Sundial is an ancient scientific instrument that possibly was the first application of the human knowledge of the movement of celestial bodies. Several thousand sundials are preserved in modern Armenia, and the oldest among them have nearly 3,000 years of history.
The creation of sundial occurred when people discovered the connection between the length and location of shadows with the position of the Sun. Obelisks and other similar structures have been not only used in rites dedicated to the Sun but in the determination of time as well.
After the adoption of Christianity in Armenia as a state religion in 301 AD, most of the sundials along with pagan temples were destroyed. However, in Middle Ages, Armenians started to use sundials again, mostly installing them in southern sections of their monasteries. Examples of such monasteries are Zvartnots, Goshavank, Makaravank, Harichavank, Haghartsin, Mshakavank, and others.
The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) now keeps a plethora of descriptions of ancient sundials. According to them, Armenians have widely used sundials. But sundials had a disadvantage: they didn’t work at night or in overcast weather.
A distinctive feature of Armenian sundials was the used units of time. Armenians used the letters of their alphabet as units of time, unlike other peoples who mainly used numbers.
Armenian archaeologist Harutyun Martirosyan wrote: “Babylon was the homeland of water clock, Egypt was the homeland of hourglass, and Armenia was the homeland of sundial.”
Today, sundials are rarely used in the determination of time, but they are an inseparable part of the Armenian architecture. Sundials are still depicted on the walls of monasteries and khachkars. A sundial can also be seen on the entrance door of Matenadaran. In Armenia, sundial has been considered a symbol of the perpetual progress of life.