the world map evolution before the common era

Lab Reports, Timelines, Visualization


In the world of digital, we can get information easily. We use Google map to discover the world around us, even the world that we have never been to. Today’s convenience of access information makes me wondered how our ancestors get to know the world before the big data came into wide use. How does the world look like in their eyes? This project will walk the viewers through a series of world maps that were produced before the Common Era.

Fig.1 A screenshot the Timeline


Timeline JS: an open resource for people to make a timeline of a certain topic

Google Spreadsheet: a tool to organize the collected data of your timeline

Wikipedia: an online library for research



Fig. 2 A screenshot of the SpreadSheet

Whenever I start a project, I always google it first. Among all the related resources on Google, Wikipedia is always an easy-access resource to start with. It is friendly to a new beginner who just starts to learn a new type of knowledge, and the “net” within the pages allows you to browse all the related entries easily. I found there is an entry in Wikipedia named Early World maps, which offers the names of each early map in chronological order. This entry was super helpful as a reference because it provided a basic structure to start my spreadsheet. Based on that, I picked seven important maps and researched each map’s information on Google to fill out the spreadsheet. To make sure that all the data would be displayed in an appropriate way, I did some work on cleaning data. While I was dealing with the data that I collected, I was very careful about its consistency. For example, in terms of inputting the time value, there are different ways to describe”600 Centuries Before Common Era”, and I kept them all consistently as “600BCE” showed in the spreadsheet and the Timeline. In addition, since all the time values in my project are before Common Era, to make them recognizable by the software, they were transformed into negative value in the spreadsheet. For instance, “600BCE” is “-600” in the column of year in the spreadsheet. After inputting all the tidy data on the spreadsheet, the Timeline would be automatically formed if you follow the instruction. Overall, the Timeline looks good except for one change I made due to an aesthetical reason. I changed the background color into black because some pictures in it have a black background. The slides didn’t look good if using the default white background.


Timeline of the world map evolution before the Common Era

Spreadsheet of the world map evolution before the Common Era

After I finished my timeline, I started to review it. By looking through these historical maps before Common Era, I was impressed by the fast evolution of how people explore the world. Started from a small region to the whole world, our ancestor’s exploration has never stopped. Over the span of 1100 years, their horizon of viewing the world had been broadened. Except for a broader horizon, the technic of making maps had been consistently evolved. In the oldest maps, people engraved stone to keep the records. After hundreds of years, new media and new ways of measuring came into use. The increasing knowledge and the new technics brought more accuracy. For example, in the Strabo’s map from 20BCE, which is the latest map of this timeline, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean sea were indicated much more accurately than the Anaximander’s map from 500BCE. In addition, if we compare the Strabo’s map to the map we use today, the shapes of Italy in the two maps look almost the same. It is hard to imagine how did our ancestor produce a map like this without any high-tech. There is no doubt that they had a higher level of measuring and drawing skills than I assumed.


Due to the limitation of the project size, I didn’t get a chance to map the whole world map evolution history before CE. I only highlighted the most important maps of the timeline. There might be some other intriguing maps that I didn’t cover. If I have more time, I am excited to discover all of them.

In addition to the contents, the format would be more developed if I have more time to adjust it. A friend of mine told me that using CSS could make a more customized layout, including changing the background image, the font, etc. However, as an interior designer who knows a little about coding, I am still learning it. If I have a chance, I would like to try using CSS in the future.