Opus 2

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The hour was originally defined in ancient civilizations (including those of Egypt, Sumer, India, and China) as either one twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset or one twenty-fourth of a full day . In either case the division reflected the widespread use of a duodecimal numbering system. The importance of 12 has been attributed to the number of lunar cycles in a year, and also to the fact that humans have 12 finger bones (phalanges) on one hand (3 on each of 4 fingers). (It is possible to count to 12 with your thumb touching each finger bone in turn.) There is also a widespread tendency to make analogies among sets of data (12 months, 12 zodiacal signs, 12 hours, a dozen).
The Ancient Egyptian civilization is usually credited with establishing the division of the night into 12 parts, although there were many variations over the centuries. Astronomers in the Middle Kingdom (9th and 10th Dynasties) observed a set of 36 decan stars throughout the year. These star tables have been found on the lids of coffins of the period. The heliacal rising of the next decan star marked the start of a new civil week, which was then 10 days. The period from sunset to sunrise was marked by 18 decan stars. Three of these were assigned to each of the two twilight periods, so the period of total darkness was marked by the remaining 12 decan stars, resulting in the 12 divisions of the night. The time between the appearance of each of these decan stars over the horizon during the night would have been about 40 modern minutes. During the New Kingdom, the system was simplified, using a set of 24 stars, 12 of which marked the passage of the night. (click to see all the article on Wikipedia)

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