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Imaginary Maps in Literature and Beyond: “Not all those who wander are lost”

This blog post is part of a summer series on imaginary maps, written by Hannah Stahl, a Library Technician in the Geography & Map Division. Read the introductory post to the series here.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

– J.R.R. Tolkien

The poem above is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s series The Lord of the Rings. It makes a perfect start to this week’s post on the most famous and influential imaginary map: the map of Middle-earth. The map of Middle-earth included in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings allows the reader to wander freely around his fantasy world simply by letting their eyes roam around the map. Does this mean that the reader is lost? Lost maybe in the wonder of the story, but not actually lost in descriptions of places in Middle-earth in Tolkien’s books because the reader has the map for guidance.

The map of Middle-earth we know today started with the maps Tolkien created for reference while he was writing the series to help him visualize the story. Realizing that these reference tools would be incredibly valuable to his readers as well, he decided to include a version of these maps in the published books. Because Tolkien was having difficulty making the geography of Middle-earth fit exactly on the page the way he imagined it, he enlisted the help of his son Christopher to create the maps. The first edition of The Lord of the Rings contained three maps: a general map of Middle-earth, a map of the Shire, and a detailed map showing Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor. The first edition received praise, including a review by author and friend of Tolkien C.S. Lewis. Since then, scholars have fought over its literary merit and The Lord of the Rings has had a profound effect on the fantasy genre. It is summed up best by a post on The Map Room blog:

The Lord of the Rings doesn’t just give us the ur [original, earliest]-text of modern fantasy; it also gives us, in its map of the western part of Middle-earth, the ur-map: the progenitor map from which the modern fantasy map design is descended. All the elements Ekman discerns in the typical modern fantasy map can be found in the maps in The Lord of the Rings: coastlines and rivers, oblique mountains, towns and territories.

One example of the influence of Tolkien on modern fantasy can be found in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In an interview at the Edinburgh International Book Festival George R.R. Martin mentions that Tolkien has been a huge influence on his work: “I revere Lord of the Rings, I reread it every few years, it had an enormous effect on me as a kid. In some sense, when I started this saga I was replying to Tolkien, but even more to his modern imitators…I wanted to combine the wonder and image of Tolkien fantasy with the gloom of historical fiction.” In other words, Martin wanted to create a rich fictional world a reader could lose themselves in, like Martin felt when he read The Lord of the Rings. While Martin’s story and themes in A Song of Ice and Fire are different from those in The Lord of the Rings, a large part of both of those worlds consists of topography and the journeys of characters through it.

Let’s take a moment to examine the maps that appear in each work. The maps below are from A Game of Thrones, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in The Lord of the Rings.

Middle Earth
Map of Middle-Earth from The Fellowship of the Ring. Library of Congress, General Collection.
North Westeros
Map of the North (North Westeros) from A Game of Thrones. Library of Congress, General Collection.

As mentioned earlier, the quintessential elements of the fantasy map are present in both illustrations: oblique mountains, rivers, and coastlines. Both maps have a compass rose that only indicates where north is on the map. Both maps also have a similar style: They are vaguely pictorial in design. Their design is more illustrative than technical. Compare these maps to a road map and the difference becomes clear.

Road maps and other maps that are more technical in nature are generally less artistic. There are also almost no blank spaces on a road map. Every inch of Roberts’ Road Map of the District of Columbia above is covered in lines of all different types. Some signify roads, others boundaries, and still others rivers. A pictorial map is meant to emphasize certain elements of an area, which the map of Middle-earth does well. All of the important areas and topography mentioned in The Lord of the Rings are illustrated here. Blank spaces on the map of Middle-earth signify unimportant or obvious elements of Middle-earth that are unessential to the story.

