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.

6200 BC
Oldest known map?
Added: 2005-10-01

Konya town map Konya town map

The oldest known map? (There are several claimants for this honor.)

550 BC
1st world map?
Added: 2007-02-01

The first world map The first world map

The first world map? (No extant copies, but described in books II and IV of Herodotus' "Histories'' (Robinson:1968)

0366 BC to 0335 BC
1st route map
Added: 2007-02-01

Peutinger map Peutinger map

The first route map ("carte routière''), showing the whole of the Roman world, a map from Vienna, through Italy, to Carthage; painted on parchment, 34 cm. high, by 7 m. in length. (Named the table of Peutinger, after a 16th century German collector.)

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.
240 BC
Diameter of earth measured
Added: 2007-02-01

Calculation of the diameter of the earth by measuring noontime shadows at sites 800 km. apart

Assuming the earth is a sphere, the measured angle between the sites is seven degrees and the circumference is about 50 times 800 km., or about 40,000 km.
170 BC
Invention of parchment
Added: 2007-02-01

Invention of parchment. Parchment was superior to papyrus because it could be printed on both sides and folded.

134 BC
Star chart
Added: 2007-02-01

Measurement of the year with great accuracy and building of the first comprehensive star chart with 850 stars and a luminosity, or brightness, scale; discovery of the precision of the equinoxes

He seems to have been very impressed that either of two geometrically constructed hypotheses could 'save the appearance' of the path that a planet follows
100 BC
The first mechanical calculator
Added: 2009-11-10

Antikythera Antikythera

Antikythera mechanism Antikythera mechanism

Antikythera front view Antikythera front view

The Antikythera Mechanism is a unique Greek geared device, constructed around the end of the second century bc. It is known that it calculated and displayed celestial information, particularly cycles such as the phases of the moon and a luni-solar calendar.

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).
0 BC
Oldest known palaeolithic map
Added: 0000-00-00

Palaeolithic map Palaeolithic map

Image representation of the palaeolithic map Image representation of the palaeolithic map

This palaeolithic map from 13 660 calBP is one of the oldest maps to date. The map is an engraved stone from the cave of Abauntz and it demonstrates actual surrounding landscape, including  mountains, rivers, and ponds. Routes or  avenues of access are also engraved.

Article about a palaeolithic map A palaeolithic map from 13,660 calBP: engraved stone blocks from the Late Magdalenian in Abauntz Cave (Navarra, Spain)

90 to 150
Added: 2007-02-01

Ptolemy's world map, republished in 1482 Ptolemy's world map, republished in 1482

Ptolemy portrait Ptolemy portrait

Map projections of a spherical earth and use of latitude and longitude to characterize position (first display of longitude)

Invention of paper
Added: 2007-02-01

Tsai Lun portrait Tsai Lun portrait

Invention of paper, replacing (somewhat later) writing and other inscriptions on wood, cloth, stone, etc.

Diagram: planetary movements
Added: 2008-07-17

Planetary movements icon Planetary movements icon

Earliest known attempt to show changing values graphically (positions of the sun, moon, and planets throughout the year)

Diagram: paired comparisons
Added: 2006-12-03

Llull portrait Llull portrait

Triangular diagrams of paired comparisons for electoral systems (how to elect a Pope or Mother Superior, when all the candidates are voting)

Diagram: knowledge
Added: 2006-12-03

Llull's tree of knowledge Llull's tree of knowledge

Llull's mechanical disks Llull's mechanical disks

Mechanical diagrams of knowledge, as aids to reasoning (served as an inspiration to Leibnitz in the development of symbolic logic)

Proto-bar graph
Added: 2008-07-17

Oresme portrait Oresme portrait

Oresme bar graph Oresme bar graph

Page from Oresme Page from Oresme

Proto-bar graph (of a theoretical function), and development of the logical relation between tabulating values, and graphing them (pre-dating Descartes). Oresme proposed the use of a graph for plotting a variable magnitude whose value depends on another, and, implicitly, the idea of a coordinate system

