CARTOGRAPHY: A Study Of Making Maps

Cartography (from Greek χάρτης khartēs, “map”; and γράφειν graphein, “write”) is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

Cartography or mapmaking, has been an integral part of the human history for a long time, possibly up to 8,000 years. From cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia, through the Age of Exploration, and on into the 21st century, people have created and used maps as essential tools to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world. Maps began as two-dimensional drawings but can also adopt three-dimensional shapes (globes, models) and be stored in purely numerical forms.

The earliest known maps are of the stars, not the earth. Dots dating to 16,500 BC found on the walls of the Lascaux caves map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contain a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BC.

Cave painting and rock carvings used simple visual elements that may have aided in recognizing landscape features, such as hills or dwellings. A map-like representation of a mountain, river, valleys and routes around Pavlov in the Czech Republic has been dated to 25,000 BP {Before Present (BP) years is a time scale used mainly in geology and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the “present” time changes, standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as commencement date of the age scale, reflecting the fact that radiocarbon dating became practicable in the 1950s. The abbreviation “BP”, with the same meaning, has also been interpreted as “Before Physics”; that is, before nuclear weapons testing artificially altered the proportion of the carbon isotopes in the atmosphere, making dating after that time likely to be unreliable.}, and a 14,000 BP polished chunk of sandstone from a cave in Spanish Navarre may represent similar features superimposed on animal etchings, although it may also represent a spiritual landscape, or simple incisings.

Another ancient picture that resembles a map was created in the late 7th millennium BC in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, modern Turkey. This wall painting may represent a plan of this Neolithic village,  however, recent scholarship has questioned the identification of this painting as a map.

Maps in Ancient Babylonia were made by using accurate surveying techniques.

For example, a 7.6 × 6.8 cm clay tablet found in 1930 at Ga-Sur, near contemporary Kirkuk, shows a map of a river valley between two hills. Cuneiform inscriptions label the features on the map, including a plot of land described as 354 iku (12 hectares) that was owned by a person called Azala. Most scholars date the tablet to the 25th to 24th century BC; Leo Bagrow dissents with a date of 7000 BC.  Hills are shown by overlapping semicircles, rivers by lines, and cities by circles. The map also is marked to show the cardinal directions.


Indian cartographic traditions covered the locations of the Pole star and other constellations of use. These charts may have been in use by the beginning of the Common Era for purposes of navigation.

Detailed maps of considerable length describing the locations of settlements, sea shores, rivers, and mountains were also made. The 8th century scholar Bhavabhuti conceived paintings which indicated geographical regions.

First Known Maps

We always use maps for knowing about locations, travel and planning. It is natural to ask when the first map was published and who might have created a map. Greek Geographer Claudius Ptolemy is credited for creating and published maps. He spent most of his time in work and writing in Alexandria, Egypt. He attempted to map the known world at that point of time.  He did this during 2nd Century AD! In his publications he had even created a map of the mouth of Ganges.

Earliest published India maps

Although map making might have been known even during the Indus valley civilization the maps made during those periods are not available, as they might have been destroyed over the period of time. So, not much is known about the kind of maps produced and used during that period of time.

There has been continues interest in the geography of the region. In the 9th century, geographers under Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma’mun improved on Ptolemy’s work and depicted the Indian Ocean as an open body of water.

Persian geographer Abu Rayhan Biruni visited India in the early 11th century and studied the country’s geography extensively. He also wrote extensively on the geology of India.

In 1154, the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi included a section on the cartography and geography of India and its neighboring countries in his world atlas, Tabula Rogeriana.

European scholar Francesco I reproduced a number of Indian maps in his magnum opus La Cartografia Antica dell India which was originally compiled by the polymath Ksemendra .

In 1717, Hermann Moll’s “The West Part of India, or the Empire of the Great Mogul” is published. In 1752,  French geographer, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville publishes a map of India laying the Indian geographical knowledge on a scientific footing. ‘Atlas Universal’ of Gilles and Didier Robert de Vaugondy is first published with maps of whole Indies during the same period.

Mapping the Country

The first step to officially survey and make map of India was initiated under the British rule in the modern India. This was done to access the area under their command. Survey of India was established in 1767 by The East India Company for mapping the territories. In 1785 the First Map of ‘Hindoostan’ is prepared by the then Surveyor General of India. This is one of the known map  of India showing the country in detail after detailed survey. In 1830 Colonel Sir George Everest was appointed the Surveyor General of India and retains that position till 1843. The British Survey of India maps on 1:63,360 scale were published in 1930.



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