Oldest-Known Astrolabe Discovered in 15th Century Shipwreck

It is included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest Astrolabe ever found.

The Guinness World Records have independently certified and acknowledged an astrolabe discovered in an ancient shipwreck of a Portuguese Armada.

The ship where the device was excavated from most likely belonged to Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India in 1502-1503.

Experts say it is the oldest such device in the world.

Furthermore, experts have also separately certified a ship’s bell (dated 1498) recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world.

The astrolabe was verified by laser-imaging techniques and the results are described in a scientific paper published by Mearns and Jason Warnett and Mark Williams of WMG at the University of Warwick in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Guinness World Records have independently certified an astrolabe excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship that was part of Vasco da Gama's second voyage to India in 1502-1503 as the oldest in the world, and have separately certified a ship's bell (dated 1498) recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world. Image Credit: David Mearns.
Guinness World Records have independently certified an astrolabe excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship that was part of Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India in 1502-1503 as the oldest in the world, and have separately certified a ship’s bell (dated 1498) recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world. Image Credit: David Mearns.

Dubbed the Sodré astrolabe, the device used by ancient sailors and explorers is believed to have been crafted between 1496 and 1501 and is unique in comparison to all other mariner’s astrolabes, explain researchers.

The most notable astrolabes were used by the Spanish and Portuguese sailors.

In fact, such devices are rarely found in ancient shipwrecks and scholars say there are only 104 examples in the world.

Astrolabes are thought to have been used first at sea in Portuguese journey towards the western coast of Africa in 1481. Soon after, the devices were relied upon for navigation in some of the most significant exploration in the 15th century, including journeys led by Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus as well as Vasco da Gama.

“This artifact is the only known solid disk type astrolabe with a verifiable provenance and the only specimen decorated with a national symbol: the royal coat of arms of Portugal,” explains a statement by Eureka Report.

With the help of a portable laser scanner that can collect more than 50,000 points per second, and with an accuracy of 60 microns, researchers managed to create a three-dimensional model of the astrolabe.

David Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd comments:

“Without the laser scanning work performed by WMG, we would never have known that the scale marks, which were invisible to the naked eye, existed. Their analysis proved beyond doubt that the disk was a mariner’s astrolabe. This has allowed us to confidently place the Sodré astrolabe in its correct chronological position and propose it to be an important transitional instrument.”

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