Beyond the blue horizon How the earliest mariners unlocked the secrets of the oceans

Brian M. Fagan

Book - 2012

Looks at the early development of navigation, examining how ancient humans discovered the secrets of wind, tides, and stars that allowed them to make long voyages that profoundly changed human civilization.

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New York, NY : Bloomsbury Press c2012.
1st U.S. ed
Physical Description
xx, 313 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Brian M. Fagan (-)
  • "The sands and flats are discovered"
  • Across the Pacific. Sunda and Sahul ; "Butterfly wings scattered over the water" ; A pattern of islands
  • Poseidon's waters. A world of ceaseless movement ; Timber and mekku-stones
  • The monsoon world. The Erythraean Sea ; "A place of great traffic" ; "We spread our cloudlike sails aloft"
  • Turbulent waters in the North. Seascapes of ancestors ; "Storms fell on the stern in icy feathers"
  • The Pacific to the West. The Aleutians : "The sea becomes very high" ; Raven releases the fish ; The fiery pool and the spiny oyster
  • Of fish and portolans.
Review by Booklist Reviews

A history of ocean voyaging before the Age of Exploration, Fagan's newest archaeological work benefits from his own seafaring experiences. The perils concealed in shoals, tides, winds, and waves deepen Fagan's considerations of his book's central question, What motivated people to venture beyond sight of land? Going over the horizon into the wilderness without aid of sextant or GPS risked everything. Those who did so in the various geographical areas Fagan investigates had to have the strongest incentives. As he proposes those—and for the millennia during which Pacific Ocean islands were populated, he suggests inheritance practices as an impetus—Fagan explains navigational techniques that were probably used. Another angle sure to pique the interest of maritime readers is Fagan's reflective attention to the evolution of a region's distinctive sailing craft, such as the dhow in the Indian Ocean, the trireme in the Mediterranean Sea, a variety of vessels in northern European seas, and the canoes and kayaks of the North Pacific. A thoughtful presenter, Fagan accords a suitable awe to the intrepid sailors of prehistory and ancient history. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Archaeologist/anthropologist Fagan (emer., Univ. of California, Santa Barbara), a prolific writer with a sprawling range of interests, presents a sweeping account of the earliest ventures of humankind into oceanic space. The author takes readers on a global journey enriched by his palpable enthusiasm for his subject and his colorful prose. The book's focus is on prehistory and antiquity; therefore, the chapter on the great 15th-century Chinese seafarer, Zheng He, seems out of place. Not an explorer, Zheng used local pilots well familiar with the waters he sailed. Zheng belies the title of the book, for he unlocked no "secrets of the ocean" except possibly for the Chinese. The book is packed with fascinating information and is highly personal; the author is a keen and knowledgeable sailor with firsthand experience of many of the waters he explores. However, the episodic nature of the book challenges the thread of the narrative. Fagan recognizes the problem and offers suggestions about how to read the text. His epilogue might better have been a conclusion, giving readers more of a summation of the argument by wrapping up the major themes to which he alludes in his preface. Summing Up: Recommended. General collections/public libraries. General Readers; Two-year Technical Program Students. J. C. Perry Tufts University Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

When and why did prehistoric people decide to venture out upon the world's oceans? What were their motivations for traveling across such large expanses in primitive vessels? In this enthralling work, Fagan (anthropology, emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans) attempts to answer these questions, examining seafaring traditions in a number of world regions. He begins with early voyaging in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, then covers a long span of prehistoric seafaring in the Mediterranean world, the Indian Ocean, northern Europe, and among Pacific coast Native Americans in North, Central, and South America. Fagan effectively intersperses observations from his own extensive sailing experience as he ponders how ancient mariners might have responded to various sea conditions and what may have initially caused them to take to the sea. VERDICT Fagan paints a thoroughly fascinating portrait of the intricate interaction among ocean, climate, and humanity in the many parts of the world where seafaring cultures developed. This excellent book is sure to appeal to readers with some background and interest in world archaeology and history. With extensive documentation in the end notes.—Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH [Page 89]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

The Vikings coined a word—æfintyr—to describe humanity's restless need for exploration, but the urge itself has been felt on every shore throughout history. Drawing on a lifetime of sailing, Fagan (Elixir), U.C.–Santa Barbara emeritus professor of anthropology, does more than reconstruct the sea routes and watercraft used by ancient mariners. He recreates their mental states and imagines what forces inspired them to leave the land behind. Tacking between first-person anecdotes, archeological explanations, and fictionalized scenes from the distant past, this salty work of historical imagination travels with the Micronesian outriggers that ferried moai carvers to Easter Island, the Egyptian timber barges that carried the cedars of Lebanon to the pharaohs, and the black ships that brought the Greek heroes to the gates of Troy. With today's diesel engines, GPS displays, and satellite communications, these long-cherished skills are all but forgotten. Few people alive today could do what Micronesian sailors accomplished millennia ago, let alone rival the skills of a master navigator like Christopher Columbus. Fagan has produced a loving tribute to their achievement, as well as a bittersweet testimony to the loss as well as gain brought by modern technology. Agent: Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (June) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The best-selling author of The Great Warming provides a vibrant history of how early seafarers first mastered long-distance navigation with civilization-changing effectiveness, providing vivid descriptions of early ocean crossings by myriad cultures and how they came to understand the winds, tides and stars.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Looks at the early development of navigation, examining how ancient humans discovered the secrets of wind, tides, and stars that allowed them to make long voyages that profoundly changed human civilization.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In Beyond the Blue Horizon, archaeologist and historian Brian Fagan tackles his richest topic yet: the enduring quest to master the oceans, the planet's most mysterious terrain. We know the tales of Columbus and Captain Cook, yet much earlier mariners made equally bold and world-changing voyages. From the moment when ancient Polynesians first dared to sail beyond the horizon, Fagan vividly explains how our mastery of the oceans changed the course of human history. What drove humans to risk their lives on open water? How did early sailors unlock the secrets of winds, tides, and the stars they steered by? What were the earliest ocean crossings like? With compelling detail, Fagan reveals how seafaring evolved so that the forbidding realms of the sea gods were transformed from barriers into a nexus of commerce and cultural exchange. From bamboo rafts in the Java Sea to triremes in the Aegean, from Norse longboats to sealskin kayaks in Alaska, Fagan crafts a captivating narrative of humanity's urge to challenge the unknown and seek out distant shores. Beyond the Blue Horizon will enthrall readers who enjoyed Dava Sobel's Longitude, Simon Winchester's Atlantic, and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.