The compass is an instrument used for guidance and direction. Its physical foundation lies in the ownership of the magnetized needles, which have the ability to orient north because the Earth behaves like a big magnet, whose poles almost coincide with the respective geographic poles.
The seagoing before the compass was made by observing the position of the sun and the stars, but weather circumstances detracted much security and with a cloudy sky orientation became impossible.
The first reference we have, magnetite was an instrument belonging to the Olmec culture (Mexico) around 1000 A / C, however some researchers as Joseph Needham attributes its invention to the Chinese, during the Song Dynasty between 1040 and 1044, where a written attributed to Shen Kuo, is described as "an iron fish indicating south floating in a bowl of water."
The first European mention of a magnetized needle and its use among sailors occurs in De rerum naturis (Natural things), Alexander Neckam, probably written in Paris in 1190 In the Arab world, the earliest reference to the device is in "The Book thesaurus of the merchants' written in Arabic by al-Kibjaki Baylak in Cairo in 1282. In Europe, the compass is officially known since the Renaissance.
Initially it was considered a magical instrument . Also spread throughout Europe the legend and the belief that the compass pointing north of the Earth, because there was a gigantic iron mountain in the middle of an imaginary island which is called Rupes Nigra.
Today the compass remains an essential element in both aviation and shipping, as when hiking, climbing, caving etc.