standard Mapping Through the Ages: The History of Cartography



The fascination and interest for the world that we inhabit, has been inherent to human nature since prehistoric times. Some of the cave paintings and other representations on bones and artifacts, which used to be viewed as mere artistic representations, have turned to be, according to the latest investigations, maps of hunting areas, streams, routes, and even maps of the stars.

The oldest recorded route that we have evidence is a 9ft wall painting, found in 1963 of a town plan, showing buildings and a volcano, found in Anatolia, dated 6100-6300BC. It is also know the early representation of maps and routes by the old Egyptians on papyrus, but due to the short life of this type of surface, few evidences made it to our time.

Sometimes, maps become more famous than their makers. Many cartographers only become famous for their contributions to the art and science of cartography after they’ve created a masterpiece. Others become famous, then create equally famous works for royalty, nobility, or well-known explorers of their time. Still others make a famous map, then disappear from history forever. Throughout history, there are five maps that have been particularly noteworthy.

From the earliest maps to maps that have played a significant role in history, listed here chronologically are notable events in the history of mapmaking as well as the world’s oldest maps.

The list is in progress; to submit a map or cartographical event for consideration, please email your submission to

Ancient Cartography and Mapmaking

It was the Greek civilization the one that helped to develop enormously the understanding of cartography as an important science for the society in general. Ptolemy, Herodotus, Anaximander, Eratosthenes, all had tremendous influence on western earth sciences, including geography. They performed deep study of the size and shape of the earth and its habitable areas, climatic zones and country positions. Anaximander, for instance, was the first to draw a map of the known world, while Pythagoras of Samos speculated about the notion of a spherical earth with a central fire at its core. When the geographers of the Greek era started estimating scientifically the circumference of the earth, a huge impulse was given to the cartographic science. Eratosthenes, already in the 3rd century BC, contributed greatly to the history of geographic knowledge with his Geography and accompanying world map. Unfortunately we only have indirect references to this work through other authors like Strabo from Elea, whose work is far better known in our time.

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