Archive for the ‘Deep Map Thoughts’ Category

Holy crap!

What to do when one of the few iconic prehistoric maps isn’t a map?

The 6200 BC “map” of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, complete with erupting “volcano” in the background, prefaces many discussions of maps and mapping.  It is used to situate contemporary mapping as part of a long trajectory – “humans have always made maps.”

Alas, an important characteristic of any prehistoric “map” is that we can only speculate as to the intent of the creator. Yes we can look at some squiggly lines and say “hey, that looks like a map” but, of course, that depends on a modern sense of what a map is.  And, possibly, a tendency for us to see maps where there are none.

Indeed, many prehistoric “maps” may be the result of cartocacoethes – a mania, uncontrollable urge, compulsion or itch to see maps everywhere. Map simulacra like chipped paint: a stone China: a mud puddle Australia: and “geographic tongue:” - a medical condition that “looks like a map.”

See also the many prehistoric squiggles (below left) illustrated in Catherine Delano Smith’s “Cartography in the Prehistoric Period in the Old World” in Brian Harley and David Woodward’s The History of Cartography, Volume One (Chicago, 1987, pp. 54-101).

Part of me really wants these marks chipped in stone to be maps. But there does not seem to be much, if any, evidence that they are.

Why do we want mapping to stretch back into prehistory?  If maps didn’t exist in prehistory, and were scarce prior to 1500, does that somehow undermine the importance of contemporary maps and mapping? What drives this cartocacoethes?

The Çatalhöyük “map” provides a great case study of the perils of prehistoric map hunting.

The Çatalhöyük map was first brought to attention in a 1964 article entitled “Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, 1963, Third Preliminary Report” by James Mellaart (Anatolian Studies 14 (1964, pp. 39-119).

A map of the excavations (right) shows the area allegedly represented on the “map.”

Mellaart’s 1967 book Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia claimed that the Neolithic Anatolians at Çatalhöyük created the World’s first map, and fame for the map followed.

“The oldest town plan in existence” says Jeremy Harwood in To the Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps that Changed the World. “The oldest authenticated map in the world” says J.B. Harley in the UNESCO Courier. Of maps, it is, says Catherine Delano Smith in Imago Mundi, “the oldest known.”  “The Catal Huyuk map … is perhaps 2000 years older than the oldest known writing system and 4000 or more years older than the oldest known alphabetical writing system…” says James Blaut in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Heck, I even towed the party line in my introductory maps course lecture on the history of mapping.

Whoa, folks.

Archaeologist Stephanie Meece recently published an article in Anatolian Studies questioning the Çatalhöyük map’s status as a map.  The original “map” wall painting is shown below, in a photo from Mellaart’s 1964 article.  Most people have only seen the redrawing of the “map” with “volcano” (above) – not the original image.

In her article “A Bird’s Eye View – Of A Leopard’s Spots: The Çatalhöyük ‘Map’ and the Development of Cartographic Representation in Prehistory” (Anatolian Studies 56, 2006, pp. 1-16; full text here) Meece interrogates the claim that the particular wall painting found at Çatalhöyük is a map with erupting volcano in the background.  Meece writes (in an email exchange):

…one of the take-home messages of the article was to go beyond the tendency to identify the images in isolation, based on a personal recognition of similarity. I wanted to emphasise the need to understand the paintings in their contexts, as part of a generations-old, well developed cultural tradition; taking one image out of its context and pointing out its superficial resemblance to something else is a bane of archaeologists, and leads to von Daniken and his spaceships.

The “volcano” in the wall painting (below top; redrawing, bottom left) was originally interpreted by Mellaart as a leopard-skin costume, similar to other leopard skin images found at Çatalhöyük (bottom right). Meece writes:

In several later paintings, notably the large so-called hunting scenes, human figures are depicted wearing stiff ‘skirts’ and head coverings that are painted with simple dots. The skirts are conventionally depicted as two wide triangles connected at their base, with two sharp points.  They are twice as long as they are wide, and are filled in with dark-coloured dots, similar to the appearance of a stretched, prepared leopard skin.

The lower part of the wall painting, the “map,” does resemble the general layout of houses at Çatalhöyük, with storerooms surrounding a central room.  Nevertheless, claims Meece,

These geometric designs below the leopard skin are better understood as part of the very common (though their abundance is under-represented in the published discussions of the paintings at the site) tradition of painted panels, placed along the lower registers of house walls.  The ‘map’ pattern is entirely consistent with the standard range of motifs used in other buildings: a cell-like structure, repeated in horizontal lines, often with borders or frames enclosing each cell.

