Maps Old and New - GadgetMedia

Maps Old and New

There have always been maps. There were maps long before there was writing: directions, illustrations scratched in the dirt, carved into stone or painted on walls. The oldest map still in existence is probably an 8,500 year old mural in Turkey, showing the layout of a small village with mountains behind, one of which, some believe, represents an erupting volcano. Much later came the beautifully illustrated maps of medieval Europe, the mapamundi (maps of the world); and the nautical maps used to navigate the coasts and later the oceans. The digital maps we now create using geospatial mapping software, seem far removed from these.

Yet the maps on our laptops and mobile phones today are firmly rooted in the past, and the seeds of many of the ideas that seem so new can be found in maps centuries old.  The 8,500 year old map with an erupting volcano may be the first example of disaster mapping. Another fascinating map is the Catalan Atlas, a mapamundi from 1375 attributed to Abrahams Cresques and commissioned for the King of France. It is a fusion of two styles of mapping. Earlier mapamundi were less concerned with accuracy than with providing a symbolic geospatial setting for the stories, information and advice they contained. The modern equivalent is perhaps the cartoon style maps that often feature in marketing and promotion.

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Catalan Atlas 1375
For practical purposes however, sailors of the time used maps based on personal observations and reckoning, although these were restricted to coastal areas and concentrated around the Mediterranean. The Catalan Atlas is a map of the world that still contains a wealth of information in the style of earlier mapamundi but is based on the more accurate sailors’ maps and expanded with empirical data gathered from other sources; from the accounts of traders and travellers such as Marco Polo, from the Bible and from tales from A Thousand and One Nights. Most of the myths of earlier mapamundi are omitted, although a mermaid or two can still be found.

Geospatial mapping software relies upon large databases of information which can be combined and interpreted and applied spatially. This information may be overlayed on a map to provide a clear visual representation of a situation, or accessed with a click for a specific location. It can be used to show locations, routes, points of interest. It is an invaluable tool in planning logistics, transport, marketing strategies, drainage and housing and in charting progress. It can aid in identifying and highlighting problems relevant to a business, the environment, natural disasters, health and crime.

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Mobile Maps
The amount of information in the Catalan Atlas is limited by comparison, but still remarkable in its breadth.  There are numerous points of interest (POI); landmarks, cities, ports suitable for reprovisioning. It shows the transport available in different parts of the world; horses, camels, elephants and ships. The main trade routes are illustrated; a caravan on the Silk Road. There are notes on real or potential opportunities for commerce, from Africa to China. There is information on the history of different places, on important figures of the time, on religious affiliations and local customs. And although national boundaries were subject to ongoing change, the general spheres of influence of different rulers are indicated by small banners scattered throughout.

Maps now are based on satellite imaging, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and are accurate to a level unimaginable even a few decades ago. The Catalan Atlas predates the use of latitude and longitude and the ability to account for the curvature of the earth, although this was known at the time. There were no surveys, no aerial photography. Much of map, particularly Asia, is a diagrammatic extrapolation from written accounts, requiring leaps of logic and a high level of creativity. There are therefore some obvious inaccuracies and omissions. Australia is missing, as are the Americas, Southern Africa and most of the world’s oceans.

Information is the key to creating and using maps. The more information and the more reliable the information is, the more accurate the map. The faster that information can be accessed and maps changed and updated, the more ways the maps can be used. But another important factor is accessibility. Once maps were commissioned by kings, now they are readily available to all.
Maps Old and New Maps Old and New Reviewed by Gadget Media on October 28, 2015 Rating: 5
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