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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Maps and Charts

From the lighthouse to the chronometer, our inventors kept at it until we could compute distance, direction, and position from anywhere in the world. Of course, most of these wayfinding devices would have been relatively useless without the remarkable invention we know as the map. Though the oldest existing maps are preserved on Babylonian clay tablets from 2500 B.C., shown in Figure 2-2, the first maps were undoubtedly created thousands of years before in early hunter-gatherer societies, where crude diagrams sketched in the dirt were used to show paths and destinations within a local area. This ability to transform "cognitive maps" gained from personal experience into symbolic visual representations provided humans with a powerful cooperative advantage. Maps enabled us to share wayfinding experiences and geographic knowledge, thereby extending our communal ability to explore wider and wider regions without becoming afraid or getting lost. We could tell each other where to find food and we could warn of dangers to avoid.

Clay tablet map from Ga-Sur (2500 B.C.) on left; redrawing with interpretation on right (images from )

Figure 2-2. Clay tablet map from Ga-Sur (2500 B.C.) on left; redrawing with interpretation on right (images from http://www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/AncientWebPages/100D.html)

For many centuries, maps and mapmakers played a powerful role in defining the elements and edges of the known world. As Alfred Korzybksi, the father of general semantics, famously ...

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