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Portolan Charts

Young Navigators - Activities



Activity Ideas for Grades 4-12

A Day in the Life

Materials: Pen or pencil, paper

Preparation: Study the Maps and Mapmakers web site using the Young Navigator aids. Research in the library.

Activity: Imagine you are a mapmaker who must gather information in order to draw a map. Write an essay titled "A Day in the Life of [student name] in 1424 [or 1466 or 1489 or 1507]. Imagine life as it was in that year. Use the history timeline and the maps to help visualize history and bring it to life. Most of all, remember the things you won't have!

Make Copies

Materials: A print of one of the maps, a hat pin or some fine pointed tool, a dark colored powder, a light colored paper, pencil.

Preparation: Review the Maps and Mapmakers web site, especially the Portolan Mysteries section. Become familiar with the old maps and read about how they were copied.

Activity: In the Portolan Chart Mysteries, Professor Carol Urness describes how the early mapmakers copied the maps. In one example, they poke tiny holes along the outline of the map and place it over the new vellum. Then, they dust the holes with powder so that it creates an outline on the new map. They remove the old map and draw a line over the powder lines. This starts them on the new map. Then, they refer to the original to draw the details.

Try this in the classroom. Select one entire map or shapes from several maps. For instance, a team of students can make a collection of the various shapes of Italy or Spain. By putting them all on one page, students will see how the mapmakers corrected old information and how the maps begin to take shape.

Take the comparisons one step further by using this method to copy a modern map.

Compass Roses

Materials: Paper - colored or plain, crayons or markers, compass to draw circles and to divide them, pencils

Preparation: Look at the compass roses found on the maps in the Maps and Mapmakers web site. Look at others that you find in books or CDs.

Activity: Begin by drawing a circle on the paper. Then, divide it as many times as desired - 4 or 8 or 16. Once the circle is divided, the points can be marked, Cardinal points first. Then a design can be created by coloring and/or adding more geometrical shapes. Mark the North, South, East and West carefully.

When the compass roses are complete, an extension for the computer is to scan them. Then, with an image program, sew them together to form a digital quilt. This will surprise you with its splendor!

Rhumbs for You

Materials: Local map with at least 100 miles radius from the center point for each team, compass for drawing a circle, straightedge for drawing lines, pencils

Preparation: Look at the rhumb lines on the Portolan Charts on the Maps and Mapmakers web site. See how they are formed and how they are connected.

Activity: Select a map that includes your community. Draw a circle with your town as the center point and enclosing a space of 100 miles in all directions from the town. Select 5-10 key locations that students often visit - or where parents work, etc. within the circle. Mark them clearly. Starting at the center, draw straight lines that connect as many of the locations as possible. Do this with each of the locations.

Look at your rhumb lines. Do they form one or more circles? Do you need to add some to make a circle? Do the rhumb lines fall along any major roads? Do they follow any rivers? Could you use the rhumb lines to go from one place to another on the map?

Note: Rhumb lines are used on the water, not usually on land. This exercise is meant to give a better understanding of the early mapmakers' task and the level of detail required to do it well.