Map are among the oldest firms of human communication, far from purely scientific instruments, they are almost always bound with history, mythology, and religion. The earliest maps were created long before first alphabets were invented. People have always been fascinated by maps and their power to represent – and misrepresent – our world. From prehistoric rock carvings to the latest computer-generated imagery, mapmakers have used cartography to chart every aspect of the world – and to alter our perception of it.
The earliest known world maps date to classical antiquity (6th to 5th centuries BCE) but is there anything that could pulverise that age limit? What if the world’s oldest map is at least ten times older than that putative onset of abstract thought. How about a map that is anywhere from half a million to one million years old?
Amateur archeologist David King has been researching one site at the head of the Colne Valley in England, within two decades, he has collected over 10,000 paleolithic artefacts in the area.
The map in question seems to be engraved on a 4.5-inch tall pebble. It takes only a small leap of the imagination to recognise the coastlines of Europe in the shapes incised into the stone. But matching the mapwork with the object’s supposed age – up to a million years, Mr. King contends – is several bridges too far for current science. And for most scientists.
Mr. King has had the map stone for over a decade, but in all those years was unable to have ‘official’ palaeontologists concede that it might be a man-made artefact.In fact, Mr. King contends, the stone surface presents “an accurate,detailed and concise map of the coastlines,lakes and river systems from north Europe all the way down to South Africa.”
1 – World’s oldest urban landscape
An engraved object recently found at the site of Moli del Salt in Spain and dated to the end of the Upper Paleolithic, about 13,800 years ago, may show a hunter-gatherer campsite.
The world’s first piece of landscape art may have been discovered in Spain, depicting what appears to be a Stone Age hunter-gatherer campsite 13,800 years ago. Landscapes and images of everyday life were “scarcely represented” in Paleolithic art, with those featuring huts and campsites particularly rare.The slab has seven engraved semi-circular motifs on with internal lines arranged in two rows. Analysis of motifs and composition together with archaeological records led authors to come to the conclusion it depicts a campsite. Scientists suggest it may be be the earliest image of human habitation ever discovered.
The Moli del Salt slab is now housed in the Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain.
2 – Forma Urbis Romae
Forma Urbis Romae, or Severan Marble Plan of Rome is enormous map, measuring ca. 18.10 x 13 meters (ca. 60 x 43 feet). It was carved between 203-211 CE and covered an entire wall inside the Templum Pacis in Rome. It depicted the groundplan of every architectural feature in the ancient city, from large public monuments to small shops, rooms, and even staircases. For more information about the map itself. It is composed of 150 marble tiles built to a scale of 1 to 240. The Forma Urbis Romae was ripped down—most likely to be used to make lime cement. Today, only 10 percent of the original map remains. The first pieces were rediscovered in 1562. A section recently discovered in Palazzo Maffei Marescotti allowed researchers to connect three chunks of the ancient puzzle. The newfound piece has shed new light on the present-day ghetto, an area which once dominated by the Circus Flaminius.
3 – Danish map stones
A set of broken stones covered with etchings of lines and squares, discovered at a 5,000-year-old sacred site in Denmark, may be some of humankind’s earliest maps, according to archaeologists.
The researchers think the inscribed stones are symbolic maps of local landscapes, and were perhaps used in rituals by Stone Age farmers who hoped to magically influence the sun and the fertility of their farmlands.
4 – Turin Papyrus
The Turin Papyrus Map is an ancient Egyptian map that is generally considered to be the oldest surviving topographical and geological map of the ancient world – there are some older maps from outside Egypt, thought these have been described as rather crude, and more abstract in comparison with the Turin Papyrus Map. The Turin Papyrus Map is believed to have been made during the reign of Ramesses IV, around the middle of the 12th century BC. Investigations have shown that the map was made by Amennakhte, son of Ipuy, who bore the title ‘Scribe of the Tomb’.The map is believed to have been prepared for one of the quarrying expeditions sent by the pharaoh to Wadi Hammamat for the quarrying of bekhen-stone, a greyish-green type of stone highly prized by the ancient Egyptians. The purpose of its creation, however, is less clear.
