50 Surprising Facts about Maps

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1Old Map in Chimney

In 2016, an intricate, a 300-year-old map of the world was discovered wedged into a chimney in Aberdeen to stop a draft. It was delivered to the National Library in Scotland for painstaking restoration.


2. The world's oldest, largest, and intact map from the middle ages is the 'Mappa Mundi' located in England. It depicts geographical, historical, and religious highlights of 1300. It is a map of the world's knowledge from a spiritual and earthly narrative. It includes unicorns, lizardmen, an elephant carried by a dinosaur, and a pancake-shaped Japan. However, the position of the countries is highly accurate.


3. In 1760s, a Polynesian man named Tupaia drew an incredibly accurate map for Captain Cook, but it was misunderstood to be badly made and unusable. The map puzzled people for centuries until some researchers finally figured out how to use it correctly. His map didn’t lay out the islands in the traditional bird's eye view of the world, but rather showed interconnected voyaging paths ranging between roughly Samoa and Rapa Nui, and the Society Islands and Hawai‘i.


4. Presbyterian missionary Sebastian C. Adams published the "Map of History" in 1871 that graphically depicts the history of mankind from 4004 B.C., the biblical beginning of man with Adam and Eve, to modern times. Editions are still being updated in the 21st century.


5. In 1825 when whaling ship captain George Norris landed on and claimed remote Bouvet Island for Great Britain, he also reported discovering Thompson Island on the same day. Later surveys of the area showed that Thompson Island never existed, but it kept being shown on maps until 1943.


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6Here Be Dragons

It was a popular belief that medieval mapmakers inscribed the phrase "Here Be Dragons" on maps showing unknown regions of the world. Unfortunately, however, it appears that, apart from an inscription on a single, 16th-century globe, this claim is unfounded.


7. In 1744, cartographer Emmanuel Bowen published "A Complete Map of the Southern Continent." Much of it is blank.


8. A new country with the name of 'Bougainville' will appear on our world maps in 2027. A 2019 referendum was held in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea and 98.31% of the voters voted for independence.


9. French Guiana is legally part of France, and not a separate country, in a similar way to Hawaii being legally part of the USA. Technically all maps of France should probably have a window with French Guiana in the corner, the way Hawaii usually appears on maps of the USA.


10. There is a fictional island in the South Atlantic, off the west coast of Africa called 'Null Island.' Although it doesn't exist in reality, it serves as an error trap for map systems. Map enthusiasts have given the island its own history, geography, and even a flag.


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11Northwest Angle

The township of Northwest Angle in Minnesota was a geographic oddity caused by surveying errors, and is affectionately known as the Angle. It was created when map maker, John Mitchell miscalculated the source of the Mississippi being the ‘Lake of The Woods.’ The Northwest Angle's only land link is its western border with Manitoba. It's technically part of Minnesota, but with Lake of the Woods to the south, it shares no land connection with the United States. Its residents have to pass through the Canadian border twice to get to mainland US.


12. Mapmakers used to plant fictitious streets on their maps so that if a person copied their map, they could point out the replication of the fake street to prove copyright infringement.


13. Agloe, New York is a fictional town that became an actual landmark after mapmakers made up the community as a phantom settlement, an example of a "copyright trap" and were put onto the map to catch plagiarism as it appears only on their map and not on any others.


14. Canada, Russia, and Greenland aren't nearly as big as most of us think. Most of us have learned world geography from a Mercator map, which distorts the true size of certain countries because it depicts a 3D sphere as a 2D rectangle.


15. The world's shortest mountain, Mt. Tenpo, is 20 m tall. It's only a mountain because it was described as one on a topographical map put out by the Geographical Survey Institute of Japan. You can even get a certificate for summitting the mountain at a nearby cafe.


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16Naming of American Continent

The naming of the North & South America continent in honor of Amerigo Vespucci was the result of a mistake by a German cartographer while making a map of the world in 1507 who thought Vespucci rather than Columbus was the explorer who discovered America after reading a document called Mundus Novus.


17. To pep up the look of a bland 70s Chicago office building, a design firm 2013 added a 400-foot-tall map of the city. The modernistic 35-story map is all gray and black except for the representation of the host building (300 S Wacker Drive) which is shown in red and lights up at night.


18. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union compiled an ultra meticulous map of Washington DC that is far more detailed than typical city maps we are all familiar with including details like the precise width of roads, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, and location of the water reservoir and pumping stations.


19. In 1901, a Jesuit professor found Martin Waldseemüller's map of the world which was made in 1507. What makes this map important is the word, "America" printed on the southern continent of the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. Government considers it the "birth certificate of America."


20. For decades, cartographers have made secret illustrations on Switzerland's official topographical maps such as a spider, a naked woman, and a marmot, eluding the Swiss Federal Office of Topography for years before removal. The naked woman reclined for nearly 60 yrs in the municipality of Egg.


21Secret US Army Bases Leak

A fitness tracking app unknowingly revealed locations of secret US army bases. When the app released a map with over 3 million data points, it showed popular running routes. Data shared by soldiers on the app was detailed enough to reveal sensitive information of users on active military service.


22. Frisland was an "imaginary" island off the coast of Greenland that, despite being nonexistent, appeared on virtually all of the maps of the North Atlantic from the 1560s through the 1660s.


23. There is an artificial archipelago of various small islands constructed in the rough shape of a world map, 4km (2.5mi) off the coast of Dubai. Named "The World," The islands are developed commercially and used as luxury resorts with hotels and beach clubs for corporate events and parties.


24. The origins of the Ordnance Survey maps lie in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, as maps of the Highlands were made to track down Jacobite dissenters and subjugate the clans.


25. The map used by the Flat Earth Society is a projection of the globe centered at the North Pole, called the 'Azimuthal equidistant projection.'

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