National Library of Scotland to display the earliest surviving detailed maps of Scotland

A selection of unique Scottish manuscript maps which were created in the 16th century by Timothy Pont, are set to go on display at the National Library of Scotland.

Pont, who created the first comprehensive survey of Scotland and whose work formed the substantial basis for the first Atlas of Scotland, generated an impressive collection of maps which have become one of Scotland's greatest historical and geographical treasures. Created over 400 years ago and hand-drawn on 38 fragile sheets of paper, his maps offer a detailed account of Renaissance Scotland.

Pont recorded the phonetic pronunciation of Scottish place names which adds to the value of these primary resources. The maps also highlighted the location of large castles, tower houses and burghs - these landmarks were drawn by hand and the land owners were often named, offering further insight into this time period.

Pont's manuscripts pinpoint natural features in the landscape, including over 350 mountains. He also mapped rivers, lochs, mosses and woodland. The written notes which complement the maps provide a fascinating and detailed description of the Scottish landscape during this era. Pont records that Loch Tay contained 'fair salmon, trouts, eels and pearle', and associates Sutherland with 'extreen wilderness', 'many wolfs' and 'all heir ar black flies ... seene souking men's blood'.

Timothy Pont (circa 1565-1614) was the second son of a prominent churchman, Robert Pont, who was a close associate of John Knox and the trusted advisor of King James VI and I. His maps provide an unrivalled example of the cartography of Scotland in the 1580 and 1590s and identify over 9,500 named locations, many of which had never appeared on a map before.

The motives for Pont's survey are still debated. For James VI and his ministers defining the expanse of their own territories through maps was an important means of state integration and promoting their own power. Another contributing factor was the newly emerging body of ministers, lawyers, teachers and lairds who emerged following the Scottish reformation in the 1560s. This group recognised the value of a detailed and historically accurate description of their country.

Chris Fleet, senior map curator, said: 'Anyone interested in Scottish history should pay a visit to National Library of Scotland from July 5 - this display offers a rare chance to view these unique cartographic treasures which offer an illuminating glimpse into the development of our country's landscape during the Renaissance period.

'Sadly, Pont's heirs neglected his maps and by the 1620s they were described as "worm and moth-eaten", so we are very fortunate to still have them with us. For those interested in cartography, the National Library of Scotland has one of the ten largest map collections in the world, with over two million maps. We also have a large variety of maps on sale in our shop on the ground floor.'

The Pont map display will be on public show at NLS from July 5 until August 29. For background information and zoomable images of the Pont maps, please visit the Pont maps website.


National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge

Tel: 0131 623 3700

2 July 2010

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