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From the earliest maps to the present, mapmakers have relied on a variety of methods, symbols, and designations to address the challenging task of illustrating the three-dimensional aspects of a location using a flat, two-dimensional map.

AACR2 recognizes many different ways of portraying relief, including

pictorial hachures
landform drawing gradient tints
rock drawing form lines
contours spot heights
soundings hypsometric tints
bathymetric tints hill shading
satellite imagery

The forms of relief used most often on early North Carolina maps are pictorial, hachures, and soundings. Beginning in the mid to late 19th-century, North Carolina mapmakers began to use additional methods for showing relief, including contours, spot heights, and hill shading. The examples below show illustrations of each method.

"Relief Shown Pictorially"

On many early maps of North Carolina and the southeast, topography is illustrated simply by drawings of mountains and hills. Early explorers were clearly aware that there was a large mountain chain several hundred miles to the west of the coast, but the maps they produced show that there was at the time very little additional information.

Pictorially MC 150 1747b.jpg Detail from "A New and Accurate Map of the Province of North and South Carolina, Georgia, etc.," 1747. NC Archives call number MC.150.1747b. Pictorially MC 150 1827f.jpg Detail from "Map of North and South Carolina and Georgia, Constructed from the Latest Authorities," 1827. NC Archives call number MC.150.1827f.

"Relief Shown by Hachures"

Hachures, defined as "short lines following the direction of maximum slope" (AACR2 Cartographic Materials, 2002) are probably the most common method for showing relief on historic maps of North Carolina. Hachures often designate specific mountains or hills, and are effective at showing variations in elevation, but they still do not convey as much information as numbered relief methods, such as contours and spot heights.

Hachures Cm912 1830m.jpg Detail from "A New and Accurate Map of the Province of North and South Carolina, Georgia, etc.," 1747. NC Archives call number MC.150.1747b. Hachures Cm912g H19h.jpg Detail from "Topographical map of the Halsey Mining and Smelting Company's estate, Guilford County, North Carolina," ca. 1854. NCC call number Cm912g H19h.

"Relief Shown by Spot Heights"

Spot heights are simply numbers on or near a location giving the elevation for that place. Some maps use spot heights regularly throughout the area shown, but they are most often used just for large mountains or hills. In many maps of North Carolina, spot heights are given only for the highest peaks (such as Mt. Mitchell and Clingman's Dome).

Spot heights Cm912 1879c2.jpg Detail from "Goldsboro Messenger map of North Carolina,1879: given as a premium to subscribers for 1879." NCC call number Cm912 1879c2. Spot heights MC 007 1938n.jpg Detail from "Avery County, North Carolina (State Highway and Public Works Commission)," 1938. NC Archives call number MC.007.1938n.
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