Look to the horizon: Why latitude was easier to find than longitude

'Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude' traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

‘Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude’ traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

Ships, Clocks and Stars: the Quest for Longitude tells the amazing story of how the problem of determining longitude at sea was solved. The exhibition explains the rival methods and shows the incredible craftsmanship and ingenuity of clockmaker John Harrison, whose timepieces finally gave sailors a practical means to calculate their longitude in a simple manner.

Why was it so hard to sort out a means of finding longitude, when it seems finding latitude had been a relatively simple process?

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How to make a mini planetarium

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight...

Star light, star bright, first constellation I see tonight…

There’s almost no end to the fun that can be had when kids have torches in their hands. Shadow play, bedroom projections, reading under the covers after lights out, spooky face stories, or… a handheld miniature planetarium.

This month we’ve been inspired by current exhibitions Ships Clocks and Stars, as well as our upcoming school holiday program, to make a nifty little star gazer out of some everyday items for our kids craft spot. This mini-planetarium is perfect for projecting under the covers, onto bedroom walls or with evening story time. More than just a toy, it’s also a great way to learn to identify constellations in the night sky.

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Ghost Ships and a travelling man: Amazing wrecks in the Baltic Sea

Diving on the 1660 wreck of Resande Mannen. In the foreground are a bronze sheave and a box with square medicine glass bottles, nestled between two deck beams. Photograph Jens Lindström May 2016

Diving on the 1660 wreck of Resande Mannen. In the foreground are a bronze sheave and a box with square, glass medicine bottles, nestled between two deck beams.  Image: Jens Lindström May 2016.

In 2003 underwater sonar was being used to locate a Swedish reconnaissance plane that had been shot down in the Baltic Sea in 1952 during the cold war. They came across, as archaeologists call them, an ‘anomaly’ that indicated a possible shipwreck. At 130 metres depth, an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) was sent down to investigate. To the surprise of all, they saw a 17th century ship sitting upright on the bottom of the sea floor, quite intact, looking like it was ready to be crewed and set sail again. In fact it, was so complete that spars and rigging lying on the deck could tell them the last sail settings – and hence manoeuvre – before the ship sank. It was such an eerie sight that archaeologists instantly named it ‘The Ghost Ship’.

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Time in motion: capturing the clockmaker’s art

How many people does it take to assemble a clock?

For the replica of John Harrison’s H3, currently on display as part of Ships, Clocks & Stars: the Quest for Longitude, the answer is two master clockmakers. David Higgon and Sean Martin, from Charles Frodsham & Co, London, spent four days reassembling a thousand pieces to create the working model.

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Where on earth are you? A beginners guide to longitude

'Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude' traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

‘Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude’ traces the history of finding reliable methods for determining your longitude at sea. Image: ANMM.

For as long as humans have been exploring, we have sought reliable methods to navigate our way across the Earth. Until the invention of an accurate sea clock by carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison in the 18th century, there was no dependable technique to measure a ship’s longitude – its east or west position at sea – especially when the ship’s navigator could not sight landmarks or celestial markers due to the weather.

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Barbarism and brutality: surviving the Batavia shipwreck

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert's published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert’s published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.

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A single-object museum? The Vasa shipwreck

Vasa shipwreck

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects.

In early May this year I was privileged to be shown some of the recent conservation work being conducted on the iconic 17th century Swedish ship Vasa. The richly decorated and powerfully armed vessel, built between 1626 and 1628 for the King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus, sank just a few minutes into its maiden voyage and lay on the bed of the busy Stockholm harbour for over 300 hundred years. In the 1950s when an amateur archaeologist located the wreck and Swedish navy salvage divers investigated, they found it was still very much intact, resting in the mud. An audacious, what was to be 40 year-long project of retrieving the wreck, conserving, housing and display began. It has proven to be an ongoing and challenging conservation project – far from over just yet.

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Songlines: The art of navigating the Indigenous world

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have navigated their way across the lands and seas of Australia using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. A songline is based around the creator beings and their formation of the lands and waters during the Dreaming (creation of earth). It explains the landmarks, rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees, sky and seas.

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Ships, Clocks and Stars FREE teacher preview this June

Teacher preview of ANMM exhibitions 'Ships, Clocks & Stars' and Endeavour tour.

