The world in 430 BC according to Herodotus

This map was not actually created by Herodotus himself – it was put together from the description of the world given in his historical masterpiece The HistoriesThe area encompasses the Mediterranean Sea, west to present-day Spain, north to the southern half of Europe, east to India, and south to the Sahara Desert. The map, as well as Herodotus’s book, have several glaring inaccuracies, including the Nile jutting west almost all the way across the Sahara Desert, Africa terminating just south of that same desert, and how he seems to refer to all people with dark skin as “Ethiopians.”

I love seeing how people thought of the world at different periods of time. 430BC is just about the time that humans really started to inquire philosophically and record their thoughts, and it’s interesting that the entire world to even the most scholarly intellectual at the time is only now just a small fraction of our world. People of the time would likely have been amazed had they known that there were several continents in every direction, that the planet had polar ice caps, and that the earth was roughly a sphere. Or how about that there are planets other than our own? Or the vastness of our universe?

On that point, will our maps be quite as unsophisticated to humans 2,500 years from now (assuming there are any)? Will our picture of the universe pale in comparison to theirs? I certainly think so – I imagine that our current “map” of the universe is far, far more incomplete than Herodotus’s map of the world in 430 BC.

Image via Age of the Sage.

The nonexistent island


Sandy Island was an island off the northeast coast of Australia that is believed to have disappeared entirely after having been discovered in the late 18th century and documented up until the 20th century. James Cook was the first to document its existence in 1774, and French maps corroborated the island in maps during the 19th century. However, recent expeditions have discovered that Sandy Island simply does not exist, and it wasn’t until November 2012 that the National Geographic Society officially removed Sandy Island from all maps. Even Google Maps, which is supposed to get its data from satellite imagery, featured Sandy Island until that date.

So what happened? The island appears to be relatively large, so it’s hard to imagine that it just disappeared over the last few hundred years. However, the idea is not too farfetched – the island could have simply been a low island of sand and nothing else, as its name evoques. The island’s supposed location, seen below, indeed raises the possibility that the island was at one time simply a raised bed of sand which eroded away over the centuries.


Sandy Island’s supposed location was in the heart of the Coral Sea, where there is an underwater range of mountains and coral reefs, so it is entirely plausible that a larger mountain breached the water’s surface for a period of time and was later washed away. However, when researching this topic I came upon a long list of once-documented islands that were found to be nonexistent, and not all of them can be attributed to erosion.

A glaring example of a wrongly-documented island is the island of Frisland, supposedly south of Iceland and west of Ireland. It is not entirely ridiculous for explorers to have thought and island existed in the area, as there is a bit of raised seabed in the area that could have served as an island at one point. But, something catastrophic would have had to have happened in order to sink an island of that size, so I’m going to go ahead and say that this island never existed. Frisland was mostly only featured on maps for about 100 years – from about 1560 to 1660 – but a few maps kept it on as late as the 18th century. Early maps, like the one below, gave it place names, and it was even given currency by the Maggiolo family of Genoa.

It’s possible that Frisland was actually the southern part of Greenland and that explorers mistakenly presumed it to be its own island, but there is no definite consensus on the topic. However, it seems that there have been many instances of nonexistent islands – accidental or otherwise – and thanks to satellite imagery, this sort of problem probably won’t be happening again anytime soon.

All info and images via Wikipedia, digitaltrends, and the Auckland Museum blog.

Wind Map shows the power of the wind as it’s happening

Unfortunately, I found this website just a day too late. As some may know, there was some really intense wind in Texas yesterday. It looks like that wind is now moving steadily towards the northeast. Anyway, the site shows the power of the wind almost as quickly as it’s happening, and that is just too cool. It even has a gallery so you can look at the power of the wind during various important events, like Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Isaac, and others. Since lots of you are still experiencing some intense wind, check it out! The snapshot above is how the wind is today, on February 26th. From the site:

Surface wind data comes from the National Digital Forecast Database. These are near-term forecasts, revised once per hour. So what you’re seeing is a living portrait. (See the NDFD site for precise details; our timestamp shows time of download.) And for those of you chasing top wind speed, note that maximum speed may occur over lakes or just offshore.

Check it out: Wind Map

Ancient continent, dubbed Mauritia, discovered under Indian Ocean

60 million years ago, there existed a microcontinent between Madagascar and India that was buried by lava due to continental drift and magma plumes. Scientists are learning that hot magma has more of a role in the break-up of continents than previously understood. About 170 million years ago, the continent known as “Eastern Gondwana” was bombarded on the underside by hot rock which caused it to soften and break up into Antarctica, Australia, India, Madagascar, and India. Mauritia was likely part of that break-up, and it broke up further and was eventually buried by the molten rock that pushed India into Asia.

Scientists have verified that Mauritia was indeed a continent due to the zircons found on the beaches of the various islands of the Seychelles, where Mauritia is though to be buried beneath. Zircons are tiny rock fragments that are extremely resistant to erosion, and thus they can remain relatively unchanged for millions of years. Most rocks on the beaches of the Seychelles islands are no older than 9 million years old, but the zircons found on the beach tested to be much older, revealing that the land was above water millions of years prior. From sci-news:

The sand grains contain semi-precious zircons aged between 660 and 1,970 million years. This is explained by the fact that the zircons were carried by the lava as it pushed through subjacent continental crust of this age. This dating method was supplemented by a recalculation of plate tectonics, which explains exactly how and where the fragments ended up in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the fact that this is not an incredibly rare occurrence, I think it’s incredibly interesting that scientists are able to uncover a mystery about our geography by testing beach sand. The ancient geographical layout of our planet is a topic that has been extensively researched, so much that we are able to paint a picture of our planet’s continents even 500 million years ago. It’s crazy to me that we are still discovering that there were once other continents – albeit small – but ones that we would not have been able to discover by the traditional method of observing modern continents and noticing how they drifted to find their placement millions of years ago. There were many continents that existed for eons and that were buried by the ocean to never be heard of again. I hope that we find more and more instances of continents that were covered with water, especially if we find some rather large ones!

Image and info via Sci-news

Heart-shaped geography

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would celebrate by showcasing some of the love found naturally on our lovely planet. There are a handful of heart-shaped lakes and islands out there, many of which have become popular tourist destinations for newlyweds or other love-minded individuals. The image above is Galešnjak, an uninhabited and privately-owned island off the coast of Croatia. While there are currently only plants and trees on the island, there is evidence of past human habitation of the island in the form of burial mounds and pieces of ancient buildings. Its coordinates are 43°58’42” N, 15°23’01” E.

Next is Hridaya Saras in India. This heart-shaped lake is a popular destination for hikers on Chembra Peak. The wikipedia article on Chembra Peak states that the lake is believed to have never dried up, which is just adorable. Coordinates for the lake are 11°32’50” N, 76°04’58” E.

Tavarua Island in Fiji is a popular destination mainly because waves in the area are great for surfing. The island even hosts professional surfing competitions. The area is also a popular resort, with restaurants, spas, and tennis courts. The island itself is only 29 acres, and its coordinates are 17°51’28” S, 177°12’08” E.

Last on the list is Mo’orea Island, which just barely made it due to it not being quite as perfectly heart-shaped as the others. Mo’orea is an island just off the coast of French Polynesia in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean, but it has an airport and a single road around its perimeter. The island has about 16,000 inhabitants, and its geography is very mountainous and beautiful. Wikipedia states that it serves as a popular honeymoon destination and that its image is seen in many American wedding magazines. Mo’orea’s coordinates are 17°32’03” S, 149°49’58” W.

Happy vday!

All images from Google Earth and all info from Wikipedia.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte