The Renaissance was a period of European history from 1300 to 1600 marked by a renewed interest in classical art, learning and science. The Renaissance period brought a number of inventions that changed the course of world history. Two that were particularly important to navigation and exploration were the astrolabe and the magnetic mariner's compass, both of which helped sailors to accurately maneuver their ships.

Where Are We?

The astrolabe came to Renaissance era Europe by way of the Islamic world, which had been using the device for several centuries. It helped navigators determine their present latitude and longitude based on observations of the positions of the stars. Being able to accurately determine a ship's location made longer ocean voyages possible, since navigators could find their way back to known points more effectively.

Which Way Are We Going?

Knowing his location was only half of a navigator's problem. Navigators also needed to know their bearing -- which direction they were headed. The Renaissance era introduction of the magnetic mariner's compass -- which historians believe came to the Europeans by way of China and the Islamic world -- allowed navigators to determine which way was north and by extension to determine all points of the compass. Together, these inventions allowed Renaissance era navigators to explore and chart vast areas of the world, discovering continents heretofore unknown to them and developing sea routes to Africa, Asia and the New World, which would come to be called America.