Who Invented the First Map? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The first map and the succeeding maps have a very long history. It started with the discovery of a cave painting in Anatolia. Most of the first maps came from Europe, where different empires commissioned adventurous explorers to discover new lands they could conquer. 

Who invented the first map?

Anaximander, a Greek academic, is the generally accepted creator of the first world map. He created it in the 6th century BC. The academics thought that the Earth was cylindrical, and humans lived on the top portion of the cylinder where the area was flat. Although his understanding of world geography was limited, Anaximander attempted to include nearly all the parts of the world on one map.

The first map’s key contributors (and evolution) 

  • Anaximander
    The first world map

    Anaximander was the first person to create a world map. The ancient Greeks created maps to aid navigation for the Greek explorers. Anaximander put together the different maps, making his creation the first world map, even if he believed that the Earth was cylindrical and had flat top and bottom areas.

  • Ptolemy
    World’s first geographer

    Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus) was an astronomer, mathematician, and geographer. Around 150 AD, he published a treatise called Geographia, containing many maps and references to various parts of the world, complete with latitude and longitude lines. 

  • Al-Sharif al-Idrisi
    First atlas in the world

    Al-Sharif al-Idrisi, an Arab scholar, working in the court of King Roger II of Sicily, published the Tabula Rogeriana. He created the work in 1154. He researched the geographical text extensively and published a book that included around 70 regional maps. Thus, he created the first atlas in the world but centered on Arabian geography. 

  • Abraham Cresques
    The Catalan Atlas

    Abraham Cresques, a Jewish cartographer, and his son created the Catalan Atlas for Prince John of Aragon in 1375. It became the most vital map of the medieval period because it covered the East and the West. They based the atlas on Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville’s voyages.

  • Gerard Mercator
    The Mercator Projection

    Gerard Mercator, a Belgian inventor, geographer, and cartographer, created the map that the world eventually adopted. Mercator solved the issue of representing a 3D globe on a 2D surface through projection. Unfortunately, his projection method lengthened the latitudes North and South of the Equator, which distorted the poles. However, despite the distortion, it accurately depicted the areas close to the Equator.

When was the first map invented?

The first map was invented or created during the 6th century BC in Greece. It was not a complete rendering of the entire world, but compared to other maps that existed before, which only showed a country or city, the creator had the novel idea to include nearly all parts of the globe. 

A brief history of the first map

According to most scholars, the oldest map humans have ever known was the nine-foot cave painting discovered in Anatolia (now Turkey). Scholars believed the painting, created between 6100 and 6300 BC, was the outline of Çatalhöyük, an ancient city. 

In the 6th century BC, Anaximander, a Greek academic, became the creator of the first world map. He thought that Earth was cylindrical with a flat top and bottom, and humans only lived on the top part of the cylinder. Despite his limited understanding, his illustration was the first attempt to include the entire world on a single map.

‍Between 700 BC and 500 BC, the discovery of the Babylonian stone tablet showed a detailed and advanced depiction of a map, which included islands and oceans, with Babylon in the center.

In 150 AD, Ptolemy, a ‍Greek academic and philosopher, accidentally invented geography when he published Geographia, where he recorded the birthplaces of more than 10,000 people and used vertical and horizontal lines to chart his data. Unfortunately, the geographic foundation created by Ptolemy was lost during the Middle Ages. 

In 1154, Al-Sharif al-Idrisi created the Tabula Rogeriana, which contained 70 regional maps, making it the first atlas globally. It was a widely researched geographical text based on Arabian geography with the South as its orientation. 

During the Renaissance, the works of Ptolemy resurfaced, and the invention of several devices for mapmaking, such as printing technology, changed the process. As a result, maps became more accurate and accessible. The Mercator projection was unveiled in 1569, with inventor Gerard Mercator creating the projection method to represent the 3D globe in a flat 2D rectangle. His projection method lengthened the latitudes North and South of the Equator, distorted the areas near the poles, but accurately depicted the locations close to the Equator. 

The first map’s timeline

  1. 1489
    Expansion of the Ptolemic maps

    Upon the rediscovery of the geographical drawings of Ptolemy, Italian Henricus Martellus Germanus expanded the maps. He used sources from the records of Marco Polo’s travels in Asia and the first circumnavigation of Africa by Bartolomeu Dios. 

  2. 1050
    Creation of the Beating Map

    Spanish monk Beatus of Liébana created the Beatine Map, which showed other continents explored during medieval times. The map depicted many continents, such as Europe, Asia, and Africa. But the specific purpose of the map is to show Biblical locations. 

  3. 1507
    First mention of America

    German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller and his collaborator Matthias Ringmann drew a world map that mentioned America’s name for the first time. The name was to honor Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer. Waldseemüller was also the first cartographer to depict South America as a continent and not a part of Asia. 

