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Sundials in the Making

If or when every one of the clocks in the world suddenly ceased operating, how would you tell time? Many years ago, our long lost forebears were faced with just this sort of predicament. Clocks, as you may know them today, had not been built yet.

How did man first discover how to measure time? The difference between nighttime and the daylight was most likely the first division of time identified by early peoples. They will likewise have realized that the sun came up above the eastern horizon and went down again below the western horizon bringing darkness to their world.

Throughout the day these people noticed that the shadow cast by a tree, a rock, or simply their own personal body had been long early on in the morning and became shorter until eventually it vanished once the sun was overhead in the middle of the day. In addition, they would have noticed that the shadow grew extended again, on the opposite side of the tree, as evening arrived.

After a while, they were able to conclude how much of the day had passed by looking at the shadows. The earliest timepiece was most likely conceived by a person who set a stick in the earth and made markings in the dirt to indicate where the stick’s shadow was every hour.

The shadow stick is the earliest kind of sundial. Folks assessed the time through the length and position of the stick’s shadow. Today, the technical name for a shadow stick is gnomon, (NO mon) which is Greek for “the one that knows.”

The early Egyptians crafted high stone towers called obelisks. Everybody could tell the time of day by checking obelisk’s shadow. Obelisks were occasionally called “Cleopatra’s Needles.”

Since the earth spins on its axis, the sun appears to advance over the skies. The shadows the sun casts advance in a clockwise path for objects at the northern hemisphere. If the sun rose and set at a constant time and position over the horizon on a daily basis shadow sticks would have been exact clocks. However, our planet is actually spinning just like a spinning top. It spins about an imaginary line referred to as its axis. The axis runs through the center of planet earth from the Northern Pole to the Southern Pole. The earth’s axis is always tilted on the same angle. Every twenty-four hours our planet makes one complete rotation. The earth revolves upon its axis from west to east. The planet’s rotation brings about day and night. When the earth revolves, the night section will move in to the sunlight, while the dayside will go to the dark.

Over the earth’s annual trip round the sun, the North Pole is tilted toward the sun for six months and away from the sun for half a year. Consequently, the shadows cast by the sun shift every day.

Since our planet is round, or curved, the ground at the bottom of a shadow stick will not be at the same angle to the sun as on the equator. Consequently, the shadow of the shadow stick won’t move at a uniform rate every day.

In the end, mankind identified that angling the gnomon and aiming it north made a more accurate sundial. Simply because its angle makes up for the tilt of the Planet, the hour marks stayed the same all through the year. This type of gnomon is called a style. After this breakthrough, users were able to build sundials that were significantly better at keeping good time. A variety of kinds of sundials evolved as man strived toward producing precise timepieces.

Ancient Egyptians started out using a T-shaped “time stick” of which consisted of one vertical stick and one crossbar the names of five hours were written on this stick in hieroglyphics. Each morning the stick was located to make sure that it pointed east. The shadow from the crossbar would then fall across the stick and shift toward the crossbar until noon. In the afternoon, the stick was re-positioned to face west. Around 1500 BC smaller Egyptian timepieces were being created. The sundial was a more compact variation of the obelisk. The uncovering of smaller sized, mobile models of sundials informs us that taking time with them used to be necessary to the Egyptian people.

During the middle ages, peasants in northern European countries utilized sundials carved into the bottom of their wooden clogs. To read the time, the peasant would remove his / her footwear and stand vertically facing the sun. The hours were read by the shadow cast by the heel on the dial.

A further ancient European tool for telling time had been the hand dial. The gnomon on this sundial was simply a stick. It was used in alignment by way of a person’s thumb. The gnomon was then gripped in the left hand in the morning and the hand was kept horizontal to the floor, pointing west. When noon had passed, the gnomon was held by the right hand and pointed east. As mankind demanded improved precision over the moving position of the Earth during the year, sundials were revised from flat discs to types that are more detailed.

Through Renaissance periods sundials changed rapidly and a variety of styles were developed. As well as having hour and minute inscriptions for telling time, more features were frequently added. Many sundials acquired markings to display the seasons, the calendar date, the times of sunrise and sunset, Zodiac signs, along with the points of the compass rose.

People continued to make sundials long after clocks were invented. Sundials could be counted on to keep accurate time, and were often employed to set the correct time on clocks that had stopped working! Sundials were still the most popular method of keeping time right up until wrist watches were invented making it a lot easier for individuals to tell time where ever they were.

Today many people who have sundials in their gardens use them as ornamental objects more than as a way of keeping time. Thanks to the invention of the electronic digital watch, folks no longer have to carry around a transportable sundial. But sundials shouldn’t be neglected by modern day man. The sun does not rely on battery power and will always rise in the morning and set in the evening, making the sundial one of the most dependable ways of measuring time.


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