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reddirtwriter
05-04-2014, 04:29 AM
I'm working on a iron age fantasy and am trying to work out a measure of time. I didn't want to use contemporary second, minute hour, but I'm having trouble finding a measure of time shorter than a day (I'm using suncycle for the time the sun is up) I was trying to use a fingerspan as the time it took for the sun to move the width of a finger, but that's beginning to seem weak.

If anyone has a suggestion I would really appreciate it.

Cath
05-04-2014, 04:53 AM
The sun would change position in the sky during the day. While that doesn't help with the night, could you use a comparative position of the sun against local scenery? (Remembering that the sun will change position as the seasons turn too).

alleycat
05-04-2014, 04:56 AM
Just throwing out an idea.

If the setting is primarily one location, I might think about creating a tribal/community/village time keeping system. For example only, a pole placed in the center of a village when time is marked by the shadow of the pole as it falls on stones placed at appropriate points around the pole. Or something similar. In a fantasy it might be fun to give such points names that correspond to their believe system.

reddirtwriter
05-04-2014, 05:10 AM
The story is a rescue, so the characters are mostly traveling. Also, I neglected to mention they are nomadic, or at least move from summer homes that are tents to winter homes that are earthwork. I've seen things like candles or sand timers used before, but I don't think those would work.

T J Deen
05-04-2014, 05:22 AM
The story is a rescue, so the characters are mostly traveling. Also, I neglected to mention they are nomadic, or at least move from summer homes that are tents to winter homes that are earthwork. I've seen things like candles or sand timers used before, but I don't think those would work.

I would imagine it would be a time of great fear (not knowing if they'll ever see the sun again when it goes away) not understanding how to measure time other than by the phases of the moon. You could have them start out by not knowing how to measure time but eventually learn how on their travels. I would go with establishing a direction like north bases on constellations and then looking at the distance (or lack of) cast by their own shadows when standing upright.

also check this out: http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-Directions--to-North,-South,-East,-and-West

Snitchcat
05-04-2014, 09:20 AM
You might also want to take a look at the five-gear sandglass: http://characters.cultural-china.com/156hz313.html

There's a paragraph there; you'd need to look it up in more detail if that's something you want to pursue. It gives the impression of portability, too.

Bolero
05-04-2014, 01:20 PM
I'm not sure they'd care. :)

They'd care about seasons and weather, good times of day for hunting, bad times of day for predators coming after their livestock, but sub-divisions of the day for the sake of it - I don't think they'd be that interested.

Looking at UK history, the first widespread measurement of time was the bells on monastries, which announced the time to pray. The people working in the fields would stop to pray briefly then carry on.

Clocks became more important during the industrial revolution when you wanted all your workers to turn up at the same time to their shift - but what happened then was that there were sirens on the factories to announce shift change and before that there were "knocker-uppers" employed by the factory who came down streets with a long pole to tap on the bedroom windows and get people out of bed before their shift.

For completeness - the modern age of time zones only came in with the railways - when it was possible to travel fast enough that it mattered that noon in Cardiff was different from solar noon in London by a few minutes.

I've also read books by Edwin Hall for example, regarding different cultures, and even today, not everyone tracks time particularly closely. There can be a noticeable mismatch when you have a western style employer, expecting the work force all to arrive on the dot of nine - and they don't because to the minute time keeping is not something they've ever needed before.

I understand that you are not proposing to the minute time keeping, but for the entire tribe to bother about time keeping over the day doesn't strike me as plausible.
What might be plausible is timing tasks - so cooking or metal smelting for example - however, I rather suspect those can all be done on "when its ready" - you know the look or smell of something when its reached the right point for the next step.

Tracking seasons would be important - is winter coming early this year, do we need to head south yet, that kind of thing would be important.

