A sundial is the oldest device known for the measurement of time. It is based on
the idea that a shadow will move from one side to another as the sun moves from the east
to the west. It is probably the first scientific instrument created by man. The sundial is
believed to have been used in Babylon as early as 2000 B.C. There are many sundials
around the world. Some thousands of years old, and some huge in stature. A sundial is
much like pottery and each one is given a unique character by its maker. Sundials are
mentioned in everything from ancient Greek writings to Shakespeare’s plays.
The earliest description of a sundial comes from Berossus, a Chaldean astronomer
who lived about 300 B.C. His sundial was a hollow half-sphere, or dome, set with its
edge flat. A small bead was fixed at the center acting as the gnomon. Another believed
to be a simple sundial are the stones at Stonehedge. There are many notable sundials in
the world; however, some of the more famous and modern ones include the following
ones. One of the largest ones built, the sundial in Jaipur, India, covers an acre of ground
and has a gnomon over a hundred feet high. It was completed in 1742. One of the
simpler sundials includes the vertical sundial at Kochi castle in Japan. It was built during
the Edo era from 1603-1867. It consisted of only wood and string and went unnoticed by
many. In 1578, a German instrument builder Christopher Schlisser, built a dial known as
the Dial of Ahaz. It was built in an attempt to recreate an Old Testament miracle
involving King Ahaz, who asked God for proof that he had been cured of a dire illness.
King Ahaz was convinced when the sun’s shadow, cast by an obelisk upon some steps,
grew shorter by ten steps as if time had reversed. One less miraculous but meaningful to
others is the bronze horizontal sundial built by Dr. D.W. Morehouse in 1938 to
commemorate the Union veterans of the Civil War. One of the more modern ones is the
horizontal sundial built on the Team Disney building outside Orlando, Florida. It was
completed in 1991 and designed by Arata Isozaki.
Sundials are also mentioned in some notable works of literature. In the twentieth
chapter of the 2 Kings, verses nine through eleven read,
“Isaiah answered, ‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will
do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it
go back ten steps?’
‘It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,’ said
Hezekiah. ‘Rather, have it go back ten steps.’
Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the Lord, and the Lord made the
shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.”
Sundials are also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Hamlet, and in Douglas Adam’s
The Dark Team Time of the Soul.

Sundials have literally been around since the beginning of time. They have
sustained their time in history and will continue to have their impact and grasp on the
interest of many. This is obvious as the fact that they are still being built and are still
studied is observed.






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