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Explorers, warriors, and traders have all used maps as a way of navigating around the world or establishing property rights. Early civilizations, such as the Egyptians and the Greeks, used maps drawn on papyrus to show a specific trade route or to trace the conquests of an army. Advances such as the establishment of a system of measuring longitude and latitude helped create more uniform and accurate mapping procedures.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, mapmaking, or cartography, began to change because of the impact of world travel. Explorers such as Christopher Columbus observed and collected geographic information from around the world, which cartographers used to make maps.

Mapmaking continued to develop as surveying and other means of mathematical measurements evolved. Today, the most sophisticated technology is used in compiling geographic information and planning and drafting maps. Such advances have significantly changed the cartographer's job. Computer and satellite technology have been applied to mapmaking with great success. For example, video signals from a satellite detector are digitized and transmitted to earth, where a computer process is used to read the data and create a map with enhanced geographic patterns that can show variations in types of vegetation or soils as well as spatial relationships. With the addition of computer-mapping software and data-merging software, mapping exercises can be done in a fraction of the time that they once took.