Full Nerd: Maps and the Making of Civilization plus Weekend Listening

Full Nerd: Maps and the Making of Civilization plus Weekend Listening

Antique Maps – Old Cartographic maps – Antique Map of the Region of Tartaria is a drawing by Studio Grafiikka which was uploaded on November 8th, 2017. Image obtained from:

I have been tinkering with some additions to the site and if you have not checked them out please do. I added a free subscription bar that will send you a notice anytime we post a new article. All you have to do is enter your preferred email address, check the two boxes and voila! You’ll never miss any of our goodness again!

The second addition is a new widget on the sidebar. The whole purpose of this site is to generate some new content but primarily our intent is to aggregate current articles and stories to help build a more informed warfighter or any individual that cares about what is going on in the world. In the beginning, I had envisioned daily ‘bullets’ posts that could be put together quickly and easily. But, as I soon found out, they take longer than I thought to produce and are more difficult than I had envisioned to compile. Hopefully, I can get back to them with themes, trends or just linking several stories together to paint a more complete picture of what is going on. In lieu of bullet posts, I have decided to link to the headlines so you can go directly to the source. I envision this will more easily be maintained and I can still have a goal of at least one original post per day. I will not always achieve that but we all have goals am I right!

While creating the featured list I stumbled into this beaute on the Popular Mechanics website:  Why Maps Are Civilization’s Greatest Tool: Eight maps, from antiquity to today, that changed how we see the world. Now, I understand that not everyone digs on this sort of thing but stay with me because this post will eventually go to an unbelievable journey of discovery. But back to the article…

When Christopher Columbus first set foot in what’s now the Bahamas, it was the lucky sum of a 1,400-year-old cartographical error and Columbus’s own miscalculations of the globe. The Genoese explorer believed the Eurasian landmass to cover nearly 2/3 of the earth’s circumference—the actual distance from Spain eastward to his target of eastern Asia was closer to 1/3 of the circumference.


Columbus’s image of the world was based on ancient maps that greatly overestimated the size of the Eurasian continent and depicted the planet’s circumference some 25 percent smaller than it actually was—a misjudgment compounded by his own wishful thinking and erroneous math. By his calculation, India lay within a 2,500-mile voyage west of Spain. He was off by about 8,000 miles.

The article is pretty amazing in that it covers, the Oldest Surviving World Map, The First World Atlas, Navigation by Compass, The first Modern Map and Aerial Photography! There is so much in this article, like this tidbit about the revolution provided by the compass which allowed sailors to move away from land and having to rely on the sun and stars.

The discovery of the compass—a magnetized needle on wood, floating in water, aligning itself with the magnetic poles—changed navigation. Sailors could safely venture into the open sea without visual cues. First mentioned in 11th century China, the compass spread along the Silk Road connecting the East and West, and with it, a new type of European map came into vogue, called a portolan chart. These nautical maps were covered in crisscrossed lines indicating the bearing of trade routes between ports. The oldest surviving example, the Carte Pisane, dating to 1290, charts the Mediterranean and Black Sea with enough accuracy that ships could navigate with it today. But the most famous and expansive portolan map is the Catalan Atlas. Drawn over eight pages of vellum in 1375 by Majorcan cartographer Cresques Abraham, it was the first world map to include the compass rose and stretched from the western edge of Europe and North Africa to China’s eastern coast.

Something, something we all need direction…

But, have you ever wondered what it took in the quest for accuracy? The effort it took to create these maps? It’s not like there was a central source where you could download or purchase them! This article reminded me of a podcast that I listened to several month ago about high-altitude adventure, dealing with natives and a race to prove your worth to measure a single degree of latitude! In this podcast John Batchelor interviews Larrie D. Ferreiro about his book:  Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World. The podcast is described as follows:

In the early eighteenth century, at the peak of the Enlightenment, an unlikely team of European scientists and naval officers set out on the world’s first international, cooperative scientific expedition. Intent on making precise astronomical measurements at the Equator, they were poised to resolve one of mankind’s oldest mysteries: the true shape of the Earth.

In Measure of the Earth, the award-winning science writer Larrie D. Ferreiro tells the full story of the Geodesic Mission to the Equator for the very first time. It was an age when Europe was torn between two competing conceptions of the world: the followers of René Descartes argued that the Earth was elongated at the poles, even as Isaac Newton contended that it was flattened. A nation that could accurately determine the planet’s shape could securely navigate its oceans, giving it great military and imperial advantages. Recognizing this, France and Spain organized a joint expedition to colonial Peru, Spain’s wealthiest kingdom. Armed with the most advanced surveying and astronomical equipment, they would measure a degree of latitude at the Equator, which when compared with other measurements would reveal the shape of the world. But what seemed to be a straightforward scientific exercise was almost immediately marred by a series of unforeseen catastrophes, as the voyagers found their mission threatened by treacherous terrain, a deeply suspicious populace, and their own hubris.

A thrilling tale of adventure, political history, and scientific discovery, Measure of the Earth recounts the greatest scientific expedition of the Enlightenment through the eyes of the men who completed it—pioneers who overcame tremendous adversity to traverse the towering Andes Mountains in order to discern the Earth’s shape.  In the process they also opened the eyes of Europe to the richness of South America and paved the way for scientific cooperation on a global scale.

It has been a minute since I have listened to this, but if you are looking for some weekend listening this is it! I am continually amazed at how much we have built on the backs of others and completely take it for granted. The podcast is broken into four parts and you can listen to them here.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

The explorers faced so many challenges beyond the obvious language barriers, jungles and disease. Can you imagine trying to treat high altitude sickness and not even knowing what it is? This podcast is definitely worth the listen and I could not more highly recommend it. Check it out, and don’t forget to subscribe and explore some of the articles on the side bar.

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