Oresme:1482 Oresme:1968
Catalan Atlas
Added: 2007-02-01

Carte de l'Europe, de l'Afrique du Nord et du Proche-Orient, BNF, ESP 30 Carte de l'Europe, de l'Afrique du Nord et du Proche-Orient, BNF, ESP 30

Carte de l'Europe, de l'Afrique du Nord et du Proche-Orient, BNF, ESP 30 Carte de l'Europe, de l'Afrique du Nord et du Proche-Orient, BNF, ESP 30

Catalan Atlas, an exquisitely beautiful visual cosmography, perpetual calendar, and thematic representation of the known world

Graphs of theoretical relation
Added: 2007-02-01

Nicolas de Cusa portrait Nicolas de Cusa portrait

Graphs of distance vs. speed, presumably of the theoretical relation

Movable type
Added: 2008-07-17

Page from the Mazarin bible Page from the Mazarin bible

Gutenberg type sample Gutenberg type sample

Gutenberg portrait Gutenberg portrait

Invention of moveable type printing press, and printing of the Mazarin bible (leads to a decline in the use of mixed text and graphics)

Movable types in Wikipedia The first known movable type system was invented in China by Bi Sheng out of ceramic between 1041 and 1048.

Rectangular coordinates
Added: 2008-07-17

da Vinci portrait da Vinci portrait

Use of rectangular coordinates to analyze velocity of falling objects

longitude via clock
Added: 2008-07-17

Gemma Frisius portrait Gemma Frisius portrait

Theoretical description of how longitude may be determined using difference of times by a clock and the associated observed change in star positions (not implemented)

Added: 2008-07-17

Image from Peter Apianius Cosmographia, edited by Gemma Frissius Image from Peter Apianius Cosmographia, edited by Gemma Frissius

Gemma-Frisius Diagram of triangulation Gemma-Frisius Diagram of triangulation

Description of how to determine mapping locations by triangulation, from similar triangles, and with use of angles w.r.t meridians

camera obscura
Added: 2007-02-01

The first published illustration of a camera obscura, used to record an eclipse of the sun, on January 24, 1544.

Camera Obscura in Wikipedia The first camera obscura was built by the scientist Abu Ali Al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham, born in Basra (965–1039 AD), known in the West as Alhacen or Alhazen, who carried out practical experiments on optics in his Book of Optics.

Trigonometric tables
Added: 2008-07-17

Trigonometric tables (published 1596 posthumously)

Land survey
Added: 2004-10-03

Tartaglia portrait Tartaglia portrait

Development of a method to fix position and survey land using compass-bearing and distance. (Tartaglia is better known for discovering a method to solve cubic equations)

Computation of probabilities
Added: 2007-02-01

Gerolamo Cardano portrait Gerolamo Cardano portrait

Liber de Ludo Alaea, a practical guide to gambling, containing the first systematic computation of probabilities; written in 1562, but not published until 1663.

Cardano:1663 Dahlke:1989
Cylindrical projection
Added: 2007-02-01

Mercator portrait Mercator portrait

Invention of cylindrical projection for portraying the globe on maps, to preserve straightness of rhumb lines

1st modern atlas
Added: 2007-02-01

Ortelius world map, from De Camp 1970 Ortelius world map, from De Camp 1970

Ortelius portrait Ortelius portrait

Positions of stars and planets
Added: 2007-02-01

Parallax diagram Parallax diagram

Tycho Brahe's wall quadrant Tycho Brahe's wall quadrant

Tycho Brahe portrait Tycho Brahe portrait

Improvements in instruments for accurately measuring positions of stars and planets, providing the most accurate catalog on which later discoveries (e.g., Kepler's laws) would be based

Isosynchronous pendulum
Added: 2008-07-17

Discovery of isosynchronous property of the pendulum (to be used for clocks and measurement)