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This Device Might Be England's Oldest Dated Scientific Instrument

maximus otter

Recovering policeman
Aug 9, 2001
Billed as the “earliest dated English scientific instrument,” a 700-year old mediaeval device used to tell time sold for £126,000 (more than $150,000) at a Christie’s.


One side of the device was used to tell the date of Easter Sunday. Christie's Images LTD. 2023

The object is a horary quadrant, which tells the time by tracking the sun’s position in the sky. This particular specimen was made in 1311, though the earliest record of such a device outside of England dates to the 13th century.

“These quadrants were probably the tools of merchants, senior churchmen and scholars.”

The device is shaped like a quarter of a circle. With a radius of just over two inches, it’s small enough to fit into the palm of a hand.

It’s made of a copper alloy plate featuring various engravings, including lines used to divide the time between sunrise and sunset into 12 equal periods. Under this system, an hour in the summer is longer than an hour in the winter, reflecting the fact that “being able to work during daylight was crucial.”


maximus otter