THE way ancient maps and geographic texts are understood is set to be revolutionised by a project led by Southampton experts.

Researchers from the UK and Austria are working together on a project led by Southampton University that will allow people to explore online the changing historical significance of many of the world’s most famous cities and smaller urban centres.

Southampton archaeologist Dr Leif Isaksen is collaborating with The Open University and the Austrian Institute of Technology on the project titled Pelagios 3: Geospatial Documents.

It will identify places in documents dating up to 1482 from the Latin, Greek and Arabic traditions, seafaring charts, and maps from medieval China.

Users can then compare the maps and texts automatically and see how names change over time, or how and when new places are introduced to each tradition.

The project, which was funded with a grant of $494,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aims to reveal the rich stories of names referred to in early documents, which are obscure, invented, or only exist in popular or religious imaginations.

Dr Isaksen, the project director, said: “Users will be able to type a key place name into a search engine on the Pelagios 3 website and at the click of a mouse it will create a list or ‘digital place index’ with links to maps and texts dating up to 1492.

“The more search results there are, the more comprehensively a user will be able to determine how a place has changed over time and how it was viewed by those chronicling history.

“For instance, it’s remarkable to see that Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman astronomer, used London as one of his primary reference points for global time zones in the late second century, just as we do today.”