Telling the time from the sun without a clock in the Northern Hemisphere using markers, or points in a room


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Ken Ward's Astrology Pages

Astrology: Telling Time Without A Clock.

And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. (Genesis 1:14)

clear.gif (807 bytes) The purpose of this page is to indicate that time is, in some way, a real thing which people use for practical reasons and which they used before there were clocks. Modern city dwellers may never see the stars and the moon, and have become detached from the sky. They probably think that time is what a clock says. Yet we used the idea of time long before there were clocks, and some primitive people today tell the time by pointing to the sun. Even though they do not have or understand clocks, they may answer the question, "When will you return?" by pointing to the position the sun will be in when they return.

The method of pointing to the sun doesn't always work. It works best near the equator where the sun keeps its apparent position for different times throughout the year, irrespective of the seasons.

The Egyptians and Babylonians divided the hours of the night and the hours of the day each into 12 hours. So at certain times of the year, an hour was long as 75 minutes during the night and as low as 45 minutes during the day, and vice versa, depending on the seasons.

Although the path of the sun varies in different areas of the earth, the highest point is always the same in the sense that it indicates noon. Where the sun is not directly overhead, the noon mark would be the place of the sun when it was noon. So when it was over a certain mountain, say, the time would be midday or noon. Other markers were used for other times of the day. In different seasons, the sun would be above the markers, although it would be higher over the marker in Summer than it would be in Winter.

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In the drawing above, the perspective is from the Northern hemisphere. Morning and evening markers would be reversed in the Southern hemisphere, as would East and West. The reason for this is that we look South for the sun, in the Northern hemisphere, and we look North for the sun in the Southern hemisphere. The grey triangles refer to markers, which could be mountains, etc. On or near the equator, the sun would be "straight up", so telling the time from the sun is easier and markers aren't needed. The markers work from a given location - house, farm, etc - and new markers would be needed elsewhere.

These markers were often used in Scandinavian countries. They would have the advantage of seeing some light from the sun, even at night, and so another marker could be made for midnight. Using markers in this way, people could tell the time throughout the day and the night through all the seasons.

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In a similar way, people would tell the time by the position of the sun in relation to their houses. For example, in a given house, the sun may shine into a room from a certain direction at a given time. So when the sun is shining into the room in a given direction (say shining on a cupboard) the owner will know it is, say, 4 pm.

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In a South facing room in the Northern hemisphere, the sun might indicate the time through a South-facing window by illuminating different parts of the room at different times of the day.


The purpose of this page is to say that time is in some ways reals and is independent of clocks. It is something we can, if we are aware, notice from our environment. The sun moves in an apparently clockwise manner across the sky in a consistent manner such that we can tell the time even without clocks or knowledge of clocks. High in the Northern hemisphere, people can tell the time from the sun whether it is day or night (because the sun is never greatly distant from the horizon and its rays can be seen, even in the middle of the night).

The ancient Egyptions could tell the time very precisely, so they could know and be prepared in their rituals for the exact moment that the sun (the sun god, Ra) would rise. However, in Egypt has no midnight sun, so they had to use the stars.

For further information: See