How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Ocean
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“The Sands and Flats Are Discovered”
YOU RAISE YOUR EYES and the land falls away at your feet. I sat on the cliffs at Céide Fields, in Ireland’s County Mayo, and gazed westward across a tumult of gray, windswept Atlantic toward an indistinct horizon swept by dark rain showers. Below me, precipitous cliffs battered by ocean swells tumbled into the surf with a low roar. There was nothing between North America and me except a featureless distance of tumultuous open water with unbridled power.
I sat there for more than an hour, my face buffeted by rain and wind, contemplating the immensity of the open ocean. My mind wandered, as it so often does, into the past, lulled by the endless rush of wind and sea. I became an Irish monk of 1,300 years ago, alone with a handful of companions amid towering swells in a small boat of stitched hide, just a rag of leather sail aloft on a short mast. We were rolling heavily in the rising gale with no land in sight and no idea whether land lay over the horizon. Hour after hour, we huddled in our thick, sodden cloaks deep in the boat. Only the helmsman stood watch at the steering oar, quietly chanting a Te Deum as he watched the endless pro cession of waves that could capsize us in a moment. We were in pursuit of a dream, of a mythic land somewhere in the western ocean, a place where the unknown began. Did such a land exist? We had no idea, just will- o’- the- wisps of sailors’ tales of distant islands of the blessed where one could live in contemplative peace, close to God.
At Céide Fields, you feel as if you stand on the edge of the known world. Today, we know that Boston and New York, Greenland and Newfoundland, lie on the invisible shores 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) to the west. Atlases, charts, and Google Earth delineate the extremities of what was a vast, sinister wilderness a thousand years ago. To our Eu rope an forebears of that era, the western coasts of Eu rope were the frontiers of the earth. As I walked along the cliffs, I asked myself what compelled such men to leave familiar shores and venture into the vast, open ocean? Were they insane or desperate, or clever enough to think that they would know how to ?nd their way home? And what did they believe lay beyond the horizon that was worth ?nding, even if that something was only the knowledge of what lay on the far side?
Irish monks were not, of course, the ?rst people to sail beyond the horizon. Human experience of the oceans accumulated far earlier in many parts of the world. Southeast Asian mainlanders were paddling or sailing from island to island to New Guinea and Australia by at least 50,000 years ago; their descendants were living in the Bismarck Strait region of the southwestern Paci?c by 30,000 years ago. People were crisscrossing open water to Aegean islands by at least 8000 B.C.E.; Chinese ?eets visited the East African coast a good century before Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope; raft sailors from what is now Ec ua dor traded with Maya lords in Central America long before 1492. In time, and in many places, the land became part of the sea, landscapes and seascapes as one. But the fundamental question remains, what ever the setting: What pushed people across the horizon, or in some cases gave them no incentive to leave familiar coastal waters? In other words, how and why did they decode the ocean?
Copyright ©2012 by James Hansen.From:HOW THE EARLIEST MARINERS UNLOCKED THE SECRETS OF THE OCEANS by Brian Fagan.Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Press
In Beyond the Blue Horizon, archaeologist, historian, and New York Times bestselling author Brian Fagan tackles mankind’s enduring drive to master the seas, the planet’s most mysterious terrain. We know the tales of Columbus and Captain Cook, yet much earlier mariners made equally bold and world-changing voyages. From the moment when ancient Polynesians first dared to sail beyond the horizon, Fagan vividly explains how our mastery of the oceans changed the course of human history, even before history was written.
What drove humans to risk their lives on open water? How did early sailors unlock the secrets of winds, tides, and the stars they steered by? What were the earliest ocean crossings like? In compelling detail, Fagan reveals how seafaring evolved so that the forbidding realms of the seas were transformed from barriers into a nexus of commerce and cultural exchange.
From bamboo rafts in the Java Sea to triremes in the Aegean, and Norse longboats to sealskin kayaks in Alaska, Fagan crafts a captivating narrative of humanity’s urge to challenge the unknown and seek out distant shores, of the daring men and women who did so, and of the indelible mark they have left on civilization.
Hardcover Book : 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc ( July 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-545499
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 x 0.84inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)