5,000 BCE to 476 CE
This time period covers the rise of the earliest civilizations to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE. Much of the world was still unknown to many cultures. Villages grew into cities and came to dominate the land around them. Great civilizations controlled many different areas: Egypt (Nile River), Mesopotamia (Tigris-Euphrates Valley), China (Yellow River), India (Indus River) as well as Greece (Aegean, Adriatic, Mediterranean Seas) and Rome. As these civilizations expanded they became “seafaring” people who used their waterways to interact with each other, be it for trade, exploration, or war.
Maps of this age were often local, so ancient seafaring people often navigated along coastlines searching for local landmarks to guide their way. Their knowledge about winds and currents helped them cross short distances when sailing on the seas. Navigational instruments in time, navigators realized that celestial objects, especially particular stars like Polaris and constellations could be used to keep their vessels on course. Early navigational tools were mostly used on land, but were later adapted for longer ocean voyages. As these tools became more advanced, more cultures, like the Polynesians, began making long voyages across thousands of miles of ocean. They were among the first to populate lands that would later be “discovered” by Europeans.