Time Keeping Devices Overview

It has become very much easier nowadays to figure out the time due to delicate and sophisticated watches. But if we dwell back to past, we see that it was quite difficult for human beings to find the time. They had to rely on shadows from the sun, the melting of a candle, or even the changing smells of incense. If history fascinates you, then I am sure you would be glad to know how people would figure out time in the past. Here are some examples of the ways people would keep time, including a few which we cannot bring back to our lives too.

1. Sundial

You would be amazed to know that Sundial is among the oldest devices that were being used for keeping the time. With the basic idea of having a central gnomon which would cast a shadow from the sun to mark the current passage of time. Romans and Greeks installed this device throughout the cities, the elite class had pocket models as well. They modified versions appeared later on, including a solar cannon sundial in the 19th century which would fire a small gun when the heat of the sun concentrated on a lens. Do you know about the largest Sundial in the world? The largest sundial of the world was constructed in early 18th century, it is called Jantar Mantar, located in Jaipur. It is 73 feet and has 20 astronomical instruments installed on it. Meanwhile, the Taipei 101, which was once the tallest tower in the world until it was surpassed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa, also stands as a colossal sundial, that strikes a shadow on a circular park below.

2. Moondial

Alongside Sundials, moondials were also used by the people for keeping the time. The 17th-century sundial at Queen's College in Cambridge, England is a wonderful moondial. The reason that makes it so special is it is set into a brick wall which includes a moon-table that connects the different phases of the moon to the apparent lunar time which is based on the light of the moon. It would help you figure out what time it is even if it was a night. You can visit Queen's College website for further amazing details about it.

3. Obelisk

The name sounds pretty weird right! The obelisk is not just a static monument, it depicts a long shadow which is perfect for keeping the time. A Greek Philosopher called Eratosthenes for calculated the circumference of the earth because of this wonderful device. He did all these wonderful things by using the knowledge that if one might have no shadow on the Summer Solstice in Syene, another in Alexandria would. You can still see an obelisk in Paris which is used as a sundial even today.

4. Water Clock

water clock
Have you ever thought that what if it is sunset and someone wanted to know the time in ancient times? As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. To solve this problem a device was invented called Water Clock. The invention of this device dates back to 1500 BCE, it worked on the principle of water flow. It would use water to show the time. Water clocks were used over many places. it was used from Egypt to Greece to the Arabic world, and that is why it became an incredible device for keeping the record of time. It was invented by Al-Jazari who used the towering clock on top of a mechanical elephant.

5. Incense Clock

This device dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the incense clock was spread from China to Japan and other Asian areas around. Its every version had a different burning of incense to track the time, that's why the system was rather different. The clock had sometimes different colors in it to show the time, other colors burned to show the alarms or markers of the time.

6. Time Ball

time ball
Have you ever seen The Times Square Ball drop on the Eve of New Year? If you ever did, then you have witnessed a rare demonstration of a time ball timekeeping device. It was a practice that came out in the 19th century, a large metal or wooden ball would plummet at a certain hour to synchronize navigators' marine chronometers. The first time ball was erected at Portsmouth, England in 1892. It was also visible from the sea. With the passage of time, the invention of the radio and other device made them obsolete. There are still Time Balls at some place which has a nostalgic effect on its users. The Time Ball at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London falls at 1 p.m every day, and it has been doing it since 1833.

7. Merkhet

It is another spectacular ancient device which was used as a solution to the sundial. Because sundial could not show the time at night, it would track the ailment and visibility of certain stars at night and keep the time. This "Star Clock" is known to date to ancient Egypt. It was designed with a long bar and a plump line, as well as a sighting tool, by using which a user could focus on a particular star and use the celestial transit as a time marker.

8. Noon Cannon

It may seem quite similar to Time Ball, but it is not.  TheNoon Cannon would discharge at a specific time to show the hour. It has become obsolete like Time Ball now. But you can still get a glimpse of it at Singal Hill in Cape Town, South Africa, where a cannon is shot at noon every day which is a tradition that dates back to 1800s.

9. Church Bells

church bells
Before the invention of clocks, people would use a Church bell to keep the track of time by listening to the sound of the bell at the Church. You would be amazed to know that the term " Clock" is derived from the word "clocca", which is a Latin word for bell. Many of the church bells that began to be built in the 14th century involved the striking of bells. If you are living near a church nowadays and can listen to the ringing of a bell, you are getting the same as a medieval person would use to keep track of the time.

10. Clock Tower

clock tower
A clock tower was also a source of keeping the time which could be easily used by everyone. The biggest advantage of this clock was that the whole community would use the same time schedule. You must have a heard of Big Ben, it is a Clock Tower that is installed on Parliment of Landon. The basic idea of Clock Tower dates back to centuries. The 42-foot Tower of the Winds in Athens which was constructed around 100-50 BCE has eight sides, each of which has a different compass direction on its face and a sundial line below. I hope you enjoyed reading the list of these wonderful timekeeping devices. Most of the devices are obsolete today but they are still used as monuments at different parts of the world. Comment below which device fascinated you the most.