The Beginnings of Time

Examples of different clocks

There is little wonder that the sun proved to be a challenging mystery to primitive man. It provided him with light and warmth. Sunrise marked the beginning of his day and sunset the end of his labors.

The Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks are all believed to have systematically observed shadows cast by gnomons, or indicators. In sunshine the gnomon casts a shadow that varies in trend as well as length as the hours pass by. It is also affected by the time of year. Whenever the sun is at its highest point (noon on a midsummer's day) the shadow has its least length. Historical evidence has been found indicating as early as 1500 B. C., the Egyptians used a type of gnomon for measuring sun time.

The sundial an improved form of timepiece, was eventually developed. Its major improvement was the positioning of its gnomon due north and its long length parallel to the earth's axis. Additional refinements to the dial face were added through "he centuries thus increasing its accuracy.

In Europe wax clocks were known to be in use towards the end of the ninth century. These employed a candle long enough to be consumed within a given period of time. Usually the candle was placed inside of a protective housing to exclude drafts and air currents liable to change the rate of consumption. King Alfred the Great of England used one to regulate his working hours.

The Arabian , al-Jazari, made some ingenious improvements to the 11 light-clock". A treatise written in 1206 describes his invention which consisted of a length of candle designed to burn for 13 hours. In the candle body of wax, 13 marbles were imbedded at equal intervals.

At the end of the first hour one of the marbles, released by the melting wax, landed on a device which cut the candle wick and so put out the light indicating the passing of one more hour of time.

Hydraulic or water clocks, in many forms, have been used for centuries. One of the earliest examples, was built by Amenophis 111 about 1400 B. C.

The American Indian, centuries ago, told his time by boring a hole in the bottom of a boat. His reckoning was made between the time the water started to come through the hole and the time the boat sank below the surface,

A similar type of hydraulic clock consisted of a truncated cone marked with equidistant horizontal lines. Water entered through a small hole in the bottom. As the liquid level reached a horizontal line another period of time was measured.

Sandglasses or hourglasses were known and used about the fourteenth centu ry for recording the passage of short periods of time. Inexpensive to make, reliable and unusually accurate, they played their part in man's continual search for a more convenient type of clock, one independent of the sun.

As the science of mechanics began to be applied to horology we find the development of weight and spring driven clocks. Balances, adjustable escapements, gear trains and other refinements were also designed to go along with them. Some of the earliest mechanical clocks were astronomical models. In reality, these were ingenious mechanical orreries showing the correct relative motions of the sun, moon, stars, planets as well as the time of day, fixed feast of the church, signs of the zodiac, etc.

More pictures of Spilhaus Space Clock and how to repair it.