Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Medieval Clock-Wise


Aug28 (35)

Sometimes the best questions at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have been asked by kids.  During a spinning demonstration at the Wool Cottage the Good Wife said that the drop spindle should be spun clockwise and the wool fiber in your hand held high so that the wool fiber spins into yarn.  A very young boy asked, “Did people in the Middle Ages have clocks and know about ‘clockwise’ and ‘counterclockwise’?”  As a matter of fact, they barely knew of clocks and did not see clock hands until late in the Medieval.  People knew about direction - left and right. They knew about twisting or turning: they danced.  They did not, however, use the term clockwise.

Sundials date back to the ancient world.  Hourglasses are believed to have been invented in Europe in the 700’s by a monk in France, but the first confirmed use of an hourglass is a 1338 Italian fresco.  The first clocks were water clocks that came from ancient Egypt then to Greece and then Rome.  Mechanical clocks were introduced in the 1200’s.  The word “clock” comes from the French “cloche”, which means bell.  These mechanical clocks had bells, but not hands or, necessarily, faces in 1226.  They were intended for community announcement of the time and were installed in towers and had no faces or hands.  About 1400 hour hands began to be seen the minute hand was not introduced until 1577.

Interestingly, on that tour, I asked to see the guest’s watches.  All of them were digital, thus not showing clockwise or counterclockwise anymore.  We have come full circle to not having hands on our clocks!  I guess time is changing and the term is becoming obsolete. 

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