by Yaroslav RENKAS, Cand. Sc. (Hist.)
It was millennia ago that our forefathers started parting with terra firma and ventured out into the deep blue sea. In doing so they used, first, rafts, then boats and then ships of different shapes and sizes. And these early seafarers were naturally bound to lose sight of the native shore. When this happened, how were they able to find their way home and sometimes navigate for hundreds of miles on the high seas?
The answers to these and other related questions are offered in a recently published book by an expert in the field-retired naval officer and Candidate of Sciences, Vladimir Krasnov. His book on "The History of Navigation Techniques: Birth and Development of Technical Means of Navigations" (M., Nauka, 2001,309 pp.) is addressed to the broad reading public.
The author begins by describing a whole range of related archeological finds, including excavations by a team of US scientists in 1971. And it has now been proved that seafaring in the proper sense of the word is not 6,000 years old, as was commonly believed before, but about 10,000 years. In other words, scholars have "moved back" its birthday by the middle or the end of the New Stone Age (neolithic).
And it all began in a very ordinary and undramatic way. Leaving the safety of their huts and caves, primitive tribes settled, as a rule, in places where there was more water and food-along rivers, near lakes and on the seacoast. And it was only natural for these settlers, motivated by hunger and/or curiosity, to try and cross a river, or gulf, and see what's there on the opposite bank, or that island on the horizon.
The author describes in intriguing details different kinds of floating gear invented and used by primitive tribes at different periods, starting from floats made of reed or trees branches. These were later replaced with boats, made of bark and covered with skins, or hollow tree trunks. Later on tribes in the Mediterranean started making boats of "sets" of plates, or boards of wood which were used for off-shore fishing on lakes and seas. Some of these boats were fitted with a log-keel and were strong enough to take the fishermen up to the visible horizon. Later still these "planking" boats were fitted out with a deck and then with a mast, supporting a sail.
From then on such boats could be used on very distant voyages and venture out on the high seas.
On the strength of concrete historical facts, the author of the book points out that at the turn of the New Era Roman seafarers often ventured into the coastal regions of the Atlantic - from Gibraltar to the northern British coast and the shores of Denmark. In the opposite direction they went as far as the Azores. Vladimir Krasnov cites a contemporary Russian historian, Vladimir Goulyaev, as saying that the Romans "must have reached (most likely by chance) the Mexican coast near Vsracruz". This is confirmed by the following evidence: in excavations of an Aztec burial site in the Toluca Valley (Mexico) in 1933, the archeologists stumbled upon a Roman statuette of the 2nd century, and in excavations in the 1980s on the eastern coast of Venezuela scientists found a trove of the 4th-century Roman coins - gold, silver and copper - were hidden in a clay jar and buried deep into the sand on the beach.
To support his view, Dr. Goulyaev quotes a letter which he received in 1968 from Prof. Pyotr Zhukovsky, a colleague of Academician Nikolai Vavilov It says that on a visit to Italy, the scientists were highly surprised to see on the frescoes of Pompeii pictures of quite a few plants (annone, pineapple, etc.) of a clearly American origin. This being so, how did they find their way to the Romans in the 1st century B.C.?
And one can hardly dispute the facts cited in the book about voyages to the American shores by the Vikings of Scandinavia. Thus ancient Islandic chronicles describe a voyage of the Norwegian mariner Eric the Red who sailed as far as Greenland. His son Leifr Eiriksson, nicknamed Lucky, went as far as the coast of the New W)rid, landing in about the year 1000 on an island which is now known as Newfoundland. In 1887 the memory of the really lucky seafarer was perpetuated with a monument in Boston, and on August 17, 1964 the US House of Representatives discussed a bill on marking October 9 as Day of Leifr Eiriksson - the mariner who had set foot on the American coast five centuries before Columbus.
Roman man-of-war with a "raven".
Medieval Chinese man-of-war.
A material confirmation of the fact of the discovery of the American continent by Norwegian mariners was received by the Norwegian archeologist, Helge Ingstadt, in 1960. During explorations in Newfoundland he unearthed ruins of ancient dwellings, smithies, spinning-wheels and charcoal. Radiocarbon analysis confirmed the age of the finds of 1080 (+/-70) years.
The author of the book under review points out, however, that none of these facts belittle the fame and acclaim due to the great Italian navigator and discoverer of America - Christopher Columbus (October 12,1492)*.
The book also offers the reader some interesting facts about the history of the Russian Navy and about the building crafts and navigational skills of the Early Slavs.
