How did people tell time before the invention of mechanical clocks?

Jump to Last Post 1-3 of 3 discussions (6 posts)
  1. Billrrrr profile image84
    Billrrrrposted 11 years ago

    How did people tell time before the invention of mechanical clocks?

    The easy answer is 'sundials' - but I think they were used mainly by institutions and the wealthy.  I took a trip back 2000 years in my mind to come up with my answer and then I wrote a brand new hub about it.  I would like to see if anybody comes up with the same idea I had.

  2. profile image0
    Copper Manposted 11 years ago

    Well, a sundial uses the shadow cast by the sun. Trees also cast shadows and perhaps the ancients reckoned time by that method; it would make it unecessary to stare right at the sun.
    They also supposedly tied knots in a rope and burned the rope, clicking off the hours as each knot burned away.
    In a cave where water dripped continuously and at the same rate, it would take x amount of minutes to fill a certain sized bowl. If the timekeeper (probably an important person back then) had to empty the bowl 12 times during the day it would equal one hourly time period per emptying.
    A really weird possibility for determing time might involve a runner loping a certain distance. Men like to run and in the old (really old) days some could run all day long. They could cover a certain distance between sunup and sundown. A really smart guy could figure that if the runner ran just 1/12th of the distance, it would take him 1/12th of the time span between sunup and sundown. The designated runner, then, would run around the compound for the specified distance and each time he passed a certain point another hour would have expired. They could do that back then; they wasted very little time at their computers.

    1. Billrrrr profile image84
      Billrrrrposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      Great and creative answer.  You came up with several ideas that I did not think of.  I never heard of the burning rope idea.  One of my ideas involved tides, but tides only work if you live right on the shore and the tidal times change.

  3. alancaster149 profile image74
    alancaster149posted 11 years ago

    In the middle ages cheap candles were available to those with a bit of cash to flash. These candles were divided into six or twelve, depending on length, each segment approximated an hour's passing. Sun dials were available from the 11th Century here, paid for by the nobility. A famous one overhangs the door to St Gregory's Minster (a small church built in the 10th Century and re-dedicated in the 11th with inscribed sun dial added by the landowner) in Kirkdale near Helmsley, North Yorks.
    Rush lights were another way of measuring time, but didn't last as long as candles.
    On dark winter mornings the cock crow brought men from their beds to work in the fields or to watch the peasants in case they tried to run away (they were their lord's property). In the towns or cities where men were free there were town criers who called out time for curfew, and in the morning called out that curfew was over.
    Mechanical clocks appeared in the fourteenth century, but only the rich had access to their own. Anyone else looked at the church clock (town or city only),
    By the eighteenth century here there was a clock tax, so again only the rich had pocket watches or clocks. Others looked up at the church clock or through windows at inn clocks, where there were 'public clocks' with no glass over the dial to reflect the light outside. Though mechanical clocks and watches were available  in the early (and in places up to mid-) 20th Century there were 'knockers up' in industrial towns or pit villages, to get men up for work (until the late 19th Century women and children from age 10 and over). Only from between the wars were watches and clocks affordable by the masses here, and of school children only those from well-off backgrounds had watches of their own.

    1. Billrrrr profile image84
      Billrrrrposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      Wow.  What a fascinating glimpse into history.  Great comment.  Never heard of the 'knockers up'.  Kind of an early wake up service.  I could have used this during my school days.

    2. WalterPoon profile image67
      WalterPoonposted 11 years agoin reply to this

      A well-written answer that could serve as a basis for a hub by itself! I voted it up.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)