Incense by JanneM on Flickr

Incense by KanneM on Flickr

You’ve looked at a clock, you’ve listened to the Church bells (or the incessant bleeping of your alarm) but have you ever smelled the time?  The Chinese apparently used incense to measure time before the common use of clocks or other timepieces, and there were several methods.

Some featured a metal tray where the incense stick would be lain and as the stick burned over time it would burn through threads holding little metal weights.  When the thread burned through, the weight would fall onto a gong beneath.

Another method involved creating a bed of damp ash (to protect against rogue fires) and using a stencil over it to guide the sprinkling of powdered incense across the top.  Tamped down, the single-line maze arrangement of incense would then be burned, and the progress indicating the amount of time that had passed.  Incredibly ornate (and usually square) patterns were used, looking like a cross between a QR code and Celtic knot-work.  These could burn for up to a month!  But my favorite by far…

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