Technology Allows Exploration
As civilizations around the world advanced, so did their technologies. For thousands of years it had been impossible for explorers to travel too far from their homelands.
Sailors were limited by what they could see. If they traveled out into the open ocean away from land they would get lost. They used landmarks along the coast to help them navigate. Thus, they were forced to stay near the coastlines.
They were also limited by their sailing technology. Up until now ships had been equipped with square-shaped sails. These sails only allowed explorers to travel in the same direction that the wind was blowing. If the wind stopped blowing in the right direction, they had to take down their sails and either paddle or wait for the wind to change again. This made it very dangerous to travel too far from shore.
Between 1100 A.D. and 1400 A.D. new technologies emerged which helped to overcome many of these problems. The astrolabe, which was invented by the Arabians, helped sailors measure objects in the sky such as stars, planets, the moon and Sun. After measurements were taken, the use of star charts then helped them to determine their location.
The compass, which was invented by the Chinese, helped them to track what direction they were traveling. By using an hourglass, they could determine how long they had been traveling.
Maps also began to improve. For centuries the maps used by travelers had been very inaccurate. These maps were handed down from civilization to civilization, and were gradually improved upon. By the 1400s A.D., they were much more accurate. About this time, map makers began to use grid lines known as latitude and longitude to help travelers measure and determine where they were.
The final invention that allowed sailors to travel further from home was that of the triangle-shaped sail. This new type of sail allowed ships to harness the power of the wind to travel in any direction, and not just in the direction that the wind was blowing. This made it much safer for explorers to travel away from land.