People have been using maps for centuries to accurately find their way through lands. The oldest representation of a map is actually not a land map, but a map of the stars painted on a cave wall. This dates back to 16 500 BC. From very early on, mankind recognized the importance of a map and the potential to help him find his way, but also his place. Maps throughout history have severely changed how we look at our world. As mankind explored and had found new lands, new maps would be drawn to include the information.

Maps of Yesteryear
Originally, maps were all hand drawn by cartographers. They made relatively accurate written and hand drawn notes based on science. Many of those who attempted to make maps were explorers who had in fact traveled themselves and wanted to document the routes they’d taken or the lands they’d discovered. Some of these hand-drawn maps were incredibly detailed and even included vital information like mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and bays on the coastlines.

Maps of Today
Today we have numerous aids when it comes to map-making. For example, most cartographers today use computer software to generate maps. This means that the maps we have today are far more accurate than those that were hand drawn so many centuries ago. Thanks to satellite, radar mapping and also the latest in High Definition photography, we have a much better understanding of the world around us. However, there are still many undiscovered and unvisited areas of the globe.

Embarking on a journey through the history of maps uncovers not just the evolution of cartography but also the development of human civilization itself. Maps are more than tools for navigation; they are a reflection of the beliefs, knowledge, and ambitions of their creators. This article explores the fascinating trajectory of map-making, from the rudimentary sketches of ancient civilizations to the sophisticated digital maps of the modern era.

The Dawn of Cartography

The history of maps begins in the mists of prehistory, where early humans would scratch representations of their surroundings into rock or clay. These rudimentary maps were more symbolic than accurate, intended to convey concepts rather than detailed geography. The oldest known map is a wall painting from the Late Stone Age, found in Catalhoyuk, Turkey, dating back to around 6200 BCE. It depicts a volcanic eruption and is a prime example of early humans’ attempts to represent their world.

The Classical Age of Maps

The Greeks and Romans made significant contributions to the field of cartography. The Greek scholar Anaximander (c. 610–546 BCE) is credited with creating one of the first maps of the world, which, although not surviving to the present day, is described by historical accounts as encompassing the known world of the time. Eratosthenes (276–194 BCE), another Greek geographer, made remarkable advancements by calculating the Earth’s circumference with remarkable accuracy and devising the concept of latitude and longitude.

The Romans, for their part, focused on practical applications of cartography, creating detailed road maps to support their empire’s military and administrative needs. The Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman itinerant map showing the cursus publicus, the road network of the Roman Empire, exemplifies the utilitarian focus of Roman cartography.

The Medieval Mappa Mundi

During the Medieval period, European maps took on a more symbolic form with the creation of the mappa mundi, or world maps, which were more theological in nature than geographical. These maps represented the world as it related to biblical stories and Christian beliefs, often depicting Jerusalem at the center. The Hereford Mappa Mundi, dating from around 1300, is one of the most famous examples, illustrating a view of the world that blends mythology, religion, and classical knowledge.

The Age of Exploration and Cartographic Revolution

The Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries propelled map-making into a new era. As European explorers ventured into previously unknown parts of the world, the demand for accurate maps surged. This period saw significant advancements in navigation techniques and the development of more scientific methods of map-making. The work of cartographers like Gerardus Mercator, who in 1569 created the Mercator projection, revolutionized navigation by allowing for the representation of the spherical Earth on a flat surface in a way that preserved angular relationships and made it easier to plot a straight-line course.

Modern Cartography and the Digital Age

The 20th century brought about aerial photography and satellite imagery, transforming map-making into a precise science. Today, digital mapping technologies, such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and GPS (Global Positioning System), have revolutionized the field further, enabling the creation and sharing of maps with unprecedented accuracy and detail. Online platforms like Google Maps and OpenStreetMap offer real-time, interactive maps accessible to anyone with an internet connection, fundamentally changing how we interact with maps.


The history of maps is a testament to humanity’s enduring quest to understand and navigate the world. From the symbolic representations of ancient civilizations to the digital maps that guide us today, maps are a mirror of the technological, cultural, and scientific advancements of society. As we continue to push the boundaries of exploration, from the deepest oceans to outer space, maps will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in charting the unknown, connecting us to our past, and guiding us into the future.