What Ancient Civilization Made the Compass?

The compass is a tool that has been used for centuries to aid in navigation. It is a device that uses the Earth’s magnetic field to determine direction.

The question of who invented the compass has been a topic of debate for many years. However, many historians believe that the ancient Chinese were the first to invent this important navigational tool.

Origins of the Compass

The earliest known compass was discovered in ancient China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). This compass, known as the “south-pointer,” was made from lodestone, a naturally occurring magnetic mineral. The south-pointer was a spoon-shaped object with a handle that pointed towards south.

The Function of Ancient Chinese Compasses

Ancient Chinese compasses were primarily used for divination purposes, such as fortune-telling and feng shui. However, they were also used for navigation by sailors and merchants who traveled along the coast and rivers.

Improvements on Ancient Chinese Compasses

Over time, the design of the compass evolved. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), improvements were made to the design of Chinese compasses.

The spoon shape was replaced with a magnetized needle that floated on water inside a bowl. By using this new design, sailors could determine direction even when they were out of sight of land.

The Compass in Europe

The compass did not make its way to Europe until much later. It was brought over by Arab traders during the 12th century and quickly became an essential tool for navigation by European sailors.

Improvements on European Compasses

In Europe, further improvements were made to the design of the compass. One notable improvement was adding a pivot point which allowed for more accurate readings.


In conclusion, while there may be some debate over who invented the compass, it is generally accepted that ancient China was the birthplace of this important navigational tool. From its humble beginnings as a spoon-shaped south-pointer made from lodestone to the modern-day compass with a pivot point and magnetized needle, the compass has come a long way. Its invention has had a profound impact on navigation and exploration throughout history.