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    Re: Nautical Mile, was: Why is a sextant like it is?
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2004 Nov 19, 00:52 -0400

    Alex,
    
    You asked:
    
     > Is there indeed any evidence of seas crossings
     > at these ancient times?
    
    The accepted date, in archaeological circles, for the earliest proven
    human crossing of the open sea is based on records of human presence in
    Australia (there having been no land bridge since long before the genus
    Homo emerged in Africa). The earliest generally-accepted site dates from
    before 50,000.
    
    The controversial date is based on the presence of an archaeological
    site on Lombok, in Indonesia. The Lombok Strait is part of the Wallace
    Line, which is a well-established biogeographic boundary. Yet, on its
    eastern shore, there are remains of hominid presence dated to 600,000 or
    so. At that date, the people must have been Homo erectus as our own
    species did not emerge until about 120,000. Nobody knows how they made
    it across 20+ miles of sea but, as best as anyone can tell from the
    evidence yet available, enough of them did to establish a colony of sorts.
    
    And that means that boatbuilders, mariners and navigators have been
    around for a _very_ long time. Quite long enough to gradually come up
    with all sorts of innovations which we innocently suppose emerged in a
    sudden flowering of Mesopotamian and Egyptian high cultures a mere 5,000
    years ago.
    
    
    You also wrote:
    
    > I had an impression that sexagesimal system
    > (and dividing of the circle into 360 degrees)
    > was introduced by Babylonian astronomers
    > (or rather astroLOGERS), not mariners.
    
    
    If it did wait for a civilization as late as the Babylonians (or even
    the Sumerians or the earlier peoples of Dilmun, Dwarka or whatever high
    civilizations came earlier still), I would expect a priesthood to take
    the credit -- just as an Astronomer Royal (and a priest!) figured out
    the numbers which made lunar distances possible in almost our own time.
    But if that civilization was a maritime one, I would also expect that
    the problems of navigators were of concern to that proto-mathematicians
    -- as in recent centuries.
    
    Babylon was not, to my knowledge, a maritime society but it was an heir
    to earlier civilizations which did look to the sea.
    
    
    > Furthermore, even in much later times of the
    > Greeks, they made only cabotage voyages,
    > not going away from a shore.
    
    The extent to which the Mediterranean peoples crossed the open waters of
    the Middle Sea is a subject of active debate amongst specialists, with
    much received wisdom being questioned (doubtless some of it when it
    should not be). However, I would expect higher development of offshore
    navigation among the peoples outside that region. We know what the
    Polynesians achieved not much later than Hellenistic times. I would not
    rule out similar capabilities among the peoples of the Indian Ocean very
    much earlier.
    
    And there is a troubling imbalance between the amount of copper mined in
    North America and the amount used in Europe during the Bronze Age, which
    hints as large-scale transatlantic trade back when King Agamemnon led
    his (bronze-armoured) warriors along the coast to Troy. That, however,
    stretches too far into the wacko fringe of pseudo-archaeology for my
    comfort.
    
    Suffice to say that the unwritten history of human seafaring is vastly
    longer than the written history and may well contain much, much more
    than any of us realize.
    
    
    Trevor Kenchington
    
    
    --
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus{at}iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
    
                         Science Serving the Fisheries
                          http://home.istar.ca/~gadus
    
    
    

       
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