MadSci Network: Science History

Re: what did early men use to measure length, time, and volume?

Date: Wed Sep 12 10:22:00 2007
Posted By: Mitchell Maltenfort, Staff, Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University
Area of science: Science History
ID: 1188416462.Sh


People usually find ways to do things, even before tools and standard
measures exist.

For length, options were:

* number of steps, such as in a pirate movie where the treasure map says
"10 paces due west."

* lengths of body parts -- the foot, the hand, the arm, the head.  These
may vary a bit between individuals, but not by very much, and should remain
constant for one person unless something very interesting is going on.

* time to make a trip -- that is, three days' journey is longer than one
day's journey.

For time, before anyone even thought of a sundial the options were:  

* the length of the day itself, which is the basis for our sleep and wake
cycle.  Sunrise, noon and sunset were recognizable, even if not named.

*  the time between phases of the moon (about one month)

*  the time for seasons to change around from winter to winter (a year)

Not sure what people did about volume, but my guess would be that as soon
as the bucket was invented, people began talking about "two buckets" or
"three buckets" or so of water, milk, etc.

Some references to consider: talks
about how the body reacts to daily and seasonal changes in light and dark. is the National Institute of
Standards and Technology's history of timepieces

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