Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Uncharted waters

The use of birds which could be released for determining the presence and direction of land (Gen 8:6-12) is not a folkloristic invention, but reflects actual navigational practice…A cage full of homing pigeons is not a bad method of direction finding.

C. Gordon, Before Columbus (Crown Publishers 1971), 77.

James Hornell [“The Role of Birds in Ancient Navigation”] shows that several ancient peoples used birds for the purpose of finding out whether there was land within a navigable distance, and in what direction. Hornell adduces references to the practice of carrying aboard several “shore-sighting birds” among the ancient Hindu merchants when sailing on overseas voyages contained in the Hindu Sutta Pitaka (5C BC), according to which these birds were “used to locate the nearest land when the ship’s position was doubtful.” The same practice is mentioned in the Buddhist Kevaddha Sutta of Digha, written about the same period.

R. Patai, The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times (Princeton 1998), 10-11.

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