History of maps: Cave days…

A  brief introduction of early cartography

Dear Mappers,

We enjoy map making as much us you do, as such we have decided to take a walk down the memory lane and have a look at how it all started… so here’s the first part of series of articles dedicated to history of maps.

Mapmaking has been part of the human nature for thousands of years, accompanying people through expeditions, making a great impact in trade and cultural exchange. A map as a tool can help to define, explain and navigate through the world.

Cave painting of Lascaux Cave, wall painting of the House of the Admiral, Babylonian clay table city plan for Nippur

The earliest map representations way back when folks were still living in caves – cave paintings. Archaeologists believe that these paintings – that depict landscape features such as hills and mountains – were used to navigate. Some examples of these early maps are wall paintings that might depict the ancient Anatolian city, or the prehistoric alpine rock carvings in France and Italy. Another form of maps of the ancient world include wall paintings of the Minoan “House of the Admiral” depicturing a seaside community. Apart from cave painting and rock carvings, also clay tablets were found in ancient Babylonia. These tablets showed topographical features like hills and valleys, while also containing labelled features.

The ancient Greeks and Romans developed the understanding of cartography, as a science. Maps that they drew were a result of observations and mathematical calculations. The first attempt to draw a map of the known world come from Anaximander. Many Greek philosophers considered the Earth to be spherical and this also influenced their cartography. Pythagoras of Samos for instance was one of the first that speculated the form of a spherical earth.

During Roman times, cartographers focused on practical use of mapmaking. Due to increasing size of the Empire they resorted to the use of maps with administrative boundaries, physical features, or road networks for the financial, economic, political, and military management of their territory. As cartography evolved Ptolemy created a system of latitude and longitude for describing locations on earth. Ptolemy’s original maps were never found, but his work had a significant impact on the work of later cartographers.

Hope you enjoyed this week blog post – let us know what you think in the comments! We are planning to continue navigating through the history of maps further. Till then… enjoy mapping on Map Creator!

Your WEU Community Team
Kleoniki, Paolo, Francesco, Elena, Arturs, Alicja, Belén, Solène, Pierre-Yves Ben, Claire, Pedro, Georg and Eric 


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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