Revealing the ‘Lost World’: The American Geographical Society and the Mapping of Roraima during the 1930s

Alastair Pearson & Michael Heffernan

This paper considers a specific mapping exercise undertaken by cartographers in the American Geographical Society during the 1930s as part of a larger project to construct a 1:1,000,000 map of Central and South America, the so-called “Map of Hispanic America.” The particular focus is the region around Mount Roraima on the triple border point of Brazil, Venezuela and what was then British Guiana. This was one of the more isolated areas of Amazonia, an apparently pristine wilderness far from the encroachments of European colonization and an area frequently depicted in the media as a ‘lost world,’ bypassed by history and home to unknown species of flora and fauna that had survived from earlier geological periods. The compilation of a new and accurate map of Roraima presented several problems for the AGS cartographers whose desire to create a rational, scientific representation of the region was continually confronted by colorful myths and legends promoted by novelists, journalists, and cinematographers.

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