The first time I got an iPod, I couldn’t figure out how to unlock it. I sat there, staring furiously at the screen for a good few minutes, trying to figure out what the damn thing meant by ‘Slide to Unlock.’ Then my mum came along and told me to slide the little block from left to right to unlock it (duh). I imagine this is how someone must’ve felt when confronted by an astrolabe for the first time.
The astrolabe is, quite simply, wizardry. I sort of have a tendency to look back on European history and go “ugh, old people,” especially after so many years of secondary school history, but the astrolabe takes in a boatload of astrology problems like triangulating stars, planets, and latitudes, and provides a simple solution to each one. It’s sort of like an ancient Swiss army knife, if the Swiss army knife could help you identify the stars and your current position in relation to Mecca.
The astrolabe proved my historical ignorance in five minutes flat, because I never could’ve imagined something like this actually existed in the ancient world. You can use the device to tell the time, work out your current position in relation to the stars overhead, do a handy little bit of surveying, and even work out your Horoscope. But perhaps most importantly, it’s an ancient Sat-Nav, because the Islamic world would use it to point their way to Mecca using the stars in the Islamic Golden Age.