The World on an Egg, circa 1504

In an article published this week in the Washington Map Society‘s journal, The Portolan, map collector Stefaan Missinne has announced the discovery of a small, engraved globe that he says is the first to depict the New World. From the WMS’s press release:

The previously-unknown globe, which is about the size of a grapefruit, was made from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs, and dates from the very early 1500s. Until now, it was thought that the oldest globe to show the New World was the “Lenox Globe” at the New York Public Library, but the author presents evidence that this Renaissance ostrich egg globe was actually used to cast the copper Lenox globe, putting its date c. 1504. The globe reflects the knowledge gleaned by Christopher Columbus and other very early European explorers including Amerigo Vespucci after whom America was named.

Ostrich egg globe
The Portolan (Washington Map Society)

The Lenox Globe—also known as the Hunt-Lenox Globe—was cast in 1510; interestingly, prior to this announcement, it was the only map or globe to contain the phrase hic sunt draconeshere be dragons. This globe has the phrase as well. In the Washington Post coverage, two map experts—John Hessler and Chet Van Duzer—are quoted expressing a certain amount of skepticism (especially about the purported da Vinci connection). I also suspect caution is warranted here: the history of antique maps contains several examples of groundshaking discoveries that turn out to be dubious at best.

Tube Map Live

Tube Map Live icon Andy Drizen’s Tube Map Live (iTunes), a free iOS app (native iPhone and iPad versions) that shows the real-time positions of London Underground trains on the iconic Tube map, using official data. Hypnotic visualization, but the app essentially promotes Drizen’s £1.99/$2.99 Tube Tracker: tapping on trains or stations calls up an advertising popup. Via TUAW.

Pluto’s Problematic Cartography

We’re still two years from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, but the cartography of the solar system’s most famous dwarf planet—based on Hubble imagery—is already several kinds of problematic, as Emily Lakdawalla explains in a post that also explains how the cartography of other worlds is done. (Key challenges include defining the north and south pole—which one is which?—as well as a prime meridian.)

A Fantasy Map of Ireland

Fantasy map of Ireland Another data point for our consideration of what people think a fantasy map looks like, from the author of the Maptitude tumblelog: a fantasy map of Ireland, replete with, as you would expect, forests and hills. It departs from the fantasy map paradigm by using colour: red for political boundaries, blue for water. It also uses a vaguely uncial script: something we’ve seen in the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings, but less often in fantasy book maps. Not inappropriate for Ireland, though.

Previously: A Fantasy Map of Great Britain; A Fantasy Map of Australia; A Fantasy Map of the U.S.

Wired Map Lab

Two years ago, after I brought The Map Room to a close, despondent readers asked me where they could go for their map fix, now that I was denying it to them. At the time I couldn’t point to a map blog that covered maps in general, rather than a specific niche (e.g., online maps but not antique maps). Last month, though, saw the launch of Wired Map Lab, a member of the evil empire of Wired‘s science blogs. Looks like it’s off to an ambitious start.

Close Up at a Distance

Book cover: Close Up at a Distance Briefly noted: Laura Kurgan’s Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (Zone Books, March 2013), a different look at maps built with satellite imagery, GIS and GPS data. “Poised at the intersection of art, architecture, activism, and geography, her analysis uncovers the implicit biases of the new views, the means of recording information they present, and the new spaces they have opened up. Her presentation of these maps reclaims, repurposes, and discovers new and even inadvertent uses for them, including documentary, memorial, preservation, interpretation, political, or simply aesthetic.” Via Human Scale Cities.

A Fantasy Map of Great Britain

Fantasy map of Great Britain (Samuel Fisher)

It turns out that Samuel Fisher has also created a fantasy map of Great Britain, in addition to his Australian fantasy map and one version of the U.S. fantasy map. Again: an important data point for understanding what people think a fantasy map looks like. (His lettering is a dead ringer for Christopher Tolkien’s on the Middle-earth map.) Via Fuck Yeah Cartography.