The beginnings of seafaring of the Southern and Eastern Slavs date back to the 6th-7th centuries. Early chronicles most often describe early Russian boats as "korabi", or "ladya", with the word "korabi" being a clear derivative from "kora" - tree bark, or "korob" - basket or chest - which reflects on the technology of building such first boats.
The emergence of Kievan Rus as an independent state (9th century) gave a new and systematic momentum to our shipbuilding and marine navigation. Kiev becomes the center of commerce on the Dnieper and its harbor - "po-chayna" - a popular port of call for merchant and fishing boats and caravans making their way to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The main type of a boat of the period is "naboynaya ladya" (facing or lining-type boat) - a boat with a single wooden keelson with the sides made of wooden boards (shell plating) attached to one another. Stemming up from the keel were log "ribs" connected at the upper end with wooden beams. In the words of the historian and Member of the St. Petersburg Academy, Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826), " Russian ships of that time were nothing but rowing boats, fitted out with big sails, which could sail very fast and which had a crew of 40 to 60". It is on such boats that
* See: R. Petrov, "Way to America", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1992. -Ed.
Russian "druzhinas" - armed detachments - made inroads into Byzantine, the Khazar Kaganat (principality) and to Khorezm, sailing and/or rowing, their way down the Volga and the Don and then across the Black and the Caspian seas.
Our forefathers first set their foot on the shores of the White and Barents seas in the 10th-12th centuries, which is proved by archeological excavations on the Vaigach Island of 1985-1986. The artifacts found there had been made in the 12th century by Novgorodian and Ladoga craftsmen.
Traveling further to the north, early Russian mariners reached the southwestern shore of the Onega Gulf. Its local name was Pomorskiy and the settlers were known as Pomortsy or Pomory* They built sailing-rowing vessels with two masts, measuring 10-12 m in length, and what were called "kochi" boats which were up to 25 m long and 7-8 m wide and carried cargoes of more than 150 tons. These two-masted and three-masted vessels had a top deck with hatches and the bow compartment was equipped with a brick heating stove which was also used by the crew for cooking meals on long winter voyages.**
And it should be pointed out that Rus went out of its way in order to secure its access to the Baltic. This policy was promoted by the brilliant victories of Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod over the Swedes in 1240 and over the German knights on the ice of Lake Chudskoye in April 1242 ("the massacre on the ice"). In 1332, the Novgorodians, trying to stop the Swedes from reaching Lake Ladoga, founded the Oreshek*** fortress in the upper reaches of the Neva.
A large section of the book under review deals with the likely answers to the central question of how ancient mariners got their bearings on the high seas before the magnetic compass was invented. And, as Dr. Krasnov points out, the earliest voyages took place only in coastal waters-what we now call cabotage or coastal shipping.
To make it easier for the mariners to keep the coast always in sight, and get their bearings in a more exact way, local residents set up light beacons on high cliffs and other prominent places. And floating beacons were also used to mark shoals and dangerous reefs. The Arab historian Nasir-Husrau (llth century) described one of them as a structure of four long beams of teak wood which were joined together in the manner of a battering-ram. A torch was lit on top of this structure at night. Later on other beacons were adopted- torches placed on ordinary fishing boats held in place by strong anchors.
What is more, early mariners were able to get their bearings by the Moon and the stars at night and by the sunrise and sunset in daytime, and they also got their "clues" from such things as the color of water, masses of clouds - their size and shape, air temperature and humidity, wind direction and form and direction of ripples, etc. Some crews took with them birds which were released after some time. By observing their behavior a mariner at sea could determine the direction to the coast and even the distance towards it, and if and when the birds returned to the ship that was a signal that dry land was really far and away.
As time passed, early mariners could avail themselves of some more complete and accurate data "visible" on the night sky, such as a catalogue on the positions of 850 stars piled up by the Greek founding father of astronomy-Hipperchus (c. 180-c. 125 B.C.). He produced the first accurate map of over 1,000 stars, indicating their positions determined by means of latitude and longitude. He also discovered the precession of equinoxes and accurately measured the distance to the moon by parallax. Of great practical value for coordinates measurements on the earth surface were the works of yet another Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. including his geographical maps.
* See: V. Starkov, "Russian Pomors, the White Sea Coast- Dwellers", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1996. -Ed.
** See: R. Dolgikh, "Across the Arctic Seas", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1994. - Ed.
*** See: V. Kulakov, "Baltic Road of the Vikings", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.
He was the first to determine the coordinates of some 8 thousand sites of Europe and Asia, located along the latitude from Scandinavia to the Upper Nile, and along the longitude - from the Atlantic to Indo-China.
