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As mediators between an inner mental world and an outer physical world, maps are fundamental tools helping the human mind make sense of its universe at various scales. Comparing these early notions, as to the shape and extent of the habitable world, with the later ideas which limited the habitable portion of the globe to the equatorial regions, we may surmise how it came to pass that islands--to say nothing of continents which could not be represented for want of space - belonging to the southern hemisphere were set down as belonging to the northern hemisphere.
We have seen that, according to the earliest geographical notions, the habitable world was represented as having the shape of an inverted round boat, with a broad river or ocean flowing all round its rim, beyond which opened out the Abyss or bottomless pit, which was beneath the habitable crust. These mariners and geographers adopted the plan - an arbitrary one - of considering the earth as having the north above and the south below, and, after globes or maps had been constructed with the north at the top, and this method had been handed down to us, we took for granted that it had obtained universally and in all times. It is in the Classical Period of Greek cartography that we can start to trace a continuous tradition of theoretical concepts about the size and shape of the earth. An ancient wooden map discovered by Chinese archaeologists in northwest China's Gansu Province has been confirmed as the country's oldest one at an age of more than 2,200.
As for the ideas about the shape of the earth current in ancient Chinese thought, the prevailing belief was that the heavens were round and the earth square. Crone remarked that “a map can be considered from several aspects, as a scientific report, a historical document, a research tool, and an object of art. Within this span of some three thousand years, the main achievements in Greek cartography took place from about the sixth century B.C.


It has now been ascertained and demonstrated beyond doubt that the earliest ideas concerning the laws of the universe and the shape of the earth were, in many respects, more correct and clearer than those of a subsequent period.
Ragozin, says the Shumiro-Accads had formed a very elaborate and clever idea of what they supposed the world to be like; they imagined it to have the shape of an inverted round boat or bowl, the thickness of which would represent the mixture of land and water (ki-a) which we call the crust of the earth, while the hollow beneath this inhabitable crust was fancied as a bottomless pit or abyss (ge), in which dwelt many powers. The account of this conversation, which is too lengthy here to give in full, was written three centuries and a half before the Christian era. The Chaldean conception, thus rudely described, shows a yet nearer approximation to the true doctrine concerning the form of the globe, when we bear in mind that this actually is in shape a flattened sphere, with the vertical diameter the shorter one.
According to this division other continents south of the equator were supposed to exist and habited, some said, but not to be approached by those inhabiting the northern hemisphere on account of the presumed impossibility of traversing the equatorial regions, the heat of which was believed to be too intense. Researcher He said that the map, drawn in black on four pine wood plates of almost the same size, had clear and complete graphics depicting the administrative division, a general picture of local geography and the economic situation in Guixian County in the Warring States era.
Since the maps were missing, he drew them himself from indications in the ancient text, and when the work was finished, he commemorated this too in verse. The same evidence shows, too, that the quintessentially cartographic concept of representation in plan was already in use in that period. On his map, moreover, one could have distinguished the geometric shapes of the countries, and one could have used the map as a tool to estimate the distances between places.


Some maps, along with other illustrations, were transmitted by this process, but too few have survived to indicate the overall level of cartographic awareness in Byzantine society.
In this case too, the generalizations drawn herein by various authorities (ancient and modern scholars, historians, geographers, and cartographers) are founded upon the chance survival of references made to maps by individual authors. If land survey did play such an important part, then these plans, being based on centuriation requirements and therefore square or rectangular, may have influenced the shape of smaller-scale maps. In addition, many other ancient texts alluding to maps are further distorted by being written centuries after the period they record; they too must be viewed with caution because they are similarly interpretative as well as descriptive.
This shape was also one which suited the Roman habit of placing a large map on a wall of a temple or colonnade.
Similarly, in the towns, although only the Forma Urbis Romae is known to us in detail, large-scale maps were recognized as practical tools recording the lines of public utilities such as aqueducts, displaying the size and shape of imperial and religious buildings, and indicating the layout of streets and private property.
Our sources point to only a few late glimpses of these transfers, as when Planudes took the lead in Ptolemaic research, for example.



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