Roberts' Road Map
W.F. Roberts, Roberts’ Road Map of the District of Columbia and adjoining portions of Maryland and Virginia. 1896. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Speaking of important topography, it is interesting to note that on the map of Middle-earth and the map of The North, there are barriers between the rest of the world and evil forces. For Middle-earth, mountain ranges including Ered Lithui (Mountains of Ash) and Ephel Duath (Mountains of Shadow) form a protective barrier between Mordor and the rest of Middle-earth, making it hard for enemy forces to invade Mordor. In Westeros, The Wall separates the rest of the world from evils such as the giants, the Wildings, and the White Walkers. The Wall is a 700 feet tall and 300 mile long fortification made out of ice. It separates the rest of Westeros from the Land of Always Winter, where the White Walkers dwell.

Mordor Detail
Detail of Mordor in the map of Middle Earth from The Fellowship of the Ring. Library of Congress, General Collection.
Wall in the North
Detail of the Wall in the North from A Game of Thrones. Library of Congress, General Collection.

It is also important to discuss the significance of place names in The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. Place names chosen by Martin and Tolkien convey the rich history of Westeros and Middle-earth. Place names also show the influence of history on Tolkien and Martin. For example, “Middle-earth” comes from the Old-English word Middangeard, which became middel-erde in Middle English. In a letter to Houghton Mifflin Co., Tolkien translates Middangeard/middel-erde as, “the name for inhabited lands of Men ‘between the seas.'” He goes on to say that he uses this name to indicate that the stories of The Lord of the Rings are meant to take place “in a period of the actual Old World of this planet.” Using a variation of an Old-English word as the name of his fantasy world shows the influence history had on Tolkien, and therefore on the characters and history of The Lord of the Rings.

In addition, the place names in The Lord of the Rings are tied linguistically to the history of Middle-earth. Gondor, for example, was originally populated by Númenóreans. These peoples inhabited Middle-earth during the First Age and formed an alliance with the Elves. Because Númenóreans spoke Elvish, generally place names in Gondor are a form of Elvish. One example is Minas Tirith, which means the “tower of the guard” in Elvish.

Minas Tirith
Detail of Minas Tirith in the map of Middle-earth from The Fellowship of the Ring. Library of Congress, General Collection.

The place names that appear on the maps of Westeros in A Game of Thrones show the seats of powerful noble families, like Winterfell and Riverrun. Like Tolkien, this use of place names harkens back to history in the real world. Martin, heavily influenced by medieval history, places importance on seats of power in the kingdom he has created. In medieval society, and in A Game of Thrones, the system in place was a feudal one in which the king owned all land but gave lands to members of the nobility to rule in his stead. Power and influence in A Game of Thrones is centered on this system, and on the castles that powerful families hold. Everyone knows that the Starks command Winterfell in the North and that the Lannisters command Casterly Rock in the South. Comparisons have been made between the enmity of Starks and Lannisters to the enmity of the Lancasters and the Yorks during the Wars of the Roses in medieval Europe.

Winterfell in the North
Detail of Winterfell in the North from A Game of Thrones. Library of Congress, General Collection.
Wall in the North
Detail of the Wall in the North from A Game of Thrones. Library of Congress, General Collection.

Also like Tolkien, Martin’s assignments of place names reflect the language and history of the worlds he has created. Instances of this include the names of settlements on the Dothraki Sea in Essos, which are in Dothraki instead of English. The city of Vaes Dothrak (City of Riders), where Daenerys, Khal Drogo, and Drogo’s khalasar travel to in A Game of Thrones is one example. The names of settlements in Westeros are in English, and look familiar to those of us who speak English. One example is the fortress Barrowton. “Ton” is Old English for estate or homestead. Examples of its use in modern day include Boston, Brighton, and Southampton.

This is where we end our analysis of the maps in A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings. We’ll be focusing on modern mapping of these fantasy worlds in the next post. Be prepared for some gorgeous maps of Westeros and Middle-earth next time, map lovers!

Bungled Borders in the Pacific Northwest (Part 2)

This is the second of a two part post on the Oregon Treaty and its aftermath. Part 1 can be found here.

