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measurement. These were required for numerous tasks such as: constructing

dwellings of an appropriate size and shape, fashioning clothing, or bartering

food or raw materials.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Weights and measures have taken a great variety of forms over the

course of history, from simple informal expectations in barter transactions to

elaborate state and supranational systems that integrate measures of many

different kinds. Weights and measures from the oldest societies can often be

inferred at least in part from archaeological specimens, often preserved in

museums. The comparison of the dimensions of buildings with the

descriptions of contemporary writers is another source of information. An

interesting example of this is the comparison of the dimensions of the

GreekParthenon with the description given by Plutarch from which a fairly

accurate idea of the size of the Attic foot is obtained. Because of the

comparative volume of artifacts and documentation, we know much more

about the state-sanctioned measures of large, advanced societies than we

do about those of smaller socieities or about the informal measures that

often coexisted with official ones throughout history. In some cases, we have

only plausible theories and we must sometimes select the interpretation to

be given to the evidence.

the relevant facts, we obtain some idea of the origin and development of the

units. We find that they have changed more or less gradually with the

passing of time in a complex manner because of a great variety of modifying

influences. It is possible to group official measurement systems for large

societies into historical systems that are relatively stable over time,

including: the Babylonian system, the Egyptian system, the Phileterian

system of the Ptolemaic age, the Olympic system of Greece, the Roman

system, the British system, and the metric system.

EARLIEST KNOWN SYSTEMS

The earliest known uniform systems of weights and measures seem all

to have been created at some time in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC among

the ancient peoples of Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, and

perhaps also Elam (in Iran) as well.

The system attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization (ca. 2600 BC) is

sometimes cited as particularly accurate.[1] Based on an ivory scale found

in Lothal, their smallest unit corresponded to approximately 1.704 mm

(0.067 in), the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age.

Early Babylonian and Egyptian records and the Hebrew Bible indicate that

length was first measured with the forearm, hand, or finger and that time

was measured by the periods of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies.

When it was necessary to compare the capacities of containers such

as gourds or clay or metal vessels, they were filled with plant seeds which

were then counted to measure the volumes. When means for weighing were

invented, seeds and stones served as standards. For instance, the carat, still

used as a unit for gems, was derived from the carob seed.

HISTORY OF UNITS

UNITS OF LENGTH

The Egyptian cubit, the Indus Valley units of length referred to above and the

Mesopotamian cubit were used in the 3rd millennium BC and are the earliest

known units used by ancient peoples to measure length. The units of length

used in ancient India included the dhanus (bow), the krosa (cry, or cow-call)

and the yojana (stage).

The common cubit was the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of

the middle finger. It was divided into the span of the hand or the length

between the tip of little finger to the tip of the thumb (one-half cubit), the

palm or width of the hand (one sixth), and the digit or width of the middle

finger (one twenty-fourth). The Royal Cubit, which was a standard cubit

enhanced by an extra palmthus 7 palms or 28 digits longwas used in

constructing buildings and monuments and in surveying in ancient Egypt.

The inch, foot, and yard evolved from these units through a complicated

transformation not yet fully understood. Some believe they evolved from

cubic measures; others believe they were simple proportions or multiples of

the cubit. In whichever case, the Greeks and Romans inherited the foot from

the Egyptians. The Roman foot (~296 mm) was divided into both

12 unciae (inches) (~24.7 mm) and 16 digits (~18.5 mm). The Romans also

introduced the mille passus (1000 paces) or double steps, the pace being

equal to five Roman feet (~1480 mm). The Roman mile of 5000 feet (1480

m) was introduced into England during the occupation. Queen Elizabeth

I (reigned from 1558 to 1603) changed, by statute, the mile to 5280 feet

(~1609 m) or 8 furlongs, a furlong being 40 rod (unit)s (~201 m) of 5.5 yards

(~5.03 m) each.

The introduction of the yard (0.9144 m) as a unit of length came later, but its

origin is not definitely known. Some believe the origin was the double cubit,

others believe that it originated from cubic measure. Whatever its origin, the

early yard was divided by the binary method into 2, 4, 8, and 16 parts called

the half-yard, span, finger, and nail. The association of the yard with the

"gird" or circumference of a person's waist or with the distance from the tip

of the nose to the end of the thumb of King Henry I (reigned 11001135) are

probably standardizing actions, since several yards were in use in Britain.

There were also Rods, Poles and Perches for measurements of length. The

following table lists the equivalents.

