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Ancient Maps

We hope you have been enjoying our blog entries describing the lives of a few of the best known cartographers of the early modern era. Many of the next few entries will be dedicated to maps which predate those created by known cartographers by centuries and some even by millennia, a few of which are primarily of interest to archaeologists, scientists, and historians who are  interested in this field. We hope you will join us for this series.

What is a Map

Dictionaries define a map as a symbolic visual representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually, but not always drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about places, regions, seas and oceans, the stars or the world in a simple, visual way. The act of graphically presenting one’s perception of the world is increasingly recognized as a universal human activity which predates the development of language in written form. While today maps are regarded primarily as a navigational tool, historically speaking maps were, and some yet are, created with a purpose specific to an intended audience. In the modern era, a person who makes maps is known as a cartographer and the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area is called cartography.

According to historical evidence, the making of maps dates far back in time with objects thought to be intended as maps being made long before the invention of papyrus in Egypt or paper in China. What appear to be maps have been found on surfaces ranging from cave walls to walrus tusks, from murals in ancient dwellings to clay tablets.

An example of what many scientists consider to be a prehistoric map is to be found in a site in central Anatolia. The ancient settlement of Çatalhöyük is a Neolithic city which was built sometime around 7,500 BCE, and inhabited for at least two millenia. Excavations at the site have revealed a large mural approximately nine feet long on a wall of one of the structures which appears to be a map of the settlement itself and its nearby environs, including the eruption of a volcano. 

While interpretations of this mural have been varied since its discovery in the 1960s, with the use of modern technology, it appears increasingly likely that it does indeed represent a plan of the settlement replete with important, accurate topographical information. Two mountains are represented in the mural, one of which is shown to be aflame. These mountains are extinct or dormant volcanoes, and modern scientific methods have ascertained that the mountain shown aflame in the mural erupted in approximately 6,700 BCE, a time when the inhabitants of the ancient city would have been witness to it.

 This image is a modern interpretation of the mural based on in situ analysis of it. We hope you will follow us as we present a number of the various 'earliest known maps' for your perusal.  

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