Astronomy X-Files

The Discoverer Of The System Of Time -The Sumerians

The Discoverer Of The System Of Time -The Sumerians

If you were asked as to who discovered the time system, most of you will answer for the Greeks, the Chinese or the Indians. However, the facts indicate to a different story altogether.

Have you ever pondered that why the hours were divided into 60 minutes and the days into 24 hours. And, why are they not a multiple of 10 or 12?

Well, it is associated with the fact that back then the backbone of all the operations associated with time, was sexagesimal. The latter implies base-60. And, this was the perfect countable intervals for the primitive Sumerian innovators.

Why 60?

  • The ancient astronomers believe in the theory of 360 days in a year.
  • This number is perfectly divisible by 60.
  • Again, count the number 1, 2,3,4,5,6,10,12,15,20 and 30, each of these can be used for dividing 60 into equal parts.

And, all this is attributed to the discovery of the Sumerian innovators.

The time

How, did you think that time was calculated by the primitive civilizations!

  • A month -length of the time of one complete lunar cycle.
  • A week –length of time of one phase of lunar cycle.
  • A year- estimated relying on the alteration of the seasons and relative position of the sun.

This is what led the astronomers to decide that a year has 360 days.

The celebrated Babylonian mathematical tablet Plimpton 322. Credit: Christine Proust and Columbia University

Even, before the decimal system

The Indians, the Chinese and the Greeks have portrayed their claims on the invention of the decimal system. However, there was also the duodecimal system which had shown its mark in Babylonian languages, Chinese and primitive Nigeria. But, less people are aware of the fact that all of this was preceded by the Sumerians. It was the Sumerians, who crafted the sexagesimal system in the 3rd millennium BC.

passage-of-timeAncient civilizations looked to the heavens to mark the passage of time.

Sumerians and the Sexagesimal system

  • Undoubtedly the Sumerians favored the number 60 because it was divisible by 60.
  • In 2400 BC, the land of Sumer was conquered by the Akkadians and later by the Amorites.
  • Each of these ruling powers inculcated the sexagesimal system and included it into their own mathematics.
  • This system was very much accepted by all.
  • In fact, it even sprawled to the Eastern and Western region back then.
  • These parts included Persia, India, China, Egypt, Carthage and Rome.
  • In fact, this system was very much similar to the work of the Chinese astronomer when they discovered the 12 astronomical hours of the stars.

Then, came the geometrical innovation pursued by the Greek and Islam. It was then, discovered that 360 was also the perfect measurement of the circle.

This is when the sexagesimal system continued to make its place in the history. No wonder it became imperative in mathematics and navigation. And, when the timepiece was invented in the 14th century, the clock face, which was circular, was divided into sexagesimal quadrants. It also led to each minute having 60 seconds.

Hence, the time system which every individual knows perfectly well is attributed to the work of The Sumerians.

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