Teacher preview of ANMM exhibitions ‘Ships, Clocks & Stars’ and Endeavour tour.

Join us for a private viewing of this fascinating and beautiful exhibition on Thursday 16 June 5.00pm – 7.00pm. Hear about our exciting new school programs and board HMB Endeavour to experience what life was really like on an 18th-century vessel. Afterwards, see the museum’s Vivid display – a spectacular rooftop projection viewed from our special vantage point.

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World Environment Day: where do you think it goes?

Join wacky expert Professor Pufferfish and field agent Greene McClean for World Environment Day. Image: ANMM.

Join wacky expert Professor Pufferfish and field agent Greene McClean for World Environment Day. Image: ANMM.

Join wacky expert Professor Pufferfish and field agent Greene McClean will find out what happens to the rubbish we leave behind. If it finds its way into our drains and waterways it can affect our wildlife and our environment. During this virtual excursion students work with our intrepid investigators to work out how we can all help in a practical way.

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The walking dead – bringing 1500 year-old graves to life

dudes

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects

Recently, the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm was taken over by the walking dead for a weekend. Well, it seemed like there were a bunch of ‘viking zombies’ wandering the museum. Vendel zombies in fact – from the period just before the Viking Age, around 550 to 790 AD. A group of historical reenactors were there to give a seminar on their work in recreating historical artefacts, and what they had found out about them in the process.

The thing is, these reenactors have reproduced the individual grave goods of a person from a particular grave find, often a burial chamber. When talking to the public, the reenactors were referring to each other as ‘Valsgårde 8’ or ‘Vendel 14’ – the names for the graves as described by archaeologists. There was something quite eerie about this – like the dead had got up and started walking around the museum.

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Raising the flag for National Reconciliation Week 2016: ‘Our History, Our Story, Our Future’

Sea rights flag.

The Blue Mud Bay sea rights flag flying in Yirrkala at the Buku-Larrngay Mulka Centre

Each year National Reconciliation Week celebrates and builds on the respectful relationships shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

The dates that bookend the week are significant milestones in the Reconciliation journey:

  • May 27—Marks the anniversary of Australia’s most successful referendum and a defining event in our nation’s history. The 1967 referendum saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census.
  • 3 June—Commemorates the High Court of Australia’s landmark Mabo decision in 1992, which legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land—a relationship that existed prior to colonalisation and still exists today. This recognition paved the way for land rights or Native Title.

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NAIDOC week: unlock water and Indigenous People

NAIDOC week with the ANMM via the Virtual Classroom. Image: ANMM.

NAIDOC week with the ANMM via the Virtual Classroom. Image: ANMM.

A virtual excursion suitable for students in Years 3 to 6

To celebrate NAIDOC week, Indigenous Programs Manager Donna Carstens and special guest Uncle Terry will discuss the cultural significance of water to Indigenous people.

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Inspiring stories with Jeannie Baker

 Jeannie Baker illustration from her book Circle.

Detail from the cover of Jeannie Baker’s new book ‘Circle’. Image: Jeannie Baker.

The Australian National Maritime Museum is proud to host award winning children’s author and artist Jeannie Baker for an exclusive chat. Join us as we talk to Jeannie about her new picture Circle. Find out about Jeannie, her background, her inspirations and what it like creating a picture book.

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From Birka to Bjorn Ironside – Working with Viking Age archaeology

Viking Age burial mounds at Birka, Sweden

Viking Age burial mounds at Birka, Sweden

This is part of a series by Curator Dr Stephen Gapps who received an Endeavour Executive Fellowship from April to July 2016. Stephen is based at the Swedish History Museum and the National Maritime Museum (including the Vasa Museum) in Stockholm, Sweden. He is working on several Viking Age and other maritime history and archaeology related projects

This is the second part of two blog posts on maritime archaeology at Birka, Sweden.

Spoiler alert – Bjorn Ironside from the television series The Vikings dies in the end. I know because I walked over his grave mound – the biggest one on the most prominent peak in a line of hills of the island of Munsö, just northwest of Stockholm in Sweden.

After being invited to assist in curating a display of Birka Viking Age at Birka, it was time to install the display case at the Birka Museum on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. And to visit the grave mound of Bjorn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Not the guy from the TV series, but pretty certainly the actual, historical guy.

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