Twelve thousand years ago, sea levels were rising as the period of global glaciation ended. The land mass now known as Tasmania was cut off and the Aboriginal people living here were isolated from the Australian mainland. Before European settlement, Aboriginal Tasmanians lived in bands, each occupying a stretch of coastline and adjacent inland areas. They were hunter/gatherers who moved around the country to harvest seasonal food. As a coastal people, they relied on the sea for much of their diet. Aboriginal women collected abalone, oysters, mussels and other seafood and the remains of these make up the middens which can be found all around the Tasmanian coastline. The boat shown above was typical of the Tasmanian people. Southern Tasmania became a favoured resting and restocking place for French and English explorers journeying to the Pacific in search of new trade routes, products, land, and scientific knowledge. Aboriginal Tasmanians of the Oyster Bay and South East Tribes were the first to observe Europeans. The earliest encounter in 1772, with a French expedition led by Marion du Fresne, was marred by misunderstanding. Men from both sides were wounded and an Aboriginal was man killed. Other early visitors included Furneaux on Cook’s first Pacific voyage and Cook himself on his second voyage. Bligh also stopped over on his two attempts to obtain breadfruit from Tahiti.
I recently saw an exhibit at the British Museum regarding the importance of timekeeping and physical direction for Muslims. Salat times refers to times when Muslims perform prayers (salat). The term is primarily used for the five daily prayers plus the Friday prayer. According to Muslim beliefs, the salat times were taught by Allah to Muhammad. Prayer times are standard for Muslims in the world, especially the fard prayer times. They depend on the condition of the Sun and geography. There are varying opinions regarding the exact salat times, the schools of Islamic thought differing in minor details. All schools agree that any given prayer cannot be performed before its stipulated time. The five prayers are Fajr (pre-dawn), Dhuhr (midday), Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (sunset) and Isha’a (night). Thus a keen interest was instilled in devout Muslims about the time and direction needed for prayers. The beautiful Arabic astrolabe shown above is made of brass inlaid with silver and copper by Abd al-Karim al-Misri from 1235-1236 CE. Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari (died 796 or 806) is credited with the first astrolabe in the Islamic world in the 8th century. While some sources refer to him as an Arab, other sources state that he was a Persian. Al-Fazārī translated many scientific books into Arabic and Persian.
The history museum tells the story of Saint-Malo and its famous residents. It is located in the keep and tower of Saint-Malo’s castle. Back in 1838, the town of Saint-Malo decided to create a collection of portraits of prominent townspeople, to include Jacques Cartier, Duguay-Trouin, Mahé de La Bourdonnais, Maupertuis (famous mathematician), Chateaubriand, Surcouf, and Lamennais (priest and philosopher). The original 19th century museum was destroyed in 1944 during the struggle to liberate the town, and the present collection, numbering over 8,500 items, is themed around the maritime history of Saint-Malo and the surrounding area, including deep-sea cod fishing in the seas of Newfoundland, maritime trade, maritime warfare featuring colorful corsair characters such as Duguay-Trouin and Surcouf, long-haul sea voyages, and ship building. I have already posted images from the museum concerning Chateaubriand and Jaques Cartier in my posts Saint Malo and Jacques Cartier, look there for these subjects.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris has a large collection of astrolabes and these are rare as “hens teeth”. Today, we do not really understand the emphasis on astrology and astronomy in the past, but put simply, the heavens were considered quite literally heaven. The association of the phases of the moon and stars with tides, history and even menstrual periods was not lost on the ancients. They responded with astrology, an attempt to link the stars with events on earth. It reflected a worldview based on a highly esteemed Greek precedent and only lost credence during the “Age of Enlightenment” in the 18th century, giving way to our modern scientific, evidence based, worldview. The beautiful astrolabe shown above was made in Louvain, Netherlands in 1565 in the Arsenius workshop signed Regnerus Arsenius. An important university founded in 1423 helped to create the climate where the instrument workshop was founded in about 1530 and flourished through much of the century, directed at first by the cartographer Gerard Mercator (all modern maps use a “Mercator Projection”) in association with the mathematician and physician Gemma Frisius (famous for his Gemma rings and other things), and later by Gemma's 'nephew' Gualterus Arsenius. You can read more about this instrument here, it took about a year to make, it was delicate, complicated and expensive. There are only about 25 Arsenius astrolabes in the world, the one below is from the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy.
They have a nice collection of navigational instruments at the French Maritime Museum, so I thought I would share some with you. The little gadget shown above is called a ship log, and it is a way of determining the speed of the boat through water. This is the evolved form of throwing a chip of wood overboard and seeing how far it goes in a few seconds. In the above picture you can see a thirty second sandglass. The idea is to throw it overboard, let it float there for 30 seconds, while the ship moves away. The line has knots on it every so often and thus you can measure the speed of the boat.