The History of Time – Part 1


Time is a very fluid and stiff concept. While the increments never change, the passage of time always seems different depending on who is experiencing it and other factors within their lives. So where did time begin? Who begun the measuring of what we now call time? What did we do before time was something that we thought about? 

I think it is probably important that we start with what the definition of time in before we dive in to its history. Time is defined as ‘the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.’ That is a whole lot to unpack in one sitting, especially for just one singular sentence. Put even more simply than this, time is basically what has happened, what is happening and what will happen all at once. So time is a lot to consider, considering that most of what we have to consider has yet to even occur. It can be measured by the second, or the minute, or even the hour. Although we had no concept of time at the beginning of it all, as a species, we have been able to trace our own past, and even before that, to the beginning of time, when our planet wasn’t even here. 

So when did we start measuring the passage of time? In around eight-thousand BC, or as far as we can tell, hunter gatherer tribes somewhere in what is now Northern Scotland dug twelve pits with which they tracked the cycle of the moon. While this may not be an absolute science, these twelve pits were measuring something similar to the months we have today, starting at the waning of the moon and ending with it disappearing almost entirely. The pits that the tribes dug reflected the view they had of the moon at different points of the month. These pits also seemed to correspond with the midwinter sunrise, meaning that in a way, they could also have been tracking the years. 

In 2013, amongst the burials of three-thousand year old pharoahs in the valley of the kings, archeologists and excavators found what appears to be a very early version of the sun dial. The dial consists of engraved flatstone and seems to have originated somewhere around 1250 BC. Although sundials arent completely obsolete, they have become more of an ornamental feature in the human mind than what was likely intended by those who originally developed the concept. It was designed in such a way to use the suns movements to track the progress of the day, moving slowly from the first moment light peaks out from the horizon to the final moment it slinks back away. This was only a slightly flawed system as the movement of the sun depended and still depends on the time of the year and the rotation of the earth, facts that weren’t seen as fact back then. 

Although this is only a small snippet of time, right at the beginning of its measurement, it already shows good strong development in human thinking and innovation. But this can’t be the end of my dive in to the development of the measurement of time. There will surely have to be a part two, maybe three. This will not be the last thing you hear about time from me.


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