The current concept of time was created by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago!

The ancient civilizations knew that time started when the sun rose, and time ended when the sun disappeared over the horizon. But the ancient Sumerians developed a much more complex system. The Sumerians realized that it was possible to divide the hours into 60 minutes and the days into 24 hours, creating today’s time measurement systems.

The ingenuity behind the concept of time created by the Sumerians

The Sumer civilization flourished around 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia. Today that area is known as Iraq. The Sumerians were a unique civilization that created an advanced society with language and writing, architecture and arts, and astronomy and mathematics. They did not last long as a civilization, but their timekeeping system has been used for over 5,000 years.

The Sumerians used the number 60 as they are very easily divisible and are in tune with Earth’s natural cycles. A perfect example is that there are 360 days in a year, and 60 fits six times.

Ancient people and the passage of time

The ancients had an approximate notion of the passage of time as the passage of days, weeks, months, and years with a month being the duration of a complete lunar cycle, a week the course of a phase of the lunar cycle, and a year estimated based on changes in seasons and the relative position of the sun. They realized that observing the skies could provide many answers to complex questions in their day.

The Sumerian civilization started to collapse when they were conquered by the Akkadians in 2400 BCE and later by the Babylonians in 1800 BCE. Their notion of dividing time into 60 units persisted and spread worldwide.

A round clock and a 24-hour day

The number 360 is a robust measure, not only of time but of a perfect circle. The Greeks and the Islamists realized this when they first unveiled geometry. This powerful number forms 360 degrees of an ideal process as the Earth rotates around the sun in a single orbit.

The sexagesimal system (degrees and minutes) was the first and only way to measure time accurately. It became increasingly popular and was even used in mathematics and navigation. After a while, it was used in clocks, and the face of watches became divided into pure, sexagesimal quadrants to give 24 hours with 60 minutes in each hour, 60 seconds in each minute.


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