10 Map Mistakes With Momentous Consequences
Most of us probably believe maps are highly accurate, but that’s not always true. When they’re erroneous, maps can cause problems for individuals, communities, and even entire nations. Map errors have resulted in lost homes, insurance cancellations, endangerment of protected wildlife, threats to human life, a military invasion, and victory or defeat on American and European battlefields. These ten momentous map mistakes show how vital it is to have maps we can depend on.
10French And Indian War
Before and during the American Revolutionary War, not many maps of the American continent existed. Consequently, many military maps were made in the field, often under fire, and battles might be won or lost based on their accuracy.
According to authors Richard Brown and Paul Cohen, maps sometimes even caused war. Countries involved in land disputes have backed up their claims to the disputed land with maps that didn’t clearly represent the owner of the land in question. One such map, by John Mitchell, was a contributing cause to the French and Indian War, according to Brown, “because it showed claims of the British possessions, which was one of its purposes in the first place.”
Maps made by British officers on-scene corrected misconceptions about topography and the navigability of waterways. In 1759, during the French and Indian War, Captain James Cook needed to move General James Wolfe’s troops 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) down the St. Lawrence River, from Louisburg, Nova Scotia, to Quebec, but the river was considered “unnavigable.” At night, Cook mapped the river, allowing the British ships to traverse an area the French thought to be impassible. As a result, Wolfe captured the city of Quebec.
9Napoleon’s Defeat At Waterloo
Napoleon Bonaparte lost the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, in part because of a map error. According to documentarian Franck Ferrand, Napoleon aimed his artillery in the wrong direction, far short of the British, Dutch, and Prussian lines. Napoleon relied on an inaccurate map when planning his strategy for the battle, which explains why he didn’t know the lay of the land and became disoriented on the battlefield. According to Ferrand, “It is certainly one of the factors that led to his defeat.”
Due to a printing error, the map showed a strategic site, the Mont-Saint-Jean farm, 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) from its true position, which was the range of Napoleon’s misdirected guns. It also showed a nonexistent bend in a road, according to Belgian illustrator and historian Bernard Coppens, who found the bloodstained map at a Brussels military museum.
8Fatal Bombing Mishap
In July 2006, the Israeli military duplicated a map for a bombing run against a target in Southern Lebanon. An error on the copy of the map identified a United Nations post as a Hezbollah position. As a result, four international observers were killed. Israeli officials expressed their “deepest condolences and sincere regret.”
Mark Regev, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, acknowledged that “a mishap on the Israeli side” during the copying of the maps resulted in the failure to correctly identify the UN post’s position, leading to the calamity. The observers, who were from China, Austria, Finland, and Canada, were killed by a precision-guided bomb on July 26. The Hezbollah positions were 180 meters (590 ft) from the UN building.
In November 2010, Nicaraguan troops led by former Sandinista guerrilla commander Eden Pastora crossed the San Juan River near the Caribbeancoast. Invading Costa Rica, their neighbor to the south, the soldiers planted their country’s flag in the soil of Costa Rica’s Calero Island, which is located in an area claimed by both nations. Google Maps almost decided the issue by placing Calero Island inside Nicaragua’s border. “See the satellite photo on Google, and there you see the border,” Pastora said. Costa Rica has no army, but it sent security forces to support the 150 agents already in the area.
The dispute was solved judicially, rather than militarily, when the United Nations’ International Court of Justice ruled that the island, which measures 3 square kilometers (1.2 mi2), and its wetlands should be ceded to Costa Rica, since it has sovereignty over the area. The court also took Nicaragua to task “for violating Costa Rica’s right to navigation in the waters” along the countries’ joint border. Although the international court is powerless to enforce its judgments, both countries must agree to its ruling before their case will be heard by the tribunal. Nicaragua’s deputy foreign minister Cesar Vega said Nicaragua would “abide by the verdict.”
According to the United States Navy, its minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground on a Philippines reef because of an error on a navigational chart. The ship’s January 16, 2013, collision damaged the Tubbataha Reef, which is located in a protected area and is home to “one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Coral Triangle.” The Philippines government demanded an investigation of the incident to determine whether the US violated Philippines or international laws.
