When humans first started making maps, they were very simplified and, to an extent, artistic. The map makers would usually focus on smaller areas of interest, such as a city or a trade route. The maps were a bit like pictures: not accurate to reality on the Earth. They were used to give the viewer an idea of what the landscape would look like.
Many early maps were carved onto hard surfaces like clay and rock, but there are maps created on delicate fabrics as well. These maps were rather expensive to produce, so only the affluent and influential had access to them.
Today, these early maps are usually displayed as a work of art or history, instead of used as reference material.
Clay tablet depicting the Babylonian city of Nippur, 1400 BC.
Early modern period (pre-industrial revolution)
As technology improved over the centuries, use of cartography instruments and printed maps started to become more popularised. Cartographers were highly influential and growth in public education increased the thirst for world knowledge. Map making was no longer restricted to the religious institutions that had dominated the industry and maps became more accessible.
During this time, many countries in the western world wanted to expand beyond the reaches of their native soils, in search of political expansion and colonisation. To do so, they needed to produce detailed maps of the places they’d discovered, so cartographers and map makers became the key to political expansion. As more foreign soil was explored, the cartographers took note of their findings of the local cultures and environment in their maps.
As satellite technology continues to improve, meteorological satellites and multispectral observation satellites began to populate around Earth. High resolution satellites
that are able to capture images at less than 1 metre resolution are now available commercially. Data captured from these satellites turns into maps
which are invaluable in helping us communicate essential information about climate, environment, public health, and more.
The globalisation of information through the internet has further evolved maps in the digital space. Maps are able to be distributed online and updated regularly. Technology previously only used in the military, like GPS and remote sensing from satellites, are now publicly accessible via an internet connection. Not only that, the internet has allowed the widespread of information on mapmaking and cartography. It’s no longer limited to specialists; anyone with basic understanding of a map can create one.
Computer and handheld technology also quickly advanced within a few decades of each other. GPS navigation migrated from standalone GPS devices into applications on a smartphone. GIS software previously limited to computers are now also available on your mobile device for those out in the field. Not only that, GIS and cartography are also entirely possible online with no need for any software.
The community of cartographers, GIS specialists and geospatial enthusiasts are increasing exponentially. Maps are not only made to inform but are now made as a hobby. This saturation of maps and imagery online is indicative of the major growth within this community. There is so much new information available out there, and people and communities are still able to benefit from maps created in the past.
Platforms like Soar
are bringing the world of maps, old and new, to your fingertips by building the world’s largest digital atlas. With the sheer volume of map data out there, it can become overwhelming looking for the best source. Soar
takes the stress away, with users able to explore maps and imagery based on location at their leisure, interact with other users, and form collaborations too.
It's amazing to see how far we've come, from the stone and paper maps above to the high-resolution, geographically-accurate digital maps everyone in the world can now access on Soar
Take a look for yourself by browsing some of the great maps below.