Surely, you’re joking, Mr. Fenn!

This map was borrowed from a millionaire archaeologist, Forrest Fenn’s memoir. “The Thrill of the Chase” is a poem that provides cryptic clues for a fortune worth $1–3 million that he has hidden. Upon getting published in 2010, it sparked a real-life treasure hunt — similar to the plot of an Indiana Jones movie!

The frantic search has made people obsessed with the treasure’s whereabouts. It has even led to several deaths, but this treasure containing gold and ancient artifacts is still nowhere to be found!

What’s in a map, really?

The word, map is derived from two Latin words Mappa (translation: napkin), Mundi (translation: world). Maps are a depiction of where some place exists in the world and what its relationship with everything is.

Maps are intriguing! There is a certain joy in knowing your precise location relative to everything else on earth and to view the entire world in one single perspective.

Below, we have compiled a list of our favorite map narratives, anecdotes, facts, and fables. You will be amused with the number of applications maps have in diverse spheres of life.

“Maps gave them control over their surroundings, for the first time ever. It showed how to get from one place to another. It sounds simple now, but a thousand years ago it would have been an incredible feat of imagination and imagery.”― Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning

1. Maps: Awe in Real-Time

This Mercator map is a screenshot of a real-time dashboard showing all the flights in the world at 00: 48 am, 20th Feb. 2019. At this time, more than half a million people are in the sky- most of them above the clouds in the stratosphere!

A very important insight that can be derived from this map is how Russia, China and huge parts of Africa are disconnected from the rest of the world whereas the US, UK, and East Asia demonstrate maximum connectivity.

Image Source: The Guardian

A study of the dashboard revealed that everyday, these dots depict more or less a similar pattern. As the evening approaches, the traffic is predominantly directed from the US to the UK and when daylight comes, the direction of the traffic switches!

2. Maps: Politics Manipulating Geography

This map created by Ribeiro in 1569 was the first Scientific map of the world. Back then, there was an ongoing dispute between Spain and Portugal regarding a small island present in modern-day Indonesia called the Moluccas, a hub for spice trade.

In 1494, both parties signed a treaty splitting the world’s newly discovered land in two. Everything in the west belonged to Spain and east belonged to Portugal. Ribeiro, a talented Portuguese cartographer was paid to work for the Spanish crown.

Subsequently, he incorrectly placed the “Spice Islands” in the Spanish. It took nearly 100 years to disprove his brilliant cartography!

3. Maps: An Abode of Interesting Tales

Below you can see an example of Peter’s map — the top export of every country and their specializations as well. Fuel is the topmost commodity exported throughout the world followed by metals and minerals.

Image Source: Humanosphere

A deep dive into the Middle East reiterates that oil is their greatest export, with certain exceptions from Israel, Jordan etc. Europe, on the other hand, focuses on value-added goods primarily in the transportation sector. Asian countries largely export electronics with certain exceptions like oil and coal.

Who knew Nepal’s competitive advantage was flavored water and Bangladesh’s was non-knit men’s suits?!

“Maps encourage boldness. They’re like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible.” ― Mark Jenkins

4. Maps: A medium for wacky ideas.

This map is derived from Mackinder’s Heartland theory of a “Eurasian” heartland comprising of Central Europe, the Middle East, India, China. Studying all the powerhouses in history, the largest and wealthiest populations and the resources most useful for them, he calculated the geographical “pivot point” in history.

Image Source: Eric Ross, Academic

This also took into consideration that this area was immune to sea power in the waterway and seaway era. He believed if a country established its power in this area, it could control the entire world.

5. Maps: The Birth of Epidemiology.

In 1854, when cholera broke out in London, everyone considered the cause of this to be particles in the air. Jon Snow, a physician at the time had evidence which discounted this theory, against the popular opinion.

Image Source: Wikipedia

He plotted all the cases of cholera on a map of London and found out that the cause wasn’t the foul air, but contaminated water from a street pump! This was a prime event in the history of public health as it helped improve the sanitation facilities and saved the lives of millions of people.

This first-ever location intelligence exercise conducted also gave the rise to the field of epidemiology- the study of incidence, distribution, and control of diseases.

6. Maps: A Call for Immediate Action.

Below is an example of the Robinson map projection which shows the density of vertebrate species in explicit geographic and geological patterns. Tropics are deep reds and yellows demonstrate that they have a higher number of species. On the other hand, the world’s high latitudes and deserts indicate low density.

Image Source: Saving Species

Maps like these help us in pinpointing the places we need to focus our conversation efforts in order to restore as much biodiversity as we can. For instance, the Andes in South America has a very high density of rare birds and a few species of Amphibians.

“Through our maps, we willingly become a part of their boundaries. If our home is included, we feel pride, perhaps familiarity, but always a sense that this is ours. If it is not, we accept our roles as outsiders, though we may be of the same mind and culture. In this way, maps can be dangerous and powerful tools.”― Debbie Lee Wesselmann, Trutor & the Balloonist

7. Maps: Deciding the Course of WW I

In 1914, when Russia declared war on Austria- Hungary, (Germany’s ally), Germany planned to attack France. This, Germans thought would eventually lead to a war with Russia!