King Neptune
05-04-2014, 03:40 PM
As a general matter, I believe they would have used morning, after, night, and day. Hours go back about 6,000 years in Mesopotamia, but nomads didn't generally have clocks at that time. For ubits of less than a morning or afternoon you can use fractions, half the morning and so on. At night they could describe the change in location of the Moon or of one of the bright stars.

Bolero
05-04-2014, 04:41 PM
Pure speculation on my part - but what King Neptune said made me wonder whether nomads would measure time in terms of travel time. Or would that be distance? Mm - as in the distance of half a days travel, or would it be the time to travel as far as the mountains.... Could well be both since time, speed and distance are interlinked.

Mesopotamia - have very faint memory they were one of the earliest folks working on measurements and astronomy - or do I have that totally wrong?

King Neptune
05-04-2014, 05:03 PM
Pure speculation on my part - but what King Neptune said made me wonder whether nomads would measure time in terms of travel time. Or would that be distance? Mm - as in the distance of half a days travel, or would it be the time to travel as far as the mountains.... Could well be both since time, speed and distance are interlinked.

I wonder that too, but there is the problem that it would require accurate measurement of distance, which is at least as advanced as measuring time.


Mesopotamia - have very faint memory they were one of the earliest folks working on measurements and astronomy - or do I have that totally wrong?

You are right, but I can't remember, "The earliest sundials known from the archaeological finds are the shadow clocks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_clock) (1500 BC) in ancient Egyptian astronomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_astronomy) and Babylonian astronomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_astronomy)." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sundials
I thought there were sundials from earlier, but Stongehenge was a calendar rather than a clock; although it could also have been used as a clock. The Babylonians divided the day into hours that were fractions of the day, instead of being of uniform length. Hours seemed longer in SUmmer, because they were longer.

arcan
05-04-2014, 05:05 PM
They used to measure time with hourglasses. Another time-measurer was the bell of the church chiming every 3 hours for the prayers. so you could go with the names of the prayers (each had a different name).
There's a little quirk though. The night was divided in 12 hours and the day too. So an hour during the day wasn't the same as an hour during the night. And an hour during the day was different if it was in summer or in winter.

reddirtwriter
05-04-2014, 05:06 PM
Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I'm leaning toward the idea of using the length of the shadows they are casing. Short shadows = noon, long shadows, a shadow moving a fingerwidth, handwidth, etc. I'm looking for more the impression of time than the actual measurement. So if someone is staring into the distance for a few minutes...maybe they'd be staring into the distance for a fingerspan.

benbenberi
05-04-2014, 05:57 PM
As has been noted above, pre-industrial people generally didn't have much need for precise time measurements as we use them today. Clocks were invented in the middle ages, but they only had hour hands for the first few centuries. Nobody needed minute hands then. Units of time like hours/minutes/seconds were invented in deep antiquity (the Babylonians were the first to record them, & our system descends from theirs, with its 12/60 obsessions). But they were never of constant duration till mechanical clocks took over -- before then, they depended on sun-time and varied in length throughout the year. (I.e. if you define a day as consisting of 12 hours, and day begins at sun-up and ends at sun-down, a summer hour will be significantly longer than a winter hour.) Noon was always identifiable as the moment the sun was highest. So local time in different towns that are relatively close might be several minutes apart -- which never mattered to anyone till railroads came in & had to have usable schedules. (A fascinating illustration of the pre-time zone time chaos (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2014/05/01/time_diagram_clock_chart_from_pre_time_zone_era.ht ml) was posted this week in Slate.)

In ordinary life, people generally didn't need units of time shorter than an hour. When they did (for instance, certain cooking or metallurgical procedures), the common workaround was to use some other common short activity as a proxy for timing -- so, for instance, boil an egg for the length of six paternosters.

For nomads even more than settled people, measuring time mechanically was irrelevant. What fixed point would they anchor their measurement against? Even methods like burning a knotted cord or a known amount of fuel (grease, tallow, oil) were unreliable as a standard because the materials themselves were variable -- the best they could give you was relative time, never an absolute measure.

