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Maps

History of cartography

Medieval world map, c.1260Medieval world map, c.1260The story of maps starts at least 8000 years ago, when some people first started to draw plans of their town, region, world—or the heavens. At first, they worked from memory or entirely from their imagination. As societies became more ordered and complex, people saw the need for accurate maps. They began to survey the land, taking accurate measurements and plotting features. As explorers reached foreign lands, map-makers (also called cartographers) started to cover larger and larger regions in their maps. Inventions such as the compass, astrolabe and theodolite began to turn cartography into a combination of science, design and technology. 

The earliest maps

Reproduction of the Çatal Höyük planReproduction of the Çatal Höyük planThe very earliest maps were probably not meant to help with navigation: they may have had ritual or religious uses. One of the earliest maps ever found is a wall painting in the ancient city of Çatal Höyük, Turkey, dating from around 6200 BC. The map features a rough plan of the town, drawn from the map-maker’s imagination. Behind the town is an eruption of the twin-coned volcano Hasan Dag, which is visible from Çatal Höyük.

The world’s oldest maps are possibly petroglyphs (carvings on rocks), such as one dating back to around 10,000 BC in Idaho, USA. Some experts think the carvings show the course of the Snake River with a series of symbols.

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