Robert Coolman traces the historical division of time into minutes and seconds to ancient forms of calculation, as well as to later improvements in the measurement of activity in the sky. The distinction is raised between the constancy of visible celestial movements, versus the technological contingencies underpinning the developing representations of such movements.

For millennia, ancient civilizations looked to the sky to measure the big units of time. There’s the year, which is the time it takes Earth to complete one orbit around the sun; the month, which is approximately how long it takes the moon to orbit our planet; the week, which is approximately the time between the four phases of the moon; and the day, which is the duration of one rotation of the Earth’s on its axis. Dividing the day was not so straightforward, though hours and minutes have their origins in traditions tracing back thousands of years…The use of 60 began with the Sumerians who used different number systems. While you and I write numbers using base 10, or “decimal” this civilization used base 12 (“duodecimal”) and base 60 (“sexigesimal”)…Medieval astronomers were first to apply sexigesimal values to time. The 11th-century Persian scholar Al-Bīrūnī tabulated times of new moons on specific dates in hours, 60ths (minutes), 60ths of 60ths (seconds)…Minutes and seconds, however, were not used for everyday timekeeping for several centuries. Mechanical clocks first appeared in Europe during the late 14th century, but with only one hand, following the design of sundials and water clocks…astronomers of the 16th century began physically realizing minutes and seconds with the construction of improved clocks with minute and second hands in order to improve measurements of the sky (Coolman 2014).

Coolman, Robert. 2014. “Keeping time: Why 60 minutes.” Live science. April 19 2014.


Noel Gallagher describes time as that which falls from the sky, and then slips beyond our control no matter what intentions we might have in interpersonal/social contexts. In noting that time has a source which transcends the human realm over which he and other humans have greater control, Gallagher duly asks what time will hold for him.

I took a walk with my fame,
Down memory lane,
I never did find my way back.

You know that I gotta say, time’s slipping away,
And what will it hold for me.

What am I gonna do while I’m looking at you,
You’re standing ignoring me

I thought that I heard someone say now,
There’s no time for running away now,
Hey now! Hey now!

Feel no shame – cos time’s no chain,
Feel no shame.

And time as it stands,
Won’t be held in my hands,
Or living inside of my skin,
And as it fell from the sky,
I asked myself why,
Can I never let anyone in?

Gallagher, Noel. 1995. “Hey now.” (What’s the story) Morning glory. London: Creation Records.