The 6 elements of a map and their characteristics

Since the dawn of humanity, human beings have often looked to the horizon and wondered what would happen beyond the reach of sight.

We have gone from being a nomad and a picker to that of a picker and herder and little by little we have become sedentary, but it has always been in the interest of humanity to know where it is or what it is. it is beyond the territory it occupies. And travel has been a constant for all mankind, depending on obtaining resources, establishing trade routes and forming civilizations.

In order to allow oneself or others to follow in our footsteps and to know what exists or how to reach other territories, throughout history, instruments such as maps have developed, an essential and precious element for human beings. But while there are a variety of types of maps, they generally all require a number of basic components to be interpreted. That is why throughout this article we will talk about the different elements of a map, Which allow us to understand them and guide us through them.

    What is a card?

    Before talking about the different parts or main elements of a map and although most people have used them on some occasions, it is advisable to give a brief description of what a map is and what it does.

    A card is a graphic representation and at the scale of a territory or a geographical environment, Whose shape and features are detailed in a simplified form with the aim of serving as a navigation system and / or knowing the basic characteristics and limits of the terrain represented. It is a fundamental instrument in the discipline known as cartography, and its invention dates back at least to the Ancient Age (although examples of similar instruments have been known since the Iron Age).

    The basic function of a map is to represent the territory, so that it can serve as a guide to be able to move to specific geological points. However, it should be noted that there are many types of cards, Some of which have a more specific function.

    For example, we can talk about weather maps, which aim to represent the territory in order to analyze the climate that is or will be in a certain place (whether you want to move there or not), while others help us to locate specific points from which to obtain resources or even represent the location of certain phenomena. It should also be mentioned that the maps represent not only natural geographical elements, but also political elements: they can mark the borders between countries, communities or regions differentiated from each other, whether or not there is a geological element which divides them or not.

    Main elements of a map

    Although there are several types of maps, they all have a number of basic elements in common that allow their interpretation. These elements are mainly the following.

    1. Title

    One of the most basic and straightforward elements of a map, yet one of the easiest to understand what is seen. The title tells us in words the theme represented, the geographical area or the type of map we are looking at. For example “weather map of Spain” or “political map of Europe”.

    2. Scale

    A map can represent a territory, but the distances that it must be able to interpret to be effective. Another of the elements of a map that we find most useful for doing this is the scale at which it is drawn. This way we can tell if two centimeters on the map represents two kilometers or twenty in reality, to give an example.

    It is usually represented digitally, Indicating the ratio unit of measure on the map / actual unit of measure (eg 1/10000).

    3. Symbols

    Often on the cards we may want represent concrete elements of reality that are not part of the orography itself but whether they interest us or are even the basis of what we want to show. In order to represent them, we can use different types of symbols.

    For example, a cross might be a hospital or a pharmacy, or a church depending on the type of cross, or a stone might indicate a quarry. They also do not need to be added pictorial elements, but can even use elements like a certain color (for example to symbolize that there is more or less temperature or parts of a territory with more or less resources).

    4. Legend

    Another of the fundamental elements for the interpretation of a map is the legend, which it allows us to understand the meaning of the different symbols that we have used to represent specific elements.

    Thanks to the captions of the users of a map, they can know what the author wanted to represent in a simplified way. It is usually shown in a square on one side, showing the symbol and then its meaning. They can also come in the form of a graph, depending on what you are trying to represent.

      5. Compass rose

      Another enabler that is typically present in most cards is some sort of element which indicates the main cardinal points. This can be done in a corner (usually one of the top corners) with the compass rose. However, often only the cardinal points, or even just the north arrow, are used.

      This map element helps us know which direction the map is looking, making it easier for those following it to orient.

      6. Map projections

      Although it does not appear on all maps, other elements which can be useful and which appear frequently are the map projections, specifically. the set of meridians and parallels in which the Earth is generally divided.

      These projections allow us to establish coordinates, somewhat of great use in various analog and digital navigation systems. This lets anyone know how close a particular item or person is. with great precision, for example when a plane or sea crash occurs or a person gets lost in a natural park or mountain range.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Cosgrove DE (ed.) (1999). Plans. London: reaction books.
      • O’Connor, JJ and EF Robertson (2002) The History of Cartography. St. Andrews: University of St. Andrews.

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