London: Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest astrolabe – an ancient device used for navigating at sea – which was part of Portuguese explorers Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India in the fourteenth century. The Guinness World Records independently certified the astrolabe excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship as the oldest in the world.
They also certified a ship’s bell – dated 1498 – recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world. The scientific process of verifying the disc as an astrolabe by laser imaging is described in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. The Sodre astrolabe is believed to have been made between 1496 and 1501 and is unique in comparison to all other mariner’s astrolabes.
Mariner’s Astrolabes were used for navigating at sea by early explorers, most notably the Portuguese and Spanish. They are considered to be the rarest and most prized of artefacts to be found on ancient shipwrecks and only 104 examples are known to exist in the world, according to the researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK. They were first used at sea on a Portuguese voyage down the west coast of Africa in 1481.
Thereafter, astrolabes were relied on for navigation during the most important explorations of the late 15th century, including those led by Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama. It is the only solid disk type astrolabe with a verifiable provenance and the only specimen decorated with a national symbol: the royal coat of arms of Portugal.