5 suprising map facts
1. NOT ALL PLACES REALLY EXISTIn the past, cartographers had limited resources and unsurprisingly made mistakes when drawing maps. For example in 1798, the first map of Africa featured the massive Mountains of Kong. The only problem was they didn't exist. Even so, the Mountains of Kong would be placed on maps of Africa for the next 100 years.
What is more surprising, however, is that modern mapmakers often incorporate fake towns into their maps on purpose. These are known as “paper towns”, “phantom settlements,” or (for some reason) “bunnies.” The thinking behind this is that if the cartographer comes across another map with the same fake town, they know it is a copy!
Not wishing to miss a trick, here is our own fake island, just off Great Britain. We didn't go quite as far as including it in our World Map, but it made a fun April fools.
2. NOTHING IS WHERE YOU THINK IT IS
The map that's familiar to most of us is the Mercator projection, it's been a fixture in classrooms and world atlases for nearly 500 years. It is also, as you might expect, full of inaccuracies.
At its time of development, the map was designed to guide marine navigation so areas near the equator are true to size, while those far away appear larger than they are. This is slowly being rectified and various revised map projections are slowly being introduced into schools and universities to represent the physical planet more realistically.
We use a number of modern projections, but when it comes to scale and accuracy, the Hobo-Dyer is our firm favourite, seen here in our trademark bold colours. Developed in 2002, it uses straight lines of Longitude and latitude to show countries in their correct proportional size.
3. NORTH ISN'T ALWAYS UP
North may be at the top of maps today, but that wasn’t always the case. During the middle ages, most Western maps put east at the top instead.
This 1300 Christian Mappa Mundi put East at the top, towards the Garden of Eden with Jerusalem in the centre.
In Latin, the word for east is "oriens", so to hold the map correctly, you had to “orient” it—that is, make sure East was on top. This is where we get the word “orientation” today.
4. AND ACTUALLY THERE ARE 2 NORTHS!
True North is the direction of the geographic North Pole. However, there is also the Magnetic North, this is the direction of the north end of a needle in a compass point.
Though you may think these should both be the same direction, magnetic North can actually move by up to 25 miles per year and has even been known to swap places with the Magnetic South Pole! Don't worry, the last time this happened was 780,000 years ago.
5. MAPS AREN'T JUST FOR NAVIGATION
Throughout Medieval times in Europe most maps of the world, known as Mappae Mundi, were expensive to create by hand, so were used by Royals and Nobles as displays of wealth rather than for practical purposes.
During World War II, silk maps were sealed into Monopoly games, along with real money hidden among the fake, and new games pieces such as a working compass. These special games and maps were then sent to war camps to help prisoners escape!
Now, we also like to employ our maps as wallpaper, interior art, magnetic pin boards and educational tools.
How do you use your map?