Sometimes, you don't have to shovel

Not all artifacts are buried underground or sunk deep underwater. Occasionally, people just happen upon them.

Such a person was teenager Andrew Hawkins. In 1967, he was a student in Dorset, on England's southwestern coast. After some exams, he went to the beach. It was low tide, and as he waded into Lyme Bay he spied a wheel-like item underwater (see photo). It was about 7 inches across. Attached to the center was part of a pointer. Numbers were visible around the edge of the circle.

Andrew suspected it was a an astrolabe, an old navigational instrument. He was right, agreed an expert at Britain's National Maritime Museum. In fact, it was a brass astrolabe from the early 1500s!

Astrolabes use the angle of the sun to measure latitude. Christopher Columbus took one with him on his trip to the New World in 1492. By the late 1500s, astrolabes had been replaced by cross-staffs and sextants.

Lyme Bay is a noted graveyard for ships, and Andrew's astrolabe probably was washed ashore from an old wreck. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., later acquired the astrolabe at auction.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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