It was ultimately found that the US Navy damaged 2,345 square meters (25,241 ft2) of the coral reef, and the US paid $2 million in compensation and helped the Philippine Coast Guard to upgrade its station at Tubbataha. The Philippines said that the money will help to rehabilitate and protect the reef as well as enhance monitoring of the area to prevent any similar incidents from occurring. The Guardian‘s captain and other officers were faulted for the incident because they failed to adhere to standard navigation procedures when the minesweeper ran aground.
Following Apple Maps directions, Australian motorists found themselves stranded in remote Murray-Sunset National Park. The drivers’ destination was Mildura, 72 kilometers (45 mi) away. In December 2012, police issued a warning to travelers not to rely on the application. Using the app, they cautioned, could be “life-threatening.”
The official Australian Gazetteer shared responsibility for the map error, because its list of place names and coordinates, which Apple Maps uses as a reference, has two Milduras. The first is the actual town (purple pin above), and the second is a point located in the middle of the remote national park (red pin). Apple Maps understood the latter to be the former, and the app’s directions were based on this misunderstanding. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook admitted to the mistake and promised to correct it.
4International Territory Claim
For more than a century, Canada’s official maps have erroneously included part of the North Pole area as its own territory. The claim conflicts with international law, which states that nations with territory near the Arctic Circle can only claim 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles) of ocean off their northern coasts as their own waters. Anything beyond that distance is legally international waters.
Canada’s claim arose from the old-fashioned “sector theory,” in which theArctic Ocean was divided into triangular slices, with the pole as their meeting point in the center. The theory was never accepted as Canada’s official position on the matter. The old maps’ mistake increases the territory of Canada by 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 mi2), almost all of which is ocean. This additional area is roughly the size of the UK or all five Great Lakes.
In December 2013, perhaps inspired by the sector maps’ mistake, Canadian officials decided to submit a claim of sovereignty over the entire North Pole and its wealth of natural resources, including oil. The claim would enlarge Canada’s territory by 1.2 million square kilometers (463,00 mi2), or about the size of Alberta and Saskatchewan combined. A subsequent claim would expand its territory even further. Before the claim can be submitted, however, Canada must map the area. Even if the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf agrees with Canada’s claim, its decision is nonbinding and would merely open negotiations between countries with their own territorial claims in the Arctic. Such disputes could take years to resolve.
Mapping mistakes that have persisted from the late 20th century into the 21st century continue to endanger African wildlife in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Luama Katanga Reserve. As a result of the errors, the reserve’s boundaries were shifted 50 kilometers (31 mi) to the west. Now, plants and animals that should be protected could be at risk, as mining, agricultural, cattle grazing, and forest clearing operations move in. “The moral of this story is that keeping track of parks—and especially getting maps and boundaries correct—matters hugely for biodiversity,” said James Deutsch, WCS Vice President of Conservation Strategy.
A newly documented species of vegetation, Dorstenia luamensis, a hanging, fern-like plant, is among the flora in the 230,000-hectare reserve, which is also home to 1,400 chimpanzees, whose lives would be threatened should the clearing of forests destroy their habitat. Deutsch urged that the maps be corrected and the reserve protected.
2Flood Insurance Refusal
One of the responsibilities of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Flood Map Service Center is to serve as the “official public source for flood hazard information produced in support of the National Flood Insurance Program.” Its flood maps are important for three reasons: First, they’re intended to save lives by assessing an area’s floodrisk and recommending relocation if need be. Second, they assist communities with managing their flood plans. Third, they’re used by insurance companies to determine homeowners’ flood insurance rates.
The mission and the objectives of FEMA’s flood protection program appear to be in jeopardy in some cases, due to map mistakes. These errors have created a dilemma for the city of Rochester, Massachusetts. Despite the new FEMA flood plain maps’ numerous errors, Rochester must adopt them to be eligible for federal flood insurance assistance. If the city refuses to accept the mistaken maps, many homeowners could end up losing their insurance.
