Graphic visual representation of data has a rich and illustrious history. The evolution of data visualization tells us that people have always striven to present complex information in a simple way. People used maps, graphs, pie charts and similar graphics long before our time and the appearance of sophisticated computer programs or web-based applications for visualizing data. Due to information overload in the times we live in and technological advancements that characterize the modern age, we often forget how important and significant visuals could have been to people who lived long before the so-called information age.

This infographic presents an homage to pioneers of the past who introduced the art of visualizing data and greatly contributed to humanity with their work. It features data visualizations from 550 BC to the end of the 19th century that were quite ahead of their time. More importantly, the collection reminds us that picture is indeed worth a 1000 words. There are graphs that literally helped save human lives and fight diseases.

One impressive example that illustrates this power of visualizing data includes Florence Nightingale’s polar charts from 1858. Her graphs comparing the number of deaths from diseases versus deaths from wounds led to improved nutrition and sanitation of hospitalized patients.

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Any collection of amazing visuals from the past would be amiss without “the most complete picture of geographical knowledge” available to men in 14th century. One can’t be indifferent to the detailed Catalan Atlas commissioned by King Charles V of France and executed by Abraham Cresques with its intricate details, illustrations and rich colors. Anyone interested in seeing how data visualizations developed over time will probably appreciate the opportunity to compare the Catalan Atlas to Anaximander’s map of the world that is almost 2.000 years “older”.

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All these and other examples included in the infographic show us not only how people used visuals to present information, but also how visuals developed along with the growth of human knowledge. And that is what a timeline usually should do. These 11 data visualizations can be seen as milestones or a timeline of visual data representation, but also as predecessors to informational graphics that we all consume and enjoy today.

Top 11 Data Visualization Infographics from Ancient times


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