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Mapping Terra Incognita
by Kelly Tyler

Explorers didn't sight Antarctica until 1820. But that didn't stop centuries of imaginative geographers from boldly declaring its existence. Follow the course of Antarctic mapmaking, from ancient Roman times to the present day, as the tools of the cartographic trade evolve from flights of fancy to high-flown satellite imagery.

Claudius Ptolemy (150 AD) map drawn from Ptolemy's coordinates for a 1482 edition of his Geographia (The Ulm Edition, Leinhard Holle)
Ptolemy map

Lands beyond the bounds of the known world tantalized the imaginations of ancient scholars, inspiring visions of a lush empire far to the south. In accord with the Greek ideals of symmetry and harmony, geographer and astronomer Claudius Ptolemy declared that a great northern landmass must be balanced by a twin in the Southern Hemisphere. In his orderly, if fanciful, universe, he oriented the top of the map with north and imposed the rational grid of latitude and longitude. Ptolemy's conception held sway for centuries; this map was faithfully drawn from his coordinates by a Renaissance cartographer in 1482. Modern polar names derive from the Greek Arktos, for the great bear star of the northern sky, Arcturus, and Anti-arktos, for its opposition.
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Claudius Ptolemy (150 AD) | Oronce Finé (1531)
Henricus Hondius (1639) | J. Dezauche (1773-75) | James Clark Ross (1845)
Royal Geographical Society (1898) | United States Geological Survey (1999)


Kelly Tyler is Online Producer for NOVA.



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