From Slate: In the early days of mapmaking, the seas were full of monsters. Close to port or in well-explored ship­ping lanes, stout frigates and galleons were depicted in full sail, but farther out, a remark­able diver­sity of sea serpents and other bizarre crea­tures ploughed the waves. On land as well, uncharted terri­to­ries were gener­ously popu­lated with legendary figures both pagan and reli­gious, both human and … clearly other­wise.

The weird bestiary at the edges of maps was in large part an artistic deci­sion, a chance for cartog­ra­phers to fill in ugly white spaces of the still-unex­plored Earth and to stretch their creative wings. (Engraving awesome, foam-spouting behe­moths must have been a nice break from tracing the coast of Mexico for the umpteenth time.) But they also served as a reminder of the very real dangers faced by the explorers of the day. No one knew what was out there, and many who left didn’t come back. · Go to A history of map monsters →