Most of the antique maps now hanging on museum and office walls were originally in old atlases that also contained descriptions of the lands shown, their inhabitants and their natural resources. With the maps more profitably sold individually over the centuries, most atlases were broken up. More often than not the accompanying narratives have been lost or turned toward the wall.
When you can find them, the original texts provide an interesting glimpse into the perceptions of priorities of the day.
Giacomo Gastaldi, 1548
This is the first printed map of the North America’s whole east coast, based on the discoveries of Cartier and Verrazzano. After spending a night at “Angoulesme,” (now the narrows that bear his name near the mouth of Hudson), Verrazzano poked around the northeast coast for several weeks. This is the region described on the back of the map. Here’s the translation:
THE NEW LAND
of Stockfish (Cod)
"The new land of codfish, a cold land, is inhabited by idol worshippers; some adore the sun, some the moon, & other forms of idols. They are white, but of crude manners, eat meat, raw fish, and some of them still eat human flesh, but in secret so that their Caciqui (Chief) does not know. In this province of Bacalaos, the men and women are dressed in hides of bears, & you can still find sables and martens: but they are not very appreciated because of their smallness. During the summer they are naked, but heavily dressed in winter which is very cold, as they are dressed in Flanders, where is found a similar climate. The shores of this province were discovered by Bretons, French people coming from Bertagna who go fishing in this province, & catch a fish called Bacalao (Codfish), which they salt, and the name has come from this fish, naming this province the land of Bacalaos for this land of fish, Bacalaos. Going north you can find the land called Laborador covered with mountains & vast woods and great quantities of bears and wild boars. The inhabitants are idolatrous, warlike, wear the hides of bears, as do the people of Bacalaos. Nowhere in this land do you find a town or a castle, but all the people live in the country, as do the beasts."