Early African Cartography
The earliest African maps may be the petroglyphs found in the Sahara
Desert and southern Africa. The first printed representations of
northern Africa, drawn by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second
century AD, dominated European ideas about African geography until
Portuguese explorers redrew the continent's coastal profile during
the Renaissance. The first complete coastal depiction of the continent
was made after Portuguese seamen rounded Africa's southern tip in
the fifteenth century. If the Chinese had continued their maritime
explorations of Africa, they may have rounded the Cape of Good Hope
before the Portuguese, though coming from the opposite direction.
Chinese charts of the East Coast were well developed by the time
of China's premiere military leader and explorer Cheng Ho died in
the 1430s. Cheng Ho's death marked the end of China's mapping and
maritime expeditions in Africa. Two hundred years later, as Europeans
penetrated Africa in search of resources and scientific data, detailed
cartographic descriptions of Africa's interior began to fill in.
But many fundamental questions about the continent's interior, such
as the location of the Congo River's headwaters, were not solved
until the late nineteenth century.