20 Terrible Maps To Make You Laugh and Leave You Speechless

The best of the worst to get you nowhere.
Michael Michael (154)
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We understand the world and our position in it through maps. But what happens when maps go terribly wrong...we're talking hilariously wrong? Well, it means that our idea of things might also be incredibly misguided.

We've researched the most inaccurate, terrible, bad head-scratchers of maps and had a lot of fun doing it. It's fascinating to see how our perception of the world evolved, as cartographers found new and innovative methods to perfect map making.

Our list includes everything from inaccurate ancient maps to pointless contemporary maps. We've excluded from this list novelty maps made for just laughs. We wanted to find maps that actually missed that mark...like really missed the mark.

Enjoy!

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Babylon World Map
Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the Imago Mundi, this Babylonian clay tablet dates back to around 6th century BC. It depicts the heart of Babylon and the Euphrates river, which is exactly where it was found.

ancient babylon map

If you zoom in on the map portion, you notice that ancient Babylonians put themselves at the center of a world that extended only as far as Mesopotamia. Because they were surrounded on many sides by water and mountains, we can see how they might have had this impression. And heck, we all know a few people who still believe they're the center of the world.

2012 Political Map
Reddit

Taken directly from a school planner, we're not really sure how this map would help a student with geography! There are so many things wrong with this map that it would be impossible to list them all. The USA seems to have taken over Canada. China has changed its flag. And we can't even begin to describe what's happening in the Middle East!

Greenland and Iceland as US colonies

Greenland and Iceland us colonies

Someone should probably tell Greenland and Iceland that they are now official colonies of the United States!

What inaccuracies do you spot in this map?! Tell us in the comments below.

ancient world map 5th century
Wikimedia Commons

This 6th century BC map of the world highlights the problems with creating a "world map" without the capability of traveling the vast oceans. The map includes only vague sections of Europe, Libya. Many explorers believed that if they traversed too far into the ocean, they would fall off the end of the world.

Columns of Hercules

Columns of Hercules on map

One thing to note on the map is the marking for the "Columns of Hercules." The Columns of Hercules (now referred to as the Rock of Gibraltar) marked the entrance to the straight of Gibraltar, separating Europe and Africa. This shows how ancient explorers would use geographical landmarks for navigation and a sense of a place's geography.

Rock of Gibraltar (Modern Day)

Modern day rock of Gibraltar

And here's what the explorers would have seen and what the rock looks like today.

bunting clover leaf map
Wikimedia Commons

During the 13th-16th centuries, many terribly inaccurate maps placed Jerusalem at the center of a rectangular world divided into three equal parts. This late 16th-century map by Heinrich Bunting of Germany shows the ways that religion began to shape people's conception of their world and influence our sense of geography as well.

Discovery of America

bunting clover leaf map America

We do give this maps props for two things, however. First, it's actually just a lovely artifact and picture. Second, it does include the newly discovered "America" on the bottom left corner—albeit a bit too small, as America hadn't been fully explored yet.

Hollow Earth Theory Map

It wasn't that long ago that scientists still defended the theory that the Earth was actually a hollow object with vast caverns of mystical creatures. Oh, science! It's one of the more fascinating mistakes, based in part on erroneous data taken from volcanoes and theories of cave structures extending all the way to the center of the Earth. The view took hold in the scientific community in the 18th century and continued until the mid-19th century. The US even commissioned an official expedition to try to explore the regions inside the Earth.

What lives in the hollow Earth?

hollow earth creature

The stories of what took place inside of the hollow parts of the Earth are many and really, really wild. Some stories involve massive giants that throw up the fire in the form of lava. Other reports speak about living, speaking trees who water human savages the way we water plants. And then there's the creature above...whatever that thing is!

Hollow Earth map

hollow earth map

To give you an even better idea of just how substantial the Hollow Earth theory became, here's an official map of what scientists conjectured the inside of the Earth consisted of. This was based on reports, myths, and theories based on where volcanoes were located in the world.

tabula rogeriana world map
Wikimedia Commons

For its time (12th century AD), the Tabula Rogeriana was a surprisingly accurate world map. It was created by Al-Idrisi from the detailed feedback of Arab merchants who traveled the world to trade. While it's remarkably accurate, it still shows the limitations that travel made on those seeking an accurate world view.

1456 circular version of Al-Idrisi map

1456 al-idrisi map

Another, even rarer, version of an Al-Idrisi world map shows the world more correctly depicted as a sphere. It's still way behind its time in terms of exploration, but it does a decent job with certain parts of the world. It also depicts the edge of the world as surrounded by impassable mountains.

Useless map Obama Nation
Reddit

When newspapers like the Washington Post forget that they are actually printing in black and white, some hilarious things can ensue. The above map of the US attempts to demonstrate graphically how the nation voted in the previous election. The problem is that they forget it would be black and white. Not a very helpful demonstration after all!

Da Ming Hu Yi Tu map

This 14th-century Chinese world map shows how the Chinese viewed the world around them, which like other cultures, placed themselves at the center. On this Ming Dynasty-era map, China takes up the vast expanse of the land throughout the center, while Europe only occupies a tiny corner in the upper western part of the map.

whole foods map of Europe
Pinterest

Whole Foods says goodbye to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands completely with this map that appeared at their locations for quite a long time. They've also managed to pull Spain and Portugal into the Mediterain Sea. We need to take a few moments to gain some perspective after seeing this travesty!

beatus t and o map

Maps like this one made by Beatus of Libeana in the 8th century became the prevailing map that informed people's understanding of the world. The "T and O maps," standing for orbis terrarum were the officially approved map by the Roman Catholic church and thus the only ones allowed in certain parts of the world.