FEMA’s latest maps of the area are based on older, erroneous maps, to which the new maps add mistakes of their own. Conservation agent Laurell Farinon said that some of the maps’ data make no sense. Rochester Planning Board member Ben Bailey agreed that the maps are “fundamentally flawed.” One of their errors affects him personally: “The line that goes through my property goes up a 20-foot hill and back down again. You don’t have to be an engineer to see that this is inaccurate.” As a result of the error, his insurance company refused to offer him homeowner’s insurance. Massachusetts forbids insurance companies to raise their rates, so Bailey couldn’t get insurance by paying more.
The appeals period has ended, so homeowners are left with two options: Do without insurance or pay engineers to reevaluate their property. And it’s not only homeowners who suffer from FEMA’s map errors. The maps are also used by the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission, and building inspectors. FEMA assumes their maps are correct, placing the burden of proving them wrong on the landowners.
1Demolition Of House
It wasn’t their fault they tore down the wrong house, a demolition team argued in 2016. The blame lay with Google Maps. The house numbers were identical, but the duplexes were located on different streets. To explain themistake, an employee of the demolition firm e-mailed a homeowner a copy of a Google Maps photo showing an arrow pointing to the demolished house she owned with another person. The map’s arrow pointed at the duplex on 7601 Calypso Drive, Rowlett, Texas—but identified its address as 7601 Cousteau Drive. The firm was supposed to demolish the duplex on Cousteau.
Despite the company’s contention that Google is at fault, Gerry Beyer, a law professor at Texas Tech University, is doubtful. “My gut reaction is that Google would not be liable,” he said, because Google’s terms of service clearly state that users are responsible for the actions they take based on Google Maps.
Gary Pullman, an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, lives south of Area 51, which, according to his family and friends, explains “a lot.” His 2016 urban fantasy novel, A Whole World Full of Hurt, available on Amazon.com, was published by The Wild Rose Press.
10 Legendary Lost Cities That Have Actually Been Found
We may never find the underwater grave of Atlantis, the golden streets of El Dorado, or the peaceful mountains of Shangri-La. By all rights, these places probably never really existed. They were just flights of our imaginations, thoughts of what wonders the world could hold.
But there are real places that are every bit as incredible as our fantasies. There are cities that, like Atlantis, were wiped clean off the face of the Earth. For hundreds of years, they lived on as nothing but stories, often ones that were so incredible that people doubted they ever really existed.
But these lost cities have been found. They weren’t just myths—they were actually out there, just waiting for us to uncover them. And if they’re real, it might just mean that there are no legends too spectacular to be true.
10Helike: The Real-Life Atlantis
Atlantis wasn’t the only mythical Greek city that sank under the water. The city of Helike met the same fate, and it shares every bit of Atlantis’s mythic power.
According to Greek myths, Helike was destroyed by the wrath of the god Poseidon. The city’s residents had driven the Ionian tribe, who were loyal worshipers of the god of the sea, out of Helike. In his fury, Poseidon pulled the whole city under the water in a single night.
Helike was destroyed in 373 BC, and for centuries, it was thought to be nothing more than parable—until it was found. In the late 1980s, two archaeologists started a quest to track it down. It took them more than a decade of work, but they found it. Over the centuries, Helike had been buried under the Earth. A mythic city was underneath their very feet.
The disaster that destroyed it, the team discovered, wasn’t exactly an act of Poseidon, but it would have felt like one. An earthquake liquefied the ground, turning the earth beneath the hapless Greeks’ feet into water as their whole city collapsed into an inland lagoon formed by the devastating tremor.
9Dvaraka: The Home Of Krishna
To a Hindu, Dvaraka (sometimes spelled Dwarka) is as sacred as a city can be. It is the ancient home of Krishna, the supreme personality of the God Head, who lived on the Earth 5,000 years ago.
Dvaraka was built by the architect of the gods under Krishna’s own orders, who demanded a city made of crystal, silver, and emeralds. He also demanded that 16,108 palaces be made for his 16,108 queens. In the end, though, the city was destroyed in a massive battle between Krishna and King Salva, who annihilated it with blasts of energy.
It all sounds like the last thing you’d expect to have any truth in it—but when archaeologists started exploring the sea where Dvaraka was supposed to have been, they actually found the ruins of a city that fit the description. It didn’t have 16,108 silver palaces, but it was a major ancient city with the same layout, and the rest fit as just a little bit of embellishment.
