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Babylonian world map on a tablet from 900 B.C.Geographic descriptions of the earth constitute our earliest science and ancient maps predate any discovered written language. It appears that mankind has always wanted to illustrate its environment. The earliest maps known today date back beyond 6,000 BC. It was nearly 4,000 years later before geometry was introduced to map making and measuring the Earth.

Another 2,000 years passed before the mathematics of depicting a spherical world on a flat sheet of paper were developed. Greek astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy developed the first maps depicting a spherical world around 200 A.D. One of a collection of maps by Gerardus Mercator linked with the Greek figure of Atlas Yet it wasn't until the fifteenth century before Ptolemy's maps were widely published and used by navigators, including Columbus, Vespucci, Magellan, and Drake. Of course the American continents did not appear on Ptolemy's maps. In fact it was his maps' exaggeration of the size of Asia that misled Columbus into underestimating the distance to the Orient. The new world that Columbus encountered was first added to a world map in 1507. At the close of that century, Flemish geographer Gerardus Mercator published the first bound collection of scientific maps. His work featured an illustration of the mythological giant Atlas. Since its publication in Duisburg, a collection of maps has come to be known as an Atlas.

Today's atlases still collect and offer maps. Yet not all are bound and printed and sold in book stores. Advances in publishing, computer, and communications technologies now make it possible for map makers to deliver atlases on CD-ROM, DVD, and via the World Wide Web. Despite the many changes in map making techniques and the widespread use of computers in map production and dissemination, the purposes and uses of atlases remain unaltered. Laptop computer showing map from the World Wide Web.An atlas is a collection of objective geographic information, expressed in maps. Its compilation is justified by its contribution to research and decision making. It enhances the user's understanding of a place and fosters cultural development and self-awareness. An atlas educates. Atlas makers employ maps to stimulate broader and deeper understanding of geography, history, culture, and more. They provide real depictions of a region, country, or the world.


Map Maker Samples
Cities and Towns
Index to Topographic Maps- 1:24,000 and Other Large Scales
Urban Areas
Map Layers
Cities and Towns
Index to Topographic Maps - 1:24,000 and Other Large Scales
Urban Areas
Printable Maps
Reference and Outline Maps of the United States
Wall Maps
General Reference Maps
The National Map
Latitude and Longitude
Map Projections: From Spherical Earth to Flat Map
Profile of the People and Land of the United States
What is AVHRR?

The National Atlas of the United States® is a concerted effort to present consistent and reliable national maps that can be used to explore the human dimensions of American landscapes and environments. The individuals and organizations that collaborate on the National Atlas share these goals:

  • Triangulation station along 141st Meridian between U.S. and contribute to a better understanding of the environmental, resource, demographic, economic, social, political and historical dimensions of American life,
  • to serve as a medium for the dissemination of information helpful to gaining a better understanding of the United States and other parts of the world,
  • to make possible a comparison of the United States with other countries and world regions that will give Americans a better understanding of their country in relation to what takes place elsewhere in the world,
  • to offer information for effective communication among scientists and scholars in the various fields of knowledge that can be appropriately presented in map format on a national basis,
  • to provide useful information through graphical presentation and text to persons in positions of responsibility confronted with making important legislative, planning, management, business, and other decisions
  • to provide materials useful to educators and students,
    to give additional visibility through map making to statistical and dynamic information, and
  • to honor traditions of cartographic excellence while advancing the state of the art in the preparation and use of modern maps.
    Cartography is the science and art of making maps.

Topographic map and air photo of New Haven, CtCartographers like to emphasize that map making is not merely a scientific endeavor. Maps have always been abstractions of the real world. Map makers use graphic distortions to maintain correct relationships among geographic features. All the information available cannot possibly be included because maps are much smaller than the areas they portray. Map makers must choose to display those features that are critical to conveying their intended message. For example, within the National Atlas Map Maker, we do not include detailed street maps. That is because the intent of an atlas that covers the whole Nation is to use generalized maps that portray America's broad conditions, patterns, and trends.

Within this chapter we offer information on maps, mapping, and the people and government institutions that make maps. Topics may include mapping history, discussions of map making techniques and instrumentation, and descriptions of the elements common to most maps. We will introduce you to Federal mapping programs and explain how these maps and the geographic information behind them are used in everyday applications.USGS benchmark.