Ancient device for measuring time by the gradual flow of water. One form, used by N. Amer. Indians and some African peoples, consisted of a small boat or floating vessel that shipped water through a hole until it sank. In another form, water escaped through a hole in a vessel marked with graduated lines; specimens from Egypt date from the 14th cent. BC. The Romans invented a clepsydra consisting of a cylinder into which water dripped from a reservoir; a float provided readings against a scale on the cylinder wall. Galileo used a mercury clepsydra to time his experimental falling bodies. See also clock.