The Weird Early Navigational Techniques that Inspire Our Journeys Today

Long before there was GPS or even maps of the world, explorers still went out into the world to embrace its wonders, and the everyday person still journeyed out and did what they had to do to survive. People got around in creative ways before modern navigational techniques were discovered. From stick charts to reading cloud formations to sound navigation, here are some of the weird early navigational techniques used by ancient civilizations that inspire our journeys today. After all, we humans have always been ingenuitive. We look for ways to tackle problems and to find the best way to get from point A to point B, and before technology, we were creative with how we did that. I think it’s important to reflect on these old methods and techniques so we can remind ourselves that we can always improvise, and we can be truly resourceful if we get cut off from our technology… if we need to be.

That being said, these early navigation methods ranged from methods of practical observation (who doesn’t love a form or reasonable deduction and observation), superstition and religion, and trial and error. So, without further ado, let’s discuss these early navigation techniques.

Stick Charts

If you’ve never heard of a stick chart before, this will sound unreal. But it’s truly one of the most unique navigation techniques I’ve ever heard of. Used by ancient Pacific Islanders, these charts (which were not actually made from sticks rather from coconut strips, palm strips, and shells) were used by the Marshallese to pilot and navigate their canoes and other similar vessels as they went from island to island in the pacific. This is truly one of the most striking weird early navigational techniques out there. These charts use the materials mentioned above to weave in and out of each other in a pattern. They look like woven art; however, these early charts or maps told the Marshallese the swell movements, wind patterns, wave interactions, and island layouts of the waters they would be traveling. These maps are pretty abstract when you look at them. I can’t tell what a piece means by looking at a photo of one; however, it just shows how creative we can be and how you can truly make your own language out of things as simple as coconut strips and shell placements.

Medo charts were also similarly created and used along side of the stick charts to allow for piloting instructions. Shells were used to represent islands on these Medo charts, and the sticks placed around them showed the potential courses to get between the islands. Again, the intricacy and creativity of these early pre-map charts are truly wondrous to behold and may change the way you see the ancient world.

Celestial Navigation

While not exactly strange now that we have a deep understanding of astronomy, it’s important to note that early navigators would use the positions of the starts to notate where they were and where they were going when they were out at sea. With the expansive sea all around you, knowing where they sun rises and sets, in itself, can be a useful tool. But much deeper than this, they would use complex calculations and instruments such as astrolabes to notate their space in the world.


Reading the Natural Environment

Some early cultures observed animal behavior to navigate where they should be going. For instance, if they saw birds flying in a certain direction, they believed it could indicate that they are heading towards land, and they should follow that direction. In the same way, they observed sea creatures to get their bearings of the underwater landscape that could be beneath them. Other forms of reading nature came with sailors relying on cloud formations to anticipate the weather and wind patterns they needed to sail. Sailors became well-versed in reading the weather patterns and calculating the wind needed to travel where they needed to go. I should also mention here that early sailors also used their superstition and folklore to lead their navigational techniques, as well. They would conduct rituals prior to a voyage that they believed would bring them good fortune and would potentially alter their courses or change paths based on superstitions or strange patterns in the world around them. While not exactly a true source of navigation, it was very real to them, and it did affect how they navigated the sea.

Other forms weird early navigational techniques and of reading the natural environment consisted of paying attention to the sounds around you. In foggy conditions, early sailors would listen to the sounds of waves breaking nearby to predict where shores may be, and they would use foghorns to determine how close they were to the nearest landmass. Focusing on practical factors such as what you could see and hear and learning what that truly felt like to navigate was a necessity in pre-technological times of navigation.

While some of these early navigational techniques may seem strange or unconventional by modern standards, they were often the result of careful observation and practical necessity in a time when accurate maps and navigational instruments were limited. And they surely helped transition humanity into the greater tools we developed for navigation in the modern years.

Malorie Mackey is an actress, published author, and adventurer. Malorie grew up in Richmond, Virginia where she loved sports, the outdoors, animals, and all forms of art. She took to acting at a young age, so it was no surprise when she decided to go to college for theatre. While in college, Malorie studied body movement with the DAH Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, voice in Herefordshire, England with Frankie Armstrong, and the business of theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Malorie moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles after receiving her BFA in Theatre Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon arriving in LA, Malorie participated in the Miss California USA 2011 Pageant where she won the “Friend’s Choice” Award (by popular vote) and received a beautiful award for it.

While living on the West Coast, Malorie accumulated over 40 acting credits working on a variety of television shows, web series, and indie films, such as the sci-fi movie “Dracano,” the Biography Channel show “My Haunted House,” the tv pilot “Model Citizen” with Angie Everhart, and the award-winning indie film “Amelia 2.0.”

Throughout her experiences, Malorie found a love for travel and adventure, having journeyed to over a dozen countries experiencing unique locations. From the lush jungles of the Sierra Madre mountain range to the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, Malorie began adventuring and writing about her unique travels. These travel excerpts can be found on VIVA GLAM Magazine, in Malorie’s Adventure Blog, in Malorie’s adventure show: “Weird World Adventures” and in the works for her full-length travel book.

In 2022, Malorie was thrilled to become a member of the Explorer’s Club through her work on scientific travel. Her experiences volunteering on archaeological and anthropological expeditions as well as with animal conservation allowed her entry into the exclusive club. Since then, Malorie has focused more on scientific travel.

Malorie’s show “Weird World Adventures” releases on Amazon Prime Video in the Spring of 2024! Stay tuned as Malorie brings the strangest wonders of the world to you!

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