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An anatopism (from the Greek ανα, "against," and τόπος, "place") is something that is out of its proper place. Thus, for example, an outrigger canoe would be an anatopism in ancient Rome.

The concept of anatopism is less widely familiar than that of anachronism, perhaps because much that is anatopistic is also anachronistic. Yet the distinction is a valid one; not all that is anatopistic is necessarily also anachronistic. Anatopism is not to be confused with an "anachorism", which is defined as (n.) - foreign to a certain locality; geographically impossible (Collins English Dictionary).


Catherine Hardwicke's 2006 film, The Nativity Story, shows a field of maize in a Nazareth farming scene. Maize is native to Mesoamerica, not to the Middle East, and in pre-Columbian times was grown only in the Americas. The use of maize in this film is an anatopism as well as an anachronism.

Ridley Scott's 2000 film, Gladiator, set in AD 180, features Roman soldiers riding horses using saddles with stirrups. While Romans had saddles since around 100 BC, and stirrups had existed in the world since around 700BC, they did not appear in Europe until around the 6th or 7th century AD, making them both anatopic and anachronistic.

John Ford's much-lauded 1939 film Stagecoach was filmed in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, but textually set in southern Arizona and southern New Mexico. The vegetation and topography of Monument Valley and the lower-altitude deserts are vastly different, rendering the film's actual location notably anatopic.

The Polish writer Bolesław Prus, for the sake of making a point, introduces into chapter 63 of his historical novel Pharaoh, set in the ancient Egypt of 1087–1085 BCE, a substance that behaves like gunpowder.[1] This appears to be both an anachronism and an anatopism, since gunpowder is thought to have been invented, some time later, in China or in Arabia. Another apparent anatopism introduced by the author (in chapter 45) is an object that resembles a telescope,[2] that may also be an anachronism.

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  1. ^ Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh, pp. 579-81.
  2. ^ Bolesław Prus, Pharaoh, p. 391.