Earlier this week, we left our story of the Oregon Treaty on its peculiar instructions for the border between British and American controlled lands: following the 49th parallel to the Strait of Georgia, and then following the “middle of the channel” to reach the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then ultimately the Pacific Ocean. The maritime route of the boundary established in the treaty accomplished a top British objective of retaining control of the entirety of Vancouver Island. But in the waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland of American territory, confusion over the “middle of the channel” meant that the San Juan Islands would become a flash point in the U.S./British boundary disputes of the Pacific Northwest.

The San Juan Islands are an archipelago in the Salish Sea that is a part of the present day U.S. state of Washington. Within this archipelago is San Juan Island, the most populous island in the archipelago and the specific setting for the ratcheting up of regional tensions described later in our story. The modern geography of the San Juan Islands archipelago can be seen below, in this extract from OpenStreetMap.

OSM San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands, Washington. Map Extract from OpenStreetMap, 2016. The thick purple line to the islands’ west is the U.S.-Canada border.

After 1846, in interpreting the Oregon Treaty, Americans argued that the Haro Strait (also known as the Canal de Haro) to the west of the San Juan Islands was the true boundary, as it was geographically the widest and deepest channel in the region, and a natural border feature. The British, however, claimed that the true boundary suggested in the treaty was the Rosario Strait to the east of the San Juan Islands, thereby claiming the islands for Britain.

In negotiations to settle the boundary dispute in 1857, British commissioners presented an interesting piece of evidence to bolster Britain’s claims: an 1848 map of Oregon and Upper California drawn by American surveyor John C. Frémont that was commissioned by the United States Senate. The map aligns with Britain’s claim of the San Juan Islands, with the boundary passing to the east of the islands through the Rosario Strait. Below is a closer look at this controversial map detail.

Frémont Map of Oregon and Upper California.
John C. Frémont, “Map of Oregon and Upper California,” 1848. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Despite this cartographic evidence and the consideration of a compromise boundary line through the middle of the islands, negotiations collapsed without a resolution. The San Juan Islands remained in political limbo, as American settlers and employees of Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company occupied the disputed territory. It would be another two years before an unusual event would force the issue of boundary reconciliation.

One night, on San Juan Island, American farmer Lyman Cutlar awoke to the familiar sounds of a pig foraging in his potato patch outside. The pig was an unwelcome repeat visitor to the garden, but this time, Cutlar had had enough. He took his rifle and shot the pig, killing it. The pig was owned by Englishman Charles Griffin, who operated the Hudson’s Bay Company’s nearby sheep ranch. Griffin confronted Cutlar to demand compensation for the dead pig. In a comical exchange between the two men (which has perhaps been embellished in retellings of the story), Cutlar argued that the pig was trespassing on his land and eating his potatoes, to which Griffin replied, “it is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig.”

Based on the notion that San Juan Island was British territory, Griffin contacted British authorities to have Cutlar arrested. In response, Cutlar and some of his fellow American settlers on the island petitioned the United States military for protection. What followed must have been a surreal experience for the sleepy San Juan Islands: three British warships, over 2,000 British troops, more than 400 American troops, and a multitude of cannons on both sides descended on the area in a massive show of military force. A tense standoff ensued, with British and American forces preparing for the possible outbreak of war.

Boundary Monument at Point Roberts
British North American Boundary Commission, “Boundary Monument at Point Roberts – Treaty of Washington June 15th 1846,” 1860-1870. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. The Treaty of Washington is an alternate name for the Oregon Treaty.

When word of the escalating situation finally reached Washington, D.C. in September, President James Buchanan was horrified at the prospect of war breaking out over such circumstances. Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to the San Juan Islands to calm the situation and through his efforts, British and American officials agreed to a reduction in military forces and established a joint military occupation of San Juan Island, with a British camp stationed in the north of the island and an American camp to the south. The “Pig War” had come to an end with no human casualties.

It wasn’t until 1872 that the boundary was finally settled. Great Britain and the United States agreed to have the issue decided through international arbitration, having Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany serve as an arbitrator in the dispute. The arbitration commission ultimately ruled in favor of the Haro Strait boundary line, which granted the United States control of the San Juan Islands and essentially finalizing the U.S.-Canada border in the Pacific Northwest that we know today.

