Dividers Physical Object

Accession Number
Creation Date
circa 1620
A set of bronze dividers from the wreck of the 1622 galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha. These dividers were likely used by the pilots on the ship and were used to plot distances on a chart. The arms have a serrated pattern cast into the upper halves, apparently to improve the user’s grip. Semi-circular interlocking hinges above the arms are joined at the top by a pin, and the arms pivot from this point. The design allows the dividers to be squeezed open from the sides of the curved hinges with a single hand. Although it is presumed that these shipboard dividers were for use in the pilot’s course-plotting tasks, similar devices were sometimes used by carpenters and other artisans as calipers.


11.4 cm L , Item (Overall)

Length 11.4 cm

Exhibition Label
Case Caption (2023): 

The Pilot

Aboard a Spanish ship, the pilot was third in seniority and would have had over sixteen years’ experience. His training included mathematics and celestial navigation. He also had to be familiar with charts of the overall voyage and those of the fleet’s destination in detail. He needed to understand changes in cloud patterns, shifts in ocean currents, and the quality of the ocean floor along different coastlines.

Aboard the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, the pilot, Martin Jiminez, secured his chest carefully. It was still intact when it was discovered by Mel Fisher’s divers almost 400 years later. It held plotting dividers, a small sundial, a cross staff, a jar, gold and silver coins, and gold chains. Most importantly, it held the astrolabe shown here as well as four others. The astrolabe was used to determine latitude. Certainty about the ship’s latitude combined with the pilot’s other knowledge, meant that the ship would reach its destination safely and on time. 
Object Caption (2023):

Bronze (c.1620)
Gifts of Jamestown Inc., James A.Snyder
1986.008.0580, 1986.008.0613, 1986.008.0729, 1986.012.0003

Dividers were used to plot distances on a chart.