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Maps

The Paracas Textile

By MARLEY BROWN

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Maps Peru Paracas TextileFor some people in the ancient Andes, textiles could serve not only as a record of their physical surroundings, but also as guides to aid in the transition to the next world. This textile, which was likely wrapped around the head of a member of the pre-Columbian Nazca culture of Peru when he or she was buried, “represents a record of what life was like on Peru’s south coast 2,000 years ago,” says curator Nancy Rosoff of the Brooklyn Museum. The pattern at the center of the textile repeats a large-eyed, grinning figure thought to depict a supernatural being. The outer border shows a procession of 90 individual figures, each adorned in distinct regalia. Many carry animals and plants native to the surrounding area or found farther afield.

 

The mantle might also be seen as a map representing the Andean concept of cyclical time, according to geographer William Gartner of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The figures on the textile’s border illustrate the movement of people around a village plaza. With the cloth wrapped around his or her head, says Gartner, the deceased individual would have been able to join in this symbolic procession, which carries on in perpetuity.

Catawba Map

By MARLEY BROWN

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Maps South Carolina Catawba MapSoon after arriving in Charleston, Francis Nicholson, the newly installed royal governor of South Carolina, received a deerskin map thought to have been drawn by an Indian “cacique,” or chief. Nicholson ordered a paper copy of the map, which represents 13 native groups as circles connected with lines. It remains a rare example of indigenous North American cartography from the colonial period.

 

Archaeologist Gregory Waselkov of the University of South Alabama believes that the mapmaker was probably a member of the Catawba people—who still call South Carolina home—as the Catawba community of Nasaw occupies the central position. European settlements, including Charleston and Virginia, are portrayed by squares, which Waselkov thinks was not only a way of differentiating the English as foreigners, but may have constituted a native critique of European rigidity. The circles and squares vary in size, likely in proportion to the importance accorded the communities by the mapmaker. The connecting lines illustrate social and political relationships among people throughout the South Carolina Piedmont and the greater Southeast. “Archaeologists are often reluctant to make assumptions about peoples’ knowledge of their neighbors without the presence of artifacts,” Waselkov says. “But this map is further evidence that native people were aware of things far from their own hearths.”

Marshall Islands Stick Chart

By MARLEY BROWN

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Maps Marshall Islands Stick ChartThe education of a navigator in the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian archipelago in the South Pacific, traditionally began by being blindfolded in a canoe. Young sailors learned to feel and intuit the motion of the sea before ever venturing out on ocean journeys. The deep Marshallese connection with waves and their movements reaches back more than 2,000 years to land-finding techniques used by the islands’ first settlers.

 

Scholars have identified two different types of Marshall Islands stick charts, wooden diagrams the Marshallese have been producing since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The first and probably older type, shown here, contains abstract representations of how waves interact with bodies of land in general. The second type illustrates actual islands, often represented by cowrie shells, along with swell patterns identified and recorded by pilots. “There aren’t that many examples from across the Pacific of this kind of navigational knowledge being encoded or physically represented,” says anthropologist Joseph Genz of the University of Hawaii. He says the charts were used mainly as teaching devices rather than real-time way-finders. They help to impart perhaps the most crucial concept in the Marshallese navigational tradition, that of the dilep, or “backbone wave.” “People still describe the dilep as the most important wave to find,” Genz says. “It’s like a path you can follow to the next atoll. Instead of going landmark to landmark, you go seamark to seamark.”

Wooden Inuit Maps

By DANIEL WEISS

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Maps Greenland Inuit Wooden MapsIn 1885, an Inuit hunter named Kunit traded a trio of unusual wooden maps to Gustav Holm, the leader of a Danish expedition that was making its way up Greenland’s east coast. The maps served as a guide to a stretch of coast north of Ammassalik, the small settlement where the transaction took place. Two of the maps, shown here, complement each other: One map, left, portrays the undulating coastline, with alternating fingers of land and fjords, and the other represents a string of offshore islands. The third depicts a peninsula.

 

The maps were not designed for practical navigational use, says archaeologist Hans Harmsen, a curator at the Greenland National Museum, but rather as storytelling aids. “You could show the person who was hearing the story the contours of the coast and the relationship between the islands and the coastline,” he says. The map of the coast even includes a pronounced arcing groove indicating where a traveler would have to carry their kayak overland to get to the next fjord. There is no evidence that such wooden maps were commonly produced by the Greenland Inuit, as those Kunit made for Holm are the only ones of their kind known.

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