Through old maps, charts and graphs, we are able to understand the extent of historic situations around the world. Image Credit: Unsplash/Geojango Maps

All the data out there is just a whole lot of clutter and noise. It’s only when we pull it together with a clear communication tool, like a graph or pie chart, that it starts to make sense.

Click start to play today’s Word Search, where you can pick out words like “x-axis” and “coordinates”, which are related to visualisation techniques.

Plotting a graph or condensing a table of information into a pie chart may be part and parcel of our school curricula – something we don’t often think about once it’s done and dusted. But the process has played a significant role in history. Through old maps, charts and graphs, we are able to understand the extent of the slave trade in the US, for instance, or how our ancient ancestors navigated around the world.

Here are a few visualisations that give us an understanding into human culture and historic events:

1. Lascaux caves map

lascaux caves
Lascaux Caves, France Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

France’s Lascaux caves are famous for their paleolithic cave paintings, which are some of the oldest ever found. But they also hold one of the earliest maps ever made. One particular painting in the cave depicts three stars – Vega, Deneb and Altair – known as the Summer Triangle. At the time, they were some of the brightest stars in the sky and historians believe people used these star patterns as a basis for navigation.

2. Slave ship engraving

“Description of a Slave Ship”
“Description of a Slave Ship”, 1789 Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/London Committee

A wood engraving called “Description of a Slave Ship” gave the world a visual sense of how people were transported in 18th-century slave ships to the US. Created by British abolitionists, the engraving depicts the human cargo hold of the ship, with information on how much space each person was allotted, how they were separated by gender, and how male captives were shackled to discourage riots during the four- to eight-week journey. Initially created to influence legislators, the image eventually helped to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade. By the end of the 18th century, over 200,000 copies had been circulated and printed in newspapers and books. It was the first image to visualise the human suffering of the slave trade, and appealed directly to people’s humanity.

3. Cholera map

cholera map
Excerpt of the cholera map by Dr John Snow Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to years of research and science, we know now that cholera is spread through water. But in the early 1800s, people weren’t so sure. In 1854, a doctor named John Snow created a map based on survey data that allowed him to see a clear pattern that no one else had noticed: the fact that contaminated wells were at the centre of outbreaks. His research helped to save countless lives and set the basis for the field of epidemiology.

Which visualisation from history stands out in your mind? Play today’s Word Search and tell us at