This intriguing exhibition explores both the biological underpinnings of human navigation and its technological history, from the sea-faring cultures of the southern Pacific to early European mariners. Compelling mounted specimens from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology help tell the story of the human navigational instinct, deeply rooted in animal biology. Viewing accurate scale models of sailing canoes and nautical stick charts from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, visitors will marvel at how expert navigators, using a relatively simple toolkit, successfully negotiated the complex archipelagos of the southern Pacific.
The exhibition traces the evolution of European celestial navigation, from the quadrant and astrolabe to the cross staff, octant, and sextant and showcases an array of variations in navigational instrument design. The exhibition displays diverse navigational methods used by fourteenth- to nineteenth-century mariners—including compasses and various dead-reckoning tools, as well as nautical atlases, maps, piloting books, and astrological texts borrowed from the Harvard Map Collection and the Houghton Library Archives.