The origin of…Map

“Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.” Muhammad Ali

Post 55

What scientists believe is the earliest known presentation of a landscape was found in Navarra, Spain, and dates back to almost 14,000 years ago. It is a stone tablet found in a cave that has engravings, which appear to depict rivers, mountains and areas of good hunting and foraging. The tablet was found in 1993, but it took researchers 15 years to decipher it.
The oldest surviving map of the world is the Babylonian Imago Mundi (appr. 600 BC), a clay tablet showing Babylon in the center with other places such as Assyria and Elam also named. The map attempts to depict the world, which is confirmed with the text: “seven outer regions beyond the encircling ocean” and the places are shown in their approximate correct positions. But because the inscribed portions have a mythological literary character, with references to heroes and kings, the real purpose of the map is to explain the Babylonian view of the mythological world.
In China the earliest known maps date back to the 4th century BC, found in a Qin State tomb in the Gansu province., which are maps drawn in black ink on wooden blocks. The blocks have survived for so long thanks to underground water that had seeped into the tomb, keeping the wood soaked.

The Greek philosopher Anaximander is recognized as having made one of the first maps of the world, a round one that showed the Aegean Sea surrounded by three continents (Europa, Asia and Libya, the part of then-known Africa).
Around 150 Ptolemy, a Greek-Egyptian astrologer, geographer, astronomer, mathematician and poet, wrote Geographia, containing thousands of references and maps of various parts of the world. Although maps had been made before his time, Ptolemy improved map projections (the systematic transformation of the latitudes and longitudes of locations of the world on a flat surface).

During the Middle Ages not much happened in Western Europe in cartography, but Muslim scholars continued the mapmaking traditions, mostly using Ptolemy´s methods. The seventh Abbasid caliph, al-Ma’mun, who reigned from 813 to 833, commissioned the remeasurement of the distance on earth corresponding to one degree of celestial meridian. This resulted in the refinement of the Arabic mile compared to the stadion used by the Greeks.
The Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, created the Tabula Rogeriana or The Recreation for Him Who Wishes to Travel Through the Countries, in 1154. He combined the knowledge of the Indian Ocean, the Fas East and Africa gathered by Arab explorers and merchants with the information from the classical geographers to generate the most accurate map of the world at the time (and for the next three centuries).

The first known map of the Americas has been created by Juan de la Cosa in 1502, a Spanish cartographer who sailed with Christopher Columbus.


  1. a picture or chart that shows the rivers, mountains, streets, etc., in a particular area
  2. a picture or chart that shows the different parts of something (source: Merriam Webster).

The English map, Spanish mapa and Italian mappa come from shortening of Medieval Latin mappa mundi, map of the world, from Latin mappa, napkin/cloth (on which maps were drawn).
Dutch kaart comes from French carte, card, from Latin charta, paper/sheet/ record.

Map in other languages:
Dutch: kaart
Spanish: el mapa
Italian: la mappa


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