5 – Piri Reis map
The Piri Reis map shows the western coast of Africa, the eastern coast of South America, and the northern coast of Antarctica. The northern coastline of Antarctica is perfectly detailed. The most puzzling however is not so much how Piri Reis managed to draw such an accurate map of the Antarctic region 300 years before it was discovered, but that the map shows the coastline under the ice. Geological evidence confirms that the latest date Queen Maud Land could have been charted in an ice-free state is 4000 BC.
6 – A star map carved into Japan’s Kitora Tomb
A star map carved into Japan’s Kitora Tomb may be the world’s oldest astronomic chart. 68 constellations with gold leaf stars cloaks the ceiling. Three circles track the movement of celestial bodies—including the Sun. The pole star dominates the center. The detailed map depicts the horizon, equator, and star courses. This is not the first depiction of the night sky. Lascaux Cave contains a 17,300-year-old image of the subject. However, it lacks astronomical observations.
Researchers determined that the sky as depicted in the Kitora Tomb chart was seen from China, from locations such as modern-day Xi’an and Luoyang.
7 – Oldest Map of New York
The map, which was created by a Genoese cartographer named Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, is one of the first depictions of America’s eastern seaboard and is now worth $10 million. It’s also the first (extant) map, ever, to show New York harbor.
The ancient chart even follows Magellan’s circumnavigation, making it a true world map. 6.7 feet wide and 3 feet tall, the map is made of nearly indestructible goatskin.
8 – Buache Map
The Buache Map is an 18th century map commonly claimed to accurately depict the continent of Antarctica before it was buried by ice. By extension, it has been claimed that this map is evidence that an ancient civilization had mapped Antarctica when it was free from ice, and that it was based on this source that the Buache Map was drawn. However, t ere are arguments against this interpretation of the Buache Map, and the claim that the continent of Antarctica was known to a highly advanced ancient civilization long before it was ‘re-discovered’ by modern man in the early part of the 19th century.
Christopher Columbus may have consulted a mysterious map from 1491 before setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean one year later. Made by Florence-based cartographer Henricus Martellus, the map synthesizes Claudius Ptolemy’s observations about the circumference of the world with Marco Polo’s observations and Portuguese Africa explorations. The map does not show the Americas. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Bahamas he believed he had reached Japan, which is where Martellus’s map had him located.
Analysis revealed hidden messages on the map. The secret notes contain place names and 60 written passages. The 6-by-4-foot map was photographed under 12 light frequencies—including several beyond human visibility. Latin descriptions reveal facts about far-flung peoples like the “Balor” of Northern Asia who live without wine or wheat and subsist on deer meat. The detail of southern Africa is extremely accurate, suggesting it was derived from native sources rather than Europeans.
9 – Ancient Babylonian Conservative Map
The Babylonian Map of the World is a dramatic labeled depiction of the known world from the perspective of Babylonia. The map is incised on a clay tablet, showing Babylon somewhat to the north of its center; the clay tablet is damaged, and also contains a section of cuneiform text.
It is usually dated to the 5th century BC. It was discovered at Sippar, southern Iraq, 60 miles (97 km) north of Babylon on the east bank of the Euphrates River, and published in 1899. The clay tablet resides at the British Museum. It is conjectured that the island locations, though possibly referring to real areas, may also represent a mythological interpretation of the world.
The map depicts the world as a disc surrounded by water. Seven mythical islands lie beyond and connect the earth to the heavens. Cuneiform text explains the mysterious beasts and heroes that inhabit these islands. Seven dots represent seven cities of the ancient world. A “Great Wall” symbolizes winter. The back of the tablet describes mythic beasts that inhabit the heavenly ocean. Experts believe these are constellations.
10 – Hereford Mappa Mundi
The Hereford Mappa Mundi is unique in Britain’s heritage; an outstanding treasure of the medieval world, it records how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms.
The map bears the name of its author, ‘Richard of Haldingham or Lafford’ (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Recent research suggests a date of about 1300 for the creation of the map.
Superimposed on to the continents are drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world. These 500 or so drawings include of around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and 8 pictures from classical mythology.