5 ingenious Ancient Timekeeping Devices

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This list will provide insight into the creativity and ingenuity of our ancestors as they tried to solve this age-old problem.

Rolling Ball Clocks

The rolling ball clock was invented by 17th century French engineer Nicolas Grollier.The path took anywhere from 15 seconds to a full minute for the ball to complete. Once it reached its destination, it tripped a mechanism that both moved hands of the clock forward and reversed the tilt to return the ball to its original position. However, the clock’s main flaw was the cleanliness of the track.

Candle Clocks

Candle clocks take advantage of a simple concept: the slow and consistent nature of a burning wax candle. By utilizing this process, our ancestors were able to keep steady track of the time. The clocks were created by engraving the length of the candle with evenly spaced markings. Each marking represented a single unit (such as one hour), and as the wax burned down, each hour would melt away. In order to determine how much time had passed since lighting the candle, you just checked the highest remaining marking.

Water Clocks

The water clock is the oldest (and possibly simplest) known timekeeping device, dating back to 16th century B.C. Babylon. A large bowl or container would be filled with water and allowed to slowly drain from a spout on the bottom. The inside of the bowl was marked with the times, and you could determine how much time had passed by the water level in the bowl. You could also place a second bowl beneath the spout and measure the amount of water that accumulated.

Incense Clocks

First, they would select a stick of incense based upon the length of time that needed measuring. Short sticks were used for short periods and long, spiraled sticks were used for days. Incense clocks were often very ornate and designed with an eye toward aesthetics. They were often displayed in decorative, handcrafted trays. Strings could be tied to the stick so the string would burn through and release a gong when the desired time arrived.

The Elephant Clock

The elephant clock was truly a masterpiece of mechanical engineering. Invented in medieval times by the brilliant Al- Jazari this clock was a beautiful culmination of many different ideas. The design was structured around a hollow elephant statue.

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