By J. L. Shively
“The earliest surviving sundials can be dated back to ancient Egypt circa 1500 BC,” explains Gold Award Girl Scout Alexandra Levoyer in the sundial brochure she created to accompany her project.
Originally known as “shadow clocks” the sundial was the most reliable method for timekeeping even well into the 14th century, Levoyer writes, and sundials remain an interesting and whimsical aspect of many gardens around the world.
Now a freshman at TCNJ, Levoyer designed the sundial for the Frelinghuysen Arboretum while she was a senior at Morris Country School of Technology.
For the project, Levoyer of Parsippany decided to create a “human sundial,” which incorporates a person as part of the sundial to tell the time. As a youth volunteer at the Arboretum for the past four years, Levoyer knew of the staff’s dream to have a sundial like this on the property.
Gwen Montgomery, the Senior Horticultural Program specialist at the Arboretum, explains that many other arboreta incorporate human sundials into their gardens as they are “something of interest to children” and are often an ornamental feature in historic gardens such as the Frelinghuysen Arboretum.
“It took her over 100 hours to research and construct [the sundial],” explains Montgomery, going on to explain the great time and care Levoyer spent with her father in mapping out true north with a compass. Levoyer also used a GPS for accuracy on the placement of the stepping stones which mark the hours.
In her research about sundials, Levoyer was able to contact the American Sundial Association and get longitude and latitude numbers for Morristown specifically to generate the most accurate time for the sun clock, explains Montgomery.
The stepping stones which represent the hour markers and the date-scale were cast by hand and Levoyer’s sundial also allows the user to account for Day Light Savings Time.
According to Levoyer’s brochure, all sundials consist of two parts. The first part, the base plate or faceplate, is the surface which marks the hours of the day. The sundial at the arboretum has large stepping stones to mark each hour of the day.
The second part of a sundial is the gnomon, which is the vertical object which casts a shadow to mark the hour on the base plate. In the case of a human sundial, a person takes the place of the gnomon.
To create an accurate marking of time with the human sundial at the Arboretum, the person acting as the gnomon must stand on a date-scale slab according to the current month and raises an arm overhead to cast a shadow, allowing their shadow to fall on the coinciding hour stone, or between them depending on the time of day.
Levoyer explains in her brochure that there are “more than seven different types of sundials” and the sundial she has created at the Arboretum is an Analemmatic sundial, which means that that the gnomon of the dial moves according to different factors throughout the year.
The sundial is located near the Branching Out Children’s Garden at the Arboretum which is on the parking lot side of the garden and is approximately 12 ft. by 30 ft.
Construction for the sundial took around a year to complete from its conception to its completion in May. The Arboretum held a public dedication of the sundial at that time.
The Arboretum is free and open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset. For more information or for maps of the Arboretum, visit the Haggerty Education Center on the Arboretum Grounds, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.