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Feb 8 2008   2:31PM GMT

Keeping time, from sticks in the ground to Stonehenge to the atomic clock



Posted by: Ivy Wigmore
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I was thinking about time today. Just the usual stuff: how to have more of it, why must it be so … precise. This all seemed to stem from looking at our definition of atomic clock, as I browsed the database for interesting Words of the Day for the weekend. Atomic clock came up in our Director, Margaret Rouse’s blog on IT Knowledge Exchange. She quoted Douglas Dwyer’s article on How Stuff Works:

Without atomic clocks, GPS navigation would be impossible, the Internet would not synchronize, and the position of the planets would not be known with enough accuracy for space probes and landers to be launched and monitored.

All that precision makes me fantasize about simpler times when (I fondly imagine) humans weren’t as time-driven. I tend to think that, for example, noonish would be a perfectly valid time to set an appointment if we were going by the position of the sun. (All appointments automatically cancelled on cloudy days!)

And yet… NIST’s A Walk Through Time seems to suggest that my fantasy is … just a dream. According to their section on ancient calendars, humans have been doing their darndest to track time for so long that if I want to go back to a simpler time where time’s less of an issue I’d have go go back to a time that was probably too simple for my liking. Before books and coffee, for example. I’m no technology addict (I’d be happy to read by firelight, steaming latte in hand) but there are limits to how rough I’m willing to go.

Here’s a bit from Ancient Calendars:

We know little about the details of timekeeping in prehistoric eras, but wherever we turn up records and artifacts, we usually discover that in every culture, some people were preoccupied with measuring and recording the passage of time. Ice-age hunters in Europe over 20,000 years ago scratched lines and gouged holes in sticks and bones, possibly counting the days between phases of the moon.

Ice age? No thanks! I can hardly wait till Spring as it is. The days get shorter, nights get longer and I start to fantasize about hibernating until, oh, Aprilish.

~ Ivy Wigmore

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