In the subsequent chapters the author of the book describes the origins and uses of a range of navigational instruments, such as the sounding-lead and the echo sounder which measure distance to the seabed and thus also help determine the distance to the shore; and he also traced the development of log which measures the speed and distance covered by a boat. But the real emphasis in the book is on the history of the invention of the compass and its uses - the key event in the centuries-old history of marine navigation which is as important as the invention of gunpowder.
Opinions differ as to who really was the first to use a magnetic needle on board a boat or a ship at sea. But most experts ascribe this invention to the Chinese with the first and rather explicit descriptions of the device found in the works of the philosopher Van Chun (c. 98) ("Critical Considerations"). The compass is described as a spoon-like device of magnetic iron ore set up on a copper plate with a dial indicating degrees of directions.
In all probability the compass was first introduced to Europe by Arab seafarers who must have been travelling in the East in general and in China in particular. They called the instrument a "floating fish" and the event is believed to have occurred at the time of the crusades (1096-1270). But Dr. Krasnov also cites other versions of the advent of the compass in the West, including claims of it being invented by Europeans themselves and independently from the Chinese.
In Russia the compass has been known and used since the 16th century Distant voyages of the Pomors across the White Sea and to the Spitzbergen on which the Russians had set foot long before its "official" discovery by the Dutch navigator Willem Barents (1550-1597)*, would
* See: V. Starkov, "Who Discovered Spitzbergen?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1994. - Ed.
hardly been possible without this magnetic indicator. This is vividly demonstrated, for example, in the reminiscences of De Ferr, a colleague of Barents, dated by August 1597. He writes about "the Russians bringing in their small compass and pointing out that the Kanin Nos was located to the north-west. And our own compass was showing the same". This record is the first "official" mention of the use of the compass in Russia. That, however, does not mean that our compatriots had known nothing about it before.
Of considerable informative value to the reader are sections of the book on the origins of marine astronomy, the origins of sea maps and on the uses of radio and space gear in present-day navigation.
The reader will most likely be also attracted by the closing chapter of the book entitled "Look Into the Future". Its main idea is that in the third millennium man will be making even more impressive uses of the World Ocean which covers three quarters of the surface of this planet. And that means greater emphasis on shipbuilding and marine navigation. In a more distant perspective, however, ships of the future will be a far cry from their 20th-century predecessors. And there are grounds to expect a real revolution in this field. The discovery of superconductivity should make it possible to build noiseless super-fast boats moving without a propeller. Their movement will depend on the well-known law of physics concerning the interaction of an electric conductor with the magnetic field. The functions of the former can be performed by water and superconducting magnets, generating very strong fields at relatively low ergonomic "costs" can be made of metals like niobium and titanium. Cooling units with liquid helium will boost superconductivity. The first such vessel without an engine and a propeller has already been designed and is being built in Japan.
The way Dr. Krasnov sees it, some very new navigational gear is bound to appear on the scene. The rapid progress of radioelectronics and computer systems makes it possible even
now to design what we call multifunctional navigational complexes which can pick up, process and present to the skipper or the captain all the necessary data, help choose and map out the optimal course and even rule out the threat of accidental collisions at sea. Marine navigation of the future will be backed by such global systems as NAVSTAR (USA) and GLONASS (Russia)*.
And we can also expect the advent of fully automated sea vessels in a not too distant future. One can recall, for example, a recent press mention of a daring project of Japanese engineers working on what they call "a highly dependable, intelligent ship". Its model tank tests have already been conducted. The idea of the "intelligent" ship consists in the fact that it will be capable of performing various maneuvers and other operations with the help of a central electronic "brain" system based on artificial intelligence. During a voyage all data coming in from on-board sensors is relayed via satellites to the central processing system. Analyzing these data, the artificial intelligence arrives at optimal solutions concerning the course of the vessel, its speed and operation of its engines. The final decision takes into account a range of factors, including weather and sea conditions. In charting its route in harbors and close to seaports, the artificial intellect picks up data from local subsystems about the local traffic in order to charter the safest course to or from the mooring.
Dr. Krasnov concludes by saying that work on improving the art and techniques of marine navigation will go on as long as the W)rid Ocean remains a scene of intense human activities.
* See: V. Senkevich, "Russian Cosmonautics at the Turn of Two Centuries", Science in Russia, No. 1.2001. - Ed.
About · News · For Advertisers · Donate to Libmonster
Libmonster ® All rights reserved.
2014-2023, LIBMONSTER.COM is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of the United States