Ocean navigation chart, 19th-20th century AD
Wood and shell
63 (length) x 57.5 (width) x 2.5 (depth) cm
Marshall Islands, Micronesia

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This is a map for an ocean navigator. Micronesian Islanders from the northwestern Pacific are renowned for their refined navigational and sailing skills. Charts like these were made only in the Marshall Islands, where they were used as memory aides to teach and refresh knowledge before heading out into the open ocean. There were several types of navigational charts. This one is known as a mattang. The ocean’s currents, wave patterns, swells and islands have been translated into the palm-leaf rib sticks and shells. Many of the region’s island groups are made up of low-lying coral atolls. This means sailors are quickly out of sight of land. Young men training to be navigators would learn to read the ocean, and each would design his own chart, adding information to it when he returned home after a voyage.
Today, the Marshall Islands are threatened by climate change. Navigation charts like this one in the British Museum’s collection speak of Islanders deep connection to the ocean and take on new meanings and significance in these difficult times.

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