Researchers have just found what is believed to be the oldest known marine navigation tool on the planet. The ‘Astrolabe’ is a bronze disc measuring 17.5 centimeters in diameter, which has a series of engravings on its edges.
It was discovered after researchers excavated a shipwreck that sand off the coast of Oman, sometime in 1503.
According to experts, the ancient navigation tool—known as an astrolabe—was used by ancient Mariner’s in the Age of Discovery in order to measure the position of the sun on ‘trans-oceanic voyages.’ To date, experts have discovered around 108 ancient astrolabes.
The astrolabe was recovered from a ship called the Esmeralda, which is believed to have sunk in the Indian Ocean killing everyone on board, including the captain who was the uncle of famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama—the first person to sail directly from Europe to India.
The ancient navigation tool which is around 17.5 centimeters in diameter and just 2 millimeters was used by ancient sailors to measure the altitude of the sun while at sea.
When archaeologists recovered the artifact, they did not notice any visible markings.
However, later scans by the Warwick University showed the artifact contained symbols around the edges, each separated by five degrees, proving that the object was an astrolabe.
According to Science Daily, “the technology was able to accurately scan the item to within 0.1mm and reproduce a high-resolution 3D model.”
Professor Mark Williams from WMG said:
“It was fantastic to apply our 3D scanning technology to such an exciting project and help with the identification of such a rare and fascinating item.
“Usually we are working on engineering-related challenges, so to be able to take our expertise and transfer that to something different and so historically significant was a really interesting opportunity.”
The markings on the object would have allowed ancient sailors to measure the height of the sun above the horizon at noon, in order to determine their position so that they could navigate with more ease.
Researchers also discovered that the object was engraved with the Portuguese coat of arms and the personal emblem of Don Manuel I, Portugal’s King from 1495-1521.
Experts believe that this item is the oldest known astrolabe in the world which makes it even more special.
David Mearns, from Blue Water Recovery, who led the excavation, commented:
“It’s a great privilege to find something so rare, something so historically significant, something that will be studied by the archaeological community and fills in a gap.
“It was like nothing else we had seen […] it adds to the history, and hopefully astrolabes from this period can be found.”