Flaming Torch

Fun Stuff

 Navigation in the Desert

Every night the young people in our caravan get a lesson on navigation. Every young Nabataean man knew how to navigate by the stars. That's one of the things that made us a great nation of merchants. We could travel over trackless deserts and oceans using only the stars to guide us. To obtain our latitude, we measure the altitude above the horizon to a known star, and then deduct this from this the altitude of the North Pole Star, (since the North Pole Star is the one star that does not move in the sky). Small children learn to measure the altitude of the Pole Star directly using the width of a finger. When held at arm's length, the width of four fingers is considered to measure 4 isba'. In a 360 degree circle there are 224 isba'. This is the simplest method, and is known as the science of qiyas. It is considered that a day's sailing due north would raise the Pole Star 1 isba' from the horizon. For those of us traveling on land, the isba' is further divided into 8 zam. Thus land distances are often measured in zams.

In our lesson tonight, the older men teach us to navigate using a kamal. This is a rectangular shaped board (about 1 x 2 inches) on the end of a string. The string had knots in it at nine places to help us measure. The kamal is more accurate than using fingers. To use the kamal we hold the end of the string in our teeth. The lower edge of the kamal is placed on the horizon while the edge is moved along the string until the upper corner touched the required star. The knot at which the stop tells us the exact number of isba' of altitude of the star. The altitude of the Pole Star can then be deduced from the rahmani. An alternative way of using a kamal is to move the knots through the teeth until the kamal covers the required star altitude.

 Man with Kamal


A kamal


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