The Shape of the World, According to Ancient Maps
A Babylonian clay tablet helped unlock an understanding for how our ancestors saw the world.
Dating all the way back to the 6th century BCE, the Imago Mundi is the oldest known world map, and it offers a unique glimpse into ancient perspectives on earth and the heavens.
While this is the first-known interpretation of such a map, it would certainly not be the last. Today’s visualization, designed by Reddit user PisseGuri82, won the “Best of 2018 Map Contest” for depicting the evolving shapes of man-made maps throughout history.
AD 150: Once Upon A Time in Egypt
In this former location of the Roman Empire, Ptolemy was the first to use positions of latitude and longitude to map countries into his text Geographia. After these ancient maps were lost for centuries, Ptolemy’s work was rediscovered and reconstructed in the 15th century, serving as a foundation for cartography throughout the Middle Ages.
1050: Pointing to the Heavens
The creation of this quintessential medieval T-and-O Beatine map is attributed not to an unknown French monk, but to the Spanish monk Beatus of Liébana. Although it shows several continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—its main objective was to visualize Biblical locations. For example, because the sun rises in the east, Paradise (The Garden of Eden) can be seen pointing upwards and towards Asia on the map.
1154: The World Turned Upside Down
The Arabic geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi made one of the most advanced medieval world maps for King Roger II of Sicily. The Tabula Rogeriana, which literally translates to “the book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands”, was ahead of the curve compared to contemporaries because it used information from traveler and merchant accounts. The original map was oriented south-up, which is why modern depictions show it upside down.
1375: The Zenith of Medieval Map Work
The Jewish cartographer Abraham Cresques created the most important map of the medieval period, the Catalan Atlas, with his son for Prince John of Aragon. It covers the “East and the West, and everything that, from the Strait [of Gibraltar] leads to the West”. Many Indian and Chinese cities can be identified, based on various voyages by the explorers Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville.
After this, the Age of Discovery truly began—and maps started to more closely resemble the world map as we know it today.
1489: Feeling Ptolemy and Polo’s Influences
The 15th century was a radical time for map-makers, once Ptolemy’s geographical drawings were re-discovered. Henricus Martellus expanded on Ptolemaic maps, and also relied on sources like Marco Polo’s travels to imagine the Old World. His milestone map closely resembles the oldest-surviving terrestrial globe, Erdapfel, created by cartographer Martin Behaim. Today, it’s preserved at the Yale University archives.
1529: A Well-Kept Spanish Secret
The first ever scientific world map is most widely attributed to the Portuguese cartographer Diego Ribero. The Padrón Real was the Spanish Crown’s official and secret master map, made from hundreds of sailors’ reports of any new lands and their coordinates.
1599: The Wright Idea
English mathematician and cartographer Edward Wright was the first to perfect the Mercator projection—which takes the Earth’s curvature into consideration. Otherwise known as a Wright-Molyneux world map, this linear representation of the earth’s cylindrical map quickly became the standard for navigation.
1778-1832: The Emergence of Modern World Maps
The invention of the marine chronometer transformed marine navigation—as ships were now able to detect both longitude and latitude. Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, a French geographer, was responsible for the 18th century’s highly accurate world maps and nautical charts. His designs favored functionality over the decorative flourishes of cartographers past.
Finally, the German cartographer and lawyer Adolf Stieler was the man behind Stieler’s Handatlas, the leading German world atlas until the mid-20th century. His maps were famous for being updated based on new explorations, making them the most reliable map possible.
Is There Uncharted Territory Left?
It is worth mentioning that these ancient maps above are mostly coming from a European perspective.
That said, the Islamic Golden Age also boasts an impressive cartographic record, reaching its peak partially in thanks to Muhammad al-Idrisi in the 11th century. Similarly, Ancient Chinese empires had a cartographic golden age after the invention of the compass as well.
Does this mean there’s nothing left to explore today? Quite the contrary. While we know so much about our landmasses, the undersea depths remain quite a mystery. In fact, we’ve explored more of outer space than we have 95% of our own oceans.
