Mystique of Maps!
Illustrating Earth’s topography for ease.
Maps are marvellous story-tellers. No story has more drama than the dynamic Alaskan coast. No novel has more plots than the twisting currents of the mighty Amazon river. No fable supports legend better than the colossal testament of the Nile. No epitaph signifies infinity more sadly than the trackless wastes of Siberia or the innumerable sands of the Sahara. We see it all on a map: history, nature, fate, almost everything.
A map is a representation or a drawing of the Earth’s surface or a part of it drawn on a flat surface according to a scale. But it is impossible to flatten a round shape completely. The word ‘map’ is derived from the Latin word ‘mappa’, meaning cloth, as many of the earliest maps were drawn on skins, cloth or parchment. Maps are of many types. Commonly
“Journey all over the universe in a map without the expense and fatigue of travelling, without the suffering or inconvenience of heat, cold, hunger and thirst.”
used maps are: political, physical, weather, topographical, geological, nautical, aviation and tourist.
A map is meant to be a representation on paper or any other suitable material, of a part of the Earth’s surface, showing physical (both natural and artificial) and political features. Maps are made on various scales and show different types of details with accuracy, depending on what is required. Any point of detail on a map should also have its correct location on the Earth as a whole and should bear a correct relative position with reference to any point of detail on it.
Nothing symbolises better than maps — our human dependence on place, on knowing our location, our earthy address. Maps say a lot about our world, but they say more about us. To Herodotus, the centre of the world was Greece. To the Romans, naturally, it was Rome. In the devout Middle Ages, the centre was Jerusalem. Even when we began to scientifically chart the Earth, astronomers determined that the best place to site the prime meridian — the world’s imaginary centre — just happened to be near London in Britain.
Maps are our oldest literature, older than the books. It is widely believed
that map was the first thing we humans ever wrote to communicate with each other. Perhaps over one million years ago, in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, the earlier humans stopped to rest during their long and wandering evolution. With a stick in the mud of a lake bed, they drew some lines to represent the lake, a river, a thick forest and some good hunting grounds beyond the jungle they pointed out their map and said: “Here, fellows. We’re here now. And we hope to be there tomorrow!”
History of maps
How was the first world map drawn? The earliest evidence of mapping comes from West Asia. The first world map was chiselled on a clay tablet in ancient Babylon in 6 BC. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians after that tried to represent their world in the form of figures. Early Eskimos carried ivory coastal maps and the Incas built relief maps of stone and clay. But as early as 1000 BC, the Chinese were the most advanced, accurate and detailed map-makers in the world. They used their maps to administer their empires, but showed little interest in making world maps, even though they had knowledge about the world outside China.
For that, it was important to know the shape of the Earth. The Greek thinkers were the most progressive with respect to that. First, Thales proposed that the Earth was a disc on the ocean. Later, Anaximander modified it to a cylinder, with land on its carved surface. Finally, Pythagoras said that the Earth might be a sphere due to its geometrical perfection. Aristotle backed this by observation, though this view wasn’t accepted by most of the world till the 15th century.
Eratothenes, a librarian of Alexandria, Egypt, first used meridian (longitudes) and parallels (latitudes) to locate places in relationship to each other in the known world. In 150 AD, Ptolemy compiled known astronomical data and created the first known projection of the known, spherical world, onto a plane. He produced a sixvolume atlas called Geographical containing several maps of the world known during his time. This was the beginning of scientific cartography. His coordinate systems are still in use today. In spite of his errors (that the sun revolved around the Earth,
As early as 1000 BC, the Chinese were the most advanced, accurate and detailed map-makers in the world. They used their maps to administer their empires, but showed little interest in making world maps, even though they had knowledge about the world outside China.
and his calculation of the Earth as 3/4th of its present known size), he was far ahead of his time.
However, soon after, Europe entered the Dark Ages of map-making as the knowledge of Greek thinkers was lost. The view of the world was shaped by theological concerns and lack of the contact with other places. The most interesting maps that came after that were the ‘T – O’ maps. That’s because they were shaped in an ‘O’ and divided by a ‘T’. These proved to be the main world maps for centuries. But still, during this period, itineraries and route maps were published for Crusaders and pilgrims. In contrast, Arab maps advanced the earlier Greek practices. Al-Idrisi designed a still famous world map. The ideas of the Greeks and Ptolemy are preserved in Arabic translation.
The Book of Roger, commissioned by a Norman king in Sicily in the 12th century, had maps and a geography based on Ptolemy. Additional information, probably based on trade in the East was used to update the Ptolemaic maps. In the 13th century, mariners began to realise that maps would be helpful and began keeping detailed records of their voyages that land-based map-makers used to create the first nautical charts called Portolan Charts. The charts, created on sheepskin or goatskin, were rare, expensive, and highly decorated.
And, how was it that a German priest writing in Latin and living in a French city far from the coast became the first person to tell the world that a vast ocean lay to the west of the American continents? This is one of the bigger
First published in 1564.
12 maps are combined to show the world.
A Waldseemuller map of 1507.