Ancient travelers were limited in knowing their direction by only being able to follow landmarks and the constellations.
This limited sea travel when there was bad weather and the stars weren’t visible or on land when there was bad weather or fog.
You might be surprised to find out that travel wasn’t the original reason that the compass was invented.
Instead, the ancient Chinese wanted to ensure that their philosophy of harmony with nature was correct, so they invented the compass to designate the directions for their environments, lives, and construction.
This philosophy is known as Feng Shui and is used today. The earliest mention of the compass also indicates that the Chinese called it “south pointer” so that the jade hunters wouldn’t get lost during their travels.
There is a special type of mineral magnetite called a lodestone that is a permanent and natural magnet that aligns itself with the magnetic field of the Earth.
It naturally has a north/south polarity. The ancient Chinese would create the lodestone into the shape of a ladle or spoon and sit it flat on a plate made of bronze, representing the Earth.
They had a circular drawing in the center that represented the heavens, and they placed the spoon in the center.
The lodestone was shaped like a spoon to represent the constellation Ursa Major (Great Bear) which is in the area of stars known as the Big Dipper.
The magnetic properties of the lodestone always made it point south.
As use of the compass continued, the ancient Chinese added other markings on the brass plate to indicate the not only the four main directions of north, south, east, and west, but also northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest.
In yet other versions there were completely different designs. The directional finder was in the shape of a wooden fish that had a magnetized needle in it and then placed in a bowl filled with water.
While the original versions of the ancient Chinese compass were designed to harmonize their lives, once they began to travel, they made changes so that they could use it for navigation.
The earliest recordings of the use for this purpose was during the Northern Song dynasty where they used the floating magnetized needle in water during sailing trips.
What kind of bowl did the ancient Chinese use for their first compasses?
What did the ancient Chinese design the original compasses for?
harmonizing their environments
What was the shape of the original ancient Chinese compass pointer?
ladle or spoon
What material is the pointer made of in the ancient Chinese compass?
What other shape did the ancient Chinese use for a compass pointer in water?
What direction did the ancient Chinese compass always point to?