With the modern boundary between the U.S. and Canada settled, there is a peculiar remnant of the 49th parallel border set out in the Oregon Treaty. Located at the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, the town of Point Roberts, Washington is a land exclave of the United States, meaning that it is separated from the U.S. mainland and it can only be reached by land from the U.S. mainland by traveling through Canada. The stringent nature of the 49th parallel as a boundary line, with U.S. territory established for all areas south of this line, is responsible for this strange political geography. An early example of Point Roberts on a map with American status can be seen in “Map of Public Surveys in the Territory of Washington,” created by Joseph S. Wilson in 1865.

Joseph S. Wilson "Map of Public Surveys in the Territory of Washington"
Joseph S. Wilson, “Map of Public Surveys in the Territory of Washington,” 1865. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The story of the Oregon Treaty and its aftermath is a certainly wild one, from its tumultuous creation, to its bizarre implications for the San Juan Islands and Point Roberts, to the near-outbreak of war over the most unbelievable of circumstances. As is often the case in establishing international boundaries, separating the U.S. from present-day Canada wasn’t an easy process. But through a thankfully (almost) bloodless process, we have a border and a fascinating story to go with it.

Bungled Borders in the Pacific Northwest (Part 1)

This is the first of a two part post on the Oregon Treaty of 1846 and its aftermath.

This week, specifically June 15th, marks an important event in the history of the United States’ changing geography: the 170th anniversary of the signing of the Oregon Treaty. I know, you probably don’t have this event marked on your calendar, but the story of the treaty and its peculiar aftermath represent a fascinating chapter in America’s long history of territorial growing pains. Maps were drawn and scrutinized, diplomats argued for control, and a war was nearly started over…a pig.

In the 1800s, the westward march of American settlers would force many nations with stakes in North America to negotiate the complicated geopolitics of territorial possession. As Carlyn Osborn detailed last December, on the southern and southwestern frontiers of the United States as we know it today, the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 separated American and Spanish territories in North America, but borders of control were soon after thrown into turmoil. Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the establishment of the Republic of Texas by American settlers across the Adams-Onís line in 1836, and the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 would culminate in the violent conflict of the Mexican-American War. Meanwhile, to the northwest, American border tensions with the British Empire would not spill over into war, in part because of these conflicts to the south. Instead, turbulent but ultimately bloodless negotiations would eventually lead to the signing of the Oregon Treaty.

In 1818, the United States and Great Britain established a boundary between their territories along the 49th parallel (49°N) from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains, with a peaceful joint occupation declared for the regions to the west of the mountains. The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude (in the horizontal east-west direction) around the Earth that is 49° north of the Equator. For the area west of the Rockies under joint occupation, the treaty essentially left the hammering out of this international boundary for another day. The borders of this region in political limbo, known to Americans at the time as “Oregon Country,” can be seen in Charles Wilkes’ 1841 map of the region. (Although the map is labeled “Oregon Territory,” that title would not be an official title for the region until its incorporation as a U.S. territory in 1848 under modified borders.)

Map of the Oregon Territory
Charles Wilkes. “Map of the Oregon Territory.” 1841. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

As was inevitable in the age of Manifest Destiny, the further westward expansion of Americans settling and trading in the area would force a resolution to the vague separation of powers in the far-northwest region. After negotiations between newly-elected U.S. President James K. Polk and British officials faltered on a compromise boundary at the 49th parallel, Polk, spurred on by his expansionist Democratic Party, would go further on his demands: claiming all land up to Parallel 54° 40′N for the United States.

Polk’s aggressive claim would include essentially all of the Oregon Country shown in Wilkes’ map, reaching all the way up to the southern edge of Russian-occupied Alaska. “Fifty-four forty or fight!” would become a rallying cry among Democrats supporting this expansion, but not all Americans supported the massive land grab. An 1846 cartoon by Edward Williams Clay, below, mocks the president’s handling of the issue. In the cartoon, a sleeping Polk is visited by the Devil, who disguises himself as former President and fellow expansionist Andrew Jackson and urges Polk to maintain his hardline stance on the 54° 40′N line.

