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Name:

Kimal pendant

Date: 11/2/2006
Description: Catalog# 2006.11.02.NV.51


The KIMAL
Myron Paine


In 1810 a “pendant” was found in Nova Scotia. A digital photo of that “pendant” is shown in the picture below left, and to the right with a simulated night scene in the background.

During the summer of 2005, the Museum of Modern art in Ottawa, Canada displayed about a dozen cruder versions “pendants” used by the Inuits. All “pendants” had the three pronged base.

Were the “pendants” used to determine latitude?

The Arabs called similar devices "Al Kemal." The Vikings may have called their device simply a "Ki mal.,” meaning “peek picture.” The Kimal shown appears to be more precise and versatile than the Al-Kemal, which could only determine one preset latitude. (Slaughter, 1957)

The height of the North Star above the horizon varies with the latitude of the viewer. To measure the North Star’s height the viewer may have held a Kimal tethered to his head by two necklaces, which established a set distance from his eyeball. The angle seen from the eye to the Kimal is the same angle as from the eye to the distant horizon and the North Star.

The viewer may have rapidly scanned along the horizon until he saw the North Star in the slit. Then he may have lowered the Kimal until the North Star peeped through the hole. He may have moved a slender needle onto the notches until the needle looked as if it was on the horizon, which could be seen behind the Kimal. Then he may have clamped the needle with his thumb. While holding the needle in place, he may have moved to a fire to make an accurate count of the notches.



One necklace was secured to the top of the Kimal. During the day, the Kimal may have hung around the viewer’s neck.

A second necklace may have just hung loose around the neck. When the Kimal was being used, the second necklace was slipped up around the center prong of the three pronged base. The two necklaces may have been tied together at a point determined by stretching the necklaces away from the Kimal. The knot may have been slipped over the viewer's head to hold the Kimal at a set distance from his eye.

This Kimal was calibrated by adjusting the necklaces so that the distance from the star hole to the bottom of the solid crosspiece was the same as the distance as from the Kimal to the eyeball. Known measurements on the ship's deck and main spar may have created an equal sided triangle to verify that the Kimal was in calibration for 45 degrees latitude. The exact latitude, in degrees, was not always needed. The correct notch required to sail at a given latitude was easier to remember and simpler to determine.

The Kimal illustrated to the left indicates that the ship is south of 45 degrees latitude. The Captain will adjust course to the north. By taking repeated measurements with the Kimal, the ship will eventually arrive within 15 miles, north or south, of Nova Scotia.

The ancient, but real, pendant is now in the British Museum and is shown in the Beothuk chapter of the Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, p. 104, fig. 5, left.