Monday, December 24, 2007

Al-Jazari's elephant clock through the eyes of Ibn Battuta

The elephant clock from Al-Jazari's manuscript (

Who was Al-Jazari ?

Abū al-'Iz Ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī (1136-1206) (Arabic: أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري) was an important Arab Muslim scholar, artist, astronomer, inventor and mechanical engineer from al-Jazira, Mesopotamia who flourished during the Islamic Golden Age (Middle Ages).

He was one of history's greatest engineers. He invented the crankshaft and some of the first mechanical clocks, driven by water and weights. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

He was called Al-Jazari after the area where he was born, Al-Jazira, which is the traditional Arabic name for northern Mesopotamia (in modern-day Syria and Iraq, between the Tigris and the Euphrates).

Served the Ortukids in Diyarbakir.

He is called as the first turkish Cybernetician.

The creator of one of the first programmable robots and computer

Al-Jazari is credited with creating the earliest forms of a programmable humanoid robot in 1206. Al-Jazari's automaton was originally a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operated the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns if the pegs were moved around.[1]

Muslim contributions to engineering

Studies made during the past fifty years demonstrate that the Muslims made substantial contributions to developments in engineering and that some of their accomplishments were passed on to the Europeans through Spain, Italy and the Crusades.

Many of the achievements made in engineering and technology in the Islamic world in earlier centuries are not well known. Two main reasons for this were suggested by Ludlow and Bahrani [2]:

1. During that period, engineers and technologists were practical rather than literary people. They carried out their work competently but did not write down or publish their discoveries and achievements. Their skills and knowledge were passed on from master to pupil without being recorded. The extent of their ability and skill can now be judged from the few articles and instruments they made which still survive in some museums.

2. In the few cases where the engineers and technologists did write down an account of their work and observations, their manuscripts have been mislaid or destroyed.

Who was Ibn Battuta ?

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد ابن بطوطة) (born February 24, 1304; year of death uncertain, possibly 1368 or 1377) was a Moroccan, Berber[3] scholar and jurisprudent from the Maliki Madhhab (a school of Fiqh, or Sunni Islamic law), and at times a Qadi or judge. However, he is best known as a traveler and explorer, whose account documents his travels and excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km). These journeys covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the west, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the east, a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.


[1] 13th Century Programmable Robot. University of Sheffield.
[2] C G Ludlow and A S Bahrani, 1978, Mechanical Engineering during the Early Islamic Period, I. Mech. E, The Chartered Mechanical Engineer, pp 79-83.
[3] Ross E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta - A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century, University of California, 2004 ISBN 0520243854.

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