R19 – A Chronicle of Timekeeping


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A Chronicle of Timekeeping

Our conception of time depends on the way we measure it



1According to archaeological evidence, at least 5,000 years ago, and long before the advent of the Roman Empire, the Babylonians began to measure time, introducing calendars to co-ordinate communal activities, to plan the shipment of goods and, in particular, to regulate planting and harvesting. 2They based their calendars on three natural cycles: the solar day, marked by the successive periods of light and darkness as the earth rotates on its axis; the lunar month, following the phases of the moon as it orbits the earth; and the solar year, defined by the changing seasons that accompany our planet’s revolution around the sun.


1Before the invention of artificial light, the moon had greater social impact. 2And, for those living near the equator in particular, its waxing and waning was more conspicuous than the passing of the seasons. 3Hence, the calendars that were developed at the lower latitudes were influenced more by the lunar cycle than by the solar year. 4In more northern climes, however, where seasonal agriculture was practised, the solar year became more crucial. 5As the Roman Empire expanded northward, it organised its activity chart for the most part around the solar year.


1Centuries before the Roman Empire, the Egyptians had formulated a municipal calendar having 12 months of 30 days, with five days added to approximate the solar year. 2Each period of ten days was marked by the appearance of special groups of stars called decans. 3At the rise of the star Sirius just before sunrise, which occurred around the all-important annual flooding of the Nile, 12 decans could be seen spanning the heavens. 4The cosmic significance the Egyptians placed in the 12 decans led them to develop a system in which each interval of darkness (and later, each interval of daylight) was divided into a dozen equal parts. 5These periods became known as temporal hours because their duration varied according to the changing length of days and nights with the passing of the seasons. 6Summer hours were long, winter ones short; only at the spring and autumn equinoxeswere the hours of daylight and darkness equal. 7Temporal hours, which were first adopted by the Greeks and then the Romans, who disseminated them through Europe, remained in use for more than 2,500 years.


1In order to track temporal hours during the day, inventors created sundials, which indicatetime by the length or direction of the sun’s shadow. 2The sundial’s counterpart, the water clock, was designed to measure temporal hours at night. 3One of the first water clocks was a basin with a small hole near the bottom through which the water dripped out. 4The falling water level denoted the passing hour as it dipped below hour lines inscribed on theinner surface. 5Although these devices performed satisfactorily around the Mediterranean,they could not always be depended on in the cloudy and often freezing weather of northern Europe.


1The advent of the mechanical clock meant that although it could be adjusted to maintaintemporal hours, it was naturally suited to keeping equal ones. 2With these, however, arose the question of when to begin counting, and so, in the early 14th century, a number of systems evolved. 3The schemes that divided the day into 24 equal parts varied according to the start of the count: Italian hours began at sunset, Babylonian hours at sunrise, astronomical hours at midday and ‘great clock’ hours, used for some large public clocks in Germany, at midnight. 4Eventually these were superseded by ‘small clock’, or French, hours, which split the day into two 12-hour periods commencing at midnight.


1The earliest recorded weight-driven mechanical clock was built in 1283 in Bedfordshire in England. 2The revolutionary aspect of this new timekeeper was neither the descending weight that provided its motive force nor the gear wheels (which had been around for at least 1,300 years) that transferred the power; it was the part called the escapement. 3In the early 1400s came the invention of the coiled spring or fusee which maintained constant force to the gear wheels of the timekeeper despite the changing tension of its mainspring. 4By the 16th century, a pendulum clock had been devised, but the pendulum swung in a large arc and thus was not very efficient.


1To address this, a variation on the original escapement was invented in 1670, in England. 2It was called the anchor escapement, which was a lever-based device shaped like a ship’s anchor. 3The motion of a pendulum rocks this device so that it catches and then releases each tooth of the escape wheel, in turn allowing it to turn a precise amount. 4Unlike the original form used in early pendulum clocks, the anchor escapement permitted the pendulum to travel in a very small arc. 5Moreover, this invention allowed the use of a long pendulum which could beat once a second and thus led to the development of a new floor- standing case design, which became known as the grandfather clock.


1Today, highly accurate timekeeping instruments set the beat for most electronic devices. 2Nearly all computers contain a quartz-crystal clock to regulate their operation. 3Moreover, not only do time signals beamed down from Global Positioning System satellites calibrate the functions of precision navigation equipment, they do so as well for mobile phones, instant stock-trading systems and nationwide power-distribution grids. 4So integral have these time-based technologies become to day-to-day existence that our dependency on them is recognised only when they fail towork.


Questions 1-4

Reading Passage has eight paragraphs, A-H.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A-H, in boxes 1-4 on your answer sheet

1   a description of an early timekeeping invention affected by cold temperatures

2   an explanation of the importance of geography in the development of the calendar in farming communities

3   a description of the origins of the pendulum clock

4   details of the simultaneous efforts of different societies to calculate time using uniform hours


Questions 5-8

Look at the following events (Questions 5-8) and the list of nationalities below.

Match each event with the correct nationality, A-F.

Write the correct letter, A-F, in boxes 5-8 on your answer sheet.

5   They devised a civil calendar in which the months were equal inlength.

6   They divided the day into two equal halves.

7   They developed a new cabinet shape for a type of timekeeper.

8   They created a calendar to organise public events and work schedules.

List of Nationalities

A   Babylonians
B   Egyptians
C   Greeks
D   English
E   Germans
F   French


Questions 9-13

Label the diagram below.

Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 9-13 on your answer sheet.

How the 1670 lever-based device worked