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    Re: Questions about Celestial Navigation
    From: Brad Morris
    Date: 2018 Sep 12, 09:59 -0400

    Meg's fundamental question remains "How has our knowledge of the Polynesian Celestial Navigation system helped to develop modern Star based navigation"

    While you have generously stated how a practitioner of western CN would have understood Polynesian navigational techniques, you offer no evidence of such a hypothetical meeting.  We would require that the western Navigator be not just a rote-practitioner of CN, but additionally a theoretician, such that the evidence offered by the Polynesian Navigator would be recognized as a competent system.  The western Navigator would have to have recognized the reed and shell teaching tools as charts showing islands, wave and current patterns.  European arrogance toward native peoples, in that era, was common and the Polynesian presentation would likely have been dismissed as a primitive and unworthy of consideration.  Add in language barriers, given the terminology associated with navigation, then the practical outcome of any such hypothetical meeting, had it occured, is arguably nothing. Surely some snippet records such a momentous meeting.  For example: Navigator's log "On this day we spoke with the chief [Polynesian] Navigator..." or "We were presented with native charts of the area, detailing...".  Perhaps Cook himself made a note of such a meeting.  

    Moreover, your thesis fails to answer the fundamental question, to wit:  How did this hypothetical meeting affect the course and development of western CN?  If we accept that the hypothetical meeting occured and that the western Navigator understood the presentation, then how has that contributed to western CN?  Surely some theoretician, somewhere in time, has written "the Polynesian system of navigation has contributed X to [western] CN".  Any competent reference will do.

    The attempt to provide equivalence between the systems is an interesting venue, and may help Meg in her research.  That is interesting and perhaps can be expanded.  Were there some sort of astronomical observatories, as many peoples have constructed them?  How was the astronomical information conveyed?  How did the Polynesians measure their position against the astronomical data?  Did they use instruments like a cross-staff or a kamal?  

    Under your assertion that the systems are equivalent, how would a Polynesian Navigator make landfall in Hawaii given the starting point in the Marquesas or Society Islands*?   

    Meg would like some evidence.  The tiniest bits of evidence will suffice.  My understanding of CN is far from complete. NavList is a place of education, so I stand ready to be educated. 


    *"The Hawaiian Islands were first settled as early as 400 C.E., when Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands, 2000 miles away, traveled to Hawaii’s Big Island in canoes"  from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/hawaii-history-and-heritage-4164590/

    *"There is no definitive date for the Polynesian discovery of Hawaii. However, high-precision radiocarbon dating in Hawaii using chonometric hygiene analysis, and taxonomic identification selection of samples, puts the initial first settlement of the Hawaiian Islands sometime between 1219 and 1266 AD, originating from earlier settlements first established in the Society Islands around 1025 to 1120 AD, and in the Marquesan Islands sometime between 1100 and 1200 AD."

    On Wed, Sep 12, 2018, 4:39 AM Geoffrey Kolbe <NoReply_GeoffreyKolbe@fer3.com> wrote:

    I am going to break ranks here and state that the methods of navigation used by the Polynesians would have been quite familiar to Cook and most European ship's masters when Cook visited Polynesia in the 1770s.

    I would start off by saying that "Celestial Navigation" is something of a misnomer. While in theory one could navigate soley by using a succession of position fixes determined from the observation of selected celestial objects, in practice no good navigator ever should, does now, and did so even less in Cook's time. The main means of navigating should be by dead reckoning and certainly was in Cooks time. Dead reckoning involves using all the information available to maintain a running plot of position. In Cook's time, European navigators  groped, smelled and tasted their way around the European coasts. They noted the colour of the water and the way the waves broke. They 'swung the lead' to take sounding of the depth of water beneath them and examined what was stuck to the tallow on the bottom of their lead weights. From all this information, and their own experience, and the knowledge that had been passed down to them from previous generations of navigators, they formed an understanding of where they were and which way they had to go to reach their destination. European navigators would have nodded sagely as his Polynesian brother would have explained how he noted the prevailing winds, ocean currents and the habbits of migratory birds. How he could smell approaching land when it was still below the horizon, feel the echoes in the water from swells bouncing off atolls and see the greenish reflection of forests on the underside of clouds.

    Polynesian navigators were an elite fraternaty who also knew the year-round positions of more than 150 stars and used this knowledge to help them fix their position in their mind. Captain Cook and his elite navigators, his ship's masters, (William Bligh was one), also 'knew' (had tables of) the positions of many celestial objects and through a much more mechanical process which we now call "Celestial Navigation" used this knowledge to periodically correct the running plot of their dead reckoning position which they kept on a paper chart. I would contend that the details were different but the process of "Celestial Navigation" was actually recognisably the same in both cultures.

    As for technology, the Polynesians - as far as I know - had no technology to help them make use of celestial bodies in determining their position. It was rote learning of accumulated knowledge about what the sky looked like, passed down through the generations. Their running plot of position was in their head. The European technology of celestial navigation used by Cook had advanced to a state that it was essentially mature. From then on, sextants, clocks (until the 1950s anyway), ephemerides, sight reduction tables and all the other paraphenalia of "Celestial Navigation" were produced at what was essentially the cutting edge of 18th century technology and did not  - have not - improved significantly.

    Geoffrey Kolbe

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