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All In Good Measure

Statue of Charlemagne. The length of his foot was the original standard for a foot (mharrsch@Flickr)

Most of the world goes with the metric system, but here in America we just don’t want to budge from an inch, a foot, and a yard.  Before measurements were standardized, they were based on different parts of the human body.  The problem is people come in different sizes so the standard in the Middle Ages was to use the measurements of the current ruler of a country or empire.  And they changed every time a new ruler took power.

The first inch was the width of English King Edgar’s thumb.

The first foot was the length of the foot of Charlemagne.

The first yard was the distance between the nose and outstretched thumb tip of King Henry the First.

Yards back then were used to determine distance and amounts of cloth and other fabric.

One of the earliest forms of measurement was the cubit.  It’s the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger.  Egyptian hieroglyphics show a forearm to represent a cubit.

A fathom measuring ocean depth is the distance between outstretched arms from fingertip to fingertip.

For determining dry or liquid measure – any container would do.  The container was measured by how
many of a predetermined number of seeds it could hold.  If it held a thousand sunflower seeds – you’d
have an idea of how much you were getting no matter what kind of container it was.


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