History of Mapmaking
Evidence of mapmaking suggests that the map evolved independently in many separate parts of earth. Marshall Islanders made stick charts for navigation. Pre-Columbian maps in Mexico used footprints to represent roads. Early Eskimos carved ivory coastal maps. Incas built relief maps of stone and clay. Chinese literature contains references to maps as early as 7th century B.C.
1000 B.C.-Earliest direct evidence of mapping comes from the Middle East. These ancient Babylonian clay tablets depict the earth as a flat circular disk.
Ancient Chinese Maps-In ancient times, Chinese cartography was more advanced than their contemporaries. Their maps were accurate and detailed compared to other ancient maps.
200 B.C.-The Greeks understood that the earth was a sphere. Eratosthenes accurately calculated the circumference of the earth using angle measures.
150 A.D.-Ptolemy defined in Geography the elements and form of scientific cartography. In spite of his errors (he maintained that the sun revolved around the earth, and calculated the earth as 3/4 its actual size), Ptolemy was far ahead of his time on how scientific research should be conducted. He proposed a system of projections and coordinate systems that are still used today.
Middle Ages-European maps were more ecclesiastic than cartographic. Cosmas exemplified this concept, incorporating religious themes and references into many of his maps. The map to the left even has the Tree of Life in the east. In contrast, Arab maps advanced the earlier Greek practices. Al-Idrisi designed a still-famous world map.
16th century-Mercator created a map- the Mercator Projection that allowed mariners to sail to their destinations by following a fixed rule called a rhumb line.
17th century-Newton postulated that, due to the centrifugal force of the spinning earth, strongest at its equator, the earth bulges at the equator and flattens at the poles. The earth is not a true sphere, but a spheroid.
19th century-Europeans implemented the metric system which introduced a simpler and more universal language for map scale. The Greenwich prime meridian was established.
20th century-Aerial photographs, computers, electronic distance-measuring instruments, inertial navigation systems, remote sensing, and applications of space science create new extensions of cartography’s reach. The Internet makes that reach accessible to all of us.
“The character and technology of mapmaking may have changed over the centuries…but the potential of maps has not. Maps embody a perspective of that which is known and a perception of that which may be worth knowing.”
John Noble Wilford from The Mapmakers