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The Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps

Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps

For centuries mapmakers have been including small, deliberate flaws in their maps—a fake street, a fantasy town—imperceptible to anyone other that the creator, as a copyright trap to catch unauthorized duplication. But sometimes cartographers do it just for fun.

A recently published story at Eye on Design brings to light an unspoken tradition among Swiss cartographers to hide small doodles inside Switzerland’s official maps. There is a barely perceptible spider here, a fish there, a reclining naked woman disguised as a stream, and a marmot blended with the hills. These illicit drawings are cleverly hidden among the contour lines that depict Switzerland’s remote mountainous regions. Being located far from populated areas, they often escape scrutiny for decades.

Map-making is a meticulous job, and many of these illustrations served as part of the coping mechanism required to break the monotony of a cartographer’s daily routine. It must have been an exceptionally slow day at office when a bored cartographer decided to add the drawing of the naked woman on the map. She was not discovered until more than half a century later, in 2012. The trace of a spider over the ice field on the Eiger mountain was nearly faded when a proofreader spotted it a decade later. Another illustration of a fish, concealed in a marshy lake on a French nature preserve along the Swiss border escaped detection until 1989.

Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps


Related: Agloe: A Fake Town That Became Real


The latest illustration to be discovered is that of a marmot, hiding in plain sight in the Swiss Alps. “His plump outline was concealed in the delicate relief shading above a glacier, which shielded him from detection for nearly five years,” writes Zoey Poll for Eye on Design. “The mountain’s hachures— short, parallel lines that indicate the angle and orientation of a slope— double as his fur. He is mostly indistinguishable from the surrounding rock, except for his face, tail, and paws.”

Unfortunately, the marmot won’t survive the next edition of the maps. Once these illustrations are found, they are removed when the official maps are updated. Over half of the known illustrations have disappeared this way.

“Creativity has no place on these maps,” explained a spokesperson for Swisstopo, Switzerland's national mapping agency.

Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps

Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps

Doodles Hidden Inside Swiss Maps

The Swiss aren’t the only ones who fooled around with their maps. English cartographers have also been caught sneaking names amongst the random wiggly lines which make up the cliffs along the southern coast of the Isle of Wight.

hidden names in maps

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