January 25, 2011

Ancient Source Maps

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, source maps were used by mapmakers to fill in the voids of vast undiscovered areas. These maps used to fill in the unknown gaps include depicting California as an island off the west coast of North America, the Island of Atlantis off the west coast of Europe, and even accurate outlines of Antarctica years before they were known to exist. Studies of the geological features over time, on undated source maps, suggest they date to just before the end of the ice age. In fact, some of the geological features found on these maps incidentally change the known theories for continental drift events. One example is the 1513 Piri Reis gazelle skin map which shows the northern part of Antarctica to have been mapped before it was covered in ice. The problem, though, is accurate studies prove the last known time any part of the coast was free of ice dates to around 6,000 years ago. Scientists argue that the Antarctic ice sheet is millions of years old which gives rise to the question of who was around in 4,000 BCE and capable of charting the coastline like we're only now able to do with modern technology, source maps or not.

Interpretations of ancient source maps are not limited to geological features alone. Many contain markings placing locations such as underground ancient labryrinths and other unknown mysteries. Such maps include Homer's View of Earth (900 BCE), the Turin Papyrus (1300 BCE), the Ga-Sur clay tablet map (2,500 BCE), and the World According to Hecataeus (~500-600 BCE). Of course, there are numerous other examples as some of the earliest known examples of mapping trace back to carvings dating to around 8,000 years ago. Some of these maps feature unknown drawings and locations that have given modern explorers new avenues to discover. Even more intriguing are the attempts for unearthing the very source maps which inspired the more modern maps as we know them. Studying how our ancestors moved around and the areas they discovered is proving to be as important as many of their cultural belief systems.