What Time is It?

You’ve probably seen a sundial before. A sundial shows the time by displaying the position of the Sun’s shadow on a flat surface, providing of course that there is enough sun to cast a shadow.

But if you live in Seattle, you might not want to depend on a sundial. According to the following weather data web page, Seattle ranks at the very top of large metropolitan cities for the number of cloudy days per year.  We average 226 days of heavy clouds, followed by Portland, Oregon, which averages 222.  (https://www.currentresults.com/Weather-Extremes/US/cloudiest-cities.php)

With a sundial, even in the dry, sunny  parts of a state, there is still a problem with seasons because a sundial divides daylight into roughly equal periods.  For example, Washington experiences daylight for almost 16 hours on the longest day of the year and less than eight and a half on the shortest.  (This is true if measured by a modern clock.)  By sundial, every day has 12 hours.  With six months of summer daylight in northern Alaska, you’d end up with hours that are two weeks long!

And finally, sundial users face an insurmountable problem no matter where on earth they place their apparatus. A sundial depends on daylight; it doesn’t work at night. This could be a serious problem if you were running a bar that needed stop serving spirits by 2 am. How many times would the police accept the excuse that your clock just wasn’t working?

Enter the water clock—a huge advancement in timekeeping technology.  The most basic concept behind the water clock is that you can tell how much time has passed by how much water has drained out of a basin with a hole in the bottom. Every morning the village timekeeper fills the basin and the water leaks out into a basin below with lines on it to correspond to how much time has elapsed.

With the new water clock, parents could now say, “Junior, I want you back in this hut not one drop past 3 gallons. Or you will lose your bullock cart driving privileges for a week.”

Pretty cool, huh?

The water clock works rain or shine, day or night, so it’s a big improvement on the sundial.  But it still has its failings when it comes to seasons.  Most of the time it would work just fine in the state of Washington; but in Alaska a new problem arises. In cold weather, water can freeze.

So in the cold, dark, Alaskan winter, time could literally stand still.  And Junior might not return to the hut until next summer.




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