Compass (al deira) used as a navigational tool for trade sailing and travel
19th century
Object Name: Compass, al deira
Period: 19th century
Date: 1800-1899
Provenance: Probably produced in Great Britain
Dimensions: 15.5cm x 27cm x 26.9cm; weight: 2.03kg
Medium: wood,copper alloy,glass
Registration Number: QNM.2011.861.1
Place Of Discovery/Findspot:  Qatar
By the start of the 19th century, compasses such as this were commonly used in the Gulf. Before then, captains of pearl fishing and trading vessels relied primarily on their own knowledge of the seas, coasts and islands to navigate their way to pearl banks and coastal towns. Sometimes their knowledge was encoded in rhyme, and the deepsea navigators relied on the stars to reveal their location and direction of travel.

This example is a dry card compass housed in a metal bowl, which is suspended in a brass, copper metal alloy gimbal, attached to a wooden box with a sliding lid. The box may not be original to the compass. The compass was used to indicate the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), and provided the starting point was known, could be used to take bearings to indicate the direction of travel to reach another known point.
The Qatar Peninsula is surrounded by sea except in the south where it connects with its neighbours from the Arabian Peninsula. For hundreds of years people have shared the land, resources and knowledge inherited from their environment. With no fixed lifestyle in terms of time and place, people moved easily and freely between land and sea for trade, livestock, pearl diving, fishing, and hunting at various times throughout the year. This symbiotic relationship between the people and their environment was represented in the unity of their societies, including the exchange of knowledge, stories and the trading of available goods.

A distinctive characteristic of life on the Qatar Peninsula has long been the close association between the coast and the desert – al barr. Some desert tribes spent several months of the year in coastal cities, setting up semi-permanent residences to participate in pearl diving or fishing. Similarly, coastal residents occasionally moved to al barr during the winter to graze their livestock. This exchange of natural resources and the influence of different environments has contributed to the creation of a unique community.
The presence of British, French and Dutch trading companies in the Gulf from the early 1600s brought uncertainty to the region, with unstable alliances and intense competition over trade routes. As trade flourished, however, the strength of the Arab tribes increased. Many Arab tribes moved from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula to Qatar, and by the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the major towns of the Gulf were founded. Several towns flourished on the Qatari coast, including Huwailah, Khor Hassan, Fuwairat, Ruwaida, Freiha, Al Bidda and Doha. The most notable was Al Zubara which became a hub for the Gulf pearl trade.