Image Source: Vox

Germans wanted to capture Paris and kick France out of the war, even before Russia could mobilize its army. The fastest route to Paris, the French capital was through Belgium, which led to Belgium’s neutrality getting violated.

City of Liege in Belgium (see map), thus was where the world’s war’s first battle was fought. The attack on Belgium led to the UK entering the battlefield too.

8. Maps: Changing the War Dynamics in WW II.

When WW II broke out, France constructed a series of fortifications called the Maginot Line, (the double blue line in the map) that could cater to both air and land attacks. This line was situated at the common border between France and Germany.

Hilter became convinced that an attack from the front would be in vain, so as a repeat strategy, he attacked via Belgium and Holland, located in the north of France. Thus, they reached the part of the border not protected by this line.

Image Source: Vox

As the German soldiers encircled from all the three sides, thousands of British and French troops were ordered to escape from Dunkirk, so that they could fight the Nazis later in the war. Germany eventually won the battle with France.

9. Maps: A battlefield for Power & Control

Post the end of WW II, the Allies divided Germany into 4 zones which were occupied by the UK, French, US and the Soviet Union. Berlin, in spite of being present in the Soviet-occupied zone, was also segregated in 4 areas (refer to map).

Image Source: ESRI

In 1948, Russians feared the unification of all the allies (who were anti- Soviet) and wanted Berlin all for themselves. As a result, they blocked all modes of transport from Western Germany to Western Berlin “for repairs.”

The allies didn’t withdraw and so, Operation Vittles was started. This operation later dubbed as “Berlin Airlift” lasted for more than a year and carried million tons of cargo containing food and supplies from air into West Berlin.

“Maps were so much easier than words. Words had a way of getting muddled, or meaning two things at once.” — Lesley Howarth, MapHead 2

10. Maps: Bridging the Real and the Virtual

Image Source: Google Maps

According to Manik Gupta, CPO of Uber, “Increasingly as we go about our lives, we are trying to bridge that gap between what we see in the real and the virtual world and maps really play that part.”

Below is a satellite image taken from Google Maps of three adjacent areas in Delhi — Freedom Fighters Enclave, Sainik Farms, and Sangam Vihar.

The strikingly different income levels in these three regions become evident when you look at how the density of roads, buildings, and the greenery is contrasting, all by looking at a map.

The strikingly different income levels in these three regions become evident when you look at how the density of roads, buildings, and the greenery is contrasting, all by looking at a map.

11. Maps: A Treasure Trove of Evidence

This beautiful map is of nightlights, a satellite image of earth at night released by NASA. This picture shows the patterns of human settlement and how they have lit up the darkness.

Image Source: NASA

According to research conducted by economists at Brown University, changes in nightlight activity can be a proxy to the economic activity in a region and thus the GDP.

Extrapolating on this logic, Luis R. Martinez from the University of Chicago claims in his working paper that China, Russia, and other authoritarian countries inflate their official GDP figures by anywhere from 15 to 30 percent in a given year since they are dark in large parts of their country.

12. Maps: A journey of Discovery

In October 2012 when the East Coast of USA was struck by Hurricane Sandy, transportation researchers used it to study the effect of these disasters on commute patterns.

The data from about 700 million taxi trips in NYC showed that the traffic was mild during the middle of the night and intense during the morning during peak hours in a typical week. Then they looked for trends in the weeks when Sandy had struck.

Image Source: Geospatial World

The map reveals an astounding fact — the greatest travel delays (pace values) were when people returned to the city to restore their lives after the hurricane, rather than the evacuation time.

Thus, there is a dire need to devise measures to facilitate re-entry into the city in addition to getting them out safely when the disaster strikes.

Start Thinking Spatially!

Borrowing from Mapbox’s blog, location is personal to all of us. How often do we use maps to navigate to somewhere unknown, find a place’s precise location, or use apps like Uber, Zomato or OYO?

In the world of data and analytics, maps can simply very complex patterns and add a layer of context to your data. The “why” and “how” get attached to “where” thus giving great insights that end up changing our perspective — from pop culture to history to politics. However, most organizations are not leveraging the power of maps to visualize and analyze their spatial data.

Maps have molded our past and present tremendously and will mold our future too. Start thinking spatially and use them to shape the future of your business too!

“I speak to maps. And sometimes they say something back to me. This is not as strange as it sounds, nor is it an unheard of thing. Before maps, the world was limitless. It was maps that gave it shape and made it seem like territory, like something that could be possessed, not just laid waste and plundered. Maps made places on the edges of the imagination seem graspable and placable.”― Abdulrazak Gurnah, By the Sea

At Locale, we help every company create their own internal maps on the basis of how areas perform. To know more about what we do, check this out:

How we’re building our geospatial analytics product using first principles
Our philosophy on analytics at Locale!
A Product for Operational Analytics using Geospatial Data!
What led to the birth of Locale.ai?