The history of cartography traces the development of cartography, or mapmaking technology, in human history. Maps have been one of the most important human inventions for millennia. People have created and used maps to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world.
The earliest archaeological maps include cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, China, and India. They began as two-dimensional drawings, and for some time at least in Europe, the Earth was thought to be flat. Nowadays maps can be visualized adopted as three-dimensional shapes on globes. Modern maps of the old and new worlds developed through the Age of Discovery. In the 21st century, with the advent of the computing age and information age, maps can now be digitized in numerical form, transmitted and updated easily via satellite GPS and apps like Google maps, and used universally more easily than ever before.
The English term cartography is modern, borrowed from the French cartographer in the 1840s, itself based on Middle Latin carta "map".
The earliest known maps are of the stars, not the earth. Dots dating to 14,500 BC found on the walls of the Lascaux caves map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contains a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BC.
Cave painting and rock carvings used simple visual elements that may have aided in recognizing landscape features, such as hills or dwellings. A map-like representation of a mountain, river, valleys, and routes around Pavlov in the Czech Republic, carved on a mammoth tusk, has been dated to 25,000 BC, making it possibly the oldest known map of all time. A polished chunk of sandstone from a cave in Spanish Navarre, dated to 14,000 BC, may represent similar features superimposed on animal etchings, although it may also represent a spiritual landscape or simple incising.
Another ancient picture that resembles a map was created in the late 7th millennium BC in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, modern Turkey. This wall painting may represent a plan of this Neolithic village; however, recent scholarship has questioned the identification of this painting as a map.