Maps and Map-making in India

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Al-Idrisi to Ptolemy: Early Maps of India

Early Maps of India Exhibit Section

Given India’s ancient and advanced mathematical knowledge which allowed for relatively accurate calculations of the Earth’s circumference, and their use of latitude and longitude, it is likely that indigenous mapping did exist prior to European contact. Some Chinese travelers went to India in search of information about the Buddha and understood the basic geography of India by at least the 2nd century, BCE. A Japanese map done in an earlier traditional style in 1709 shows the 7th century trek of the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang in India. Eratosthenes (275-194 BCE), the Greek geographer and Chief Librarian of the Library of Alexandria who accurately calculated the Earth’s circumference, is said to have gained extensive knowledge of India, but no maps showing his knowledge are known to exist. A reconstruction of his world map does show the Indus River. The Geography of another Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 A.D.) is the most well-known early work on geography. In his Geography he describes a world map and twenty-six regional maps of Europe, western and southern Asia, and northern Africa. Geography was translated into Arabic and used by the North African born Arab al-Idrisi as a source for his famous map of 1159.