Conventional Methods of Measurement

Importance of taking Measurements

Have you ever thought about the importance of taking measurements? Taking measurements is one of the important, common, and daily activities of our day-to-day life. We can't imagine spending a day without measuring anything. Without measurements, the world would have been complete chaos.

It is an integral part of our daily routine. Starting from Cooking, where a measured amount of ingredients are added to cook food properly; purchasing items so that fixed amounts can be allocated to certain objects medicines, in which a fixed dosage is required to treat a particular disease, to decide the winner among the participants, etc.

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Today, we follow a standard unit of measurements for length, mass, volume, and time. But have ever wondered how these measurements were taken when such units did not come into existence.

Length

In early days, the human body was used to provide the basis for units of length

  • Inch: It was used to measure the length of items small in size, for example, the seam of a cloth, length of the paper, etc. Inch is the measure of the human thumb.

  • Foot: Foot is defined as the measure of length 15.3 % of the height of a human body with an average height of 160 cm. This unit differed from place to place and trade to trade. This unit was preferred by Roman and Greeks and was mainly used to calculate the size of a piece of cloth, the height of human beings and cattle, the size of a building, etc.

  • Cubit: Cubit is the unit of measurement of length based on the length of the forearm, from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow bottom. It was preferred by Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Cubit rods have been discovered in the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Usually, these rods are 20 inches in length, which are divided into seven palms; each palm is further divided into four fingers which are further subdivided.

  • Yard: Yard is the unit of distance, which is based on human paces. A yard is equivalent to two cubits or three feet, which is approximately 36 inches. The early yard was divided by the binary method into 2, 4, 8, and 16 parts called the half-yard, span, finger, and nail Miles.

A foot comprises 12 inches and three feet comprise a yard. Such measurements as these, it was easy to explain how far the next village was and to find out whether an object will get through a doorway.

Weight

  • In early times, to measure weight the grains of wheat or barleycorn were used because of their approximate standard size. The barleycorn was used to weigh the precious metals silver and gold. Large units preserved in stone standards were developed that were used as both units of mass and monetary currency. The standard unit was taken to the number of grains of wheat. This is even now being used by some jewellers. 64.79891 milligrams sums up to make one grain.

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  • A metal with measured length was used to be kept in the town center or the temples and copies of the same were distributed among the people of that community. This metal lump was considered as a standard of weight.

Time

  • Sundial: The movement of the sun in the sky was used to estimate time, which was done based on the length and position of the shadow cast by a vertical stick. Then the marks were made where the sun's shadow fell, which gave an approximate measure of time of the day consistently. The device came to be called a sundial.

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  • Water Clock: It was used to measure time-based on the amount of water dripping from a tank. This method of measurement was not considered reliable because the flow of water is difficult to be controlled. The device was termed as Clepsydra.

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  • Hourglass: To estimate the time, this device is used. The hourglass works on the same principle followed by a water clock. It uses sand instead of water. It is still found in some places, in a reduced form, and also in use. It has two vertically connected glass bulbs that allow a regulated flow of a substance from the upper bulb to the lower one.

The upper and lower bulbs are kept symmetric so that the hourglass will measure the same duration regardless of orientation. There are various factors that contribute for the calculation of the specific duration of time. These include the quantity and coarseness of the particulate matter, the bulb size, etc.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is the importance of measurement?

Measurements play an important role in daily life because they play a significant role to do basic tasks, such as take a child's temperature with a thermometer, make time estimations, measure the medicine and find weights, areas, and volumes of different materials or substances.  People take measurements in a simple home task like cooking which requires using a weighing scale or read the temperature of an oven when baking foods.

Nurses have to measure out doses of medicines, record blood pressure readings, and take pulses. Similarly, engineers and architects have to read blueprints with precise dimensions and markings. Other professionals that use customary measurements are surveyors, actuaries, cartographers, and accountants.

2. What is the earliest known measurement system?

At some time in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC among the ancient peoples when the systems of measurement seem all to have been created, of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, and perhaps also Elam as well.


The records of Babylonian and Egyptian and the Hebrew Bible show that length was first estimated with the lower arm, hand, or finger and that time was estimated by the times of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies. When it was important to look at the capacities of containers, for example, gourds or metal vessels, they were loaded up with plant seeds which were then tallied to gauge the volumes.