What Were Sundials Used for in Ancient Times?

Sundials are ancient timekeeping devices that were used for centuries before the invention of clocks and watches. The earliest known sundials date back to ancient Egypt and Babylon, where they were used to track the movement of the sun across the sky.

But what were sundials used for in ancient times? Let’s delve deeper into this fascinating topic.

Tracking Time

One of the primary uses of sundials in ancient times was to track time. The shadow cast by a gnomon (the vertical part of a sundial) moves as the sun moves across the sky. By marking off hours on the dial, people could tell what time it was based on where the shadow fell.


Another use for sundials was to create calendars. By tracking how the sun moved across the sky throughout the year, people could determine when certain events occurred, such as solstices and equinoxes. This information was essential for planting crops and scheduling religious ceremonies.


Sundials were also used for navigation, particularly at sea. Sailors would use a sextant (which measures angles) to determine their latitude based on the angle between the horizon and the sun. By comparing this measurement with what time it was (as shown by a sundial), they could determine their approximate location.

The Importance of Sundials in Ancient Times

Sundials were incredibly important in ancient times because they provided a way to track time and schedule events without relying on mechanical devices that had not yet been invented. They also helped people understand more about astronomy and how our solar system works.


In conclusion, sundials were used for many different purposes in ancient times, from tracking time to creating calendars to navigating at sea. Despite being relatively simple devices compared to modern technology, they played an essential role in the development of human civilization. Today, sundials are still used for their aesthetic value and as a way to connect with our history and the natural world.