Geospatial analysis can be traced as far back as 15,000 years ago to the Lascaux cave in southwestern France. In this cave, Paleolithic artists painted commonly hunted animals and what many experts believe are astronomical star maps for either religious ceremonies or potentially even migration patterns of prey. Though crude, these paintings demonstrate an ancient example of humans creating abstract models of the world around them and correlating spatial-temporal features to find relationships. The following image shows one of the paintings with an overlay illustrating the star maps:
Over the centuries, the art of cartography and science of land surveying has developed, but it wasn't until the 1800s that significant advances in geographic analysis emerged. Deadly cholera outbreaks in Europe between 1830 and 1860 led geographers in Paris and London to use geographic analysis for epidemiological studies.
In 1832, Charles Picquet used different half-toned shades of gray to represent deaths per thousand citizens in the 48 districts of Paris as part of a report on the cholera outbreak. In 1854, Dr. John Snow expanded on this method by tracking a cholera outbreak in London as it occurred. By placing a point on a map of the city each time a fatality was diagnosed, he was able to analyze the clustering of cholera cases. Snow traced the disease to a single water pump and prevented further cases. The map has three layers with streets, an X for each pump, and dots for each cholera death:
Geospatial analysis wasn't just used for the war on diseases. For centuries, generals and historians have used maps to understand human warfare. A retired French engineer named Charles Minard produced some of the most sophisticated infographics ever drawn between 1850 and 1870. The term infographics is too generic to describe these drawings because they have strong geographic components. The quality and detail of these maps make them fantastic examples of geographic information analysis even by today's standards. Minard released his masterpiece, Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l'Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813, in 1869, which depicted the decimation of Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. The map shows the size and location of the army over time along with prevailing weather conditions. The following graphic contains four different series of information on a single theme. It is a fantastic example of geographic analysis using pen and paper. The size of the army is represented by the widths of the brown and black swaths at a ratio of one millimeter for every 10,000 men. The numbers are also written along the swaths. The brown-colored path shows soldiers who entered Russia, while the black represents the ones who made it out. The map scale is shown to the right in the center as one French league (2.75 miles or 4.4 kilometers). The chart at the bottom runs from right to left and depicts the brutal freezing temperatures experienced by the soldiers on the return march home from Russia:
While far more mundane than a war campaign, Minard released another compelling map cataloguing the number of cattle sent to Paris from around France. Minard used pie charts of varying sizes in the regions of France to show each area's variety and volume of cattle that was shipped:
In the early 1900s, mass printing drove the development of the concept of map layers—a key feature of geospatial analysis. Cartographers drew different map elements (vegetation, roads, and elevation contours) on plates of glass that could then be stacked and photographed to be printed as a single image. If the cartographer made a mistake, only one plate of glass had to be changed instead of the entire map. Later, the development of plastic sheets made it even easier to create, edit, and store maps in this manner. However, the layering concept for maps as a benefit to analysis would not come into play until the modern computer age.