Navigational Tools in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

 

 

Navigation before the invention of the timepiece was fairly complex. Explorers and Navigators of the Age of Exploration used a wide variety of tools to sail from point to point.

The Magnetic compass was probably the most revolutionary invention of the second millenium, however, it is impossible to say exactly where and when it was invented. Almost every culture has tried to lay claim to its existence.

The windrose developed over the turn of the first millenium, and then evolved parallel to the magnetic compass; eventually the two were combined as the Compass Rose.

Astrolabes have been in existence for thousands of years, however their development was as a tool of Astrology, so often times they are better suited for telling fortunes than navigation.

A Jacob's Staff was used to measure the angle of the Sun from the horizon, however it required the user to stare into the Sun's blinding rays: the Back Staff was invented to correct this design flaw.

The main problem with the absense of an accurate time measurement device was longitude. Longitude is measured in hours, and the best way to measure distance horizontally on a continuously rotating sphere is by time. Observers of the 15th century knew that the Sun predictably traveled overhead, but they had no accurate and absolute way to measure the time. Many of the tools made before the 17th century were actually shortucts to measuring time. These tools eventually culminated in the sucessful development of a time measuring device.