Using a unit like "a fingerspan" suggests a level of precision about time that just wouldn't exist in daily life for an iron age nomad. If someone is staring into the distance for a few minutes, there are other ways to convey the subjective experience. Is it a short time? A long time? Is it long enough for the glare to sting their eyes? Long enough for the horse to get fidgety? Long enough that other people take notice?

Move your thinking completely away from clock time, and other ways to evoke it will occur to you that make more sense contextually.

WriteKnight
05-04-2014, 07:25 PM
Dawn. After dawn. Mid day. After mid day. Before sunset. Sunset.

That's how we currently think of time, regardless of how we measure it.

People sleep in two sleep cycles. "First sleep and second sleep" At least, in ancient times. Primative cultures kept watch. "First watch, second watch." Mid night would be the time between sleeps.

There is light in the sky before and after sunrise and sunset. You could invent words for those times.

That's it.

Telergic
05-04-2014, 08:28 PM
Of course small spans of time were of interest to scholars long into ancient times; but there was no standardized small time period. So those people who cared would use individual clocks, most commonly water clocks, but also other kinds of timers. So if it was necessary for an individual or a small group to measure time relatively finely, they could do it in terms of "turns of the glass" or "fillings of the glass" respectively for sand and water clocks. Also, over a short span of days, the angular divisions of a sundial would yield relatively similar timespans from day to day.

It was within the scope of ancient Greek tech to build mechanical clocks, by the way though they didn't actually do so. The antikythera device is at the right complexity level. A relatively modern inventor like Heron (still iron age, 1st century) could easily have built alarm clocks, and he did build things like primitive vending machines -- dispensing measured amounts of holy water for a coin.

So anyhow, the term "iron age" is very broad. An iron age society which valued natural philosophy scholarship and invention could have all kinds of machines, but others with different values might not have anything more complex than levers and pulleys.

T J Deen
05-04-2014, 08:37 PM
Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I'm leaning toward the idea of using the length of the shadows they are casing. Short shadows = noon, long shadows, a shadow moving a fingerwidth, handwidth, etc. I'm looking for more the impression of time than the actual measurement. So if someone is staring into the distance for a few minutes...maybe they'd be staring into the distance for a fingerspan.

they could also have something as simple as a walking stick that has been cut down to perfection over more than one generation that they would put it on the ground and measure it against their own shadow and it would give them the impression of what time of day it was and how long they had left to find shelter before night fall.

benbenberi
05-04-2014, 08:55 PM
they could also have something as simple as a walking stick that has been cut down to perfection over more than one generation that they would put it on the ground and measure it against their own shadow and it would give them the impression of what time of day it was and how long they had left to find shelter before night fall.

It's probable that nomads for whom knowing those things are important survival skills would be able to gauge the remaining length of the day without any artificial aids, by direct observation of the sun's position in the sky.

Bolero
05-04-2014, 09:29 PM
Having a sudden Crocodile Dundee moment - the bit where he quickly grabs Wal's arm, looks at his watch, then stares up at the sun and announces the time and the reporter is fooled. :) But actually I agree with Benbenberi. Same goes for constellations in the sky and how much they move. Likewise the moon (though that is more complex than the sun).


Other than that - whatever you chose - must be not only easy to transport (if an item) but well within the level of technology for nomads, unless it is something they buy from settled people.

I have no feel for whether nomads regularly did any sort of metal working. But when you think about the logistics of iron ore, charcoal, small kiln (presumably) and moulds, it doesn't seem a very nomadic activity. Same for anything made from glass (which is of course fragile too). Sticks are definitely plausible - providing they range in an area where there are trees, at least at some point in their year. :)

snafu1056
05-04-2014, 10:37 PM
Speaking of nomadic cultures, the Mongols reckoned time based on the angle of the sun coming through the smokeholes of their yurts. But obviously that's useless outdoors.