Polk's Dream
Edward Williams Clay. “Polk’s Dream.” 1846. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Ultimately, cooler heads would prevail. With the Mexican-American War beginning just two months prior, British and American officials established the 49th parallel as the boundary with the signing of the Oregon Treaty on June 15, 1846. Both sides were satisfied to avoid another violent conflict. The Oregon Treaty is preserved in the National Archives and viewable online.

However, for all of the negotiations and hand-wringing to establish the border, the Oregon Treaty would still not lay the boundary issue completely to bed. The treaty established the international boundary for Oregon Country along the 49th parallel, but once the Strait of Georgia was reached, the boundary is instructed to follow the “middle of the channel” to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which leads to the Pacific Ocean. Given the numerous small islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of American territory, the exact path of the “middle of the channel” was not quite clear. Both the vagueness of the “middle of the channel” and the exacting nature of the 49th parallel set out in the Oregon Treaty would lead to two intriguing outcomes: tensions over control of the San Juan Islands and the strange case of Point Roberts.

Those parts of the story, as well as the pig that triggered an international incident, will appear in Part Two later this week.

Imaginary Maps in Literature and Beyond: Middle Ages and the Renaissance

This blog post is part of a summer series on imaginary maps, written by Hannah Stahl, a Library Technician in the Geography & Map Division. Read the first post in the series here.

We start our journey into imaginary worlds this summer by examining maps and texts created during the high Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe. This time period spans roughly from 1100-1699. We’ll be focusing more specifically on maps, and the works that inspired them, created from 1300 to 1650. Some of the earliest imaginary maps were designed during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Probably the most famous is the map of Dante’s Hell, from the Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy was written by Dante Alighieri from 1308 to 1320. It is an epic poem in which the author travels through hell, purgatory, and paradise. As Ricardo Padrón notes in Maps: Finding Our Place in the World, it “constitutes a rich and complex meditation on the philosophical, moral, and political issues central to Dante’s time.” Understandably, the Divine Comedy became widely popular and illustrations to aid readers on their journey with Dante surfaced in the 15th century. One of the most popular was Antonio Manetti’s work. His maps spurred the study and refinement of Dante’s world. Padrón again writes, “Dantean cosmography became an intellectual fad that attracted the attention of some leading thinkers, including no less a figure than Galileo Galilei.”

"Overview of Hell"
“Overview of Hell” by Antonio Mantetti, 1506, courtesy of Cornell’s PJ Mode Collection.

Padrón also notes that this scholarship trend in the 15th century was based on the desire not only to understand the world Dante created, but also to understand the real world. Ptolemy’s Geographia had just been rediscovered, renewing the world’s interest in cartography. By refining maps of Dante’s world, scholars were trying to fit the order of real geographic places in Ptolemy to the imaginary places in the Divine Comedy.

The Inferno according to Dante. 15th Century. B&W photographic reproduction. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The Inferno according to Dante. 15th Century. B&W photographic reproduction. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Perhaps this desire for order and symmetry is why another famous work from the Renaissance, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, came outfitted with maps. Utopia is a world in which order and symmetry are highly valued. Instead of maintaining the upper and lower classes that existed in Europe at this time period, the people of Utopia share their wealth with one another. The sharing of wealth creates order and symmetry because everyone is the same class. Disrupted order of the class system and in daily life that peasant revolts caused in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance could not take place in Utopia because everyone is equally wealthy. Also, during the time that Utopia was written, guilds existed to reward and benefit specialized labor. The citizens of Utopia saw all trades as equal, none being more prestigious than the other. Every trade and tradesman was treated the same, creating symmetry in the citizens of Utopia’s work lives.

Utopia, 1st Ed.

