The History of the Sundial.

 

Stone Sundial

When pottering around our gardens, large or small, using our green fingers to gently tend the bulbs and seeds which we lovingly plant with care, in the hope that our efforts will yield a gorgeous bloom in the summer months, how often do we walk past a stone sundial situated in the centre of the lawn accurately measuring the passing of time?

If not in your own personal botanical oasis, then at your local garden centre. Sitting patiently waiting for its soon to be owner to pluck it from its space amongst the other stone features on display.

Have you ever considered where the sundial originated? How old this simple mechanism of measuring time is? Who was the brain child who first thought and developed this concept which can still be seen throughout the world within historical monuments and buildings or sitting patiently in the rear garden of you own Parents or Grand Parents homes silently and accurately telling its readers the time.

Initially when we take a giant step back in time, time meant nothing to man. Literally nothing.

Can you imagine a time when we weren’t watching the clock, counting the days, weeks, months and years by? Days revolved around the natural progressions of day and night, summer and winter.

Over a period of time early man could see a pattern evolving and learned to take advantage of the passing of time. For example, early man learned when to plant his crops and harvest them to yield the most substantial results. He also learned when to hunt or gather food ready for the hard-approaching cold winter months.

These skills though gradual at first developed even further when man decided he needed something to help him pinpoint certain times in the day as well as the time of year. This was when it was noticed that the sun casts shadows differently in the morning than in the evening and the sun peaks lower and lower when the long and cold winter months are imminent but during the summer the sun's position in the sky is higher.

Science of the Sundial

Ancient Egyptians were the first to take these observations and separate night and day into a 24-hour time frame.

Thus, the first sun dial was created.

The oldest known sundial was found in Egypt and dates from the time of Thutmose III, about 1,500 years BC.

oldest sundial

Wikipedia

These dials rely on the sun for its hour hand which as the sun passes from east to west casts a shadow. A stick angled into the ground tracks this shadow as it moves in a semi-circle around the stick. Markers in the dial then divide the day into equal parts which became the hours of our solar day.

The ancient Egyptians called the hours "unequal" or "seasonal" because the lengths changed with the seasons and between night and day.

Any structure that marks the passage of the sun throughout the day can be considered a sundial or clock.

Although watches and clocks came into popular use in the 18th century and are widely sold today by online shops such as ClockDesignCo , sundials were long employed for setting and checking these latest mechanical time pieces and though now sundials are chiefly seen as ornaments or decorative pieces to draw ones eye they are still used in many areas of the world in countries such as Japan and China.

The World's Largest Sundial.

The Samrat Yantra in Jaipur is part of the Jantar Mantar (translation: instruments for calculation), a Big Collection of 14 devices built for measuring time, for astronomy, and for astrology, in the 18th century.

largest sundial

Historical accounts say that, in 1719, Mogul emperor Mohammad Shah was leaving on an expedition. But the planets, weren't in the “right” spots in the night sky. This misalignment due to failed predictions spurred Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II to build a series of observatories. When Singh decided to move and found a new city (what would be Jaipur) in a nearby valley, he also had a new observatory built there.

The Jaipur observatory in Rajasthan, which contains the Jantar Mantar instruments, is the largest and best preserved of the ancient Big Observatories.

The Samrat Yantra (translation: Supreme Instrument) is the World's Largest Sundial.

This Big Sundial is 27 meters (90 feet) tall and is so large that its shadow moves at a speed of 1 millimetre per second. If you stand and watch it, you'll see it move 6 centimetres (about 2 1/3 inches) every minute.

Like the other tools of the Jantar Mantar, the Samrat Yantra is a fixed tool. Its face is angled at 27 degrees, which is the latitude of Jaipur. There is a small cupola on top of it, used in Hindu tradition to announce eclipses and for weather predictions such as the arrival of monsoons.

The World's Oldest Sundial.

The world' oldest sundial was discovered outside a tomb in Egypt's Valley of the King's.

Dating to the 19th dynasty, or the 13th century B.C., the sundial was found on the floor of a workman's hut, in the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of rulers from Egypt's New Kingdom period (around 1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C.).

The sundial is made of a flattened piece of limestone, called an ostracon, with a black semicircle divided into 12 sections drawn on top. Small dots in the middle of each of the 12 sections, which are about 15 degrees apart, likely served to give more precise times.

A dent in the centre of the ostracon likely marks where a metal or wooden bolt was inserted to cast a shadow and reveal the time of day.

The Furthest Sundial from Earth

In addition to these two historical devices, sundials are still being used scientifically by NASA today with the furthest sundial from earth currently an important part of the Mars Rover. The “Marsdial” on the Rover is always in view of the cameras and is used as a backup navigation aid if the other instruments fail.

Marsdial

Hence this masterpiece in marking the passage of time still has its place in an extremely technical and modern world centuries after it was first designed and created.

By Gemma Johnson.

 

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