Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Celestial Navigation in Ancient and Modern Times

Celestial Navigation in Ancient and Modern Times

Navigation by celestial objects in modern times is discussed at CelestialNavigation.net and at Henning Umland's A Short Guide to Celestial Navigation. In part, modern navigation is complicated mathematics.

Ancient celestial navigation had to be much more simple than that, but not that much is known about the navigation used in distant prehistoric periods.

The following is a seminal source for an understanding of ancient navigation:

Navigation in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean - Thesis by Danny Lee Davis of Texas A&M University (download .pdf - 21.58 MB (some pages unfortunately sloppily scanned). This is an absolutely new and essential work in this field, especially chapter V "Night-Time Navigation and Celestial Aids" and Chapter VI Ancient Navigational Systems: A Synthesis of the Evidence (p.186) in the Section "Imagining Ancient Systems of Navigation: A View from Antiquity: The Neolithic System".

Davis writes among other things about "star-path" sailing. This method of sailing steers directly by the stars, keeping the vessel directed toward a particular star and changing the star used as stars change their positions over time. Davis writes - correctly in our opinion - that this may explain the depiction of particular stars above the bows or sterns of ships on ancient reliefs.

Davis also writes about ancient navigation as follows:

"Crete is believed to have been colonized by migrant farmers from Anatolia as early as the eighth or seventh millennium B.C., although hunter-gatherers surely landed there earlier. Broodbank and Strasser have shown that the colonization of this island must have been deliberate and that a minimum number of people and livestock were required to sustain its initial population. From what we know of visibility and the limitations of paddled craft, this colonization and its maintenance are a further indication that a navigation system embracing celestial observation was in place this early. The colonization of many other Aegean island and Cyprus in the Final Neolithic serves also to indicate a high level of navigational confidence -- and one that must have entailed the usage of some system of reference for sailing at night, if only the circumpolar stars for orientation." (pp. 145-146)

Other sources of value are:

Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific showing navigation by rising and setting stars.

Gary Agranat - Astronomy: Time and Navigation (links)

Peter Ifland, in The History of the Sextant discusses how the North Celestial Pole (currently the star Polaris) can be used to determined latitude and how the Arabs later used the kamal for this purpose, employing also their fingers (issabah) for measurement. Ifland also explains the concept of "shooting the stars". Take a look. Ifland is the author of
Taking the Stars: Celestial Navigation from Argonauts to Astronauts. More at Astronomy On-Line.

Peter Tyson, Secrets of Ancient Navigation

John Davis, Seaman's Secrets

Cogswell and Schi√łtz - Navigation in the Information Age, Potential Use of GIS for Sustainability and Self-Determination in Hawai'i

The Haven-Finding Art: A History of Navigation from Odysseus to Captain Cook, by E.G. R. Taylor, published by Hollis & Carter, London, for the Institute of Navigation. 1956. See also here.

A History of Nautical Astronomy, by Charles H. Cotter, William Clowes and Sons, London

Charles H. Cotter, The Complete Nautical Astronomer

Nick Strobel - Astronomy Notes, History of Astronomy

Heavenly Mathematics: Cultural Astronomy

The Mariners Museum

The Gilbertese Skydome. Polynesian and Micronesian Astronomy

The Etruscan Bronze Liver of Piacenza

Crichton E.M. Miller - Ancient Navigation

Ancient Navigation Techniques

Ancient Discovery Before Christ

Most Popular Posts of All Time

Sky Earth Native America

Sky Earth Native America 1:
American Indian Rock Art Petroglyphs Pictographs
Cave Paintings Earthworks & Mounds as Land Survey & Astronomy
Volume 1, Edition 2, 266 pages, by Andis Kaulins.

  • Sky Earth Native America 2:
    American Indian Rock Art Petroglyphs Pictographs
    Cave Paintings Earthworks & Mounds as Land Survey & Astronomy
    Volume 2, Edition 2, 262 pages, by Andis Kaulins.

  • Both volumes have the same cover except for the labels "Volume 1" viz. "Volume 2".
    The image on the cover was created using public domain space photos of Earth from NASA.


    Both book volumes contain the following basic book description:
    "Alice Cunningham Fletcher observed in her 1902 publication in the American Anthropologist
    that there is ample evidence that some ancient cultures in Native America, e.g. the Pawnee in Nebraska,
    geographically located their villages according to patterns seen in stars of the heavens.
    See Alice C. Fletcher, Star Cult Among the Pawnee--A Preliminary Report,
    American Anthropologist, 4, 730-736, 1902.
    Ralph N. Buckstaff wrote:
    "These Indians recognized the constellations as we do, also the important stars,
    drawing them according to their magnitude.
    The groups were placed with a great deal of thought and care and show long study.
    ... They were keen observers....
    The Pawnee Indians must have had a knowledge of astronomy comparable to that of the early white men."
    See Ralph N. Buckstaff, Stars and Constellations of a Pawnee Sky Map,
    American Anthropologist, Vol. 29, Nr. 2, April-June 1927, pp. 279-285, 1927.
    In our book, we take these observations one level further
    and show that megalithic sites and petroglyphic rock carving and pictographic rock art in Native America,
    together with mounds and earthworks, were made to represent territorial geographic landmarks
    placed according to the stars of the sky using the ready map of the starry sky
    in the hermetic tradition, "as above, so below".
    That mirror image of the heavens on terrestrial land is the "Sky Earth" of Native America,
    whose "rock stars" are the real stars of the heavens, "immortalized" by rock art petroglyphs, pictographs,
    cave paintings, earthworks and mounds of various kinds (stone, earth, shells) on our Earth.
    These landmarks were placed systematically in North America, Central America (Meso-America) and South America
    and can to a large degree be reconstructed as the Sky Earth of Native America."

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