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Origins of Metrology

In The Beginning ..... The ancients developed moderately accurate ways to measure four quantities: length, area, volume, and weight or mass, which they did not distinguish between. They used time to measure large lengths and areas. For example, a journey was so many hours, days, or moons rather than measured miles. An acre was the amount of land that a team of oxen could plow in a day, and the length of the furrow was called a furlong.

Many ancient measures were derived from body parts or easily obtainable materials. We still speak of the foot and the hands when measuring length. Other measures based on body parts are less obvious. The inch was once based on the length of the last joint of the thumb. The fathom was the distance between the tips of the middle finger with the arms outstretched. The yard was the distance from the tip of the nose to the end of the fingers with the right arm outstretched. The problem with these measures is that bodies differ in size. Early attempts to overcome this included defining the lengths in terms of some standard, the distance from the King's nose to the fingers of his outstretched arm, for example. The earliest preserved standard for length is the foot of a statue of Gudea, the governor of Lagash, a Mesopotamian city of about 4000 years ago.

Through the centuries, matters concerned with measurement, (mostly commerce), became more demanding and recognizable standards and measurement itself became more precise. As a matter of fact, measurement became so precise it required a new name to separate it from the casual and imprecise...that name is Metrology.

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