeking gold in far "Antilia" for the Pope's planned crusades.
More than anyone will ever need to know about Columbus: http://www1.minn.net/~keithp/sitemap.htm
Exploration links: http://cvip.fresno.com/~jsh33/Expl.html
The Times of London breathlessly reports the Marino "discovery": http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,3-126037,00.html (I've already sent a corrective letter to the editors.)
A December 2000 Italian media piece -- same story: http://quotidiano.monrif.net/chan/scienza:1573146:/2000/12/06:
Mercator's World Magazine article on Piri Reis's use of Columbus's own chart: http://www.mercatormag.com/503pirireis.html
The Piri Reis Map Project -- everything
real that is known about the map:
And from the above site -- the authoritative translation of the map annotations: http://www.prep.mcneese.edu/engr/engr321/preis/notes.htm
The Internet's best cartography/cartology gateway (World Wide Web Virtual Library site): http://www.ihrinfo.ac.uk/maps/
P.S. 1: If you look up the Piri Reis map on the Internet, you will also find a lot of other very strange stuff: UFO believers think it could only have been made with the help of little green men. US Government agencies, they say, are desperately conspiring to cover up this information. Could this be true?
P.S. 2: All of those paintings and woodcuts of C. Columbus are strictly guesswork. There are no known portraits made during his own lifetime. Details are at http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/admiral.html. A composite of eight well-known prints that purport to show the big C can be found at http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/figure2.html.