Three Primary Measurement Standards of the Ancient World
Three primary standards of length, volume and weight were develop...
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Three Primary Standards ofMeasurement in the Ancient World

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Three primary standards of length, volume and weight were developed in the ancient world probably
as far back as the fourth millennium BCE. Each was derived using a pendulum timed by a fraction of
the daily rotation of the earth. Each used either the sun, the stars, or the planet Venus to divide the
day. Examples of each can be found throughout the Ancient world from England in the west to Japan
in the East. There is also some evidence that some versions may be found in the western
hemisphere.

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Three Primary Standards ofMeasurement in the Ancient World

  1. 1. Three Primary Measurement Standards of the Ancient World Three primary standards of length, volume and weight were developed in the ancient world probably as far back as the fourth millennium BCE. Each was derived using a pendulum timed by a fraction of the daily rotation of the earth. Each used either the sun, the stars, or the planet Venus to divide the day. Examples of each can be found throughout the Ancient world from England in the west to Japan in the East. There is also some evidence that some versions may be found in the western hemisphere. The standard using the sun to time a pendulum. This standard divided the day into 360 parts adjusting the length of a pendulum so that it would swing 1/3 that number of times in that period. This 2 second pendulum was nearly one meter long being only 0.6 % short of todayʼs standard. The standards of volume and weight were correspondingly very nearly one liter and one kilogram. The standard length was divided in two to form a length called the cubit, and was multiplied by 360 to form a standard of distance measurement which was about a third of a kilometer. The standard using a star to time a pendulum This standard divided the day into 366 parts adjusting the length of a pendulum so that it would swing 1/2 this number of times in that period. One half the length of this pendulum was multiplied by 366 and divided by 1000 to develop a standard Foot. This foot was used to develop a standard distance of one nautical mile which was about 1 percent longer than todayʼs value. This foot was multiplied by 1.5 to create the cubit. which was used to develop standards of volume and weight. The volume of a cubic Cubit was divided by 200 to provide the standard of volume. The weight of rain water contained in a cube 1/10 cubit on edge became the standard of weight. The standard using the planet venus to time a pendulum This standard divided the daily rotation of venus in the sky by 366 parts adjusting the length of a pendulum so that it would swing 1/2 this number of times in that period. One half the length of this pendulum was multiplied by 366 and divided by 1000 to develop a standard Foot. This 1000 foot length was very nearly 1/360 of a degree on the polar circumference of the earth and was about 1 percent shorter than todayʼs value derived from a satellite data. This foot was used to develop both standards of volume and weight. The volume of a cubes of one, on half, and one quarter foot became the standards of volume, The weight of rain water contained in a one quarter foot cube became the standard of weight. These three standards as well as additional standards using combinations of these numbers spread throughout the ancient world. Examples of the first can be found in Mesopotamia, China, and France. Examples of the second can be found in Egypt, Phoenicia, and early Rome, Examples of the third can be found in Crete, on Okinawa in Japan, and in medieval England where the standards of volume and weight are immortalized in the Magna Carta of 1215. Roland Boucher 11 Deerspring Irvine, CA 92604 rev b March 15, 2014

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