Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Birds in ancient navigation

6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth (Gen 8:6-7).

In traversing their seas, the people of Taprobane [Ceylon] take no observations of the stars, and indeed the Greater Bear is not visible to them; but they carry birds out to sea, which they let go from time to time, and so follow their course as they make for the land.

Pliny, Natural History, 6.24.

One of the first Norwegian sailors to hazard the voyage to Iceland was a man known as Raven-Floki for his habit of keeping ravens aboard his vessel. When he thought he was nearing land, Raven-Floki released the ravens, which he had deliberately starved. Often as not, they flew "as the crow flies" directly toward land, which Raven-Floki would reach simply by following their lead.


  1. That is fascinating. Do you think that was common knowledge, or do you think that information was given to Noah through divine inspiration?

    1. This may well have been the first time for an open sea voyage, so I doubt there was precedent to fall back on.

    2. Hey Steve. Thanks for your answer. I guess I still want to know though, was this Noah using his noggin, or was it a supernatural or divine revelation?

      Which I guess brings me to another question, how do we distinguish supernatural from natural? If God created the universe, maybe everything is supernatural?

    3. There's a sense in which God is the only supernatural entity. All other agents and agencies belong to the created order, which makes them "natural."