In 1965 the Ukrainian archeological expedition discovered one of the world’s oldest cartographic finds of mankind. This is a picture of terrain on a fragment of a mammoth tusk.

Ancient Cartography Mezhirich-map

It was found on the bank of the Rosava river near the village of Mezhirich in Kaniv district of Cherkasy region, Ukraine (this is why it is known as Mezhirich-map). The age of the find is 13-15 thousand years, the length of the fragment is 21 cm, it is stored in the Museum of Natural History in Kyiv. I didn’t see it with my own eyes (these pictures are not mine), but I certainly will.

Ancient Cartography Mezhirich-map original

“… In the intertwining of the disorderly lines, the researchers were able to see a meaningful picture of the terrain: the descent from the mountain, tree trunks, the river drawn by two parallel lines.
There were four mysterious structures on the river bank. Initially, archaeologists have discovered three former human dwellings made of mammoth bones in the area. The fourth was searched for a long time. It took several years. But they finally found it. The ancient cartographic image did not lie”

Ancient Cartography Mezhirich-map fragment building

It looks so romantic in the modern textbooks, but in the published results of that archaeological expedition under the guidance of Ivan Pidoplichko (in the year 1969), the map was depicted upside down and called simply an obscure drawing, not a map. I don’t know who exactly was the first to identify the map here.

By the way, if we’re speaking of ancient cartography and the oldest maps of humanity, it is obvious that they were mostly found in areas of rock painting. Stone caves are rare in Ukraine of course, so there is only one well-known find, made on mammoth tusks.

Ancient Cartography map

In my opinion, of all the ancient maps found in the territory of Ukraine, only the Mezhyrich-map can be called the proto-cartographic image without a doubt. It contains many geographical features — mountains, rivers, buildings, and contains no images of humans or animals.

The rest of the findings are much less like maps. I’m talking about the Dudarkiv map, the Kyryliv map, the Putivl map and more. The source of the images.

However, in defense of ancient Ukrainian finds, we can say that this is not common practice for ancient cartography. For example, the first volume of the large-scale edition of “The History of Cartography” also contains many questionable images that are considered presumably proto-cartographic or as containing elements of proto-cartography. Moreover, the Ukrainian findings look more convincing than many of the examples presented there. A few illustrations from the book – drawings found in Spain, Algeria, and Italy:

In any case, the findings of the pre-written era can be interpreted differently, so we always have to be very careful with their interpretation.

  • 1. Остапчук С. М. Картографія: факти, матеріали, відомості. Рівне, 2014.
  • 2. Пидопличко И.Г. Позднепалеолитические жилища из костей мамонта на Украине. Наукова думка, 1969.
  • 3. The History of Cartography: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Chicago Press, 1987.
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One thought on “Ancient Cartography of Archaeological Age”

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