Modern life is run by clocks, watches, and cellphones. We all have our preferred way of keeping track of time, and so did the people before us. From the Ancient Egyptians to the Ancient Chinese – here is how they could tell time.
Starting with the Ancient Egyptians, who were known for being ahead of their time, started with the obelisk. It is a sort of pillar made of stone, often engraved with meaningful hieroglyphics. In those days, the sun was a natural clock. The obelisk allowed for shadows to act as the clock hands we know today. The concept of hours was not created yet, but the position of the shadows still allowed for useful interpretations.
The Ancient Greeks were also credited with their innovative ideas. They used water to track the passing of time. The water clock was a bowl with markings inside of it similar to a measuring jug. The bottom of the bowl had a hole in it, allowing water to flow. As the water flowed, it revealed the intervals and that meant a certain amount of time had passed. The water flow did slow down towards the end, making time seem to stretch, but the technique was better than pure guess-work.
A very widespread time device was the hourglass. It is still used to this day and is known throughout the world. Its original purpose was to keep time aboard ships. It then spread to all kinds of uses on land and at sea. The shape, which is so symbolic that is named an hourglass shape is that of a cylinder that tapers and rewidens in the middle. This allows for sand, which is in the device to trickle through to the bottom. When the sand has reached the other side, the hourglass can simply be turned over again. More sand would take longer to trickle down, so more sand means a longer measurement of time. The hourglass shows that a good invention or idea is timeless – even something that tells time!
Another culture-rich country, China, also had methods of telling the time in ancient eras. Similar to the ancient Greeks, time was marked in intervals. Clocks were made of candles, with the candles carved with equal intervals. These acted as a measurement of time, the same way an hour is a measurement of time. The wax of the candle melts and goes down the intervals, so time passed would be the number of intervals that have melted away. If an alarm clock was needed, an object would be made into the candle that would fall when the wax melts away.
Time and Space
But going further than seconds and hours requires tracking the moon and its phases. Our modern calendars with 365 days and 12 months are not as modern as they may seem. The Ancient Egyptians used a similar calendar system to the one we use today. It has twelve months of thirty days each. There were five days left over at the end of the year. The lunar calendar in Egypt was considered for special days and religious periods. The Ancient Egyptians even had hieroglyphics that can be translated into phrases like ” the beginning of the month”, “the end of the month”, and so forth.
Time is something we all have in common, so knowing that it was a work in progress for ancient people could be comforting when we feel like time is running away from us.