Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
China's Oldest Map Volume 51 Number 2, March/April 1998
by Huang Yan and Yang Xinhe

A group of scientists appraising artifacts in the Hebei Provincial Museum at Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, have discovered that a quarter-inch thick copper plate bears the world's oldest map clearly marked with distances. The 2,300-year-old map marks the locations of buildings in the five mausoleums of Wang Cuo (344-313 B.C.), his queen, and his concubines. Called the Zhao Yu Tu ("map of the area of the mausoleum"), it was excavated in the late 1970s in Pingshan County, south-central Hebei Province. Wang was the fifth king of the Zhongshan Kingdom, one of dozens of principalities that flourished during the Warring States period (476-221 B.C.).

"It is not only the oldest map ever found in China but the oldest numeral-bearing map in the world," says Du Naisong, a researcher with the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City. Thirty-seven inches long and 19 inches wide, the map marks more than 70 locations, and symbols, numerals, and epigraphs are inlaid with gold and silver. Unlike modern maps, the Zhao Yu Tu has south on top and north on the bottom. One-half inch equals 16.5 feet on the map's scale.

Also found on the map was a 42-character imperial edict ordering construction of the mausoleum. The king also asks that two copies of the Zhao Yu Tu be made, one to be stored in the Zhongshan imperial court, the other to be buried with him. The second copy has not been found.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America