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The Worst Mapping Blunders in History

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Mercator Map

Gerardus Mercator, born in 1512 in what is now Belgum, was a cartographer and mathematician. His work in creating maps with latitude and longitude lines revolutionized map making, and his term for maps, “atlas,” has been adopted worldwide. Gerardus Mercator’s 1569 map of the world was widely used until it was challenged in 1973 by a German journalist, Arno Peters. Peters pointed out that the Mercator map’s proportions are drastically wrong, especially for Africa. Africa is, in reality, 14 times larger than it appears on the Mercator map.

California Island Map

Early Spanish maps show California’s coastline as continuous, but in 1620 Spanish maps began depicting California as an island. These newer maps were thought to be more accurate and became widely circulated. Maps of California as an island became so popular that some maps of the state as an island were published even after it was a known fact that California is part of the North American continent. California does have many attributes that normally belong to islands, such as biological habitats that are isolated from others and unique bio-diversity. This could be because California is surrounded by deserts and species from other areas cannot reach the fertile California soil. These maps could possibly have origins from even before 1620, however, because the surrounding deserts do contain evidence of previous sea life.

Chinese Discovery of America Map

A 1763 Chinese map shows details about North and South America. This map claims to be a copy of a 1418 Chinese map, but these claims do not make sense. Because of the terminology used in the map and the mapping technology available in the 1400s and the 1700s, it is suspected that the Chinese Discovery of America map could be a fake. Additionally, this map shows California as an island, which hints at Spanish influence.

18th Century Fraudulent Map of Scotland

In 1747, during the Jacobite uprising, Hanoverian forces were having a difficult time navigating through Scotland with the maps that were at their disposal. Because of this difficulty, William Roy was assigned the task of surveying the land and creating accurate maps of the area. Roy’s work was detailed and contained authoritative writing and facts, claiming to have special influence from Roman maps of the area created during the Roman Empire, over a thousand years earlier. The maps Roy published turned out to be a complete hoax. Roy made up much of his information and used the dictionary to translate English to Latin.

GPS Mapping Systems

Present day mapping problems affect people on a daily basis. More and more people depend on GPS devices to get from one place to the next, often without even giving the route a brief overview, which can have fatal consequences. One family was stranded in Death Valley for three days because of wrong GPS directions. Another family, following GPS directions without careful consideration, drove their minivan onto some train tracks and had to evacuate before a train filled with passengers crashed into the minivan in a dramatic collision. Another GPS blunder routes cars across a runway to get to the airport. Airport officials have had to place barricades across that route to keep motorists off the runway.

Man Thinking

This article was written by John Davis, a travel expert who hopes to help you travel better, and a collector of maps! He recommends following the latest developments in mapping services in order to stay on top of the industry!

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