Although they had no aboriginal human population, the Galapagos Islands have been a magnet for naturalists as well as a refuge for pirates, prisoners, castaways, rogues and eccentrics over the centuries. Potsherds examined by the Norwegian anthropologist and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, suggest that the first sailors to the islands came from the coast of northern Peru. It is also thought that one of the great Incas, Tupac Yupanqui, sent an expedition to the islands at the end of the fifteenth century.
The Bishop of Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanga, who was blown off course onto the islands while on a mission to Peru in March 1535, made the first written record of the archipelago. In a letter to King Charles V of Spain, he wrote of finding seals and turtles and tortoises so big that each could carry a man, and many serpents-like iguanas, and “birds so silly that they did not know how to flee.” On one island there was “not even space to grow a bushel of corn because it was as if God had showered the land with very big stones”. The bishop is credited for naming the islands Las Encantadas, the Bewitched or Enchanted Ones, because they seemed to move in the swirling mists. From his and the pilot’s report of the voyage, the Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius, learned of the islands and marked them as Isolas de Galapagos
on his Orbis Terrarum
of 1574, the word galapagos
being Spanish for turtles.
||Article contributed by Dominic Hamilton|||