If you liked the visualization above, be sure to explore the world’s borders by age, broken down impressively by the same designer.
From Bean to Brew: The Coffee Supply Chain
How does coffee get from a faraway plant to your morning cup? See the great journey of beans through the coffee supply chain.
What Does The Coffee Supply Chain Look Like?
View a more detailed version of the above graphic by clicking here
There’s a good chance your day started with a cappuccino, or a cold brew, and you aren’t alone. In fact, coffee is one of the most consumed drinks on the planet, and it’s also one of the most traded commodities.
According to the National Coffee Association, more than 150 million people drink coffee on a daily basis in the U.S. alone. Globally, consumption is estimated at over 2.25 billion cups per day.
But before it gets to your morning cup, coffee beans travel through a complex global supply chain. Today’s illustration from Dan Zettwoch breaks down this journey into 10 distinct steps.
Coffee From Plant to Factory
There are two types of tropical plants that produce coffee, both preferring high altitudes and with production primarily based in South America, Asia, and Africa.
- Coffea arabica is the more plentiful bean, with a more complex flavor and less caffeine. It’s used in most specialty and “high quality” drinks as Arabica coffee.
- Coffea canephora, meanwhile, has stronger and more bitter flavors. It’s also easier to grow, and is most frequently used in espressos and instant blends as Robusta coffee.
However, both types of beans undergo the same journey:
Plants take anywhere from 4-7 years to produce their first harvest, and grow fruit for around 25 years.
The fruit of the coffea plant is the coffee berry, containing two beans within. Ripened berries are harvested either by hand or machine.
Coffee berries are then processed either in a traditional “dry” method using the sun or “wet” method using water and machinery. This removes the outer fruit encasing the sought-after green beans.
The green coffee beans are hulled, cleaned, sorted, and (optionally) graded.
From Factory to Transport
Once the coffee berry is stripped down to green beans, it’s shipped from producing countries through a global supply network.
Green coffee beans are exported and shipped around the world. In 2018 alone, 7.2 million tonnes of green coffee beans were exported, valued at $19.2 billion.
Arriving primarily in the U.S. and Europe, the beans are now prepared for consumption:
Green beans are industrially roasted, becoming darker, oilier, and tasty. Different temperatures and heat duration impact the final color and flavor, with some preferring light roasts to dark roasts.
Any imperfect or somehow ruined beans are discarded, and the remaining roasted beans are packaged together by type.
Roasted beans are shipped both domestically and internationally. Bulk shipments go to retailers, coffee shops, and in some cases, direct to consumer.
Straight to Your Cup
Roasted coffee beans are almost ready for consumption, and by this stage the remaining steps can happen anywhere.
For example, many factories don’t ship roasted beans until they grind it themselves. Meanwhile, cafes will grind their own beans on-site before preparing drinks. The rapid growth of coffee chains made Starbucks the second-highest-earning U.S. fast food venue.
Regardless of where it happens, the final steps bring coffee straight to your cup:
Roasted beans are ground up in order to better extract their flavors, either by machine or by hand. The preferred fineness depends on the darkness of the roast and the brewing method.
Water is added to the coffee grounds in a variety of methods. Some involve water being passed or pressured through the grounds (espresso, drip) while others mix the water and grounds (French press, Turkish coffee).
Liquid coffee is ready to be enjoyed! One average cup takes 70 roasted beans to make.
The world’s choice of caffeine pick-me-up is made possible by this structured and complex supply chain. Coffee isn’t just a drink, after all, it’s a business.
The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions Since 2000
Ammonium nitrate is dangerous, and every few years, there’s a new explosion that causes widespread damage. These are some of the biggest ones.
The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000
This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.
This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.
Today’s graphic outlines the biggest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.
A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate
Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?
Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.
It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.
The Death Toll
Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:
*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.
One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.
In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.
In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.
While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.
In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:
Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.
Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.
A Resource With Trade-Offs
Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.
Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.
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