Slideshow: How the World Map Has Changed

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From the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, to the European Age of Sail, our understanding of the planet and its inhabitants has undergone incredible growth.

This Mesopotamian map dates to around 700-500 B.C. and is one of the oldest known in existence. The drawing and text describes the Babylonian cosmos.
Image: The British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons. This reconstructed map is based on one produced by the Greek Eratosthenes (born c. 276 B.C.), incorporating info from Alexander the Great’s conquests. Eratosthenes is now known as the “father of geography.”
Image: E. H. Bunbury. How Roman-era historian Paulus Orosius (born c. 375 A.D.) understood the world, reconstructed centuries later.
Image: Konrad Miller. An Anglo-Saxon map dating to around 1025-1050 and appearing to show Ancient Roman provinces in the British Isles. Like most early maps, East is at the top. It is the earliest known realistic depiction of Britain.
Image: Koyos, via Wikimedia Commons. Arab geographer al-Idrisi gathered info from Arab merchant travelers to make this map in 1154. Although it looks upside down to us, it’s one of the most accurate maps at this point in history. 
Image: National Library of France, via Wikimedia Commons. This map was created by Pietro Vesconte and sent to the Vatican in 1321. It  remains there still. Once again, the East is oriented up.
Image: Portolanero /&nbsp/ http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanudo_1321_World.jpg This 1470 Japanese map is one of the oldest surviving from East Asia. An older copy was found in Korea, which was in turn based on a Chinese version. Info about Europe and Africa came with Islamic travelers, who crossed Asia’s Mongol Empire in the 1300s. Image: Honkoo-ji Tokiwa Museum of Historical Materials, via Wikimedia Commons. The so-called “Vinland Map” dates to around 1438, many decades before Columbus landed in the Americas, and purports to show lands visited by the Vikings. It is still a matter of debate among scholars whether the map is authentic or a forgery.
Image: Yale University Press, via Wikimedia Commons. The tales of Venetian merchant Niccolo da Conti greatly contributed to the making of the “Genoese map” in 1457.
Image: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. German mapmaker Sebastian Münster created the earliest German description of the world and made this map of the Americas half a century after Columbus reached them.
Image: Sebastian Münster. The Belgian Abraham Ortelius created this map in 1570 as a part of the first known atlas. After observing the shapes of the continents, Ortelius also proposed the theory of continental drift. The more accurate coastlines reflect the beginning of the Age of Sail. 
Image: Abraham Ortelius. A 1709 world map featuring the Copernican system – an Earth rotating around the sun and moon around the Earth.
Image: Herman Moll. An 1801 map with a fully outlined Australia, then called New Holland.
Image: John Cary.
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This 1470 Japanese map is one of the oldest surviving from East Asia. An older copy was found in Korea, which was in turn based on a Chinese version. Info about Europe and Africa came with Islamic travelers, who crossed Asia’s Mongol Empire in the 1300s. Image: Honkoo-ji Tokiwa Museum of Historical Materials, via Wikimedia Commons.