A map published in 1770 by Britain's Royal Hydrographer shows the “Panacot” shoal, today's Scarborough Shoal. National Library of Australia

A collection of maps, some nearly 1,000 years old, disputes China's claim over part of the South China Sea.

Thursday, the Philippines opened an exhibit featuring dozens of maps spanning more than 1,000 years of history—a collection that the Philippines says disproves China’s claim of sovereignty over a rocky shoal in the South China Sea, which has provoked increasing tensions between the two countries.

The exhibit, held by the Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs, includes maps from as far back as 1136 A.D. that purportedly show that China’s southernmost territory has always been the province of Hainan—which would undercut China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, including territory that is claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among other countries. Ancient maps of the East Indies, of which the Philippines was a part, are shown to include what is today known as the Scarborough Shoal, a small piece of land about the size of three rugby pitches to the west of the Philippines, home to valuable fisheries and potential fossil fuel reserves.

China has held control of the shoal since 2012, leading to clashes between Filipino and Chinese fisherman and an ongoing arbitration case at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. (Appropriately enough, the shoal is depicted in some of these old maps as “Panacot,” the Tagalog word for “threat or danger.”) Elsewhere in the disputed area, China appears to be building an airbase and a kindergarten, raising the risk of further tensions.

But as the the exhibit says itself in its catalogue, quoting a 1986 judgement by the International Court of Justice, “Maps merely constitute information which varies in accuracy from case to case; of themselves, and by virtue solely of their existence, they cannot constitute a territorial title.”

Here are some of the other maps and their historical claims, according to the Philippines government.

Tian Ditu, or “the Atlas of Heaven and Earth,” published in 1601 during the Ming Dynasty, shows shows Hainan Island as China’s southernmost territory. (U.S. Library of Congress)
Published in 1734 by a Jesuit named Pedro Murillo, this map is one of the first to identify what is today the Scarborough Shoal, then named the “Panacot” shoal. (U.S. Library of Congress)
A world map published by the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci in 1602 at the request of the Ming Dynasty shows the southern boundary of China as Hainan.
Published in Paris in 1650, this map shows an unnamed shoal as part of the East Indies. (Philipinnes Institute for Maritime and Oceanic Affairs)
A map published sometime between 1547 and 1559 shows the then 13 provinces of China during the Jianjing period, which doesn’t include areas like Taiwan or Macau. The map also shows that Hainan Island was the southernmost territory of China. (U.S. Library of Congress)

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

MORE FROM QUARTZ:

This Is Twitter's First Vision For The Apple Watch Era

The West Is Prepared To Threaten Russia's Oil Future

For $390 You Can Illegally Buy An Elite University Email Account On China's Biggest Online Marketplace

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A New Plan to Correct a Historic Mistake in Pittsburgh

    A Bjarke Ingels Group-led plan from 2015 has given way to a more “practical” design for the Lower Hill District. Concerns over true affordable housing remain.

  2. A photo of a closed street in St. Louis
    Equity

    The Curious Tale of the St. Louis Street Barriers

    Thanks to an '80s mania for traffic calming, the St. Louis grid is broken by hundreds of bollards and cul-de-sacs. Critics say it’s time to get rid of them.

  3. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  4. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  5. Life

    How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

    Male-dominated trades like construction, plumbing, and welding can offer job security and decent pay. A camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.