Timeline of Cartography

This timeline portrays known events in the development of cartography.


Map of Catal Hyuk

A wall painting found in Ankara, Turkey is believed to be one of the earliest known maps. This map depicts a settlement with 80 buildings and a local mountain.

First Map of the moon

Babylonian Clay Tablets

Archaeologists believe that clay tablet maps from the Babylonian empire date to sometime between 3800 BCE and 2300 BCE. These clay tablets included town names, land ownership and indicated the cardinal directions.

Pythagoras Determines Earth is a Sphere

The proposition set forth by Pythagoras was eventually settled as truth by Aristotle in 350 BCE.

Map of Babylonian Empire

When the Babylonian civilization developed into an empire of note, they expanded their maps to include their larger region. They utilized the same mapping techniques and materials.

Eratosthenes Determines Earth's Circumference

Eratosthenes developed the first highly accurate measurement of the circumference of the earth. He created a coordinated grid based on the spherical surface, a precursor to our modern day lines of longitude and latitude.

Hipparchus Creates Early System of Latitude Based on Sun

Hipparchus used Eratosthene's grid and expanded on it by establishing a scientific rationale for the grid placement. He described 11 east-west parallel lines which all had the same length of day.

Ptolemy Creates a World Map

Ptolemy created an 8-volume set of books containing written coordinates for 8,000 places. Unfortunately, there are no known remaining artifacts from this important work.

Roman Empire Collapses, Scientific Cartography Ceases in Europe

The collapse of the Roman Empire placed European scientific cartographic development on hold for hundreds of years - it will not resume again in Europe until the 14th century. Maps created in the intervening time period use images of the world as described by the Christian Bible.

Al-Khwarizmi Produces World Map

Arab mathematician Al-Khwarizmi produces a book similar to Ptolemy's (thought to be based partly on Ptolemy's work).

Al-Biruni Develops Triangulation

Arabic scholar Al-Biruni developed the technique of triangulation, a method of determining distance to a location using geometry. He was also able to use geometry to calculate the radius of the earth with a less than 1% error.

Abraham Cresques Produces World Map Using Portolan Maps

Cresques used portolan charts and the accumulated body of cartographic knowledge to create a world map. Portolan charts were early marine maps created by sailors using magnetic compasses as they journeyed.

Gerardus Mercator Publishes First Projection for Navigation

Mercator solved the problem facing cartographers on how to portray the spherical earth on a flat map.

Sextant Developed

The sextant is a portable instrument designed for determining and tracking latitude while sailing.

John Harrison Develops Accurate Clock for Determining Longitude at Sea

The use of two clocks, one set to the current time at the point of departure and the second adjusted to local time while traveling (based on the position of the sun), allowed sailors to calculate their position longitudinally.

International Meridian Conference Chooses Greenwich as the Prime Meridian

At the 1884 International Meridian Conference, the Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the prime meridian and set as the standard for all countries to follow.

GIS and GPS Developed, High-quality Maps Produced Using Satellite and Aerial Imagery

In the late 1990's, the global positioning satellite (GPS) system was fully in place, allowing people and industry to utilize comprehensive location data to navigate, track and locate desired destinations. Currently, most maps are created using a geographic information system (GIS) - an information system which stores and analyzes information about the earth in layers (each accessible for different purposes).