A Brief History of Horology (essay)
Title: A Brief History of Horology
Author: Earion Bayvel Illistim III (paternal uncle to Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l)
First published on the 25th day of Koaratos in the year 5115
For millennia, Elanthia’s celestial bodies – its sun, moons, and stars - have provided us with a reference for measuring the passage of time. The simple observations of their relative positions in the sky were necessary for planning the planting of crops or guiding our navigators and we continue to rely upon the apparent motion of these bodies to determine days, months, seasons, and years. Some sylvankind even still claim to recognize the time of day by the opening of certain flowers, earliest of all being dandelions and the latest, moonflowers, which unfurl after dark.
Details of timekeeping in ancient history are scarce, but wherever we turn up records or artifacts – mostly in the form of crude paintings like those found on the walls of the cave on Luinne Bheinn - we usually discover that there was a preoccupation with time. We have no written records, for example, of the seven limestone obelisks to be found in the Coastal Cliff caverns of Western Elanith, but their alignments show that their purpose may well have included the determination of seasonal or celestial events, such as lunar eclipses or solstices.
We know that the earliest calendar was based on the moons’ cycles, with Lornon taking a full month to achieve a full orbit and Liabo, a week. Later, however, early settlers realized that the stars in the night sky also followed a pattern. Constellations exist only in the mind, but the pictures that appeared in the sky every year at the same time became important to their daily lives as a way of telling time.
In particular, they recorded that a serpentine configuration of twenty one stars, with a faintly visible purple nebula at its head, appeared at the same time every year when the sun was at its highest. They named this constellation “The First” in honor of the First Drake, Ka’lethas.
More significantly, the change in the appearance of the Lornon moon, when its surface takes on a bloody hue, was noted as being best viewed in the sky on the longest night of the year. This phenomena culminated on the date now recorded as Lornon’s Eve which marks the end of the calendar year.
Not until the beginning of the Second Age did elves find a need for knowing the time of day. The Illistim, being the first elven house, began to find ways to augment the calendar. With the construction of the Library Aies, their attendant bureaucracy and other burgeoning societal activities, the Chronicle keepers of Ta'Illistim needed to organize their time more efficiently.
Over the next 20,000 years, obelisks began to appear in elven cities across the continent; the most noteworthy being the towering obsidian needle that dominated the agora in the far south-western city of Sharath, until its destruction during the Great Fire 25,000 years ago. Flanked on three sides by the Great Temple, Shialos du S'karli (the Library of the Way) and the Tower of the Arcane Arts, the pillar cast a clearly defined shadow, thanks to the high, scorching sun of the region.
Others included the onyx sentinel, still to be found in Seethe Naedal, at the foothills of the Dragonspine Mountains, and the mysterious veil iron monolith that was once housed within the fortress walls of Ta'Vaalor; before being removed on the orders of King Tyrnian and relocated to the Stormbrow Gallery in Kharam Dzu.
The moving shadows cast by these slender, tapering monuments formed a kind of sundial, enabling the elves to partition the day into morning and afternoon. They also showed the year’s longest and shortest days when the shadow at noon was the shortest or longest of the year. Additional markers around the base would indicate further subdivisions in time.
As a development of this primitive technology, shadow clocks or sundials were arguably the first portable timepieces which came into use around -20,000 ME. The principle of the sundial was simple. Most devices were made of metal with a style or gnomon whose shadow fell on a marked dial in such a way as to indicate the time of the day. An impressive example, set in glittering sunstone, is still in use today by the monks of the Voln Monastery in the Elven Nations.
Elements of a Timepiece
All timepieces must have two basic components. They need a regular, constant or repetitive action to mark off equal increments of time and a means of keeping track of that process. Early examples obviously included the movement of the sun across the sky measured by the aforementioned sundials, but there were also water clocks and much smaller, simpler devices such as candles marked in increments, oil lamps with marked reservoirs, and more recently, sand timers.
Water clocks were among the earliest timekeepers that did not depend on the observation of celestial bodies. They were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a small hole near the bottom. Markings on the inside surfaces measured the passage of time as the water level reached them. These clocks were used to determine hours during cloudy days, at night or indoors where sundials were ineffective. Evidence of one of the oldest was found during the discovery of Temple Wyneb in 5102 ME. Archaeologists discovered a steep-sided channel cut through the center of the chamber floor which barely contains a rushing stream. It is believed to be the remains of an ancient water clock (over 15,000 years old) but in such poor shape that it now serves as nothing more than a means of egress from the abandoned rocky tomb.
An ingenious system was utilized more recently by Clepsydra, during the recent Ebon Gate Festival in the Feywrot Mire, where she was able to grant access to different chambers within her house based on whether it was day or night. Using a brass funnel suspended from the ceiling over a large stone bowl, and a measured flow of water through a slender brass pipe to turn a large gear, she was able to mark the passage of time.
