Before you even understand how to read them people are drawn to maps. They represent the world we live in and they give people a perspective of our place in that world and often mean more to us than their obvious practical use of helping you get from A to B.
People have been creating and using maps for a very long time – possibly up to 8,000 years. The earliest known maps were actually made of the stars, found on the walls of the Lascaux caves in France. Cave drawings have been found that are thought to represent landscape features that date from the 7th millenium BC. As human civilisation and culture evolved so too did their need and desire to capture the world they lived in in drawings. Ancient maps of Babylon, Greece and Asia were made using accurate surveying techniques. When people started to travel the oceans and seas and discover new lands they made detailed surveys of these places allowing others to follow in their path. Maps and mapping techniques have been steadily advancing through out human history, and continue to evolve right through to the present day. The most recent advances in satellite technology, online map services and GPS have opened up a whole new world to everyone.
A map is traditionally a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional body. Elevation is normally represented by a change in colour and/or contour lines which means the user has to imagine the shape of the landscape. Computers now allow us to manipulate maps so that we can see the landscape from different perspectives. However, it is still limited by the fact that the image is still presented on a 2D surface – your computer screen. 3D relief maps give you the most realistic representation of the landscape possible because it is a real physical object that you can touch and move to see all the features at once.