Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Zaarin »

I'm working on a fantasy culture that is generally speaking fairly primitive (not so much from a lack of knowledge but from a very conservative mindset of "this is the way we've always done it") but they are very advanced in terms of lapidary and metallurgy--in short they're a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age culture with post-Iron Age metallurgy due to a religious fascination with stones and metals. So I'm wondering if, given what I've said, I could plausibly give them clockwork as a corollary to their advanced metallurgy? It is also worth noting that they are also very skilled astrologists, which could give them a motive for creating clockwork astronomical devices like the Antikythera mechanism.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by alice »

I'd expect a good knowledge of mathematics and engineering, and skill in making small and intricate devices, would be essential. I don't know if that sits too well with the general level of technology of such a culture, however.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Zaarin »

Nancy Blackett wrote:I'd expect a good knowledge of mathematics and engineering, and skill in making small and intricate devices, would be essential. I don't know if that sits too well with the general level of technology of such a culture, however.

Skill in making small and intricate devices they definitely have--they are master craftsmen. However, I've never really thought about their knowledge of mathematics since that happens to be a subject I hate myself. ;) Thanks for the answer...it definitely gives me something to think about...
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Okuno »

I mean, you can have all the skill in the world, but you'll never cut a small gear with a maleable tool, and gears will wear out quickly if they are maleable themselves.

Essentially, the harder the substance, the smaller and more intricate the device you can build with/out of it.

That said, I have no idea exactly what kind of substance you need for a good tool or a long-lasting device, but hopefully this gives another avenue of assault.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by LinguistCat »

One thing is that to get iron, you need fire-hardened pottery. The metals you can get before that are copper, tin, gold, silver (soft metals), and by mixing copper and tin you can get bronze. But iron, and steel, need much higher temps to be refined and forged. So, I'm not really sure they could get that high of metal working alone.

On the other hand, you said they have an interest in rocks and stones, so maybe they'll have the right pottery too, and be able to go from kilns to forges easily.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Zaarin »

Thanks, guys--those two responses were exactly what I needed. While culturally they are Bronze Age, in terms of metallurgy they are definitely Iron Age--they do have fire-hardened pottery and they do have access to iron.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Torco »

Clockwork can be done without any metallurgy at all, let alone advanced metallurgy. You can make a clock out of clay and wood. The only problem is that you need a lot of space, material, work and energy to make it happen.

My own Selian Emperors have prided themselves in constructing complicated clockwork mechanisms [an important thing in a planet without any good astronomical ways to measure time], they're just expensive and large, and require extensive maintenance. Simple calculators, especially division machines, have also been built, since dividing with Ieseleu numerals is a bitch!

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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Timmytiptoe »

Torco wrote:Clockwork can be done without any metallurgy at all, let alone advanced metallurgy. You can make a clock out of clay and wood. The only problem is that you need a lot of space, material, work and energy to make it happen.

My own Selian Emperors have prided themselves in constructing complicated clockwork mechanisms [an important thing in a planet without any good astronomical ways to measure time], they're just expensive and large, and require extensive maintenance. Simple calculators, especially division machines, have also been built, since dividing with Ieseleu numerals is a bitch!


My obsessiveness interest in your number system means I now have to design that machine. At least I'll have something to do over the weekend. :roll:

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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Izambri »

Zaarin wrote:Thanks, guys--those two responses were exactly what I needed. While culturally they are Bronze Age, in terms of metallurgy they are definitely Iron Age--they do have fire-hardened pottery and they do have access to iron.

Then, if your conculture has enough knowledge in the areas of mathematics, geometry, engineering (to make gears and differentials), miniaturization and, optionally, astronomy/astrology, it's possible to create clockworks and analog computers.

The Antikythera mechanism can be inspirational if you want to put much detail in your conpeople's clockworks.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by JeremyHussell »

A lot of the technological prerequisites depend on how accurate you want the clock to be. For an astronomer, who can manually adjust a clock to match observations of celestial bodies, and doesn't have to move it, basic metallurgy should suffice. For the kind of accuracy we expect from modern mechanical clocks, you'd probably have to be able to make steel and springs.

Basically, a mechanical clock needs: a power source (a weight suspended from a cord wound around an axle, or a wound spring), an oscillator to generate events at fixed intervals (a pendulum or balance wheel), a way to transmit power from the source to the oscillator (a wheel train), a controller to convert the oscillator motion into gear motion (an escapement), and some extra gears to convert the oscillator period into seconds, minutes, hours, etc., or whatever time units your civilization uses).

