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How did the Compass Come to Pass?

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Hey, Camp Fans!

Today is an interesting day that’s been dedicated to the idea of being deserted or stuck somewhere without the aid of a compass. It’s called Marooned without a Compass Day. Whether you interpret that as a challenge to find your way back from an unfamiliar area or an invite to immerse yourself in the wilderness—‘unplugged’, it’s smart to understand how that small, magnetic, analog GPS works.

Early explorers used them to navigate the open ocean—guys like Ferdinand Magellan, Hernan Cortes, Hernando de Soto, and others. But did you know that the magnetic compass was originally invented for a purpose besides navigation? Check out some things you may not have known about the compass:

Before the Compass

In a time before the compass was invented, seafarers used the stars for their navigation on the water. Navigation by the position of the stars was so built into our understanding of the way around the world that even when the compass came onto the navigation scene, people still used it to situate themselves under the stars more so than where they stood on earth.

Fortune Cookie Compass

The compass was, rather surprisingly, not invented for a means of navigation but more for a means of fortune-telling. More than 2000 years ago, this Chinese invention was a device to be read depending on its indicated direction underneath the stars. This was a sort of astrology of the day. 

What Took You so Long?

The compass didn’t make its way to the Americas until the 12th Century. Why the holdup? Well, use of the compass remained exclusively for the purpose of reading fortunes for about 1300 years until roughly 1100 AD. Once its navigational use was realized, explorers brought them far and wide. It was soon after that European explorers sailed the Atlantic and introduced the compass to civilizations of the Americas.

Celebrate today by spending some time outdoors—maybe go for a hike! Find your way without a compass if you’re up for the challenge (but don’t get lost now!). Or maybe instead, you can simply brainstorm things you would bring along to a deserted island. If you could bring three things from your bedroom with you, what would they be? Let us know in a comment and, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Posted in Random Thoughts


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