Waving to the Great Mapmaker in the Sky
Some intriguing examples of people grooming the land for the unseen observer above.
- All over the world, people are writing messages and symbols on the land that can only be seen from above.
- These messages are not for God, but for our fellow humans – pilots, balloonists, or an abstract Mapmaker in the Sky.
- Non-symbolic communication with the heavens can be traced back to a cartographic innovation by Da Vinci.
Da Vinci's satellite map
Leonardo da Vinci's paradigm-shifting map of the Italian town of Imola (ca. 1502).
Image: Leonardo da Vinci - public domain
In Minnesota, there's a forest shaped like Minnesota. You wouldn't know it when you're near it, or even in it; you can only see it when you're flying above it.
Across the world, people have altered the land to write messages that are invisible on the ground and can only be seen by – well, by whom, exactly? Airplane pilots and their passengers, hot-air balloonists, satellites, and the Great Mapmaker in the Sky. But why?
When is easier to answer, for this kind of message to the heavens above is a relatively modern phenomenon¹, which can be traced back to a map produced by Leonardo da Vinci.
Produced centuries before the launch of the first satellite, or even the first hot-air balloon, Da Vinci's map of the Italian city of Imola (ca. 1502) is the world's first straight-from-above map.
Until then, city maps had used the hillside (a.k.a. bird's-eye) perspective, showing their subjects aslant. These panoramic pictures were pretty, perhaps; but usually inexact and certainly incomplete.
For his Imola map, Da Vinci used the ichnographic perspective – a concept developed by the Roman architect Vitruvius to describe the art of drawing realistic ground plans, as if observed from directly above.
The map pleased Da Vinci's paymaster Cesare Borgia, for it provided better military intelligence than traditional, postcard-style city maps; but more importantly, it changed cartography forever.
Out with the oblique perspective went symbolism and embellishment. Today, virtually all maps are ichnographic – hard data observed straight from above.
The change is part of a larger paradigm shift, from a theocentric worldview to a human-centered one. From time immemorial, people have felt the gaze of Higher Authority bear down on them from on high.
But something crucial in that relationship started changing in the Renaissance. The increasingly accurate attempts at depicting the world from above brought down a new kind of scrutiny: quantifiable measurements instead of moral judgments.
And that warrants a different kind of response. You converse with the divine by building temples, churches, and mosques that reach skyward with magnificent domes and spires. You can talk back to the Great Mapmaker in the Sky in a more vernacular language. Like showing him a map of your state; or spelling out the name of your favorite car brand; or building the world's biggest guitar out of trees.
Emmery's Celtic cross
The cross became visible with the turning of the leaves in the fall of 2016.
In 2016, air passengers flying into Derry airport in Northern Ireland spotted a giant Celtic cross in the treetops of Killea, just across the border in country Donegal, in the republic of Ireland.
Local forester Liam Emmery created the pattern around 2005 by planting two different types of trees. Sadly, Mr Emmery died in 2010, six years before his creation became visible.
The figure, more than 100 m long and 70 m wide, is named the Emmery Celtic Cross in his memory. According to local horticultural experts, Emmery's cross could remain visible for up to the next 70 years.
The heart is farmer Winston Howes' monument to his wife Janet, who died in 1995.
Image: Google Earth
When Janet Howes died suddenly in 1995, her heartbroken husband of 33 years was determined to build her a lasting memorial. Winston Howes planted thousands of oak saplings on a six-acre field near his farm in Wickwar, Gloucestershire.
In the middle of the field, he left a heart-shaped area clear of trees; the heart's point is oriented towards Wotton Hill, Janet's childhood home. The trees have now grown to create a heart-shaped oasis for Winston to remember his wife in.
The remarkable monument to love cannot be seen from the road, and remained a secret until it was noticed in 2012 by a passing hot-air balloonist. In spring, daffodils come up in the clearing, enhancing the beauty of Mr Howes' bittersweet retreat.
