Dragons, Memory & Navigating the Globe Using Only Your Wits – Facts So Romantic

“Vniversale descrittione di tvtta la terra conoscivta fin qvi,” a map of the world from 1565. Click through to see the entire amazing map, or download the super-hi-res version. Paolo Forlani

Terra incognita. Unknown land. You may be familiar with this Latin phrase, which most notably appears on old maps, sometimes next to images of dragons, fantastical sea creatures, or other monsters. Cartographers once vilified the unknown—to warn sailors and travelers of uncharted territories, and to signal that danger lay beyond the sanctuary of home. Science-fiction writer Margaret Atwood draws an analogy between maps and human knowledge (In Other Worlds, 2011):

“With every map there’s an edge—a border between the known and the unknown […] And that’s what’s scary about darkness for a lot of people: the unknown. The known is finite, the unknown is infinite: anything at all may lurk in it.”

But imagine for a moment that you didn’t have to rely on maps to navigate the unknown—that your memory, instincts, and knowledge of the environment sufficed. This is the art of Polynesian wayfinding.

Where a layperson might look at the ocean and see an indecipherable nothingness, a Polynesian…
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