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Top 10 Ancient Chinese Inventions

        Science | Inventions

9
The Compass
An example of the earliest Chinese compass, used to read a person's destiny, not lead him out of the woods.
An example of the earliest Chinese compass, used to read a person's destiny, not lead him out of the woods.
Richard Cano/iStockphoto

Where would we be without the compass? We'd be lost, that's where. Those of us who hike in the woods or fly various aircraft have the Chinese to thank for guiding us home safely.

Originally, the Chinese created their compasses to point to true south. This was because they considered south, not north, their cardinal direction [source: Wright]. The earliest compasses were created in the fourth century B.C. and were made of lodestone.

The mere existence of lodestone is the result of a bit of luck. Lodestone is a type of magnetite (a magnetic iron ore) that becomes highly magnetized when struck by lightning [source: Wasilewski]. The result is a mineral that's magnetized toward both the north and south poles. We're not certain precisely who came up with the clever idea of discerning direction using lodestone, but archaeological evidence shows the Chinese fashioned ladles that balanced on a divining board; the ladles would point the direction to inner harmony for ancient Chinese soothsayers.


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