Prior to the invention of the compass, directions at sea were determined primarily by the position of celestial bodies. For thousands of years, navigators had found their way using the sun and the stars. In the northern hemisphere, seafarers would use Polaris – the North Star – to work out which direction was north in order to help them navigate across the seas. If they could see Polaris, they knew which way they were heading. While handy, this technique clearly has substantial limitations, as it is only of any use at night, with clear skies.
By the time of the Tang dynasty (7th century), Chinese scholars had devised a way to magnetize iron needles by rubbing them with magnetite. They had also observed that needles cooled from red heat and held in the north-south orientation would become magnetic. These more refined needle compasses could then be floated in water (wet compass), placed upon a pointed shaft or suspended from a silk thread (dry compass). This portability made them much better suited to navigation purposes.
With a compass in hand, European mariners were better equipped to sail on the open seas, out of sight of land. The compass was a major contributor to the possibility of the Age of Discovery: a time of worldwide exploration on the part of Europeans that occurred roughly between the 15th and 18th centuries. The increase in sea travel and trade routes, enabled by the compass, led to European settlements in the Americas.
Item Code - TOO11E837768POLZ1
Width: 1 7/8" Height: 2 1/2" Depth: 5/8" Weight: 57 g
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