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Block of the Week: Cartography Table

Mappy days

It’s easy to get lost in Minecraft. You’ll be merrily chopping down wood, hunting chickens, or following a bee back to its hive and suddenly you look around and nothing is familiar. If only you’d brought a map. And once you’ve got a map, you’re also going to want our block of the week: the cartography table.

Cartography tables became a part of Minecraft in the Village & Pillage update, released in April 2019, alongside a bunch of other useful blocks like the Composter, Blast Furnace, Lectern, and Loom.

Cartography tables generate naturally in cartographer houses in villages, but honestly, it’s usually easier to just craft your own from some paper and some planks. Put two bits of paper on top of four planks in a crafting grid, and you’ve got yourself a cartography table.

So what can you do with it? Well, quite a lot actually. Hit the "use" key on the table and you’ll get an interface with two slots on the left. Put an explored map in the first one and some paper in the second, and you’ll get a zoomed out version that covers more territory. Put an empty map in the second slot and you’ll get a clone of the first. Put a pane of glass in the second slot and you’ll get a “locked” map that can’t be explored any further. 

Java edition maps automatically locate the player with a little pointer, but that’s not the case in Bedrock edition. To get a locator map in Bedrock edition, you need to use a cartography table to add a compass-either before or after the map is explored. You can also put paper in a cartography table to create an empty map, or paper and a compass to create an empty locator map.

There are a handful of other things you can do with a cartography table – it’s the job site block for cartography villagers, as you would probably expect. You can also use it as fuel in a furnace if you decide that your cartography days are behind you, and it’ll generate a bass note when placed under a note block.

In the real world, cartography is the study and practice and making and using maps. It’s a complex blend of art and science, and has been practiced since very ancient times. Archaeologists have discovered carvings on mammoth tusks that date back to the 25th millennium BC which could be interpreted as maps, and we’ve definitely been using them since the first millennium BC.

North is almost always at the top of maps today, but for most of human history that wasn’t the case. To ancient humans, the north was where the darkness came from. So the Ancient Egyptians and early Christians put east at the top – where the Sun rises, while early Islamic maps had south at the top. It wasn’t until cartographer Gerardus Mercator created his famous world map in 1569 that north became the default.

This “north-at-the-top-by-default” approach has shaped the way we think in more ways than you probably imagine. When people are shown a map of a fake city and asked where they’d like to live, they’re more likely to choose an area in the north of the city. And when people are asked to choose places on a map where imaginary groups of people should live, they tend to put the richest in the north and the poorest in the south.

But here’s the thing – if you think about the Earth as a ball floating in space, then it doesn’t really make sense for maps to be any particular way up. Should a map of the solar system have the Sun at the top, or bottom, or left or right? Where should a map of the galaxy put the Earth? Space doesn’t have a north, south, east, west, up, or down. Everything is relative to something else.

So next time you get lost in Minecraft, don’t feel too bad. Remember that location is relative. Find a tree, punch it, make a crafting table and start a new life in your new centre of the universe.

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere

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