Morpheus on… Cartographical Anomolies

What do the Île de Sable (English: Sandy Island) New Caledonia, plus Argleton, West Lancs and Goblu, Ohio all have in common?

Answer: they DON’T EXIST.

Don’t worry – they haven’t been beamed up by aliens. Fact is, they NEVER existed.

They are just three of many cartographical anomalies which are dotted all over the World. I myself LIVE in one. My town in Thailand is shown on Google Earth as being MILES away from where it actually is.

In that case, Google’s confusion was probably caused by the fact that the town bears the same name as its province – and some prat using a Thai map just plopped the arrow down in the middle of that.

In fact, it is thanks to Google Earth that many of these anomalies are finally being uncovered – by armchair explorers. And although the corporate giant has now removed Argleton from its maps, said explorers still maintain joke sites on the Interweb dedicated to the town’s fictitious features.

But while some anomalous islands and towns, plus streets and BENDS in streets are merely erroneous – others were put there DELIBERATELY.

They are called cartographer’s TRAPS.

You see, maps have COPYRIGHT, just like books. But where books detail fictitious events (or ACCOUNTS of real ones) maps detail bald REALITY. Thus to copy a map, one only needs to change the font on the place and street names and one can claim to have created it from scratch – the similarity being explained by both maps being of the same place.

However, throw in a couple of bogus features that are not likely to affect the map’s users – like a pin-prick island, miles away from the shipping lanes – or a dead-end country lane where there are just fields – and in court, you can NAIL any copyright thief who included them on THEIR map! 

The thing is, map-making is a tricky business. The expense of sending people to every square metre of the region you are mapping is often WAY more than the return you will get for selling the maps.

And so you end up relying on explorer’s co-ordinates (in the case of early maps) and latterly, a combination of aerial photographs and satellite images, with information glommed from public records – and previous maps.

Thus an anomaly – whether deliberately created or erroneous – can be repeated for decades. Even centuries.

But NOW, thanks to Google Earth, these anomalies are finally being exposed.

In the case of “Sandy Island” (which is sited where the ocean is actually 1,500 metres deep) Google first paid for a satellite image of its southern end – then, realising it showed NOTHING except a few clouds over empty water, didn’t bother with the rest.

The current view shows a black, pixellated GASH where the island is supposed to be and clicking on “historical” (three years ago) reveals the earlier embarrassment. If you HAVE Google Earth, input: 19 13′ S 159 55′ E – and if not, install it. It’s free – and you can fly down Grand Canyon with it.

But since Google Earth is comprised of expensive satellite images and 70% of the surface of the planet is covered with WATER, they only use close-up pictures that SHOW something (even THEY are not about to waste money on a lot of clouds and the occasional wake from a ship) leaving the WET bits as a blue, wavy wallpaper.

And so they really need to wallpaper over that GASH.

Meanwhile, if YOU are studying a map and spot a nearby village you’re sure isn’t there – or notice your straight street has a KINK in it – you’ll now know WHY!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent Post! UK, of course, has the good old Ordnance Survey.

    Apropos the topic (and giving myself permission to yap on, once again, about my fave US iconic vacation sensation) if I had not stood above and behind the HOLLYWOOD Sign, and if its history was not documented in detail in every LA guide book, I might have thought that it, too, was a Google trap.

    “Obviously” I would have said as I came upon it, “That is either a joke or a trap!”

    I might have added (if I did not adore LA so much) “Nae sane society would build a girt big word up, like that, on a wee hill overlooking a wee toon.” (Sorry, my finger slipped and I selected the Scottish accent Setting by mistake there.)

    As it is, I LOVE the in-your-face attitude shown by the property developer as he ordered the erection of his HOLLYWOODLAND sign regardless (I presume) of any fussy, arty, follower-of-fashion town planners, or twee-fascist self-appointed culture cops, that the sign represents (in my mind at least).

    I will keep on trawling my Google Earth and seeing what there is to see. Whether it actually exists or not is not the point. Yesterday I did Charleville Boulevard, from its birth at Santa Monica Bouelvard in the west to its termination at Le Doux Road in the east. It is a charming middle income residential street, and I saw no trash or untidy vacant lots at all.

  2. Posted by Vincent on November 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, it’s easy to take the OS maps for granted. Not every country HAS such things! Here in Thailand, only the cities have maps (and Thai-style, even THEY are a bit “approximate”).

    It’s back to the old problem of MONEY – despite this country being PLAGUED by bureaucraps, they’ve never ordered MAPS of everywhere. Thus maps are only available in places where the demand will PAY for them – i.e. TOURIST areas.

    And the only reason tourists come here is to see the MONKEYS. And given their habitat is right next to the railway station…!

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