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Less ancient mariners

April 15, 2016

Norway_sheep_portraitThis article on scientists studying the Marshall Islanders’ navigational art of wave piloting has one of the best retractions I have read, perhaps an example of why so many sailors’ tales are taken with a grain of salt. With no explanation, it waves aside a ridiculous dozen orders of magnitude:

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments between the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

The Norse had their navigational tricks. But mostly they relied on their old Norwegian sheep. That’s one above, looking askance at that editorial retraction. Their wool was needed for sails. And sea clothing, to keep the sailors safe from hypothermia.

“It’s actually more time-consuming to produce the textiles than to produce the boat,” Lightfoot said in a 2009 documentary about woolen sails. Building a boat might take two skilled boatbuilders a couple of weeks, she estimated, but creating its sail would take two skilled women a year.

In their bronze age, north Europeans were building log boats.

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