How Were Maps Invented and When?

Once people had worked out where everything is, which wasn’t easy, the world started getting smaller and smaller.

Mapping the World. The first maps ever made were of the night sky, the Lascaux cave paintings (in modern-day France) show the positions of stars, and date from over 18,000 years ago. The oldest known land map dates from more than 4,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) —the clay tablet map shows a river valley.

The ancient Greeks knew that the world was a sphere and were good map-makers. Ancient Greek Anaximader, who lived around 600 BC, was the first Greek to draw a map of the world, but it hasn’t survived.

Around AD 150 Greek astronomer Ptolemy drew a world map, showing the Mediterranean and parts of Africa and Asia. His map uses lines of latitude and longitude.

In Europe, medieval maps were more symbolic than useful, showing Jerusalem as the center of the world for religious reasons.

The Age of Exploration, in the 1400s and 1500s, produced more and more accurate maps. In 1569 Gerard Mercator solved the problem of showing the spherical Earth on a two-dimensional map using clever calculations. We still use the term ‘Mercator projection’ today.

Aerial photography in the 20th century made map-making more accurate than ever before.

Touchy-feely maps: Maps weren’t always drawn on paper – 300 years ago the people of Greenland were carving maps out of wood. People used these 3-D maps to navigate the coast by touching them rather than looking at them. With computer mapping programs you can find aerial photographs taken by satellites of almost anywhere in the world. And the best thing is, with just a few clicks of a button and a little help from everyone’s favorite toy, the internet, you can look at these amazing images for free!

See if you can find an aerial view of your house. Print it out and pin it up. If you can’t find your house, pick a place you wish you could be in.

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