Map from the first edition of Utopia, 1516, courtesy of University of Cambridge Saint John’s College Library.
Utopia, 3rd ed.
Map from the third edition of Utopia, 1518, courtesy of Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

In the first (1516) and third (1518) editions of Utopia, the maps found in its pages echo the themes of order and symmetry that appear in the text. On the map of the first edition, the island is located in the center of the map, as symmetrical as it could possibly be on the page. Castles are placed on the outside of the island, almost perfectly equidistant from each other. The map from the third edition is more intricate, but the symmetry of the map still remains. Large settlements on Utopia are also equidistant from each other. They almost form an “X” pattern.

Stepping out of the pages of books, some of the most famous maps of imaginary places created during the Renaissance were of steps in an imaginary journey, like the journey to love. One such map is the “Royaume d’Amour/Kingdom of Love.” It was created by Tristan l’Hermite and Jean Sadeler, and published in 1650. This map is a depiction of the Island of Kythira (Cythera), in Greece. Aphrodite was said to have lived there, making the island a perfect place for the Royaume d’Amour. It includes fictional place names such as “Grande Plaine d’Indifference” (the Great Plain of Indifference). These are places that lovers who travel in the Royaume d’Amour would eventually reach on their journey.

"Royaume d'Amour"
“Royaume d’Amour.” 1970 facsimile of original 1650 map. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

The desire to map imaginary worlds may have taken off during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but it has only grown stronger over the centuries. It has seen a Renaissance with online interactive mapping in recent years. We’ll be exploring this in more detail over this summer. For next week, we’re going to focus on arguably the most famous fantasy map: J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings series and its influence on the modern fantasy map.

The Meandering Mississippi

Today’s guest post is from Erin Kelly, a GIS Library Technician in the Geography and Map Division. A native of the Baltimore, Maryland area, Erin came to the Library of Congress as a recent graduate of Towson University.

Do you ever look out of an airplane window and admire the natural beauty that is below you? If so, you have most definitely seen a meandering river. For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m looking at a map, a picture, or even out an airplane window, meandering rivers always grab my attention. A meander is formed when the flow of water slowly erodes the outer river bank and widens the other side. This change in the flow of the water makes the inner side of the river slowly fill with sediment and in turn, makes a nearly straight river become “wavy.”

While working on the Dynamic Indexing Project, I became amazed with all the maps that had these meandering rivers. Naturally, thinking of one of the longest rivers in the U.S., I decided to see just how much the Mississippi River meanders and how it has changed course over the years. I came across the “Lower Mississippi River Early Stream Channels,” a series of maps created by the U.S. Army’s Mississippi River Commission in 1938. These maps track the river as it changes over the course of 167 years.

Legend and detail of Sheet 8 of "Lower Mississippi River Early Stream Channels" map series.
Legend and detail of Sheet 8 of “Lower Mississippi River Early Stream Channels” map series. U.S. Army, Mississippi River Commission, Aug. 1938. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Although the Mississippi River is much longer, the map series only categorizes the river’s north-to-south trajectory south of 37°N latitude. The different colors represent the path of the river on specific dates, as compiled from previous surveys. Between 1765 and 1932, the Mississippi had meandered from its original path, in some places cutting off part of the river. This section of the river that was cut off forms what is known as an “oxbow lake.” Just like a human, if a river sees a short cut, it will take it. The outside banks of two meanders come together and force the river to change its course of direction. The “left over” water that does not flow with the river change eventually becomes a lake. “Old River Lake Or Lake Mary” is a prominent example of an oxbow lake seen in the map below.

Detail of oxbow lake in Sheet 10 of “Lower Mississippi River Early Stream Channels” map series. U.S. Army, Mississippi River Commission, Aug. 1938. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

It’s exciting to actually see how topography in general changes over time. While working on maps in the Dynamic Indexing Project, it’s quite easy to think that something went wrong during the process, but really a lake or river from the 1800’s has shrunk or completely been dried up. Next time you look at a topographic map, look at the date and compare it to a recently made map. You may just find a feature that no longer exists today.