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Ancient Egyptian Time Telling

Did the Egyptians invent time? In a practical sense yes. They were the first civilization to measure time by hours and track days by twenty-four hour segments using the rising and setting of the sun and the rising and waning of the moon. Keeping track of time was clearly important even then, and the ancient Egyptians developed several different ways to keep time, including shadow clocks, merkhets, and water clocks.

Shadow clocks or sundials relied on the sun to cast a shadow on an object to tell time throughout the day in order to keep track of the twelve hour work day for Egyptians. Obelisks were basically a giant sundial, made of a tall four-sided piece of stone that would peak into a pyramid at the top. In the same way that a clock tower would sit at the town’s center where everyone could see the time, obelisks were the community time-teller. 

Merkhets were used for calculating time during the night. A plumb line would be aligned with the North pole star Polaris, to create a north-south meridian. As the stars passed over the plumb line, Egyptians could accurately predict the hour of night. 

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Water clocks were also employed to tell time. They were basically bowls with a small hole bored into the bottom. The bowl would be filled with water, and as it drained away, marks would be revealed which indicated the hour.

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