A story on NPR about Braille city maps for the blind instantly reminded me of some artifacts I had read about during one of my literature surveys for my oral exams (Place as Recently Imagined by Archaeologists, to be exact).
Peter Whitridge wrote a brilliant article titled Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place” and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries that queried the binary set up between space and place wherein space is portrayed as empty, scientific, geometrical, and place is embodied, historical, culturally-constructed. To do this, he demonstrated Inuit placemaking in songs, myths, legends, even tongue-twisters where Unalakleet place names are strung together–mnemonics of places along travel routes. Personhood encorporates place, and every personal name corresponds with a place name; both people and places are signified as important by the very fact of being given specific names.
The Inuit made songs, but they also made maps. These were often sketched in snow or sand, but some of them were sketched on paper with pencil for European explorers, and were intelligible to these Westerners. These are interesting in comparable abstractions of space (thus directly addressing Whitridge’s question about the space/place binary) but I am more interested in the 3D wood carvings of the East Greenland coastline, with the details of inlets and islands in sculptural relief. These could be employed by at night in conjunction with the stars, feeling your way along the coastline, navigating at an intimate scale.
I wonder if tactile maps could be extrapolated to other domains–what would a tactile BART map feel like? What about an archaeological map? Would the relief become sharper under our fingertips as we came closer to concentrations of artifacts, living spaces? Would it become hot as we came closer to the hearth, cool as we traveled to a periphery? I’ll have to try it sometime–the reaction of a field director as I handed her a carved stick after survey might be worth it.
Here’s a slightly better picture–my pdf-scrape to jpg job above didn’t turn out very well:
26 thoughts on “Tactile Maps and Imaginary Geographies”
I learned about anthropomorphic maps from the linguist Dan Moonhawk Alford (deceased) and the anthropologist Stan Knowlton. They described the maps of Napi, the creator of the Blackfoot Indians (aka The Old Man) and his wife (The Old Woman) in Alberta, Canada. I “found” similar maps of a male body (Hermes ?) in the Middle East and a female body (Aphrodite) in north Africa.
Correlating geography with anatomy to make maps
Anthropomorphic maps were generated by configuring the body of a god or goddess over the area to be mapped. The name of each part of that body became the name of the area under that part. This produced a scale 1:1 map-without-paper on which each placename automatically indicated its approximate location and direction with respect to every other place on the same map whose name was produced in this way.
You are cordially invited to join the BPMaps discussion group on this topic, a very quiet list that averages about 2 messages per month. The URL is:
The Challenge: To produce computer software that will find additional body-part maps elsewhere in the world. Available inputs:
(1) geographic databases with ancient place names (e.g., the Perseus project).
(2) body-part names on Swadesh lists. Unfortunately, the navel is not included.
Attributes of Anthropomorphic Maps
(1) The navel is the center of the body, the center of the map, and usually the center of the map’s language community.
(2) Place names (toponyms) may be reversed, metathesized, misspelled or euphemized for various reasons:
(a) The same part in the same language exists on another map of a different body. Cranium > Mo[n]rocco because Ukraine existed? Aphrodite is looking backwards over her right shoulder. She is bent at her waist (Misr/Mitzraim = MoSNaiM).
(b) The left (sinister) part is altered in names for left-right pairs (arms, legs, eyes, ears). DoFeN = side reversed to Nafud in north Arabia. SHvK = thigh with a T-sound for the letter shin = TvK reversed to Kuwait. BeReKH = knee metathesized to Bahrain.
(c) Names that represent taboo body parts or funcitons are reversed or euphemized:
Semitic PoS (female pudenda) reverses to yam SooF = sea of reeds (Red Sea).
Mare Rubrum (Latin for Red See) was her menstruation
CaNa3an (3 = aiyin with a G-sound as in 3aZa = Gaza) is a reversal of Greek gyneco-.
Sinai = “snatch” is spelled SiNi in Hebrew. The aleph=CHS is intentionally missing.
ZaYiN = weapon (a euphemism for his male member) is in Sinai as the desert of Zin.
(3) Names may be loan-translated due to conquest or language-change.
(a) Roxolania (Semitic Ro[chs]SH = head) => Rus *( Ro@SH) => Ukraine (Greek kranion)
* Caused by a change in the sound of the aleph from CHS to a glottal stop.
(b) Libya (Semitic LeB = heart) => Cyrenaica (Latin cor = heart, compare coronary) => Libya
(4) Rivers and bodies of water may be named after bodily excretions:
(a) Milk River in Alberta.
(b) Red Sea (Latin Mare Rubrum) is Aphrodite’s menstruation.
(c) Gulf of Aqaba (Semitic QaVaH = digestion/defecation)
(5) Internal body parts may represent subdivisions of external parts.
(a) Arabic Misr / Hebrew Mitzraim (< TSaR = narrow) = waist (Hebrew MoSNaim). Egypt (< Greek hepato- = liver). Goshen (with a T-sound shin Latin Gossypium (English gossamer = cotton-like)
(b) Atlas mountains < atlas = first cervical vertebra that supports the cranium.
