An Engineering Wonder Invented by Al-Jazari 800 Years Ago: The Elephant Clock

al-jazarielephant clock, one of the famous inventions of . A mechanical clock, measuring time at half-hourly intervals, with a depiction of a clerk sitting on an elephant, with a phoenix on top and 2 dragons rising to its roof.

This watch is based on the timing of a buoy that is immersed in water and then the water is discharged again by mechanical systems. A float with a hole under it on a water tank hidden in the elephant’s trunk is connected to the pew on the elephant’s back and the system on it by means of ropes and pulleys. As the buoy slowly sinks into the water, it pulls the rope, slowly turns the clerk statue to which it is attached by means of rope pulleys, and the pen in the hand of the clerk statue shows the minutes. A circle on the top of the mahfil, turned by the whole system, shows the hours. When half an hour is up, another mechanism at the top of the mahfil works. this mechanism ensures that a small heavy ball is directed through the channels so that it falls into the mouth of one of the two dragons rising from the mouth of the hawks on both sides to the roof of the mahfil. dragons, on the other hand, are attached to the buoy on the elephant’s trunk, and with their curved movement, they allow the buoy to drain the water inside and rise to the surface again. In this way, the whole half-hour process starts again. Which dragon the ball lands on also changes the sound of the clock. There is also a statue of an elephant groom on the back of the elephant, and he holds a hammer in one hand and an ax in the other. The statue of the groom, which is connected to all this mechanism, hits the metal plate in front of it with a hammer and an ax every half hour.

A mechanical system always has many disadvantages that can stop all these processes such as friction, wear, dust accumulation, jamming, and overcoming these problems mostly depends on the quality of materials and workmanship. The most impressive thing for me is the fact that such a sensitive device could be produced despite the impossibilities of its period and the quality of workmanship. Even if the buoy sinks and resurfaces exactly at half-hour intervals, it is a problem in itself, but the fact that the pulleys and ropes in the system are affected by the humidity of the water tank and the environment, and the protection of the whole system against mechanical frictions, abrasions and other factors is a major engineering problem even today. While today’s engineers can solve these problems with high-tech materials produced to withstand these conditions, al-Jazari achieved this in the 12th century.

Another interesting part of the watch is that the motifs on it are multicultural. For example, the elephant refers to the cultures of Africa and India, the dragon to the culture of China, and the phoenix to the culture of Persia and Central Asia. The clerk is dressed in Arab clothes and the turban/cover on the elephant also points to Arab culture.

It is impossible not to admire this watch and its inventor, which has gathered all these into an engineering marvel, and has also performed art and collected symbols of many cultures in a visually pleasing way. al-Jazari has many more inventions, such as the elephant clock, and he explained these inventions in his book „The book on the knowledge of extraordinary mechanical devices“.

elephant clock (wikipedia english)
a documentary on youtube

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