A Fantasy Map of Australia

Fantasy map of Australia (Samuel Fisher)

Like the fantasy map of the United States we saw last year, Samuel Fisher’s fantasy map of Australia is relevant to my interests because it shows what people think a fantasy map should look like—how it should be styled, what elements it should contain, and so forth. In this case, oblique mountains and forests drawn as stands of individual trees make their usual appearance; the labels are hand-drawn; and the colour scheme runs from cream to taupe. Via Maps on the Web.

Smoke and Smog

Sediment, Smoke, and Stained Ice in Quebec

Forest fires near Eastmain, Quebec had a dramatic impact on air quality around here last week; I woke up hacking and wondering why. (Air filters to maximum!) The above photo, taken by the MODIS sensor aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 28, gives some idea of the situation on the eastern shores of James Bay. (The photo also shows a brown-stained James Bay, the result of tannin-stained water from bogs spilling into the bay in spring.) Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

Error Reporting in Apple Maps

A major feature of Apple’s forthcoming Maps application for OS X 10.9 Mavericks is enhanced error reporting. AppleInsider has the details. This was inevitable, not just because of the uneven quality of Apple’s maps and the reputational firebombing they’ve gotten since their launch last year, but because all online maps suck and need error reporting. Of course, reports are one thing; how quickly and effectively they’re acted on—that’s what’s important.

Previously: Apple Maps on the Mac.

Alberta Flood Maps

This is a list of maps related to the flooding in southern Alberta (Calgary, Canmore, Bragg Creek, High River, Okotoks, etc.). This list will be added to as needed. Feel free to contribute additional links in the comments.

Update, 10:15 PM:

Update, June 22 at 8:25 AM:

Herbal Earth

Herbal Earth
Today NASA released a set of vegetation maps based on data from the Suomi NPP satellite. Flickr photoset, YouTube video. The maps depict a year’s worth of changes in vegetation. “High values of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, represent dense green functioning vegetation and low NDVI values represent sparse green vegetation or vegetation under stress from limiting conditions, such as drought.” Image credit: NASA/NOAA.

Review: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps

Book cover: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps Chet Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (The British Library) does what it says on the tin: you really will find out more than you ever wanted to about the sea monsters that appeared on medieval and renaissance maps. (Van Duzer defines them as anything that a contemporary reader would consider exotic, whether it was real or imaginary, so walruses appear along with krakens.) It’s a dizzying catalogue of them, all kinds of them, from medieval mappaemundi (actually, there’s a Roman map in there too) all the way to Ortelius and the late sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century sea monsters were giving way to sailing vessels, and to a loss of ornamentation and illustration in general.

But: sea monsters. What was up with them? For the most part this book gets lost in the weeds, focusing in detail on monster after monster, but Van Duzer does sketch out an argument in the introduction:

First, they may serve as graphic records of literature about sea monsters, indications of possible dangers to sailors — and datapoints in the geography of the marvellous. Second, they may function as decorative elements which enliven the image of the world, suggesting in a general way that the sea can be dangerous, but more emphatically indicating and drawing attention to the vitality of the oceans and the variety of creatures in the world, and to the cartographer’s artistic talents. Of course these two roles are compatible, and sea monsters can play both at the same time. (p. 11)

Van Duzer goes beyond the map in his discussion of sea monsters. For one thing, he points out the non-cartographic sources of sea monsters, such as works of natural history, and compares them to the monsters on the map. He also looks at the economics of sea monsters, which were embellishments that cost extra and may have required a specialist artist: “if the client commissioning the chart did not pay for sea monsters, he or she did not receive them” (p. 10).

For my part, it seems to me that sea monsters in renaissance maps are also holdovers of medieval iconography, sort of a cartographic appendix. Being a big-picture sort, I glazed over a bit at all the detail, but this sort of detail is exactly the sort of thing that illuminates the subject. Between this book and The Art of the Map (reviewed here), I’ve learned quite a bit about the margins and empty spaces of old maps lately.

Previously: Here Be Sea Monsters.