Posts Tagged ‘maps’


Photo: Takeshi Inomata
Human activity at the Mayan city Moral Reforma in Mexico ended about 1,400 years ago. Recently, researchers figured out that
lidar maps revealing underground Mayan archaeological sites, though ordinarily costly, are free if you know where to look.

It often takes time, a creative thinker, and a hot tip to uncover the best way to access technology. In this example, an archaeologist learned that the expensive underground maps he needed for his research could be found free online.

Zach Zorich writes at the New York Times, “Until recently, archaeology was limited by what a researcher could see while standing on the ground. But light detection and ranging, or lidar, technology has transformed the field, providing a way to scan entire regions for archaeological sites.

“With an array of airborne lasers, researchers can peer down through dense forest canopies or pick out the shapes of ancient buildings to discover and map ancient sites across thousands of square miles. A process that once required decades-long mapping expeditions, and slogging through jungles with surveying equipment, can now be done in a matter of days from the relative comfort of an airplane.

“But lidar maps are expensive. Takeshi Inomata, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, recently spent $62,000 on a map that covered 35 square miles, and even was deeply discounted. So he was thrilled last year when he made a major discovery using a lidar map he had found online, in the public domain, entirely for free.

“The map, published in 2011 by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, covered 4,440 square miles in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas. …

“Dr. Inomata learned about the map from Rodrigo Liendo, an archaeologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The resolution of the map was low. But the outlines of countless archaeological sites stood out to Dr. Inomata. So far, he has used it to identify the ruins of 27 previously unknown Maya ceremonial centers that contain a type of construction that archaeologists had never seen before. …

“His findings have not yet been peer-reviewed, but Dr. Inomata has presented his work at four conferences during the past year. ‘The stuff he is finding is crucial for our understanding of how Maya civilization developed,’ said Arlen Chase, an archaeologist at Pomona College, who did not contribute to Dr. Inomata’s work. …

“The 27 sites he identified on the map have a type of ceremonial construction that Dr. Inomata and his colleagues had never seen before — rectangular platforms that are low to the ground but extremely large, some as long as two-thirds of a mile.

“ ‘If you walk on it, you don’t realize it,’ Dr. Inomata said of the platforms. ‘It’s so big it just looks like a part of the natural landscape.’ The similarities between these sites and the early buildings they found at Ceibal led them to believe they both date to sometime between 1000 B.C. and 700 B.C. …

“While lidar technology is giving archaeologists new ways to analyze the ancient world, the change in perspective has been shocking and a little disorienting for some researchers. Marcello Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, was the lead author of a lidar survey that covered 800 square miles of the Petén rainforest in Guatemala. He is also the director of an excavation at the Maya city of La Corona. Seeing the edges of the city as well as buildings between cities and the roads that connected them was shocking to him.

‘The word that all of us used when we started looking at the lidar was “humbling,” ‘ he said. ‘It humbled all of us in showing us what we had missed.’

“Dr. Inomata agreed. Even in areas where they were busy excavating, he said, ‘lidar was showing us things we didn’t notice.’ This included broad causeways and agricultural terraces, which are difficult to see in an excavation. …

“Viewing the archaeology of an entire region, in detail, will allow archaeologists to answer bigger-picture questions, such as the ones that Dr. Inomata has about the interactions the Maya had with the Olmec at the beginning of their civilization. …

“ ‘The future pattern,’ Dr. Inomata said, ‘will be that everything will be covered by lidar, like topographic maps today.’ ”

Lots more detail at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Wolfenbüttel Digital Library of the Herzog August Bibliothek
A 6th century CE manuscript called the Codex Arcerianus shows how Roman land surveyors marked off, measured, and mapped property lines.

The website Hyperallergic always has interesting articles about art and art-related fields. This one, which reviews a book about how the ancients handled the graphical representation of information, shows that useful information was conveyed in art long before anyone thought of a term like infographics.

Sarah E. Bond has the report on classicist and historian Andrew M. Riggsby’s book.

“In Mosaics of Knowledge: Representing Information in the Roman World, Riggsby looks at the historical use of visual information technologies and the Roman use of what many today might term ‘infographics’ in the period from the founding of Rome in 753 BCE until 300 CE — just a few years before the ascent of the emperor Constantine and the empire-wide growth of Christianity. …

“Going beyond simple lists, Riggsby examines the rarified use of tables of contents, alphabetized lists, and indices. … Prior to the rise of the codex format, which we would later simply call a ‘book’, organizing was not done by pagination within scrolls, but rather by rows and chapters within a particular scroll. Riggsby reiterates the rarity of Roman tables of contents within literary works, but there was an abundance of indices.

