Navigational instruments. Let’s begin with some history. Long before the invention of aids for navigation primitive peoples had discovered the art of navigation. The Polynesians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Arabs and Venetians were among these people. As an example, the method of observing the birds and stars was understood by the Polynesians. In addition, songs and star charts helped people remember navigational information. By the same token, by about 900 BC these people had spread across the Pacific. Gradually they reached New Zealand, Easter Island and even South America.
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The Pole Stars
Navigators followed the position of the stars to reach their desination. In particular, it was noted that the Pole stars did not disappear below the horizon. Therefore, it was possible to see them throughout the night. Meanwhile, one of the first instruments for navigation to come into use was the sounding weight. To clarify, use was made of a weight to determine the depth of the water.
Sea travel was important to the Arabs, since few navigable rivers existed. Among navigational instruments used, the magnetic compass became important as an instrument for celestial navigation. In addition, there followed the invention of a quadrant. The Vikings, on the other hand, used a device called the Sunstone, since it could locate the sun even when the sky was overcast. In Europe, the true mariner’s compass appeared using a pivotal needle in a dry box. Prior to the latter, nautical charts were also appearing in Italy at the end of the thirteenth century. Isaac Newton invented a reflecting compass some centuries later, in 1699. The octant then came into use, making latitude calculations much more accurate.
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The Kon-Tiki expedition
Having studied ancient methods of navigation, Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl had the idea of attempting a Pacific crossing. That is to say, following the routes used by the early Polynesians, though in the reverse direction. The name Kon derived from the Inca god of rain. Once the idea had taken shape, a balsa wood raft came into being. In addition, the materials used were as closely as possible similar to those used in ancient times. The expedition was funded partly by private donations.
Food on board
Moreover, the American military provided survival rations. Among food taken on board were coconuts, sweet potatoes and various fruits. The crew also planned to augment their rations with fish, together with additional rain water collected during storms. However, use was also made of certain modern navigational instruments. In particular, three radio transmitters, maps and sextants. They left Callao in Peru on 28 April 1947 and reached the Polynesian island ohf Tuomotu on 7 August. That is, 101 days across the Pacific Ocean.
The expedition was so successful it became the subject of a book by Thor Heyerdahl. Subsequently the story became a film, and won the Oscar in 1952 for the best documentary. The original balsa raft used in the expedition can now be seen in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Collecting navigational instruments
There are a great many collectors of navigational instruments. However, very early models are mostly to be found in museums. Later models are more easily available and can reach high prices. Collectors should, however, consult experts, since many clever fakes are on the market.