Oceanography, the study of the ocean, was first studied in pre-historic times out of curiosity about the regions underneath the ocean surface as well as waves, the rise and fall of the tides, and other coastal processes. The word oceanography is a compound of two Greek words meaning ‘ocean’ and meaning “to write’. The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans were in fact our first oceanographers. In 7250 B. C. the first recorded sea voyage took place in the Aegean. There is evidence of sea trading between the Greek mainland and the Aegean island of Melos. In 4000 B. C. Egyptians developed the arts of shipbuilding and ocean piloting.
Egyptians developed the sailing vessels, which were probably used only in the eastern Mediterranean near Nile River. By 4500 B. C the oldest known map was created, it was made on clay by the Babylonians. Around 4000-2000 B. C. Polynesians traveled extensively in the Western and Southern Pacific settling in many islands in that region. By 2000 B. C. the Phoenicians were already navigating the oceans but staying close to the shores because they didn’t know what to predict. Phoenicians made sea maps from around 1200 B. C. they were said to be the greatest sailors, premier shipbuilders, and traders of the time.
Early History Phoenicians were the “Navigators of the Seas”; they navigated and traded around the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, and Africa in 2000 B. C. Phoenicia was an ancient Semitic Canaanite civilization that lies in present day Palestine and Syria. The Phoenicians were famous for cedar ships, the alphabet, and purple cloth. The Phoenician alphabet was developed during the 15th century B. C. The word “Phoenicia” means land of palms in Greek. The Phoenicians were actually the first people who could navigate the seas well and whose civilization was based on sea life because they were a merchant civilization.
The Greeks learned many things from the Phoenicians such as how to navigate by the North Star and basic ideas for ship designs. In 450 B. C. there was a Greek map with Mediterranean Sea at center most maps surviving from 4th century BC show a spherical Earth. The Greeks were the first who used mathematical principles and developed sophisticated maps for seafaring. Phytheas, a Greek explorer, noted that he could predict tides in the Atlantic based on phases of the moon. Phytheas also measured the angle between the horizons and used the North Star to determine position- improved navigation.
Romans studied and noted the phenomenon of erosion and researched and documented the water cycle. The Romans were extremely superstitious and their interest in Oceanography went downhill when they found out about the fall of The Roman Empire. As the empire fell the Romans destroyed all maps and routes that were created. Romans didn’t advance oceanography much because they were concerned with their land conquests. Middle Ages Polynesians developed an elaborate system for navigating between the many islands of the South Pacific, an area that is approximately 10 million square miles.
They used indicators such as the stars, sun, planets, moon, winds, clouds, currents, and tides as “landmarks”. They were sophisticated enough to have navigated their ships over long distances on the open ocean instead of hugging the coastline like the Phoenicians. They used open canoes cut from tree trunks to navigate. They made the earliest form of navigational or oceanographic map, called stick charts. These were made of pieces of bamboo or other wood that were tied together. They were also known to be very observant. Vikings were warriors and traders of the North. Erikson was the Viking leader who discovered America in the 11th century.
The term Vikings is used to refer to the group of people as a while who speak one of the North Germanic languages. They were also known as Norsemen. They explored the Americas, Iceland, and Greenland. Chinese sailed the same routes used by the Arabs by the 1200s, traveling from China to the Persian Gulf. They improved on maritime technology. The Chinese could boast of several inventions such as the magnetic compass. Ptolemy created a map of the earth that showed a portion of the Earth as a sphere on flat paper. He also produced the first world atlas. Ptolemy improved the