Mapmakers use symbols to identify different characteristics of the physical and cultural landscape on a map. In order to convey information about cities, mountains, rivers and other regional features in a single document, such details must be reduced in complexity and represented by symbols that readers can understand easily. Often these symbols are familiar, but in some cases cartographers use unusual ones.
This map was created by the Catawba, and represents their social network. It also records how they related to the colonists in Charleston, South Carolina. What symbols did they choose?
Mouse over the map to examine the symbols.
Unknown Catawba, MAP DESCRIBING THE SITUATION OF THE SEVERAL NATIONS OF INDIANS BETWEEN SOUTH CAROLINA AND THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER (c. 1720). Courtesy of the Newberry Library.
The circles on this map represent individual Native American societies.
This symbol represents a European ship in Charleston harbor.
This grid represents the layout of Charleston, South Carolina. Its rectangular shape clearly identifies it as a different kind of settlement than those of the Native Americans.
This large symbol of a Native American man appears between the symbols for the Virginia colony and the various Native tribes.
This rectangle represents the Virginia colony. Like the symbol for Charleston, it distinguishes the European settlements from those of the Native Americans.
The lines between the circles highlight the alliances among the Native American groups.