The History of Time

“O ye of little faith …”

It has been some time since an entry was made in “History of Time …” so let’s start where we left off last with the advent of “unmanned” time.  Before we move forward with the technical developments of time, it is equally interesting to understand the socio-economic forces that were at work during this gestational period of keeping track of time.  It seems like most people imagine that in the late 12th early 13th century that there were all these independent artisans slaving away at their benches trying to solve the riddle of keeping track of time.  Well, nothing could be farther from the truth.  The general population really had little use for tracking time other than the obvious sunrise, sunset, and meal times.  It was really “the Church” that had an interest in the precision operating day.  During the Middle Ages, monasteries were instrumental in time automation.  Monks and nuns spent countless hours praying for the salvation of the general population (that’s you and me :-) LOL) and therefore measuring time took on an importance that led to more precise time keeping … most notably the need to have “manned” time whereby someone had to turn an hour glass or watch a candle burn became history.  You just never know where time may lead you … it is not always what it seems !!!

Ding, Dong

So now we have the Clepsydra incorporated with hour glasses which have now turned ancient time into units of measure … the hour, IF everything went smoothly. Unfortunately these modern marvels of tracking time in ancient days needed to be attended to, be it water for the Clepsydra or simply someone to turn over an hour glass. The “human element” … the bane of man’s existence :-) Really though, think about it for minute, it seems to me that most of man’s time (pun intended) spent on mechanizing time is to remove the fallibility of man himself. No less true in the next step in the “History of Time”. In the late 12th early 13th century mechanical clocks appeared simultaneous in Great Britain and France. I’ll let someone else split the hairs of who came first. It is not really known who gets credit for the development of mechanical time but with the onset of time being counted by oscillations, a new day had dawned for keeping track of time in way that seems familiar to us today … that is to say, a round dial broken up into 12 and occasionally 24 hourly segments. No more inaccuracies due to the watchman falling asleep or just having bad timing … sort of ironic that a watchman would actually cause inaccurate time keeping :-) “Off with their heads” I say … or better yet, the dawn of mechanical clocks and bells (for alarms). Many of the movement parts of these early mechanical clocks are still being used today in our timepieces. We will discuss of some of those at another time under “Watch Definitions”. Until then …

The Sands of Time

We have been so busy with BARNEYS & Bloomingdales and the rest of our outstanding group of Retailers that we have been remiss in not continuing the saga of “The History of Time”.  And while time marches on, both literally and figuratively, man’s quest to keep track of it more accurately continues to grow.  Our last entry discussed the Clepsydra and how it operated with water.  While this was a vast improvement over other methods of measuring time, it became obvious early on that water was messy to deal with in so many ways.  It freezes in the winter and evaporates in the summer.  Additionally, any surface in constant contact with the same water that is being circulated will develop algae.  If you don’t believe me, come on over and look at the small man made pond with circulating water in my back yard … I’m going to go clean it right after this blog post . But enough of my problems, as you can imagine, all of these “water” problems just create inaccuracies in time and as humans, we just won’t stand for that.  So we need something dry that can be circulated.  EUREKA !!!  Sand … and thus the invention of the hourglass.  In hindsight the hourglass seems like such a simple idea but really didn’t come into practical use until the early 1300’s … several hundred years after the development of the water fed Clepsydra.  The construction of the glass itself was a technological achievement and in combination with finding a material that was coarse enough to flow in homogenous units created, well … timing issues.  And today, while we view sand as the contents du jour of hourglasses, early version worked with not only sand but crushed eggshells or pulverized marble.  If you would like more information oh hourglasses, check out this article:Hourglasses.

The Clepsydra

As we mentioned before, the sundial was a great invention except for the problem of telling what time it is on cloudy days, at night time, or indoors.  If the word “Clepsydra” does not resonate for you, maybe you know it better as a “water clock”.  In its simplest form a “water clock” could be just a pot with a hole for a constant drip.  With a know volume of water placed in the pot, a unit of time was created that was used for activities as far flung as timing lawyers in courtrooms so they didn’t speak too long, doctors measuring a patient’s pulse, to those enterprising folks in the “oldest profession” timing customers stays (if that one gets by you, drop us note and we will give a further explanation).  But as with all instruments of time, the basic design has flaws and man’s creativity comes to the fore.  Ensuring a constant water flow for more accuracy created constant tinkering with designs.  Over the years a variety of ancient water clocks with complications to rival any of today’s timepieces have been developed by many ancient civilizations including those of Egypt, Babylon, India, China, Greco-Roman, and Islamic-Arabic. For more info on water clocks, click on this link:  Clepsydras

7 Ways People Woke Up, Pre-Alarm Clock

How do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning ? Please don’t tell me that you are one of those “perky” people who wakes up without an alarm at 6AM all bouncy and peppy. Well, for the rest of us it just “ain’t” that easy. Do you hit the snooze button a few times or do you do what I do … I put the alarm clock on the other side of the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off. But believe me, there have been days when I just let it ring without moving a muscle for what seems to be eternity until it goes off by itself. So how did everyone get up before we had all these conveniences ? They used everything from bladder control to the “knocker upper” … that is really what a person was called, the “knocker upper” and please refrain from the obvious comments on that name. So if you would like to find out more, click on the following link: 7 Ways People Woke Up, Pre-Alarm Clock

“Meet me when the shadow is over there”

As civilization became more sophisticated and less agrarian, the need to be able to split up the day into units became more necessary.  It was noticed early on that the shadow casted by a stick in the ground, a tree. or any tall straight structure such as a Obelisk could identify different points in the day.  These objects were the forerunners to the sundial know as gnomon.  Of course, a stick or object in the ground gave only a general idea what portion of the day it was … so with the need of more accuracy, the gnomon was added to a plate that was divided into equal parts to show different parts of the day and voila, thesundial is born.  As we know, this just created more “time keeping” problems.  What happens on cloudy days, at night, as the length of days change ?  Man was up for the challenge and we will consider the early solutions on the next entry of “The History of Time …”.

Where did time begin ?

Circadian-Clock-150x150So where did time begin and what was the first way of keeping track of it ? Without getting into any political or religious discussions, how about we just agree that time began … well, at the beginning of time :-) … in whatever way YOU view that to have occurred.

So what was the first way to keep track of time ? Sundials, water-clocks ? I think not. The interesting thing here is that every living organism has this time keeper and no, your favorite watch brand has not figured out how to sell to single cell organisms :-) LOL. The first time keeper … the Circadian Clock (click on the picture for a better view), the “clock” inside you … the one that lets you know that it is time to eat, sleep, work or a myriad of other activities.  So if this innate quality works so well why did we become so obsessed with other methods of tracking time ?  Well, the answer is that your Circadian Clock doesn’t work so well all the time.  Its “accuracy” is subject to all the vicissitudes of your life.  So now that we have established the first “time piece”, as inaccurate as it may be,  we can talk about what came next in future posts

It’s not on your wrist yet, it’s in the sky

As man tired of the inaccuracies of the internal clock, other methods of keeping time were sought out … the first of which was the calendar. Not as we know it today but rather the movement of the stars, the moon, and the sun. Yes, that is correct “the movement of sun” … keep in mind that in these early times it was thought that the earth was stationary at the center of the universe and that all the planets and stars, including the sun, were revolving around the earth. Native Americans built cairns aligned to particular stars in the sky which would identify seasonal changes and animal migrations. The ultimate “cairn” is Stonehenge, located in Great Britain. Space does not permit a detailed description of Stonehenge but feel free to click on the following link for more details:Stonehenge@Wikipedia . To be continued …