Meece examines an impressive array of evidence surrounding the painting and concludes

… looking closely at the wall painting, and situating it within the corpus of art objects at Çatalhöyük, it is clear that the original interpretation is much more likely to be the correct one.  The painting is unlikely to be a map of Çatalhöyük, but rather depicts a leopard skin in the upper register, and the lower section is one of the very typical geometric patterns commonly found at the site.

Oh well.

In a forthcoming article entitled “Maps” Denis Wood and I argue

… if prehistoric humans did make maps – which is doubtful – they were neither made often nor in very many places; they likely served broadly pictorial, religious, ritual, symbolic, and/or magical functions; and their production was discontinuous with the practice of mapmaking encountered in historic populations.

Read Full Post »


Making maps is rife with rules. But following rules does not necessarily produce a great (or even good) map. It may be the implementation of broader design principles that leads to a successful map.

Principles are an intellectual generalization of a broad field of knowledge: a kind of map, in the broadest sense of the word.

They are useful for guiding map makers and helping map users understand how maps work.

There are numerous sets of cartographic design principles. My previous post on Edward Tufte distilled six map design principles (or commandments as I called them) from Tufte’s first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

In 1999 the British Cartographic Society’s Design Group proposed “Five Principles of Cartographic Design.” When I first came across this set of principles I thought them interesting – even a bit passionate – a rare state of affairs in the often stoic world of cartography. I added a few maps and my own comments (in italics).

More on these map design principles below: Concept before Compilation, Hierarchy with Harmony, Simplicity from Sacrifice, Maximum Information at Minimum Cost, and Engage the Emotion to Engage the Mind.

Cool maps below include: Geo-Smiley Terror Spree Map, The Continents and Islands of Mankind, Hate Groups and Hate Crimes Map, and Where Commuters Run Over Black Children, Detroit 1968.

Read Full Post »

What are subversive cartographies? This issue is addressed a series of presentations organized by Chris Perkins (University of Manchester) and Jörn Seemann (Louisiana State University) for the upcoming 2008 Association of American Geographers meeting (Boston, April 15-19 2008).

“To be subversive, is to wish to overthrow, destroy or undermine the principles of established orders. As such subversive cartographies offer alternative representations to established social and political norms. Maps are no longer cast as mirrors of reality, instead they are increasingly conceived as diverse ways of thinking, perceiving and representing space and place which express values, world-views and emotions. Maps are no longer part of an elite discourse: they can empower, mystify, and enchant. More critical assessments of mapping increasingly explore subversive contexts strongly associated with innovative methodological approaches, with mapping seen as an explicitly situated form of knowledge. This shift has been strongly facilitated by the increasing popularity of new media, burgeoning technological change and newly developing mapping spaces (eg OpenStreetMap, WorldMapper and EmotionMap). So subversive mapping has an agency, which can be enacted outside existing cartographic conventions. It has escaped from the grasp of cartographers: everybody is mapping nowadays.” (edited from the original call for papers)


Subversive Cartographies 1: Papers emphasizing the role of the aesthetic in the construction of alternative and artistic mappings. Common themes are the relations between artistic practice and mapping, narrative and (e)motional cartographies, and the politics of design.

Deconstructing Intentionally Manipulative Maps (IMMs)
Ian Muehlenhaus, University of Minnesota

Radical Cartography: Artists Making Activist Maps
Lize Mogel, Interdisciplinary Artist

Decolonizing Historical Cartography Through Narrative: Champlain’s Voyages Revisited
Margaret Wickens Pearce, Ohio University and Michael Hermann, University of Maine

Lynch Debord
Denis Wood, Independent Scholar

Discussant: Vincent J. Del Casino, California State University Long Beach


Subversive Cartographies 2: Papers focus on the role of technologies and methodologies important in community engagement. Common themes include changing roles of the web, the emancipatory potential of GIS and ways of evaluating the aesthetic.

