Humanity created the art of mapmaking 2600 years ago, in Babylon. Since then, the knowledge of how to create maps and the idea of what a map should be has been modified, lost, rediscovered, and discovered in other parts of the world. The purpose of this dataset is to show the history of mapmaking across the world and throughout its history. Each individual map's story is described briefly below.
The Imago Mundi, the first known map, was created in Babylon sometime during the sixth century BCE. It shows Babylon itself, the Euphrates river, Assyria, Urartu, and several cities. The countries are surrounded by the ocean, which contains seven islands. Descriptions of all of them are given in the text on the top of the tablet, but only five are still legible.
The third island is where "the winged bird ends not his flight" (cannot reach).
The fourth island is where "the light is brighter than that of sunset or stars."
The fifth island is a land where "one sees nothing" and "the sun is not visible."
The sixth island is where "a horned bull dwells and attacks the newcomer."
The seventh island, directly to the east, is "where the morning dawns."
Anaximander's map of the known world has been lost to time, but this recreation shows what it might have looked like. It is one of the first world maps known to historians and the original was thought to have been created between 610 and 546 BCE.
Eratosthenes's world map, created somewhere between 276 and 194 BCE, improved significantly on Anaximander's by using information from the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Eratosthenes was the first geographer to use parallels and meridians in his map, since he knew the earth was spherical, and drew Asia much larger than Anaximander did, reflecting improved knowledge of the continent's actual size.
This 1628 reconstruction of Posidonius's first century BCE map of the known world is slightly inaccurate; many of the details shown could not possibly have been known by Posidonius. However, Posidonius was indeed famous for being ahead of his time in terms of his geography skills. He was one of the first people to measure the circumference of the earth with any accuracy, by looking at the position of the star Canopus. Posidonius's measurements gave a circumference of 240,000 stadia, or 24,000 miles - the actual circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles.
The Western Han Dynasty map shown here is one of three found inside a tomb in Mawangdui. It shows a much larger area than previous generations of Chinese maps, as well as containing map symbols and military and population information. Unfortunately, historians have not been able to determine when it was created more precisely than sometime between 202 BCE and 9 CE, the duration of the Han Dynasty.
This reconstruction of Ptolemy's world map is based off of his book Geographia, which is thought to have been written circa 150 CE. No authentic maps created by Ptolemy have ever been found, but reconstructing them is simple using the thousands of sets of coordinates for various old world locations recorded in the Geographia. Ptolemy's work was the most accurate of its time, and influenced early Islamic maps as well as Greek and Roman work.
This T and O map, created by Isidore of Sevilla, was drawn circa 636 CE. T and O maps are a medieval style of symbolic map, usually intended to convey general ideas rather than accurate geographical information. They represent the Northern Hemisphere, which was commonly considered at the time to be the only inhabited part of the world. The T represents the Mediterranean, and the O is the surrounding ocean. Jerusalem was usually placed in the center of the map, and East was towards the top, since that was the direction the Garden of Eden was thought to lie in.
Little is known about Ibn Hawqal's world map, except that it is likely he used Ptolemy's coordinates and his own travels to create it. The map was found in Ibn Hawqal's book, Surat al-'Ard, which was a rewriting and extension of the Arab scholar Istakhri's book Masalik ul-Mamalik. Ibn Hawqal's accounts of his travels were, at the time, considered to be very accurate and helpful to travelers. This map has been dated to between 900 and 1000 CE.
The Anglo-Saxon "Cotton" world map, so called because it was discovered in the Cotton library, was unusual for its time in that it was neither symbolic, like a T and O map, nor based on Ptolemy's coordinate system. The information it contains was largely taken from the most up-to date sources of that time, although the map was based on a Roman original. Jerusalem is not placed in the center, and although East is at the top, the Garden of Eden is not depicted. This map was thought to have been drawn circa 1040 CE.
The Tabula Rogeriana was created by Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, using information taken from Arab merchants about Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Far East. It was the most accurate map of its time, and remained so for the next 300 years. It was created for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily in 1154, after al-Idrisi stayed for eighteen years in his court.
The 1300s Hereford Map is in the style called mappa mundi . Mappa mundi are a type of symbolic medieval map similar in form to a T and O map, more concerned with conveying historical and Biblical information than geographical information. This particular mappa mundi is signed by "Richard of Haldingham or Lafford." It is drawn on vellum in black, red, and gold ink, with additional blue or green for water. The traditional placements of Jerusalem in the middle of the map and East toward the top are used. Unusually, the positions of Africa and Europe are reversed.
Da Ming Hun Yi Tu is a Chinese world map created in 1389. Previous Chinese maps had been sophisticated and highly detailed, since the Chinese developed the art of mapmaking around the same time ancient Rome did, and never lost it. However, since Europe lost the ability to create accurate maps after Rome's fall and didn't regain it until the 1300s, Chinese geographers had no references for what Europe looked like and rarely included Europe in their world maps. During the 14th century, Europeans started to create semi-accurate maps again. Arab traders brought some of these to China, where Chinese geographers began to create world maps that included Europe, albeit very small and horizontally compressed at the edge. The first of these maps were made in the 1320s, but none have survived to the present day, so the Da Ming Hun Yi Tu is the earliest example we have.
The Genoese map of 1457 is a world map that (unusually) relied on the accounts of the traveler to Asia Niccolo da Conti, rather than Marco Polo. The author is unknown. The map shows the usual landmarks of the time: Prestor John in Africa, the Great Khan in China, Ceylom, and Sumatra. The map also includes a British ship in the Indian Ocean, which had not yet happened, suggesting that a trade by sea with India was a possibility.
The Cantino World Map of 1502 is named for Albert Cantino, a spy for the Italian Duke of Ferrara, because Cantino smuggled the map from Portugal to Italy in 1502. It is the oldest surviving map showing Portuguese discoveries both in the Western Hemisphere and east of Africa. The map is important because it shows part of the Brazillian coastline. At the time, it was unknown whether Brazil was an island or part of the continent the Spaniards had just discovered farther north.
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or "Theater of the World" was the first true modern atlas. It was written by Abraham Ortelius and originally printed in 1570 in Antwerp, Belgium. A set of copper printing plates was specifically engraved to print it. Ortelius also included a list of cartographers who had contributed to the atlas, many of whom would have been lost to history if he had not. The map shown here is the world map from this atlas.
Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula, or "New Geographical Map of All the World," is a world map created by Hendrik Hondius in 1630. It was the first map published in an atlas to show any part of Australia. Although maps had shown Australia before, the Nova Tabula, since it was in an atlas, was the first widely available one to do so.
Joan Blaeu's world map, Nova et Accuratissima Terrarum Orbis Tabula, or "New and Accurate Map of the Whole World," was published in 1648.
George Augustus Baldwin's "New and Accurate Map of the World, Comprehending all the New Discoveries, in Both Hemispheres, carefully brought down to the Present Time" was published in 1782.
James Gardner's 1825 world map was one of the largest ever produced in the 1800s, with two 48 inch circles representing the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
No reliable information was available regarding this map, except that it was created in 1904.
The background of this map, a satellite image showing Earth's vegetation that is part of the Blue Marble dataset, was created by NASA over the course of months. Since clouds cover a significant portion of the Earth at any given time, many images had to be stitched together to create this one. It took from June through September of 2001 to collect enough data to create this single image. The data were collected by NASA's MODIS, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, which is attached to the Terra satellite 435 miles above Earth. The shading is done in "true color," meaning that if you could view the Earth without clouds from space, this is exactly how it would look. The borders overlaid on the satellite image are country borders, with the exception of North America, which shows state borders as well.