Natural Time Teller

Primitive Methods Adopted by the Ancients.

Boston Transcript

The well-known words, "The shadows lengthening as the vapors rise," probably express man's earliest notion of measuring time, says the London Standard. They indicate the germinal idea of the sundial. The subject is full of interest, and leads into many curious by-paths of learning. Who made the first sundial is lost in the mists of antiquity. Charles Lamb, perhaps, went too far in saying that "Adam could scarce have missed it in Paradise;" but men must soon have found out how to use the sun as a kind of time-keeper. But the sundial was known to the two most civilized races of ancient times, the Chaldean and the Egyptian. Herodotus tells us that the Greeks obtained their knowledge of the gnomon; viz., of the principle of the dial, from the former people. That, of course, is little help in fixing an exact date, for recent discoveries tend to put the origin of Greek civilization several centuries earlier than used to be supposed.

The dial of Ahaz was probably copied from Assyria, for wise men of the East doubtless watched the stars many a long century before the Christian era, and there is no reason why they should not have discovered the principle of the sundial, even when the elder Sargon reigned in Agade, some fifty-seven centuries ago. Egyptian monuments and hieroglyphics, so far as they have been deciphered, are not much more helpful than the monuments of Chaldea. The earliest dials found in the Nile valley are of Greek work, and little more than nineteen centuries old, but we may feel sure that the "wisdom of the Egyptians" included a fair amount of practical astronomy, and that the men who could build the Pyramids would be capable of devising some kind of sundial.

Pan American Stamps
May 23, 1901

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