Maps have played a prominent role in human activity for thousands of years. One of the earliest known maps was uncovered during the course of an archaeological excavation in Turkey in 1961. The Çatalhöyük site is a neolithic settlement dating from approximately 6500 BC. The map consists of a partially preserved, painted plaster representation of the community in plan view, with a smoking volcano in the background. While not drawn to scale, the map does seem to preserve the relative orientation of the structures represented. Figure 1 is a modern rendering of a portion of the original wall fragment.
A date of 6500 BC means that people began drawing maps 3,000 years before they learned to write. The utility of maps, implied by this great age, is the result of a map’s ability to present an enormous amount of information very clearly and compactly.
From the beginning, maps have been used to show where things are, but it’s important to remember that the map isn’t the territory. The world consists of things that have geographical (i.e., spatial) relationships with one another, and though a map can be a precise replica of the world, it’s generally not. A map is a model that contains representations of the things in the world, but these representations aren’t required to resemble the things they represent or even to possess the same spatial relationships. The real world is the domain of geographers and geography. Geographers live on the surface of a large, approximately oblate spheroid with topography—that is, in a three-dimensional space. The map is where the cartographer lives— it’s small and flat. The process of representing real-world things on this flat surface is cartography.