“In public, Romans also encountered public inscriptions with lists of consuls and also calendars, called fasti. These calendars used abbreviations and color coding: marking each set of nine days under the month alphabetically, A through H, in order to signal the nine-day market cycle, highlighting special festival days, and often noting the civic or religious import of the day with the letters F, N, or C. These fasti are also a stark reminder that when there are no formal weekends (and there weren’t in antiquity)

one needed to travel to the forum and read the calendar to know about all the festival days off from work or state business. …

“Clocks were an important type of informational device that allowed Romans to measure time, but they can also double as art pieces and statements of wealth. While the technology governing timekeeping may have changed, for Romans in antiquity it was important to visually represent time — even if the length of Roman hours were not completely standardized, as ours are, and could vary by time of year. …

“There are even more numerous examples of portable models of sundials one could carry that could err widely based on the latitude, season, and time of day. But, just like the Rolex or Apple Watch of today, portable watches might have been seen as more of a fashion trend for the elite rather than a technology that was always accurate. Perhaps the most inventive portable sundial is one found at the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, which is shaped like a ham. …

Mosaics of Knowledge underscores the fact that there were no modern data graphics such as the scatterplot, pie chart, bar graph, timeline, or musical staff notation in the Roman world. However, Romans did have occasion to use diagrams and maps, particularly when representing property lines as recorded by professional land surveyors.

“Romans did not make extensive use of textual illustrations in literary and historical works, but the handbooks for the Roman land surveyors collected and passed down through the Imperial Period were an exception to this rule. Additionally, the survival of building plans from antiquity gives yet another window into how Romans abstracted and then represented space for viewers.” More here.

No amount of fashion craving would induce me to carry around a heavy bronze ham to tell the time.

Photo: Carlo Raso via Flickr
A portable vertical sundial from Herculaneum, shaped like a ham, is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.


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Map: Athanasius Kircher, from Mundus Subterraneus (Amsterdam, 1665)
Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below is on exhibit through February 25 at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

You don’t have to be keen on fantasies like Alice’s Adventures Underground or Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to be fascinated by maps of the world below our feet.

That is why, as Allison Meier writes at Hyperallergic, the Boston Public Library (BPL) is sharing its amazing array of subterranean cartography — from mythology to science, from the God of Death in Pompeii to leaded water in Flint, Michigan.

“Only in recent centuries have cartographers visualized what’s underground,” she writes. “Early mapmakers employed mythology to explain the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that seemed to erupt from some dark force, and sometimes swallow whole communities, like Pompeii or Herculaneum. Even now, our ability to delve below the thin crust on which we’ve built our civilization is limited by the intense pressure and molten magma that churns within the planet. …

“The Leventhal Map Center is exhibiting ‘Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below,’ featuring 400 years of subterranean maps from their collections. These visualize volcanoes, catacombs, pipelines, mines, and seabeds, ranging from 19th-century geological surveys to 21st-century sensing technology. …

“ ‘We’re seeing that these maps were typically produced much later than the weather maps,’ [Stephanie Cyr, associate curator] explained. The exhibition is organized into different underground subjects, such as ‘Earth’s Crust,’ ‘Oceans,’ ‘Mining,’ ‘Archaeology,’ and ‘Beneath Boston.’ These are all further explored in an online component. …

“As soon as people found a way to map the Earth’s underground, they began to exploit it as a resource, drilling natural gas pipelines and digging coal mines.

“Yet as Cyr noted, ‘Before we could actually get down there and explore and survey it, people had to cope with things in the best way they could, and mythology helped people do that.’

“A 17th-century map on view, by Athanasius Kircher, has a tumultuous subsurface scene, with a ball of fire at the center of the Earth and all its bodies of water linked by underground waterways. …

“The maps in ‘Beneath Our Feet’ continue into the 21st century. … And (as the inclusion of maps of lead testing in Flint, Michigan, and the invasive technique of fracking remind viewers) this knowledge can have a significant impact on the lives of the people above.”

If you can’t get to the show, you can at least see some great underground maps here and explore the online features of the show.

Hat tip: Michelle Aldredge (@gwarlingo) on twitter.

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