There’s reason to believe the real Dvaraka might have first been built 9,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities on Earth. At its peak, it was one of the busiest seaports in the world. Then, in the second millennium BC, it collapsed into the water, just like in the legend.
8Great Zimbabwe: The Medieval Castle Of Africa
In the early 16th century, Portuguese explorers started reporting that they’d heard legends about a castle in Africa. In the land today known as Zimbabwe, the natives told them, was a stone fortress that towered over the trees. The locals called it “Symbaoe,” and even they didn’t know who had built it.
One explorer wrote home, “When, and by whom, these edifices were raised, as the people of the land are ignorant of the art of writing, there is no record, but they say they are the work of the devil, for in comparison with their power and knowledge it does not seem possible to them that they should be the work of man.”
For centuries, Europeans thought Symbaoe was just a superstitious story. Then, in the 19th century, they actually found it. There, in Zimbabwe, was a massive castle with stone walls more than 11 meters (36 ft) tall.
The castle was made in AD 900 by an African civilization that has been lostto time—but they were incredibly connected. Inside the fortress, relics were found from all around the world, likely gathered by trading with other countries. There were Arab coins, Persian pottery, and even relics from the Chinese Ming dynasty.
Great Zimbabwe is more than just a castle. It’s proof that a lost African civilization, forgotten to history, had trade routes that connected all the way to China.
7Xanadu: The Palace Of Kublai Khan
Xanadu, Marco Polo said, was a marble palace surrounded by a massive, 26-kilometer-wide (16 mi) park filled with fountains, rivers, and wild animals. There, the khan kept 10,000 pure white horses in a golden palace guarded by dragons. It was, in short, a paradise unlike any on Earth.
The palace was destroyed by the Ming army in 1369, long before most Europeans got the chance to see it. As the centuries passed by, it slipped into legend. It was a place poets wrote about but was little more than the stuff of imagination.
Since then, though, the site of Kublai Khan’s palace has been uncovered, and we’ve found that Marco Polo wasn’t exaggerating. The khan’s home was twice as big as the White House, surrounded by a massive park that seems to have once held a wild menagerie of animals from around the world.
There are ramps for horses in every part of it, and it even has the dragons Marco Polo described. They’re statues sitting atop of pillars that have been painted yellow—but they’re posed exactly as he said they were.
6Sigiriya: The Eighth Wonder Of The World
In Sri Lanka, in the fifth century AD, King Kassapa built his palace atop a boulder that was 200 meters (650 ft) tall. According to the legends, it was one of the most incredible castles in the world. To get in, one had to walk up a large staircase that went through the mouth of a massive brick-and-plaster lion.
Kassapa didn’t live in his castle for long. Shortly after it was completed, his brother Mogallana attacked. Kassapa’s army deserted him, terrified for their lives, and his wives leaped off the side of the boulder to their deaths. Sigiriya was conquered and left behind as a monument to the king’s excess. For a while, it became an outpost and, later, a Buddhist monastery, but soon, it was forgotten to time.
When European archaeologists started investigating the story, though, they found out that the castle was real. There really was a massive lion guarding the staircase, and one really had to walk through his mouth to get in.
Inside, it is even more incredible than the legends said. At one part, there is a gleaming white parapet that works a mirror, letting the bloated king stare at his own reflection as he walks through his palace.
UNESCO declared Sigiriya the eighth wonder of the world, and today, it’s a popular tourist destination. But for a long time, it was nothing more than the forgotten ruins of a deposed tyrant.
5Leptis Magna: The Roman City Buried In Sand
A massive Roman city in Libya that was once a major trading hub for theempire was buried in a sandstorm.
The city is called Leptis Magna, and it was the place where the Roman emperor Septimus Severus was born. He turned it into a gigantic city and one of the most important parts of his empire, but when Rome started to fall, Leptis Magna fell with it. It was pillaged by raiders, destroyed by Arab invaders, left in ruins, and completely forgotten until it was buried under the drifting sands.
Leptis Magna spent about 1,200 years buried under sand dunes until 19th-century archaeologists found it. Buried under the sand, the city was almost perfectly preserved. They didn’t just find a few broken pots there; they got to unearth and walk through a whole ancient Roman city.
