Mathematics Throughout History

Development Ofweights and Measures

When did people first start using measurement?

No one knows definitely who, where, or when the first measurements began. No doubt people developed the first crude measurement systems out of necessity. For example, knowing the height of a human, versus the height of a lion, versus the height of the grass in which a human hid were probably some of the first (intuitive and necessary) measurements.

The first indications of measurements date back to around 6000 B.C.E. in what today encompasses the area from Syria to Iran. As populations grew, and the main source of food became farmland rather than wild game, new ways of calculating crops for growing and storage became a necessity. In addition, in certain cultures during times of plenty, each person—depending on their status (from adult men who received the most, to women, children, and slaves who were given less)— received a specific measurement of food. During a famine, in order to stretch supplies, a certain minimal measurement of food was divided between each person. It is thought that the first true measuring was done by hand—in particular, measuring grains by the handful. In fact, the half-pint, or the contents of two hands cupped together, may be the only volume unit with a natural explanation.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Math Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App