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7 maps that show how our understanding of the world changed dramatically

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Google Maps is one of the most downloaded apps, and for good reason: It tells us where we're going.

But centuries before we had satellite imaging, high altitude photography, or smartphones, people were jumping into ships and measuring distances between land masses to draw maps.

Those measurements, of course, made for less accurate maps. But since then, our view of the world has sharpened. 

Here are seven maps that show how far we've come in our understanding of the world. 

SEE ALSO: This video shows the entire history of the world’s cities in 3 minutes

Ptolemy's "Geographia" was one of the first treatises on geography in the Western world.

Ptolemy's world map, originally described in the year 150, was one of the first to show longitude and latitude. It placed the meridian, or longitudinal center, in the then-unidentified "Fortunate Isles" to the west of Africa. That meridian would be used up until the Middle Ages.

The map was adapted and reprinted for centuries. The version shown above is German cartographer Nicolaus Germanus' 1467 iteration of Ptolemy's Geographia. In it, the Mediterranean Ocean borders a blocky African continent, which also appears to cover the entire southern end of the map, giving the impression that Africa connects back to Asia.



The Mercator world map made it easier for sailors to navigate.

By the time this map was created in 1569, Christopher Columbus had sailed. Spanish conquistadors had brought back measurements — so many, in fact, that in 100 years, the rest of Asia was filled in, and the Americas, albeit looking like a blobby child's drawing, were finally described in detail.

Finnish cartographer Gerardus Mercator's world map was a product of these discoveries. It allowed for sailors to draw "rhumb lines," straight navigational lines on Mercator projected maps that allowed them to steer ships in one direction without constantly adjusting for the earth's curvature.



This early Dutch map, called the "Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula," shows a slightly more accurate America.

Drawn by Henricus Hondius in 1630, this map provided new additions: Australia and New Zealand. Australia's outline is shown as New Holland, and New Zealand's presence is recognized though not entirely defined — its eastern and southern borders are cut off.

California is also depicted here as an island — an idea that first came about when Hernan Cortés briefly traveled to Baja California in 1535 and mistook the peninsula for a large island. North America's Pacific Northwest remains wholly undiscovered on this map, as does the part of Russia that extends out towards North America.



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