As Luecke would have it
The 'autograph' is so large that NASA has used it to calibrate its orbital instruments.
Image: Google Earth
In the early 1980s, Jimmie Luecke struck it rich in the chalk oil boom in Texas. With his seven-figure oil fortune, he went into the cattle business, and bought a ranch 50 miles east of Austin.
When clearing new grazing land in the late 1990s, Luecke had the luminous idea to leave large, long strips of pine forest untouched, creating a 2.5-mile long version of his name, in capital letters – surely, the largest autograph the world has ever seen.
It's a signature so large that NASA in 2003 used it to calibrate the spatial resolution of the photographs taken by its astronauts. It's also a familiar sight to pilots and passengers flying in and out of Houston airport.
Studebaker lives on
The trees next to Studebaker's former proving ground still spell out the defunct brand's name.
Image: Google Earth
Studebaker, the U.S. car brand, has been dead since 1966. But Studebaker, the forest, lives on. Rows of trees still communicate the name to the heavens at the defunct manufacturer's former proving grounds, now Bendix Woods County Park, due west of South Bend, Indiana.
In 1926, Studebaker was the first U.S. car manufacturer to inaugurate an outdoor proving ground. In 1937, when Studebaker was still merrily churning out Commanders, President,s and Dictators (sic), the company planted 5,000 pine trees there to spell out its name.
Rumors that the former proving ground also was a Studebaker graveyard was confirmed when the remains of a number of never-produced prototypes were found. Only a few were in a well enough state to be rescued, including a Champion station wagon now on display at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
Breaking the monotony of the Pampas squares - the unexpected shape of a guitar
Image: NASA Earth Observatory - public domain
From the sky, Argentina's fertile Pampas are parceled out into an interminable tapestry of squares in all possible sizes and combinations. But that monotony is broken near the town of Laboulaye by the recognizably round shape of a guitar.
The instrument was created in 1979 by local farmer Pedro Martin Ureta, as a tribute to his wife Graciela, who sadly died during childbirth two years prior. The guitar is made up of more than 7,000 cypress and eucalyptus trees, and stretches two thirds of a mile across the landscape.
The guitar is huge enough to be observed not just by planes flying overhead, but also from space. This image was taken in November 2007 by the Advanced Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on the Terra satellite.
48,000 photovoltaic cells arranged in the unmistakeable profile of Mickey Mouse.
Image: Google Earth
Rather understandably, the Disney Corporation has a Mickey Mouse fetish. It makes a sport of inserting 'hidden Mickeys' into the landscape, which often can only be observed from above.
There's one in Disneyland Drive, leading into the corporation's theme park in Orlando, Florida. There used to be a Mickey-shaped forest just north of the park, but that's been felled.
A more recent incarnation is the unmistakeable shape of Mickey Mouse's mug made up of 48,000 photovoltaic cells, spread out over 20 acres, producing an average of 10.5 million kWh per year.
This Minnesota-shaped forest started as a clearing back in the 1990s.
Image: Google Earth
This homage to Minnesota was created on state forest land, managed by the DNR Division of Forestry. It is located about 4 miles south of Faunce, in northern Minnesota's Forest Area Township, halfway between Red Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Back in the 1990s, forest engineer Bill Lockner was tasked with clearing away dying pine trees when he allowed himself some fun in the process. He cleared an area with the exact contours of the North Star state.
Over the years, younger trees grew up in the clearing; and when in the early 2000s the surrounding older-growth pines were cut, what was left was the current Minnesota-shaped forest.
Strange Maps #1039
Do you know of any other geoglyphs or other types of land art that were made specifically and exclusively for being observed from above? Let me know at email@example.com.
(1) Despite ongoing uncertainty about their age and purpose, ancient geoglyphs such as the Nazca Lines or the so-called White Horses of England can be observed from nearby elevations, and thus were most likely not made for being observed from above.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.