How Do You Measure Humidity in Ancient Times?

Measuring humidity is a crucial aspect of many fields such as agriculture, medicine, and even construction. It helps to determine the amount of moisture present in the air, which can have a significant impact on living organisms and materials.

However, have you ever wondered how people in ancient times measured humidity? Did they have access to modern instruments like hygrometers? Let’s explore this fascinating topic!

The History of Measuring Humidity

The concept of humidity has been known since ancient times. In fact, the Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first people to study the relationship between air and water vapor. He believed that air had an innate tendency to seek balance with its surroundings, which included water vapor.

However, it was not until the 15th century that actual attempts were made to measure humidity. Italian physician Santorio Santorio invented a device called a hygrometer in 1610. It consisted of a hair or fiber that would absorb moisture from the air and expand or contract accordingly.

Ancient Methods of Measuring Humidity

Before hygrometers were invented, ancient peoples used various methods to measure humidity. One such method was to observe the behavior of certain animals and plants.

For example, farmers in ancient China would observe how silkworms behaved. Silkworms are very sensitive to changes in humidity and will stop eating if the air becomes too dry or too moist.

In India, people would use peacock feathers to determine humidity levels. When peacock feathers are exposed to humid conditions, they tend to curl up due to their structure.

The Role of Astronomy

Astronomy also played a role in measuring humidity in ancient times. Arab astronomers would measure atmospheric moisture by observing stars through telescopes. The stars appeared dimmer when there was more moisture in the air due to scattering of light.

The Mayans also used astronomical observations to determine humidity levels. They noticed that certain constellations would appear hazy when the air was humid.


In conclusion, while we take for granted the modern instruments we have at our disposal to measure humidity, ancient peoples had to rely on their observations and ingenuity to determine moisture levels in the air. From observing silkworms and peacock feathers to studying the stars, they developed a deep understanding of the natural world and its rhythms. It is a testament to human curiosity and perseverance that we have come so far in our ability to measure and understand such a fundamental aspect of our environment.