this post was submitted on 26 Feb 2024
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No Stupid Questions

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The sun dial worked during daylight, but how did people agree on what time it was at night before clocks were invented?

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[โ€“] [email protected] 3 points 4 months ago* (last edited 4 months ago) (1 children)

We think sand clocks have only been in use since the middle ages, and the reason they were invented is pretty interesting. (At least in Europe; I've looked into this before and couldn't find any other sources, but I may just not have looked hard enough).

For reasonably accurate time keeping, people had been using water clocks since at least the 16th century BCE. Basically the same idea as a sand clock, but water, which was slightly easier to feed into a reservoir. We don't think sand clocks really saw any use until the 13th or 14th century CE. Mostly, people needed to keep more accurate time on ships as oceanic voyages became more common, but the movement of the vessel messed up a water clock too badly to be useful, and pendulums had the same problem. So, enter a sand clock! Basically the same idea as a water clock, but way less prone to errors from the ship's movement.

(edit: some spelling)

[โ€“] Adalast 3 points 4 months ago

Ooo, you touched on one of my favorite clock history tidbits, Maritime timekeeping. It is so fascinating. Like, the only reason spring-driven rotational oscillation mechanisms were invented was for maritime clocks. They were needed for accurate longitudinal calculations and really enabled the whole golden age of sailing. (yes, I am leaving out the Peloponnesian peoples, but they are a super awesome topic for another post)