The compass was invented in China, during the Han Dynasty between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. The first compasses were made of lodestone, a naturally magnetized ore of iron. Ancient Chinese people found that if a lodestone was suspended so it could turn freely, it would always point in the same direction, toward the magnetic poles. Early compasses were used for geomancy “in the search for gems and the selection of sites for houses,” but were later adapted for navigation during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century. Later compasses were made of iron needles, magnetized by striking them with a lodestone. The dry compass was invented in medieval Europe around 1300. This was supplanted in the early 20th century by the liquid-filled magnetic compass. Magnetism was originally used for Feng shui reading or fortune telling. It was some time before it’s navigational uses were exploited.
The invention of the navigational compass is credited by scholars to the Chinese, who began using it for navigation sometime between the 9th and 11th century, “some time before 1050, possibly as early as 850.” A common theory by historians, suggests that the Arabs introduced the compass from China to Europe, although current textual evidence only supports the fact that Chinese use of the navigational compass preceded that of Europe and the Middle East.