The sand timer (or hourglass to use its more modern term) was made up of two rounded glass bulbs connected by a narrow neck of glass between them. When the timer was turned upside down, a measured amount of sand particles streamed through from the top to bottom bulb of glass. An example of a fairly modern sand timer is currently on display in the River's Rest Museum which dates back to early 4200 ME. Although cracked with no sand remaining, it is believed to be a two minute model. Earlier models are much harder to find intact.
Lesser known examples of timepieces include knotted cords and small stone or metal mazes filled with incense that would burn at a certain pace. Devices such as these only came to light with the discovery of the Tehir in 4486 ME. Whilst most Tehir still determine the passage of time by the constellations, their shaman have been known to carry such devices but, for a long time, they were mistakenly thought to be for the purposes of divination.
Evolution of Timekeeping
The history of timekeeping is the story of the search for ever more consistent processes to regulate the rate of a clock and it is worth noting that the pace of technological advancement at the beginning of the Modern Era was disparate on either side of the Dragonspine Mountains.
With the introduction of gnomish technology came more elaborate and impressive mechanized water clocks. The added level of complexity was aimed at making the flow more constant by regulating the pressure, and at providing fancier displays of the passage of time. Some water clocks rang bells and gongs; others opened doors and windows to show little figures of people, or moved pointers, dials, and astrological models of the universe.
The eminent scholar, Pelemius Anodheles, supervised the construction of his innovative horologion, known locally as the Tetra Magus, in the Nydds marketplace in 4278 ME to mark the coronation of his second cousin, Selantha Anodheles as the first Empress of the Turamzzyrian Empire. The three-sided structure showed citizens both sundials and mechanical hour indicators. It featured a 24-hour mechanized water clock and indicators for the three spheres of magic from which the structure got its name. It also displayed the seasons of the year and astrological dates and periods. Later additions incorporated a bronze power-driven armillary sphere for observations, an automatically rotating celestial globe, and three panels with doors that permitted the viewing of changing manikins which rang bells or gongs, and held tablets indicating the hour.
It was later dismantled, in 4302 ME, as a mark of respect after the death of the Empress but the construction drawings can be found in the Book of Hours which is now housed in the library of the Hall of Mages satellite college in Nydds.
300 years later, the city of Solhaven saw the erection of its spiring clock tower in the Piacular Plaza which utilized the nearby renewable resource of seawater to power its large fel wheel and gears. The ringing of the carillon can still be heard throughout the Ebondrift residential area. Rising majestically from the sea-like flooring of the area, the circular tower is a hundred feet in height and fashioned of polished blue-grey granite stones. The clock-face itself, three times the size of the average giant, is a huge diamond-shaped flat of chalcedony, marked with numerals of obsidian and fitted with metal filigree hands that blend gold, silver and bronze in their composition.
Since the rate of flow of water was very difficult to control accurately, a clock based on that flow could never really achieve excellent accuracy so the elves were naturally led to other approaches. With the invention of veniom enrichment and airship technology in the Elven Nations, the advancement in their timekeeping methods was much more rapid and it took Western civilizations 4000 years to catch up.
The old airship depot in Ta'Illistim - now the Museum Alerreth - is home to probably the finest example of an early elven mechanical horologe dating back almost 5000 years, although it was allowed to fall into disrepair following the Sea Elf War. It now forms an integral part of the museum’s exhibits.
A huge advance in Western horological know-how happened in the late 4700’s when clocks, using the weights or coiled springs evident in much earlier elven timepieces, began to appear. These purely mechanical clocks worked by using an escapement, a lever that pivoted and meshed with a toothed wheel at certain intervals. This controlled the movement, or "escape" of either the weights or the springs that were powering the clock, in order to regulate the speed at which the gears and wheels which measured the time turned.
In 4859, Chestir Nimbleton, a gnome of the Withycombe bloodline, stumbled across a mechanism with a “natural” period of oscillation and invented a clock which used weights and a swinging pendulum. The bigger the pendulum, the more accurate the clock. His early sketches of such a clock tower were discovered shortly after his death in 4931 but he never actually constructed one. Although his great-great-grandson, Horloge, was responsible for the construction of a later model in Wehnimer's Landing in 5114. His, more modern version, improved on the pendulum clock’s accuracy by compensating for changes in the pendulum’s length due to temperature variations. Attempts to reduce friction with the use of steam however, resulted in a catastrophic failure that sent clock pieces flying all over town. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
As we have seen, the term clock encompasses all manner of devices from the position cast by a shadow to the oscillation of a calibrated weight. Only time will tell what we will come to rely on to measure and keep track of its progress in the future but, for now, the simple truth is, time is but a measure of change and that measure is ever-changing.