  4. 1529
    Spain’s official yet secret map 

    Portuguese explorer and cartographer Diogo Ribeiro created Spain’s official and secret map, the Padrón Real. The map used the various reports of sailors of new lands they saw and their coordinates. The master map of Spain covered most of the world’s coasts, although the curvature of the Earth and magnetic declination were not accurate. 

  5. 1599
    Perfecting the Mercator projection

    English mathematician and cartographer Edward Wright perfected the Mercator projection and produced the Wright–Molyneux map. While the sources of information were still the ships’ logs of voyagers, he presented them more realistically. The map also included discoveries like the Amazon River, Japan, the Davis Strait, Spitsbergen, and Novaya Zemlya.

Where was the first map invented?

Greece was the birthplace of the first map. The creator, Anaximander, based his map on the records of the various individual maps created by ancient Greek voyagers. 

The importance of the first map

  • Determine locations of various places

    You use a map to predict and figure out the location of places (cities, countries). For example, a map can show major roads and physical features, such as mountains, volcanoes, rivers, and seas. In addition, a map shows the territories that belong to each country.

  • See the world on a smaller scale

    Maps represent the world on a smaller scale. You can see the different continents, the countries that make up the continent, and the various islands. It is easy to find your location, the areas relative to where you are, and plot where you want to go.

  • Learn more about a local community

    In the modern era, maps are essential for driving directions, looking up buildings, offices, restaurants, shopping areas, etc. In addition, you can use local maps to learn more about your community and find locations that are vital to your daily lives.

  • Reconstruct the past

    For historians, old maps are valuable tools for reconstructing the past. These old maps provide records of places, cities, landscapes, natural formations, and other features that may not be existent today or may have changed dramatically through the years. 

  • Connect to your memories

    Maps can connect you to the memories you have of certain places. You can trace the places you have been to and the places you want to visit later. 

The first map by the numbers

  • 30 x 33The Map of Both Chines and Barbarian Peoples Within the (Four) Seas (Hai Nei Hua Yi Tu), which Pei Ju created in 801 CE measured 30 feet by 33 feet
  • 40China’s Guang Yutu Atlas, created in 1579, contained 40 maps.
  • 10The U.S. Library of Congress bought the only copy of the Universalis Cosmographia (Waldseemüller Map), the first map to mention America, for $10 million in 2013.
  • 600,000The Peutinger Map showed 600,000 miles of road from Western Europe to the Middle East on a map that measured 22 feet by one foot. 
  • 2The Earth has two Norths. The True North is a fixed point that points directly to the geographic North Pole of the globe. The Magnetic North is what you see when you use a compass. The compass needle points in a direction that aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field. It is not a fixed point as it responds to the changes in the Earth’s magnetic core. 

Five facts about the first map

  • The first printed map

    The Rudimentum Novitiorum was an encyclopedia that contained the first printed map. The map was divided into two half-circles printed on two pages. East was on top of the map, and it showed three continents. Jerusalem was at the center of the map, while Asia spanned almost half of the globe.

  • Getting the North and South poles correctly

    For the first time on a world map, Korea gets the credit for putting the North on top and the South at the bottom. Kwon Kun created the Kangnido Map in 1402.

  • A mistake that existed for a century

    Not all places on the map exist. James Rennell drew Africa’s first map in 1798, which included the expansive Mountains of Kong. However, the mountain did not exist, but for more than 100 years, it continued to appear on the map of Africa.

  • Fake towns 

    Modern cartographers often intentionally include fake places and towns to ensure that no other cartographers can copy their work. Even Google created a paper town called Argleton in England, which showed on Google Maps in 2008. Unfortunately, there was no town in the area but vacant land. Google removed it later.

  • World’s largest atlas

    The largest paper map in the world today is the Earth Platinum atlas. Published in 2012, the atlas measured six feet by four and a half feet and weighed about 330 pounds. Eighty-eight cartographers from around the world created it in Australia. The 31 copies were printed in Italy and sent to Hong Kong for hand binding. A copy costs $100,000. 

FAQs about the first map

  • What is the north arrow?

    The north arrow or a compass is a figure which shows the main directions (North, East, West, South). It shows the direction of the North when shown on a map. 

  • What do you call mapmakers?

     They are called cartographers, and they create maps for several purposes. For example, you can have road maps to help you trace the routes you need to take for your trip. City planners use maps to decide where they should put specific facilities, such as parks and hospitals.  

  • What are the symbols you see on maps?

    Cartographers use various symbols to represent the land’s geographic features. For example, the black dots are cities, while circled stars denote capital cities. Different lines represent rivers, highways, roads, and boundaries.

  • What are grids?

     You typically see grid patterns on maps. The crossing lines help people locate places. The grid lines that run from east to west are called latitude lines. They run parallel to the Equator. The lines running from North to South are the longitude lines, from the North Pole to the South Pole. The longitude and latitude lines have numbers, indicating the coordinates that tell you where exact location of a place. 

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