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?

Konya town map

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

References:
550 BC
1st 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)

References:
Robinson:1982
0366 BC to 0335 BC
1st route 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.
References:
Courrier:2005
240 BC
Diameter of earth measured

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.
References:
170 BC
Invention of parchment

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

References:
134 BC
Star chart

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
References:
100 BC
The first mechanical calculator

Antikythera

Antikythera mechanism

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).
References:
Freeth:2006
0 BC
Oldest known palaeolithic map

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)

References:
Utrilla:2009
90 to 150
Latitude/longitude

Ptolemy's world map, republished in 1482

Ptolemy portrait

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

References:
105
Invention of paper

Tsai Lun portrait

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

References:
950
Diagram: planetary movements

Planetary movements icon

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

References:
Funkhouser:1936
1280
Diagram: paired comparisons

Llull portrait

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

References:
Llull:1280
1305
Diagram: knowledge

Llull's tree of knowledge

Llull's mechanical disks

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

References:
1350
Proto-bar graph

Oresme portrait

Oresme bar graph

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

References:
Oresme:1482 Oresme:1968
1375
Catalan Atlas

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

References:
1450
Graphs of theoretical relation

Nicolas de Cusa portrait

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

References:
1453
Movable type

Page from the Mazarin bible

Gutenberg type sample

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.

References:
1500
Rectangular coordinates

da Vinci portrait

Use of rectangular coordinates to analyze velocity of falling objects

References:
daVinci:1500
1530
longitude via clock

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)

References:
Frisius:1530
1533
triangulation

Image from Peter Apianius Cosmographia, edited by Gemma Frissius

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

References:
Frisius:1533
1545
camera obscura

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.

References:
GemmaFrisius:1545
1550
Trigonometric tables

Trigonometric tables (published 1596 posthumously)

References:
1556
Land survey

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)

References:
Tartaglia:1556
1562
Computation of probabilities

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.

References:
Cardano:1663 Dahlke:1989
1569
Cylindrical projection

Mercator portrait

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

References:
Mercator:1569
1570
1st modern atlas

Ortelius world map, from De Camp 1970

Ortelius portrait

The first modern atlas, Teatrum Orbis Terrarum

References:
Ortelius:1570
1572
Positions of stars and planets

Parallax diagram

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

References:
1581
Isosynchronous pendulum