What is a T and O map?

t and o map example

There's a long and interesting story to "T and O maps." Briefly, the map is based on the hypothesis of Christian scholar Isidore of Seville, who divided the world into three parts of flat, circular space. What's on the other side of the map, then? According to Isidore, things that were unfit to behold!

Cnn mislabels Hong Kong
Pinterest

Not only does CNN misplace Hong Kong, but they put it on a completely different continent. The fact that the story mentions deadly killer giant hornets should be enough to scare the people living in Brazil, considering that they've been targeted at the center of the disaster!

Chinese official maps

We don't want to get political here, but it's interesting that the official map used in China differs slightly from many of the maps of China used by the rest of the world. In fact, you could be fined or even jailed for bringing a "false" map to China when visiting.

US-version of China map

US-version of Chinese Map

Much of the dispute involves the area of Taiwan, which China does recognize as an independent country. Chinese maps color the province of Taiwan the same color as mainland China, while US maps may not.

cotton world maps
Virtual Mappa

This 11th century Anglo-Saxon map divides the areas of the world as it was known to Britain at the time. And...what can we say...it's just a little off. The map greatly exaggerated the areas of the east due to the lack of exploration at the time. Some thought that the Eastern lands went on perhaps forever.

The Red Sea (and rivers) in Ancient Maps

red sea and rivers in ancient map

Notice the color of the rivers and seas toward the eastern edge of the map? Early mapmakers misinterpreted accounts of the Red Sea and actually thought that the bodies of the water to the east were really red!

Virtual Mappa Project

Virtual Mappa Project

There's an incredible interactive version of the Cotton World Map at the Virtua Mappa Project, which digitally stores select ancient maps.

falcons fly london or spain

Taken from the official Atlanta Falcons homepage, this map demonstrates the Falcons' travel plans as they head...wait...where?!

While the Internation NFL competition takes place in London, the map mistakenly shows the team headed more toward Spain. Looks like someone at the Falcons didn't study up on their European geography.

Nova Granada California

You might think that this map was some kind of prediction for the future of California. But, no, this was a persistent error by much of Europe throughout the early investigations of the western parts of the United States. The mistake became spread after this false map was stolen from Spain. The idea of California as an island even made its way into some literature of the time. This 17th-century map of the island of California is evidence that we had a long way to come in terms of mapping what would be the western areas of the US.

New Holland
Pinterest

The mapmaker of this 18th-century map of Australia (called New Holland) admits the inaccuracies of the map he has created. The map only shows the western part of Australia because the eastern side had yet to be explored.

Eastern Half of Australia

Eastern Edge of New Holland

Many during the 18th-century feared exploration of the eastern part of Australia due to exaggerated accounts of cannibals and natives. Some geographers began to mistakenly assume that the eastern part of Australia actually extended a great deal further than it did, almost to the extent of Europe itself.

Early Alaska Map
Pinterest

It's a safe bet that you're looking at a map that's not very accurate when you see maps with large, rounded edges. This 18th-century map of Alaska has some of the roundest edges we've ever seen. The map was created mostly from conjecture and false reports about the lands of Australia and Japan.

Northwest Passage

northwest passage early map

Early explorers of the region believed that Alaska connected to Asia somehow—whether at Japan as depicted in this map or via Siberia. This assumption continued well into the 19th century until it was determined that there was no Northwest Passage. However, scientists today believe that at some point in the Earth's history, there was a Northwest Passage connecting Alaska and Asia.

plane crash graphic
Pinterest

How often does Mongolia make it onto a map that only labels 6 countries? And when did the mapmaker decide to remove France altogether? Notice, too, that while they used country names for their labels, they decided to use the continent name of Africa. This definitely is a head-scratching graphic that leaves us wondering why they decided to label it at all.

Mountains of Kong
Pinterest

What happens when gossip about a mysterious mountain range off Africa's western coast is believed as truth? You get the Mountains of Kong! The Mountains of Kong are a complete invention, based on false reports by explorers of the area.

The name of Kong

Kong in Mountains of Kong

Like King Kong of legend, the name is derived from what would later be known as the Congo. The name itself is actually a Korean surname but is unlikely to be the source of the naming of the area.

Rupes Nigra
Pinterest

When early explorers found that their compasses always pointed toward the North Pole, they assumed that there must be a giant magnetic land mass there. Sounds reasonable, right? And that assumption is what gives us maps like this 16th-century gem of what they hypothesized the North Pole to be—a giant magnetic island called Rupes Nigra (Latin for Black Rock).

Magnetic island

magnetic north pole island

You can see in the close-up that map-makers surrounded the theoretical island on all sides by mountainous terrain. This shows that the island could not be gotten to and helped explain the Polus Articus.

Michael's profile pictureMichael
Joined in 2020 154 guides
A maker at heart, Michael loves all things DIY. Michael is an award-winning poet, writer, and editor. He has published two books of poetry and has writing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and many others. He has taught writing at colleges across the country, and managed many leading literary magazines to national prominence. Now, he's excited to devote his energies full time to Howchoo. He currently resides in the Tampa-area with his wife and puppy.
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