Pre-1600: Early maps and diagrams
The earliest seeds of visualization arose in geometric diagrams, in tables of the positions of stars and other celestial bodies, and in the making of maps to aid in navigation and exploration. We list only a few of these here to provide some early context against which later developments can be viewed.
In the 16th century, techniques and instruments for precise observation and measurement of physical quantities were well-developed. As well, we see initial ideas for capturing images directly, and recording mathematical functions in tables. These early steps comprise the beginnings of the husbandry of visualization.
The whole of the Roman world is reproduced on this painted parchment 34 centimetres in height and almost 7 metres in length. Although it is the most reproduced Roman chart, the Table of Peutinger does not make it possible to perceive the extent of the cartographic work undertaken by the Romans. Land conquerors, they had a utilitary vision of geography and their cartographic representations were related to the imperial conquests. Topographers accompanied the Roman armies in their campaigns in order to recognize the conquered grounds. Information collected was used for the military needs and the development of infrastructures such as the routes, but also to describe the routes. The table of Peutinger, named after the XVI century German collector to which it was offered, was a form of very widespread geographical description. If this chart does not bring topographic information, it gives indications of distances and size of the places, very practical information for the traveller. The North-South distances are represented on a smaller scale than the East-West distances, thus making it possible to the traveller to unfold or unroll the section which corresponded to its course.
Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing religious festivals. Eclipses and planetary motions were often interpreted as omens, while the calm regularity of the astronomical cycles must have been philosophically attractive in an uncertain and violent world. Named after its place of discovery in 1901 in a Roman shipwreck, the Antikythera Mechanism is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards (Freeth et al., 2006).