The technology key to the age of discovery

Shutterstock.com/ Sergey Nivens

The age of exploration also known as the age of discovery lasted from the 15th to the 17th century. It marked a time when thanks to technological innovations in Europe people were able to explore the world and discover new land. It was during this time that many great explorations were taken with the notable voyage of Columbus to America taking place in 1492. Yet what allowed Europeans to take these voyages and what pieces of tech were so key?

One of the most amazing pieces of technology was something called a Kamal. A Kamal was a simple piece of wood and string. A person using a kamal would line up the wood with the horizon and then point the string at the North Star. By doing this the sailor could determine the position of the ship in terms of latitude. This became an essential piece of kit for sailors but was not invented by the Europeans. It had been in place since the 9th century and was likely invented by Arab sailors.

It was replaced during the age of discovery with a cross-staff also known as Jacob’s staff. This tool provided much the same information as a kamal but was far more reliable. The Cross staff was a wooden piece of equipment that looked like a sword. It had one long piece crossed by a short piece. Again by using this device with the horizon and the north star, estimates of the ship’s latitude could be determined.

While these tools helped with navigation on the ship, the ship itself was likely what allowed Europeans to venture so far into the unknown. The Caravel was the first in a long line of incredible ships that were used by Europeans. It was created in the 15th century and was seen as a tough ship that could take on long voyages. It was versatile enough to be used as a warship, a fishing boat, and an explorer. The ships were cheap to build and quick to make.

In the 16th century, the Galleon took pride of the fleet and replaced the Caraval as the versatile ship. They were incredibly strong and could withstand most enemy ships with ease. It was likely these two ships that gave Mediterranean sailors the advantage in the age of exploration. 

While ships were key it was also the experience they had at sea. They had spent many years sailing and for this reason had a number of other tools and tricks at their disposal. The traverse board is a beautiful wooden piece of equipment that looks like it could be used for a game of Chinese Checkers. Instead, it allowed sailors to track the speed and direction of the ship over a voyage.

Of course, the magnetic compass was the greatest piece of equipment for any sailor. It is believed to have been invented by the Chinese in the 11th century. This single piece of equipment allowed sailors to navigate under cloudy skies with ease when once they depended purely on the sun, moon, and stars. 

Some of the inventions were not particularly amazing but sometimes the simplest inventions are the most useful. In the age of discovery, the lead line became popular. This was simply a rope placed at the front of the boat with a weight on the end. It would allow sailors to determine the depths of the oceans they were on and help them to avoid accidentally coming onto land.

All of these inventions allowed Europe to take a step ahead in terms of travel and exploration. It was these innovations that allowed Europe to step foot in the Americas and the Pacific. Who knows how the world would look today if this hadn’t happened.