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NM Centennial

An Atlas of Historic New Mexico Maps, 15501941

Unit Two: Searching for the Cities of Gold

Terra Incognita means "unknown land," which comprised less and less of the New World as the years passed, but which bordered New Mexico for centuries (at least until the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776, if not longer). Looking at the maps in the Terra Incognita section we can see the fruits of the Age of Exploration; as people acquire knowledge, the map gets filled in. Unexplored land and seas are represented many different ways over time. Early maps show fanciful creatures and mythical places. Later maps show real places, but placed inaccurately. Some of them fill in blank spaces with cartouches or other information.

In this reason, students examine some of the prominent myths that kept New Mexican explorers looking over the next hill for over a century.


In completion of this lesson, students will:

* visually examine historic maps to learn about early explorations of New Mexico.

* read and interpret historic descriptions of the imaginary places that attracted early explorers.

* using the website, navigate through historic maps to identify art indicating unexplored or imaginary places.

* discuss ideas and concepts related to exploration, and discovery of the unknown.












Spanish Vocabulary

cacique: tribal leader or chief.

despoblado: an uninhabited area, a wasteland.

jornada: a day's travel.

padre: Father, used to refer to priests.

Señor Adelantado: (His Lord) Adelantado, a military title given by the king to self-financed conquerors of a region. An adelantado acted as governor and justice.

Activity I: Mythical places

Why did people think that they had found these places in New Mexico? What did the mythic places have in common with the real places? What kept people looking for these places even after it was clear what New Mexico was really like? Compare the Martinez map to all the other maps in the Terra Incognita section.

Students should pick one of the mythical places, and read through the marker created on the indicated maps.

Aztlí¡n: myths of Aztecs-- Ortelius (shown on Gutierrez) - note that this archaic English may be difficult to read.

Quivira: Myths of Spanish-- Ortelius, Sanson, Coronelli

Cibola: Ortelius (Ceuola), Sanson, Coronelli

Axa (Haxa also Aixaj or Kingdom of Aixaos): Ortelius, Sanson

Ask students to create an illustration of how the Spanish might have imagined it. Each student should write a paragraph describing his or her illustration, including why he or she included certain details. They should include a summary of where it was shown on the maps, why people thought it was there, and what might have really been there (if anything). If there is time, students may share their concepts.

Diego Gutierrez: Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio: 1562

Abraham Ortelius: Americae sive novi orbis. Nova Descriptio : 1570

Nicholas Sanson: Amerique Septentrionale, La Nouveau Mexique et La Florida: 1650

Vincenzo Maria Coronelli: America Settentrionale: 1688

Map Bingo: 25 cards

Map Bingo: 25 cards

Map Bingo clue cards

Map Bingo clue cards

Activity II: Beyond which nothing is known

Before the lesson: print out bingo cards (25 are provided with the PDF, below), print out flash cards. Print at least one set of flash cards for each pair of students.

Ask the students what they think of when they think of unexplored land. Make a list of their answers. How is unexplored land represented on a map?

Ask students to work in pairs to play Terra Incognita bingo. Students should browse the maps (even beyond New Mexico) to find artwork or text depicting mythical places and beings, unexplored areas, unnamed tribes, hypothetical features, and more.

The flash cards can be used to provide the student with clues for finding and interpreting each place.

After playing at least one round, ask them to reflect again on their understanding of unexplored land. What does it entail to explore a country? What must explorers and cartographers communicate about a place and its inhabitants? Ask students to consider what information they may want before going to a new place. How do we find out this information now?


New Mexico! Second Revised, Enlarged Edition. Simmons, Marc. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque NM. ©1998. Chapter 2, Spanish Explorers and Settlers, pp 55-69 (through section titled Early Troubles).


Evaluate students on the following activities. Did the student:

locate the markers

read the material

interpret the material

write appropriately on the topic

participate in the game, locate images

participate in discussion


Key Ideas and Details:


Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.


Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Craft and Structure:


Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.


Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.


Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.


Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.


Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

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