Inuit Tactile Maps

Maps tell us where we are and how to get where we’re going. Sometimes, the top-down, bird’s-eye-view style of map we are most used to today is not the most helpful tool for achieving that goal. Anyone who’s had to orient themselves in a strange landscape with a traditional map knows the frustration of trying to match the visible landmarks and shapes of the terrain to the lines and symbols of the map. There are also plenty of places where pulling out a flat paper map would be impractical.

From Greenland comes a different approach to mapping. These drawings show two carved wooden maps of the coastline around the eastern Greenland settlement of Sermiligaaq that were sold to Danish explorers by a local named Kunit in the 1880s.

These small carvings, known as the Ammassalik wooden maps, represent the shapes of the coastline. The narrower map represents a string of islands; the wider one records a stretch of the mainland coastline and is read in a continuous stretch up one side and down the other. They are small enough to be held inside a mitten so that a traveler paddling down the coast by kayak could feel their way along from one bay to the next.

Just another example of how human ingenuity finds different solutions to similar problems.

Image: Drawing of the Ammassalik maps via Wikimedia

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