Saturday, January 18, 2014

History mystery: History of Measures

Measures 1
Units of measures were the ancients means invented by humans and the primitive societies needed these measures for various tasks namely in constructions of dwellings with correct size and shape, in fashioning and designing clothes, or even in case of bartering raw materials and food. Weights and measures have undergone a variety of changes over the ages from simple informal expectations in barter transaction to various elaborate systems integrating measures of different kinds. Research done on the evidence received from available sources and relating facts, some idea of its origin and development is obtained which has changed somewhat through the passage of time. The system of measures probably originated first when agriculture developed in the areas from Syria to Iran in 6000 BC when agriculture became the foremost source of food supply.

Measures 2
It then became essential on how to calculate the available stock in distributing between one crop to the next and in times of famines, it was important to know how to stretch the available supply. The earliest known systems of weights and measures seems to have been created somewhere in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC among the ancient people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and probably Elam in Iran. Other system of measuring instruments was the use of the parts of the body and the natural surroundings. The only unit of volume having natural basis was the half pint of 270 c.c; described as the contents of the two hands when cupped together and this handful was the origin of the standard volume for a cup or glass. This indicates that the very first measuring system was that of grains done by handfuls.

Measures 3
The people of the Indus Valley civilization achieved remarkable accuracy in measuring length, time and mass where their measurements were precise since their smallest division marked on an ivory scale found in Lothal was approximately 1.704 mm or 1/16 inch which is the smallest division ever recorded on a Bronze Age scale and the decimal system was presumed to be used though the feet and inches were a more accurate indication of the measure used at that time. Earlier documents of Egypt and Mesopotamia indicate that the system was based on a foot of 300 mm where this unit is known as the Egyptian foot since it was their standard from pre dynastic times to the first millennium BC. Its value was determined by Newton from the dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Gizah which was verified with certainty at the beginning of the 19th century. The foot was divided into 17 fingers, with the division of the feet into 12 inches dating from the Roman period. The foot corresponds a cubit of 450 mm which is divided into 24 fingers. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization during the period 2600 – 1900 BC, developed sophisticated procedure of standardization in weights and measure from the evidence found from the excavations made at the Indus Valley site.

Measures 4
The Indus Valley units of length, the Egyptian cubit and the Mesopotamian cubit were used in the 3rd millennium BC and were the earliest known units used by these ancient people to measure length. The units for measuring length in ancient India were dhanus or the bow, the krosa also known as cow-call and the yojana, stage. The most common cubit considered was the length of the forearm right from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. This was divided into the span of the hand, around one ½ cubit, the palm or the width of the hand, one 1/6th and the digit or width of the middle finger, one 24th with the span or the length between the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb.

Measures 5
The royal cubit an example of septenary unit were the most common in ancient and medieval period and were usually represented by rods of 7 feet or 7 cubits and the 7 cubits rod is mentioned in late cuneiform text as well as in the Bible. The standard cubit, the Sacred Cubit, was enhanced by an extra span namely, the 7 spans or 28 widths length was used for construction of buildings and monuments in ancient Egypt. From here the inch, yard and foot evolved amidst a series of complicated information which is yet to be understood. Some are of the opinion that they evolved from cubic measures while other presumed that they were simple proportions or multiples of the cubit though the fact is that the Romans and the Greeks inherited the foot from the Egyptians. The introduction of the yard equivalent to 0.9144 m, as a unit of length came much later though its origin is unknown. According to some, its origin was the double cubit, while others believed that it originated from cubic measure but the fact is that early yard was divided by the binary method into 2, 4, 8 and 16 parts known as half yard, span, finger and nail.

Measures 6
 Weights are also based on the units of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 and each unit weighing around 28 grams which is similar to the English ounce or the Roman uncia while smaller objects were weighed in ratios with the units of 0.871. English units of weights was considered to be the best defined and stable of Europe and when a younger contemporary of Galileo, Tito Livio Burattini used the adoption of decimal metric system based on a metto cattolico or metro universale, he presumed that it could be based on English standards. Bernard who was influenced with his studies of Arab measures indicates that there are units which are reduced as 62:62.5 in relation to the English one.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century, it has been indicated that the Roman foot be used as a universal measure but with various studies on the problem gave rise to several studies of Roman foot and eventually the plan to adopt the Roman foot was altogether abandoned though some authors arrived at substantial agreement on the value of each variety.

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