(6) Islands near a body’s hands may be named for weapons.
(a) Trinacria = trident ( Sicily (< VL *sicila < Latin secula = sickle to harvest wheat; compare Semitic SaKiN = knife). The trident was in Neptune / Poseidon’s right hand (Italy, like Anatolia < N’TiLas yad = arm being washed by the seas).
(b) Greece = reversal of Semitic S’RoG = (weighted) net, held in his left hand.
(c) Crete = reversal of targe = small shield (compare English target) also in his left hand.
The map of Aphrodite is in north Africa. Her face [PaNim] was lost during the 3rd Punic war. The rest of her is still there. She is looking backwards over her right shoulder, so her CRaniuM is reversed at Morocco. It still has a Fez. Her chin [SaNTir] is reversed at Tunisia. The Atlas (anatomy: first cervical vertebra) mountains support her head. Her hair [Sa3aRa] is the Sahara desert. Her backbone [amood SHiDRa] is the Gulf of Sidra. Her heart [LeB] is Libya. Her breast [SHaD] is Chad. Her narrow [TZaR] waist is Misr / Mitzraim. Her liver (Greek hepato-) is Egypt. Cotton (Arabic QuTN, Latin Gossypium) was exported from Goshen, her [QiTNit = bean]-shaped kidney. Her side [TZaD] is Sudan. Her other side [DoFeN] is Dafur. Her left [SMoL] leg is Somalia.
[NeGeV] is a reversal of vagina and may be related to [NeKeV] = aperture. [CaNa3aN] was her Latin cunnus (and a reversal of Greek gyneco-). Its name changed to [YiSRa@eL] at the time when [Ya3aKoV] / Jacob “fought with god and men” [Gen 32:29]. This represented a change in sovereignty from Africa to Asia minor.
[YiSRa@eL] is that body part that gives [@oSHeR] = delight to [@eL] = god when it is [YaSHaR] = straight, upright. Changing Jacob’s name from [Ya3aKoV] = “ankle; curved, bent” to [YiSRa@eL] = “straight, upright + god” is a well-known Hebrew pun.
The body-part map of Hermes is in Asia minor. kHermes [kHoR = hole + MoSnaim = waist] lived at Mt. kHermon before he moved Mt. Olympus (Greek omphalos = navel). Later his name was reversed to become Latin Mercury. Compare Amerigo Vespucci and America.
His head [Ro@SH] was at Roxolania/Rus, south of Belarus. Its name changed to the Ukraine (Gk kranion = cranium, *not *Slavic u kraina = to/at the border). His throat [GaRGeret] is Georgia. His left shoulder [KaSaF] is the Caspian sea. His right shoulder [@aTZiL] was Euxinus, now the Black Sea. His right arm/hand is being washed [NaTiLat] at Anatolia. His upper arm (Sanskrit irma) at Armenia, biceps (Greek pontiki = muscle) at Pontus, elbow [KiFooF yaD] at Cappadocia, wrist [m’FaReK] at Phrygia, and thumb [BoHeN] at Bithynia were in Anatolia. His heart (Greek cardia) became Kurdistan. His narrow [TZaR] waist is Syria and his navel (Sanskrit nabhila) reverses to LeBaNon.
South of Lebanon is the male member (Greek phallus) named Philistina. See [CaNa3aN / YiSRa@eL] above. His buttocks [YeReKH] is Iraq. His thigh [shin-vav-kuf] sounded like TvK and reversed to Kuwait. His knee [BeReKH] is partially reversed in Bahrain. His right [Y’MiN] foot is at Yemen.
These two bodies are connected, literally, at Sinai (with an aleph that is not written in Hebrew, compare “snatch”, a reversal of [K’NiSah] = entrance), a part of her body that contains the desert of Zin, his “zaiyin”.
Aphrodite as an Anthropomorphic Map
The goddess we call Aphrodite
Is not just an old Grecian deity.
The Phoenicians did make
Her a map. It’s not fake.
Her body is cartograffiti.
The Punic war destroyed her face,
The Romans left nary a trace.
But her hair is still there,
In Sahara, that’s where.
And her chin’s a Tunisian place.
Mt. Atlas is her first verTebra.
Her backbone is now Gulf of Sidra.
Her heart is in Libya,
Her left leg, Somalia.
Her breast is in Chad wearing no bra.
The Greeks called her liver Egypt, an’
Her kidney was Biblical Goshen.
She’s bent at her waist,
Now Misr-ably placed.
The Red Sea was her menstruation.
As a kid I did think the Red Sea
Was an English map typo: lost E,
From Reed Sea in Hebrew.
But that could not be true,
Mare Rubrum ’twas Latin, B.C.
Aphrodite with Hermes did sin,
We know this is true ’cause within
Her “snatch” we call Sinai
His “zaiyin” does still lie.
It’s known as the desert of Zin.
Israel “izzy” Cohen, BPMaps moderator
I hope you got that MidSav, because I lost my way a few paragraphs in.
I totally am in awe of this blog. totally going to need to
remember to add this to my bookmarks.