Subverting Civilization: Re-Mapping World History
Mellina Patterson and Stephen Hanna, University of Mary Washington

Small Voices Magnified: Using Web 2.0 for Mapping Alternative Australian Viewpoints
William Cartwright, RMIT University

Children with Physical Disabilities Map Neighbourhood Accessibility: Methodological Approaches
P. McKeever, and S. Ruddick, University of Toronto

“There is no community in Eastside”: GPS Tracks, Walking Interviews and Stories of Place
Phil Jones, University of Birmingham and James Evans, University of Manchester

Re-focusing on the Visual Politics and Practices of Grassroots GIS: Considering Subversive Potential and Limits
Sarah Elwood, University of Washington


Subversive Cartographies 3: This final session focuses on more abstract aspects of subversion. Common themes include the ambiguities of the subversive, different ways of theorizing the medium and the practical, political and affectual potential of oppositional mapping.

Are Maps Autistic?
J.B. Krygier, Ohio Wesleyan University

“They have Stolen our Amazonia”: Internet Information Flows, Map Hoaxes and Nationalistic Sentiments in Brazil
Jörn Seemann, Louisiana State University

Subverting Carolina Blue: Mapping UNC-Chapel Hill through Drifting and DisOrientation
Craig Dalton, Counter Cartographies Collective UNC Chapel Hill

The Emotional Life of Maps and Other Visual Geographies
Jim Craine, California State University, Northridge and Stuart Aitken, San Diego State University

Discussant: Chris Perkins, University of Manchester


Abstracts for Subversive Cartographies Presentations Below:


Read Full Post »

Hacking Making Maps

Q: That weird stuff in Making Maps… did you hack your book?!

A: Hacking has diverse meanings as documented at Wikipedia. It can be a prank or elaborate joke, a clever solution to a problem, a legal or illegal modification of a computer program (for good or evil purposes), or anything that is fun and clever. A hack can also serve to undermine the hegemonic discourse of advertising or media or government or science or academia. Maps can be hacked as a prank or joke, to solve a particular problem, or to generate some creative outcome not intended by the original map. Of course, a map hack may also serve to assault and undermine hegemonic discourse. Can a textbook full of rules and regulations about map design, such as Making Maps be hacked by its author, the hacking embedded in the design and content of the book? Nah, that would be absurd.

Read Full Post »

Q: Is cartography dead?

A: Denis Wood thinks so, me too (maybe – kinda depends on what you mean by “cartography”). Read his polemic Cartography is Dead (Thank God!) (download/view the PDF here originally published in Cartographic Perspectives number 45, Spring 2003). It isn’t that Denis believes mapping is dead – quite the contrary. There is so much exciting stuff going on with mapping it is hard to keep track of it all (see some of the links on the bottom of the Making Maps book main page). A lot of this work is outside of the realm of academic cartography, which itself seems to be rather quiet, at least in the American context (examples of recent cartographic research can be seen in the AUTOCARTO and NACIS conference proceedings and programs). There is some life beyond North America (see the ICA web site) and in “geovisualization” (maybe that is how cartography will survive in academia). The world of custom cartography firms and freelance cartography seems quite vital. The most wobbly, thinks I, is the state of academic map design. While you can find abundant ways to learn about GIS in general as well as ArcGIS, Java, Google Map Hacking, Flash, and other technologies for mapping, there are few places to learn about the design of maps in those contexts or in general. We seem to be back to the late 1940s when Arthur Robinson wrote The Look of Maps bemoaning the lack of attention paid to map design and suggesting an agenda to address the problem. Robinson’s agenda, largely based on advertising and psychology methods, user testing, etc. (and its evolution into cognitive map studies, which bobble along, squeezing out a few peculiar research articles a year – see Daniel Montello’s review article on “Cognitive Map Design Research in the 20th Century.”) didn’t necessarily provide much new practical information for map designers, and academic cartographic design research doesn’t seem to have found a comfortable place in the discipline of geography as design has in fields such as landscape architecture, architecture, and planning (and this, in the end, is my big problem with academic cartography – it has not done a great job of keeping up with all sorts of interesting conceptual developments in geography – but that is my own hang-up). Academic map design folks did get lots of dispersed map design know-how gathered together in text books, made it possible for map design to be taught at universities, and established cartographic labs (I wonder how many map designers developed their skills in those cartographic labs?). Alas, classic cartography texts (such as The Elements of Cartography and Dent’s Thematic Cartography) are out of date or unavailable, cartography faculty are replaced by GIS folks, cartography and map design classes are replaced by GIS classes, and the cartographic lab has transmogrified into something else – a GIS lab or whatever – usually for, well, making maps (with GIS!).

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 603 other followers