Turin Papyrus Map, c.1150 BC

Kate Wiles surveys one of the world's oldest surviving maps, prepared for a quarrying expedition led by Ramesses IV.

akg-images/Erich Lessing

Discovered near modern Luxor (ancient Thebes) between 1814 and 1821 by agents of Bernadino Drovetti, the French Consul General in Egypt, this is considered one of the oldest known topographical, geographical and geological maps. It survives in fragments but, when recombined, it is about 280cm wide (just one fragment is pictured here). It was produced around 1150BC by a well-known Scribe of the Tomb, Amennakhte, in preparation for a quarrying expedition by Ramesses IV and predates the next oldest known geological map by some 2,900 years. It is held in the Turin Museum in Northern Italy.

It shows a 15km-stretch of the Wadi Hammamat, the ‘Valley of Many Baths’, oriented with south and the source of the Nile at the top. Shown on this portion of the map are a quarry for bekhen stone, a prized blue-green material used to carve statues of gods and pharaohs, and a gold mine. Nestled at the foot of some hills (stylised cones with pink, wavy flanks) to the north are four small houses for gold-workers, which are close to a temple to the god Amun. The map also shows the locations of various rock types, including gold-bearing quartz, which  is represented by three pinkish stripes on the hill at the top, above the gold mine. Inscriptions elsewhere describe the purpose and destination of the quarried stone.