Length

12 lines = 1 inch

12 inches = 1 foot

3 feet = 1 yard

1760 yards = 1 mile

36 inches = 1 yard

440 yards = quarter-mile

880 yards = half-mile

10 chains = 1 furlong

8 furlongs = 1 mile

4 inches = 1 hand

22 yards = 1 chain

5.5 yards = 1 rod, pole or perch

4 poles = 1 chain

40 poles = 1 furlong

TYPOGRAPHICAL UNITS

The use in typography of the point, which was one twelfth of a ligne in

the customary French measures of the Ancien Rgime, as a unit for

measuring print type predates the metric system. Various typographic points

were defined, including the Truchet point by Sbastien Truchet (16571729),

[4]

the Fournier point by Pierre Simon Fournier in 1737 and the Didot point by

the Didot brothers, Francois Ambroise and Pierre Francois, in 1755 or 176 or

1783, which was exactly two Truchet points. The point was first used in the

United States in 1878 or 1872 by a Chicago type foundry (Marder, Luse, &

Co.).

The point was defined as 1/12 of a pica consisting of 1/6 of an inch truncated

to thousandths of an inch (1/12 of 0.166 inches) in the USA in 1886 and was

quickly adopted by Britain and its colonies;.[6] This number has been

approximated in various ways depending on the technology, prejudices, and

information available to engineers involved in the production of typesetting

machinery since then. Common approximations in use are 1/72.27 inch (now

equal to 0.3514598 mm) and simply 1/72 of an inch. Other typographic

points are used in other countries.

UNITS OF MASS

The grain was the earliest unit of mass and is the smallest unit in

the apothecary, avoirdupois, Tower, and troy systems. The early unit was a

grain of wheat or barleycorn used to weigh the precious metals silver and

gold. Larger units preserved in stone standards were developed that were

used as both units of mass and of monetary currency. The pound was derived

from the mina used by ancient civilizations. A smaller unit was the shekel,

and a larger unit was the talent. The magnitude of these units varied from

place to place. The Babylonians and Sumerians had a system in which there

were 60 shekels in a mina and 60 minas in a talent. The Roman talent

consisted of 100 libra (pound) which were smaller in magnitude than the

mina. The troy pound (~373.2 g) used in England and the United States for

monetary purposes, like the Roman pound, was divided into 12 ounces, but

the Roman uncia (ounce) was smaller. The carat is a unit for measuring

gemstones that had its origin in the carob seed, which later was

standardized at 1/144 ounce and then 0.2 gram.

weighing of goods began, units of mass based on a volume of grain or water

were developed. For example, the talent in some places was approximately

equal to the mass of one cubic foot of water. Was this a coincidence or by

design? The diverse magnitudes of units having the same name, which still

appear today in our dry and liquid measures, could have arisen from the

various commodities traded. The larger avoirdupois pound for goods of

commerce might have been based on volume of water which has a

higher bulk density than grain. For example, the Egyptian hon was a volume

unit about 11 per cent larger than a cubic palm and corresponded to one

mina of water. It was almost identical in volume to the present U.S. pint

(~473 mL).

The stone, quarter, hundredweight, and ton were larger units of mass used in

Britain. Today only the stone continues in customary use for measuring

personal body weight. The present stone is 14 pounds (~6.35 kg), but an

earlier unit appears to have been 16 pounds (~7.25 kg). The other units

were multiples of 2, 8, and 160 times the stone, or 28, 112, and 2240 pounds

(~12.7 kg, 50.8 kg, 1016 kg), respectively. The hundredweight was

approximately equal to two talents. The ton of 2240 pounds is called the

"long ton". The "short ton" is equal to 2000 pounds (~907 kg). A tonne (t) is

equal to 1000 kg.

UNITS OF TIME AND ANGLE

The division of the circle into 360 degrees and the day into hours, minutes,

and seconds can be traced to the Babylonians who had sexagesimal system

of numbers. The 360 degrees may have been related to a year of 360 days.

Many other systems of measurement divided the day differently -- counting

hours, decimal time, etc. Other calendars divided the year differently.

METRIC CONVERSION

The metric system was first described in 1668, and officially adopted

by France in 1799. Over the course of the 1800s and 1900s, it became the

dominant system worldwide including the only measurement system enacted

by law by the United States. Numerous countries continue to use their

customary units. The American system is unusual, however, in not having

adjusted itself to close metric values in the manner of the Scandinavian

mile (now 10 km exactly) or the Chinese jin (now kg exactly).

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