How could they keep track of the "Surface World Time?"


  • Very little contact with the surface world
  • Phobia of "just go and check"
  • It is needed to know when traders will descend
  • They don't trust traders with the secrets of "Dwarf Time"
  • Dwarves have a limited knowledge of alchemy mainly metallurgy and aren't very sensitive to magic

I have read a few answers on How would people tell time if it was always day? and this seems to have started me in the right direction. Kind of. I can see how they will track Dwarf Time which is fantastic! (Just have to work out the details of it)

  • $\begingroup$ Might need to consider if everyone has a "time piece" or if its comunicated to everyone in a communal fashion, like a bell. Should do it on something like hourly though, better to do it at dawn, noon and dusk; perhaps also at the start and end of work. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 2:23

6 Answers 6


I spent quite a while figure this out years ago, because the problem with living underground is that there aren't any cycles and you're not going to be doing many things that are going to make you develop the idea or need for time.

However there is 1 thing that a civilisation underground would have and 1 thing that Dwarves would have that would lead to days and such. The first is, if you have an underground river and a moon, which more than likely you are, then you're going to have tides and this will divide a day into 4. This is accurate enough for most things a civilisation will do. If you need anything more than that you can easily just divide the tides coming in and going out into smaller units and, bam, you have your general concept of time.

The other thing is funny. The answer is alcohol. The fermentation process takes roughly a month with variations for taste. All you do then is just say that Dwarves like liquor that takes precisely X amount of time to make and because it is such a vital aspect of their culture it gets used as a type of month. This is the simplified version of using this. Study how alcohol is made for more ideas to build on this.

Years are another issue. I didn't have to come up with something to use for years because I built off other ideas to create a calender/time system.

But once you have these, you can use anything else to count to their time. It's just a matter of calibration then.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a fantastic answer, following the tides gives a tangible connection to the surface world that can be tracked equally by surface dwellers and the dwarves! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:43
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Most rivers are not affected by tides, except very close to the coast. The tidal signature in groundwater tends to damp out within a km from the coast in sand aquifers, but could maybe travel further in limestone aquifers. Inland within mountainous areas, there'll be no tidal signature in underground rivers. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ How do they make alcohol? Wouldn't they need plants, which grow in sunlight? This brings up other questions about their diets. $\endgroup$
    – Atog
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 17:34

What about living dwarf clocks?

When born, the hearts of the babies are listened and compared with the ones of the Time Elders. If their timing are similar, then the dwarf is raised to be calm and able to control his breath and and heartbeat in every situation.

The ones who prove to be capable have the honor of spending years next to one of the Time Elders, adjusting to their rhythm. When the Elder dies, the younger dwarf takes on his place and turns into the new Elder.

Time Elders hit a drum every second, being the minute-hit stronger and the hour-hit the strongest. Together they get to maintain the knowledge about the time that a great hero brought from the surface long ago.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This is so unnecessarily complicated and brilliant at the same time, +1 $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Salmoncrusher Thank you very much, my friend $\endgroup$
    – MEPx
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 18:19

Source: https://m.reddit.com/r/worldbuilding/comments/2jjinq/is_there_any_way_to_tell_time_underground/

There are a few different options to consider. Such as:

  • Sand Clock (hourglass)
  • Slow Burning Candles (possibly a Candle Clock)
  • Pendulum Clock
  • Tides in Underground Lakes
  • Mechanical Clock (if this is in a modern era)
  • Water Clock
  • Wind Up Mainspring
  • Oil Lamp

Out of all of these the most accurate would be the pendulum clock and the hourglass. Hourglasses can be adjusted for times ranging from 1 min, 5 min, 10 min, 30 min, 1 hr, 12 hrs, 1 day, etc. Pendulum clocks would be the most durable and reliable out of them all.


Option A: The Water Clock

Water clocks were practically designed for dwarven use. Until the invention of the pendulum clock, water clocks were the most precise way of keeping time for millennia. A primary challenge with water clock accuracy is that the viscosity of water can change with its temperature, but living underground where the temperature is consistent water clocks could be easily designed to keep very good time. There can be fluctuations in underground temperature, but it is generally given that dwarves are sensitive to those temperature changes and so they would be able to tune their clocks accordingly (eg. make bigger/smaller holes).

A fun way to include this might be to hook it up straight to whatever water distribution system you have, such that each kitchen- or bathroom-like area could have its own clock.

Option B: Heated Object (for Dwarves with Heat-Vision Only)

Not every universe provides dwarves heat vision, but those that do posses that ability have a unique way of telling time. A trusted elder would be charged with keeping time and, at a specific time, would expose a large central column of a pure ore to a large heat source that would take all day to dissipate. Dwarves in the area could simply look at the column and understand whether the day was starting (very bright), ending (very dim), or somewhere in the middle. This could be very comparable to a human having the sun to look at.

(Attribution to the Dark Elves in Forgotten Realms, who use a similar system)

Option C: The Pendulum Clock

As others have stated, a pendulum clock is a very good way to keep time. Depending on the universe it may or may not be too advanced for dwarves, which is why I left it until the end.

  • $\begingroup$ Given that the ore, or even a refined metal to remove impurities, could be the exact diameter of the shaft it resides in could mean that the heat source could in fact be the sun without letting it penetrate their gloom. Need to work out a few kinks to the idea first, to make it plausible $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 13:49

Take your pick:

  • Slow-burning candles
  • Mechanical clocks
  • They can sense the pulses of warmth coming down through the earth
  • The air currents in the tunnels that connect to the surface change direction when the sun rises & sets
  • A light shaft of quartz that reaches the surface
  • Dwarf time = the earth itself has a heartbeat; only the king and his sages have the formula to convert earthbeats into surface days

Since the need for keeping time is for use with doing commerce with outsiders, they could obtain a clock from their trading partners.

It only has to stay accurate to a fraction of a day for the nest expected visitor to be welcomed. And it will become a common opening conversation to ask “what time do you have?” and synchronize.

Once they have a concept of time, they will use it to plan and measure production for improving their ability to have an economy.

BTW, what do dwarfs eat, if they don’t go to the surface to access the food chain? You said it's not magical, so they need calories and can’t get it from rocks.

  • $\begingroup$ Well they can eat fish from underground rivers, hunt animals that live underground (because its fantasy, bigger animals may have adapted to live underground), rear animals that can survive underground, grow plants that can grow underground like mushrooms and hopefully some fantasy and maybe magical plants, even create enviroments that mimic the surface with the use of magical treasures (only for rich dwarf cities) and trade. Theres plenty of ways, even real life one and its fantasy, so you can create whatever thing you want for plot convenience anyways. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 2:14

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