Is the World’s Oldest Map a Map?

For April 3, 2019        
Hi WN@TL Fans,
As a longtime subscriber to National Geographic (or rather, as a member of the National Geographic Society, I beg your pardon), nothing is more exhilarating than unfolding a brand new map.  
Nothing, perhaps, except unfolding a really old map.
Maps chart our world and our worldview. They can belittle and and they can beguile.  They can distort or restore. They are the visual Magna Cartas of our history as the human saga scrolls and unrolls.  A line in the sand is but feeble duff compared to the power of a line drawn on paper maps, especially if the hand drawing the pen is that of a pope or of an empress.   
But how did humans begin to conceive a drawing, an etching, an image as a representation in scale of our constellation of locations and directions?  How came technologies like the warp and weft of latitude and longitude?   What connections between brain and eye and hand had to be formed, and what conventions agreed to?  
This week (April 3 Matthew Edney from the History of Cartography Project will be here to talk about the Project and to delve into the deepest origins of the Start of the Chart — when and how humans began to map their worlds.  
Here’s how Matthew describes his talk:
“Map historians generally cite a mural from the large Neolithic settlement at Çatalhöyük in south-central Turkey, prepared ca. 8,000 BP, as the oldest known map. Since its discovery by archaeologists in 1964 it has been interpreted as a plan of the settlement itself. But is this mural really a map? (Hint: no.) 
As map historians and other scholars have rethought the nature of scientific representation, they have challenged the established interpretation. This lecture uses the counter argument, that the mural is just another of the many murals at the site, to explore some of the issues facing a new history of cartography. 
Moreover, the continued insistence by some that the map is a map indicates how persistent are modern misconceptions about the presumed nature of maps, misconceptions that themselves have a history.”

About the Speaker:
Matthew Edney is a geographer, map historian, and UW alum (MS 1985, PhD 1990). Since 2005 he has directed the History of Cartography Project at UW, up in the warrens of Science Hall ( The Project prepares the award-winning series, The History of Cartography, a comprehensive history of the science, technology, and sociocultural ramifications of maps and mapmaking, across human cultures and all times. 
The series comprises six volumes in twelve books. Volume One appeared in 1987, covering prehistoric, ancient, and medieval mapping; the four published volumes, including Six (twentieth century), are online for free access ( and their chapters have been downloaded more than 3 million times. 
The penultimate volume, Four (Enlightenment, which Edney coedited), will be published late in 2019, with just Five (nineteenth century) to go! The series has been a major force in reconceptualizing the nature and history of maps and mapping and in popularizing the study of map history across the humanities and social sciences. 
Edney is also Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine. He is broadly interested in the technologies, practices, and institutional contexts of surveying and mapping in Europe after 1600. His latest book is just published: Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (Chicago, 2019). Edney maintains a private academic blog (
Also this week, on April 5, we’ll have a Special Friday Nite Edition at the special time of 7:30 in the special location of the Auditorium at the Wisconsin Historical Society on Library Mall. Tamara Thomsen of the Historical Society will speak on “Days of Ore:  Solving the Mysteries of Wisconsin’s Forgotten Mining Culture.”

If you can’t be there Friday night, you can still watch Tammy’s talk online.  Please register for “Days of Ore: Solving the Mysteries of Wisconsin’s Mining Culture” on April 5, 2019 7:30 PM CDT at:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Tammy’s talk helps launch the three-day UW Science Expeditions campus open house April 5-7.  It’s free. It’s for you. It’s for everybody.  I hope you’ll come explore some of the 30 venues that will be open to welcome you to campus this weekend and all year round.
Next week (April 10) Kevin Masarik from UW-Stevens Point and UW-Madison Divison of Extension will be here for a talk on one of the most pressing issues during this “The Year of Clean Drinking Water”:  private wells in Wisconsin.   Drinking from some wells has been more like The Year of Living Dangerously, but without Mel Gibson & Sigourney Weaver.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Thanks again!
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension