Who Made The First Sundial?


Babylonians & Egyptians were the first ones we know who used sundials as a way to guide them. As sundials were used eve before 1500 B.C, we do not know who was the person who first came up with the idea of sundials, for those of you who don’t know sundials were the very first way, we as a species started to define time in some way, in other words, it is supposedly the very first timekeeping device that we came up with

It was used to divide up the day from sunrise to sunset to 12 equal parts. But, as the name tells, this clock was only useful in the day time. It used the shadow of an object exposed to the sun. And, as the sun went through its progressions throughout the day, it ultimately caused the shadow of the object to move and ultimately tell time

A picture of a sundial to better answer When Was The First Clock Invented?

The world’s oldest sundial is the “valley of king” which dates back to 1500 B.c. but some say that the history of sundials started way before that. There were different types of sundials that were used. Some made of stones and others made of wood. Buth these timekeeping devices still had quite a few loopholes and the biggest one of them was that it couldn’t measure time in the night time and whenever it became a bit cloudy. This loophole was soon covered by the making of the water clock in the third century and then the candle clock. Anyways they are not the main crux of our topic today, Sundials are.

A Bit About The History Of Sundials

The oldest sundials we know are from Babylonia and Egypt. These were apparently used for archeological study back in the day. The prototypes of these have also been found in modern-day Russia. Before this, even the Obelisk has been thought of have been used as a sundial by many archeologists. So it is easy to say that humans were telling time by using shadows even before this time. This was the very first way humans have found to somewhat accurately be able to stay aligned with each day and time of the day. But nonetheless, the exact date is very hard to clarify, and archeologists are still working on this. The oldest mentioned sundial is found in the old testament where there is account of a sundial known as the “dial of Ahaz” mentioned in Isaiah 38:8 and 2 Kings 20:9, this is one of the oldest sundials that we know of and we don’t know for sure whether it was of Babylonian or Egyptian origin.

Sundials were also used in ancient China, but very little is known about them. Though, it is known that they were used in ancient china at around 800 B.C. Sundials after a while evolved into water clocks

Water Clocks

Some amount of water was put in a vessel. That was allowed to escape through a hole in the bottom. The time determined varied according to the size of the vessel and the hole made at the bottom

A picture of an ancient water clock to better answer How Did People Tell Time Before Clocks?

It was all before we had the liberty of wearing fancy clocks on our wrist. Or even the scientific knowledge to make the atomic clock. Which helps function the internet as well as the GPS system properly. So, how was it possible for anyone to maintain some kind of a schedule. And then sundials were made which made it possible to navigate through time but they only worked in the day time. So, Egyptians thought of making a time measurement device using the most common liquid around, water. They were educated enough to know that as the level of water in a container drops, the outflow of the stream coming out of the hole made will also drop

A picture of different flows of water to better answer How Did People Tell Time Before Clocks?

An advancement in this way of water clock was seen in the Jarasandh period of Korean history. Engineers of this time took advantage of the buoyancy force,( the upthrust force that the water applies on any object when it is immersed into the water) to develop an alarming system. They already knew through the teachings of Archemdis. That the buoyant/upthrust acting on the body could cause the body to float depending on the density of the object.

So, they build another mechanism, where the runoff water fills the secondary vessel object. An object with a lower density is placed in the second vessel. Which will float and come up as the water is filled in the second container.

A picture of a water clock to better answer How Did People Tell Time Before Clocks?

This same mechanism was then later used on a smaller scale to make alarm clocks. Even Plato the famous philosopher is known to have made his own personal alarm clock

The invention of water clock was followed by the invention of the candle clock and then the mechanical clock in 739 A.D., then the pendulum clock in 1656. And after tht we came humanity stared using analog clocks which was a simple variation from that and uses it till date with a few new updates like the wifi feature super accurate time, and don’t forget the digital clocks

What Is The Oldest Sundial Known To Us?

The oldest sundial known to us is “Valley of the Kings“, it is from Egypt and was used to measure work hours back in the time

Why Was The Sundial?

It was a necessity for humans to be able to identify time more precisely then just by the rising and setting of the sun and the waxing and waning of the moon. Not only to do but and travel but also be able to grow crops more efficiently. We needed something that was more precise and helpful, to identify different parts of the day. This didn’t only help us get a better understanding of the time, how it passes but also made us way more productive, as people were able to do more scheduled agriculture and other trades and jobs through this. They would always have an estimate how much they need to do before a certain mark of the shadow. And most of all it gave us a sense of direction

Is The Sundial Still Used Today?

Sundials are now only used as decorations and nothing else as we have come way past these simple time-telling devices

Who Built The First Universal Sundial?

 Astronomer Theodosius of Bithynia (160 BC to c. 100 BC) is said to have been built the very first sundial that could be effectively used all around the world without any problem

Disadvantages Of Using Sundials As A Time Keeping Device

  • Doesn’t work at night
  • As you might have guessed, it won’t work if the sun is hidden behind clouds or in any other way if the light of the sun stopped reaching the sundial
  • can only be used at one place. For instance, a sundial built in America wouldn’t be acurate in Australia atleast not until Astronomer Theodosius of Bithynia built his sundial
  • Sundial doesn’t stay accurate after a month has passed in most places of the world

Why Does A Sundial Have To Face North?

This is the very reason that the clocks and watches we use today run clockwise. In the northern hemisphere, the shadow of the dial goes clockwise as the sun moves throughout the sky. So to simply put, A sundial which has a vertical pointer (“gnomon”) will indicate noon correctly only when its shadow points north or south. So sundials were made to face north, and as the day passed the shadow of the sun used to revolve in a clockwise direction, which then later us to run even clocks clockwise and name the direction clockwise

Do Sundials Work At Night?

No, sundials do not work at night as they require shadows to function and at there are no shadows at night time due to the obvious reasons of their being no son at that time. And hence sundials don’t work at night time.

After there were other clocks like the candle clock that were used to tell time, if you want to know more about candle clocks “Click Here

Hopefully, this article was helpful in answering some of your sundial-related questions If you have any clock-related questions, feel free to use the comment section below. And if you want to know why clocks don’t appear in dreams, we have a great article on just that so do give it a click if you are interested “Why don’t clocks appear in dreams? Clocks and dreams!Opens in a new tab.“. Here is also a link about the history of clocks if you want to give that a look “History of timekeeping devicesOpens in a new tab.

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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