Technologically, a pendulum and weighted cord system are the simplest (no springs). Gears can be manufactured by making a cast with the teeth and wheel as one piece. Bronze, brass, or iron would work fine for gears, although steel would be better. To make smaller and more accurate clocks which can be moved, you're going to need springs, which require that your people be able to produce high quality wire or long thin strips of metal. Many components in accurate mechanical clocks are bimetallic (steel and copper, or steel and brass), to compensate for thermal expansion and contraction.

Historically, the pendulum clock wasn't invented until a certain level of physics was reached, although as soon as the laws governing the motion of pendulums were understood, the pendulum clock was immediately obvious as an application. So your people will likely need a certain level of understanding of physics (and math, although a great deal of math gets developed by astronomers). Real accuracy in mechanical clocks was driven by the need for sailors to determine their longitude, so if your people don't have a maritime tradition, it's unlikely they'll be driven to invent bimetallic strips or even compact mechanical watches (as opposed to large, immobile pendulum clocks).

Note that the Antikythera Mechanism isn't a clock: it's just a device for converting one time system (a date, entered manually) into others (positions of celestial bodies, eclipses, phases of the moon, etc.), equivalent to a gear train. A civilization heavily into astronomy/astrology could easily go overboard constructing giant ornate devices like this, or smaller portable versions like the Antikythera Mechanism.

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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Zaarin wrote:I'm working on a fantasy culture that is generally speaking fairly primitive (not so much from a lack of knowledge but from a very conservative mindset of "this is the way we've always done it") but they are very advanced in terms of lapidary and metallurgy--in short they're a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age culture with post-Iron Age metallurgy due to a religious fascination with stones and metals. So I'm wondering if, given what I've said, I could plausibly give them clockwork as a corollary to their advanced metallurgy? It is also worth noting that they are also very skilled astrologists, which could give them a motive for creating clockwork astronomical devices like the Antikythera mechanism.


There are lots of different kinds of clocks...some have almost no gears at all. (sundials, water clocks, those things half-full of sand that you turn over and watch it flow down...etc)
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by bulbaquil »

Rodlox wrote: those things half-full of sand that you turn over and watch it flow down...etc)


Hourglasses.

To the original poster: How movable do you need the clocks to be? Because if they can be stationary, making one with the level of technology you described would likely not be a problem (especially if you have someone like an apprentice astrologer to monitor the clock and wind it up now and then).
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Zaarin »

I don't need them portable at all--they're post nomadic and hydrophobic to boot, so no maritime activity. Though I confess that chiefly I'm less interested in applying clockworks for the autonymous purpose than its applications in things like astrolabes, devices like the Antikythera device, and crossbows (I believe that the Chinese developed clockwork crossbows?).

That said, I'm going to do some research on pendulums and with my very, very, very limited knowledge of math and science see if there's any way I might push up the discovery of the pendulum a bit--even if not by my primitive culture...
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Torco »

clockwork crossbow?

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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Rodlox »

Torco wrote:clockwork crossbow?


if its what I think he means, its the crossbow version of a machine gun/gatling gun - you crank the * and then fire teh crossbow, crank again, which drops/pushes a new arrow into place, and the process continues until the weapon is out of arrows.


* = the handle that attaches not to the device itself, but to the gears so you can wind it up.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Zaarin »

Rodlox wrote:
Torco wrote:clockwork crossbow?


if its what I think he means, its the crossbow version of a machine gun/gatling gun - you crank the * and then fire teh crossbow, crank again, which drops/pushes a new arrow into place, and the process continues until the weapon is out of arrows.


* = the handle that attaches not to the device itself, but to the gears so you can wind it up.

Yes, this.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Zaarin wrote:
Rodlox wrote:
Torco wrote:clockwork crossbow?


if its what I think he means, its the crossbow version of a machine gun/gatling gun - you crank the * and then fire teh crossbow, crank again, which drops/pushes a new arrow into place, and the process continues until the weapon is out of arrows.


* = the handle that attaches not to the device itself, but to the gears so you can wind it up.

Yes, this.


I believe your * would be a crankshaft. Is that a real thing though? I need a reputable article with pics of the artifact. Even then -- seems like something that could break down really easily, particularly if it's made primarily out of wood (which I presume it is).
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Actually if you're talking about the Chinese crossbows, they're actually called repeating crossbows. The Chinese variant is called the Cho-Ko-Nu (or something like that, there's a few different spellings). Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow

Frankly it seems that the Cho-ko-nu wasn't that great of a weapon by itself per se, since it didn't have as much power as a normal crossbow. However, used en masse, it was dangerous as hell, especially if the arrows were poisoned. Which was why it was still in use up until around 1900 in Chinese armies.

Anyhow, there have also been Graeco-Roman equivalents, although these were larger and were more like anti-personel or small artillery weapons rather than the smaller Chinese ones, and according to a couple of TV shows I can't name right now, it is possible to engineer a crossbow (using the technology of back when) with near machine-gun speed using a crank.