Leptis Magna still has an amphitheater, baths, a basilica, and a circus, all preserved so incredibly by the sand that they look almost exactly how they would have when the city was in its prime. It’s like stepping into a time machine. It’s a lost, forgotten city—and because it was forgotten, it never had to change.
4Vinland: The Viking Land Of Plenty
In AD 1073, a German cleric named Adam of Bremen spoke to the Danish king Sven Estridsson. The Vikings, Estridsson told him, had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and found a distant land where everything grew boundlessly. “It is called Vinland,” the cleric reported, “because vines grow there of their own accord.”
He wasn’t the only one telling the story. The Vikings had been passing it down themselves, saying they’d fought with natives who lived there, whom they’d named the Skraelingar. The Skraelingar, they said, dressed in white clothes and lived in caves and holes. When they attacked, they carried long poles and charged, screaming out loud cries of war.
Vinland was thought to be a Viking myth for centuries, even after the Spanish reached the Americas. It took until the 1960s until we found out they were telling the truth. Then, at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, archaeologists found the remains of a Viking settlement made in the 11th century—the Vinland they’d told so many stories about.
3Heracleion: The Drowned Egyptian City
Heracleion showed up in almost every Greek myth. It was the city where Heracles took his first steps into Africa. It was the place where Paris of Troy and his stolen bride Helen hid from Menelaus before the Trojan War. And we had no idea where it was.
As it turned out, there was a reason we couldn’t find one of Egypt’s most important ports: It was underwater. About 2,200 years ago, Heracleion was likely hit by an earthquake or a tsunami—and it drowned.
Divers swimming off the coast of Egypt stumbled upon it in the early 2000s. They found a strange rock under the water, and when they brought it up, they realized that it was a piece of an ancient statute. They dove back in to see what else was there. Soon, they’d found full statues, jewels, and even the drowned ruins of an ancient Egyptian temple.
A massive part of the city was still intact. Divers were able to find huge steles put up as notices to visitors, warning them, in hieroglyphics, of Egyptian tax laws. They found statues of ancient Egyptian gods, still in their original form, with fish swimming around them. It was an entire lost city, pulled from the depths of the water and brought back to life.
2La Ciudad Perdida: The Lost Colombian City
Around 1,300 years ago, an ancient people called the Tairona built an incredible city along the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountainsides. It was put up at the top of the hills by the command of their god, who wanted them to live close to the stars.
People lived there for 700 to 800 years—until the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The Tairona never met them, but the diseases the Spaniards brought with them spread to the Tairona and wiped them out. The last people in the city died, it was left barren, and an entire civilization was forgotten for hundreds of years.
The city wasn’t discovered until the 1970s, when a group of bandits making their way through the jungle stumbled upon it by chance. By pure luck, they found an ancient, overgrown city full of gold jewelry and jade figures.
They pocketed what they could find and sold it on the black market, where they came to the attention of archaeologists. Soon, the city known only as “The Lost City” was found, after nearly 500 years hidden in the jungle.
1La Ciudad Blanca: The City Of The Monkey God
In his quest for gold, Hernan Cortes heard rumors that there was a city of great wealth hiding in the jungles of Honduras. It was called the White City by some and the City of the Monkey God by others, and it was promised to hold an incredible fortune.
Cortes never found it—but the legend lived on. Charles Lindbergh claimed he saw it flying over the country, and others spread rumors that they’d found it but, for whatever reason, couldn’t say where it was, and the city remained nothing more than a legend.
Archaeologists may have actually found it. A group followed the path described by one of the crazier people who claimed to have found the place, and to their surprise, they actually found a city where he said it would be. They found a pyramid in a rain forest, built by a culture that had vanished 1,000 years ago. Inside, there were caches of stone sculptures and impressive architecture that, by the standards of their neighbors, would have been considered signs of incredible wealth and power.
Some people doubt whether this is really the city Cortes wrote about, but if nothing else, it’s evidence of a lost civilization of people who lived their entire lives out in the jungle, separated from life, and whose very existence had been all but forgotten until now.