Anchors have been around for centuries. The first modern anchor is thought to have been invented by a Greek named Eupalamus and later improved by Anacharsis, who was a philosopher from Scythia. Before these gentlemen set their minds to anchors, ships and boats were either secured to the bottom, when not in transit, by stones connected to the craft by a rope or simply went without. The innovation credited to Eupalamus was to create a stem with "teeth" that bit into the sea-bed and used the Earth itself to secure the boat or ship.

A Classic Anchor

It is said that many of the ancient craft, such as the ships used by the Greeks in the heroic age chronicled by the Iliad, actually had no anchors. These ships were simply driven hard ashore when the opportunity arose. This was practical for ships of light draft, but bigger ships that could not be manhandled on a beach needed an anchor.

Our English word "anchor" is one of the few nautical terms that are derived from Latin (the Romans were not noted seamen). It comes from ancora, which is itself rooted in the Greek work ankyra. It was not long before the word "anchor" began to take on metaphorical character, meaning stability or security. (The Etymological Dictionary pegs the first written use of "anchor" as stability in 1382.)

Though there are now many designs for anchors, differing in size and arrangement of flukes, the fundamental principles remain the same. The illustration, above, shows the typical image of an anchor with its attendant parts. Note that, unlike the image, the arm and the stock are generally 90 degrees from each other, so that if the stock were pointing north-south, the arm would orient east-west. This helps the flukes to dig in to the bottom. Thus, we see that anchors have not changed much since Eupalamus put together the first one.

It probably was not until the modern day that we began applying the term "anchor" to people. It was first found in literature describing the last man on a "tug of war" team. Then later it was applied to the fastest and last runner on a relay team. Finally, today, it is the primary word used for the main newscaster in a nightly news program.

The U.S. Navy has deep traditions associated with the anchor. Officers wear the image of an anchor on their hats. The Navy's Song is called "Anchors Aweigh". To "weigh" anchor is to pull it up from the bottom. "Aweigh" means that tugging has ceased and the anchor is off the bottom and the ship can get "under way". The idea is that the ship and crew are leaving the calm security of their anchorage and sailing off for adventure and danger.

Today there are many companies that use the name "Anchor" to emphasize the secure, weighty nature of their products (Anchor Brewing, Anchor Hocking, Anchor Publishing, et cetera). Anchor is widely used as a metaphor and simile in poetry and prose. Like many other nautical words it has entered our consciousness and our lexicon, helping to anchor us to the physical world and to our sea-going past.



The Neolithic Age

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