EDIT: In my conworld, this is why I have crossbows become a main weapon of most civilizations when they reach the equivalent of our late medieval or early renaissance technology (along with a bit of clockpunk). These crossbows basically become like machine guns, which is why a World War I-esque style of combat develops and reaches its peak during a 200-year conflict between the largest empires of this time, Aidis and Cedarin (and then throw in other stuff like Chinese-style rockets, Greek Fire flamethrowers, late medieval grenades and mines along the styles of China, a little bit of clockpunk machinery, and good old-fashioned swordfighting, and you got a huge mess on the battlefield).
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Rodlox »

cybrxkhan wrote:Actually if you're talking about the Chinese crossbows, they're actually called repeating crossbows. The Chinese variant is called the Cho-Ko-Nu (or something like that, there's a few different spellings). Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow

and according to a couple of TV shows I can't name right now, it is possible to engineer a crossbow (using the technology of back when) with near machine-gun speed using a crank.


found it after reading Ollock's question & before reading your reply.

http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... ssbow.html

& clock: http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... clock.html
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Zaarin wrote:That said, I'm going to do some research on pendulums and with my very, very, very limited knowledge of math and science see if there's any way I might push up the discovery of the pendulum a bit--even if not by my primitive culture...


Wait... maybe it's just me, but a pendulum seems obvious...

I mean, it's easy to say "Oh, look! A wheel!" nowadays, but the Romans used plumbums for stuff, which is just a bit of lead on a string: a basic (if not rigid) pendulum. For that matter, a tree swing or just a discarded well-bucket works the same. Once you have that, any kid playing with one will find out cool things just by accident, like how they keep a uniform rythym. That's my feeling anyway, but I hardly know how the use of the pendulum actually developed.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Ollock »

Rodlox wrote:
cybrxkhan wrote:Actually if you're talking about the Chinese crossbows, they're actually called repeating crossbows. The Chinese variant is called the Cho-Ko-Nu (or something like that, there's a few different spellings). Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow

and according to a couple of TV shows I can't name right now, it is possible to engineer a crossbow (using the technology of back when) with near machine-gun speed using a crank.


found it after reading Ollock's question & before reading your reply.

http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... ssbow.html

& clock: http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... clock.html


Hmm, so it was used. Interesting. I wonder what you would do if the bolt got jammed somehow, it looks like the feeding mechanism is entirely enclosed.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Okuno wrote:
Zaarin wrote:That said, I'm going to do some research on pendulums and with my very, very, very limited knowledge of math and science see if there's any way I might push up the discovery of the pendulum a bit--even if not by my primitive culture...


Wait... maybe it's just me, but a pendulum seems obvious...

I mean, it's easy to say "Oh, look! A wheel!" nowadays, but the Romans used plumbums for stuff, which is just a bit of lead on a string: a basic (if not rigid) pendulum. For that matter, a tree swing or just a discarded well-bucket works the same. Once you have that, any kid playing with one will find out cool things just by accident, like how they keep a uniform rythym. That's my feeling anyway, but I hardly know how the use of the pendulum actually developed.

Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too, yet for all that the Wikipedia page seems to imply no one thought of it until Galileo...
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Ollock wrote:
Rodlox wrote:
cybrxkhan wrote:Actually if you're talking about the Chinese crossbows, they're actually called repeating crossbows. The Chinese variant is called the Cho-Ko-Nu (or something like that, there's a few different spellings). Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeating_crossbow

and according to a couple of TV shows I can't name right now, it is possible to engineer a crossbow (using the technology of back when) with near machine-gun speed using a crank.


found it after reading Ollock's question & before reading your reply.

http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... ssbow.html

& clock: http://science.discovery.com/videos/wha ... clock.html


Hmm, so it was used. Interesting. I wonder what you would do if the bolt got jammed somehow,


probably the same thing as if your bullet jams in your gun: either use the gun as a blunt weapon, or toss it to one side.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

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Rodlox wrote:
Ollock wrote:
Hmm, so it was used. Interesting. I wonder what you would do if the bolt got jammed somehow,


probably the same thing as if your bullet jams in your gun: either use the gun as a blunt weapon, or toss it to one side.


That's also why historically, most Crossbowmen and Musketmen in the medieval and early renaissance carried swords or some kind of melee weapon. Actually in a lot of cultures troops would still carry a melee weapon alongside with the musket anyways.
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Re: Technological prerequisites for clockwork?

Post by Torco »

It must also have to do with the fact that archers can be attacked by mele, they shouldn't but it sure did happen. Also, that they were soldiers, and soldiers need to be able to fight, even if their main function isn't fighting.

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