6 Fascinating Ways Our Ancestors Navigated the Oceans | Summary and Q&A

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February 26, 2017
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6 Fascinating Ways Our Ancestors Navigated the Oceans

TL;DR

Explore six ancient navigational techniques, including stick charts, kamal, cross staff, astrolabe, compass, and sunstones.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How did the Marshalees use stick charts for navigation?

Stick charts were not actual maps but depicted ocean swells and patterns, guiding navigators in their travels between islands. Small shells marked islands, and navigators memorized the information before setting out on voyages.

Q: How did sailors use the kamal to determine latitude?

By aligning the kamal with Polaris and the horizon, sailors measured the angle between them. The distance from their face to the kamal helped them determine their latitude.

Q: What was the advantage of using the astrolabe for navigation?

Unlike the kamal and cross staff, the astrolabe did not require a visible horizon. It used the sun or stars as references to measure altitude, allowing for navigation even in foggy or dark conditions.

Q: How did the magnetic compass aid navigation during Zheng He's expeditions?

The compass, made with a magnetized needle, aligned with the Earth's magnetic field, indicating the north-south direction. Zheng He's fleet utilized it to navigate across the oceans.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The Marshalees on the Marshall Islands used stick charts to navigate the Pacific Ocean, which depicted ocean patterns and swells instead of geographical maps.

  • Arab explorers used the kamal, a simple device made of wood and string, to determine latitude by aligning it with Polaris and the horizon.

  • European sailors adopted the cross staff, a device similar to the kamal, to measure latitude by aligning it with the sun or Polaris.

  • The astrolabe, a more advanced version of the kamal and cross staff, enabled sailors to measure latitude without the need for a visible horizon.

  • Chinese navigator Zheng He used the magnetic compass, an ancient Chinese invention, for navigation during his expeditions.

  • The existence of sunstones, believed to be ancient Viking navigational tools that could determine the direction of the sun, has been supported by recent experiments.

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