Why Did People Use Sundials in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, people did not have the luxury of accurate timekeeping devices like we do today. Instead, they relied on a variety of methods to tell time, one of which was the sundial.

What is a Sundial?

A sundial is a device that uses the sun’s position in the sky to indicate the time of day. It consists of a flat surface called a dial and a raised object called a gnomon. The gnomon casts a shadow onto the dial, indicating the time based on where the shadow falls.

History of Sundials

Sundials have been used for thousands of years and were one of the earliest methods for telling time. The ancient Egyptians were some of the first to use sundials, with evidence dating back to around 1500 BCE. They used obelisks as gnomons and marked hour lines on flat surfaces.

Sundials became more sophisticated over time, with different designs for different latitudes and even portable versions for travelers. During medieval times in Europe, sundials were often found on church walls as they were considered important tools for determining prayer times.

Why Did People Use Sundials?

Sundials were an essential tool for many aspects of daily life in ancient times. Here are some reasons why people used them:

Farming and Agriculture

Before modern farming techniques, farmers relied heavily on natural indicators such as sunlight to determine when to plant crops and harvest them. Sundials provided an accurate way to track daylight hours and determine when it was best to work in the fields.


Before modern navigation tools like GPS, sailors relied on celestial navigation techniques such as using the position of the sun to determine their location at sea. Sundials provided an accurate way to determine local solar time, which could then be used in conjunction with other navigational tools to calculate longitude.

Religion and Rituals

In many ancient cultures, the position of the sun was considered sacred and played an important role in religious rituals. Sundials were often used to determine the timing of these rituals, such as prayer times in Islam.

Scientific Curiosity

Sundials were also used as scientific instruments for studying the movement of the sun across the sky. They provided a way to track changes in solar time throughout the year and helped scientists understand the Earth’s rotation and axial tilt.


Sundials may seem like a simple tool by today’s standards, but they played a crucial role in many aspects of daily life in ancient times. From farming to navigation to religion, sundials provided an accurate way to tell time and helped people understand the natural world around them.