Egyptian units of length are attested from the Early Dynastic Period. Although it dates to the 5th dynasty, the Palermo stone recorded the level of the Nile River during the reign of the Early Dynastic pharaohDjer, when the height of the Nile was recorded as 6 cubits and 1 palm (about 3.217 m or 10 ft 6.7 in). A 3rd-dynasty diagram shows how to construct an elliptical vault using simple measures along an arc. The ostracon depicting this diagram was found near the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. A curve is divided into five sections and the height of the curve is given in cubits, palms, and digits in each of the sections.
At some point, lengths were standardized by cubit rods. Examples have been found in the tombs of officials, noting lengths up to remen. Royal cubits were used for land measures such as roads and fields. Fourteen rods, including one double-cubit rod, were described and compared by Lepsius. Two examples are known from the Saqqara tomb of Maya, the treasurer of Tutankhamun. Another was found in the tomb of Kha (TT8) in Thebes. These cubits are about 52.5 cm (20.7 in) long and are divided into palms and hands: each palm is divided into four fingers from left to right and the fingers are further subdivided into ro from right to left. The rules are also divided into hands so that for example one foot is given as three hands and fifteen fingers and also as four palms and sixteen fingers.
Cubit rod from the Turin Museum.
Surveying and itinerant measurement were undertaken using rods, poles, and knotted cords of rope. A scene in the tomb of Menna in Thebes shows surveyors measuring a plot of land using rope with knots tied at regular intervals. Similar scenes can be found in the tombs of Amenhotep-Sesi, Khaemhat and Djeserkareseneb. The balls of rope are also shown in New Kingdom statues of officials such as Senenmut, Amenemhet-Surer, and Penanhor.
Records of land area also date to the Early Dynastic Period. The Palermo stone records grants of land expressed in terms of kha and setat. Mathematical papyri also include units of land area in their problems. For example, several problems in the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus give the area of rectangular plots of land in terms of setat and the ratio of the sides and then require the scribe to solve for their exact lengths.
The setat was the basic unit of land measure and may originally have varied in size across Egypt's nomes. Later, it was equal to one square khet, where a khet measured 100 cubits. The setat could be divided into strips one khet long and ten cubit wide (a kha).
During the Ptolemaic period, the cubit strip square was surveyed using a length of 96 cubits rather than 100, although the aroura was still figured to compose 2,756.25m2. A 36squarecubit area was known as a kalamos and a 144squarecubit area as a hamma. The uncommon bikos may have been 11⁄2hammata or another name for the cubit strip. The Coptic shipa (ϣⲓⲡⲁ) was a land unit of uncertain value, possibly derived from Nubia.
Units of volume appear in the mathematical papyri. For example, computing the volume of a circular granary in RMP42 involves cubic cubits, khar, heqats, and quadruple heqats. RMP80 divides heqats of grain into smaller henu.
Problem 80 on the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus: As for vessels (debeh) used in measuring grain by the functionaries of the granary: done into henu, 1 hekat makes 10; 1⁄2 makes 5; 1⁄4 makes 21⁄2; etc.
Serpentine weight of 10 daric, inscribed for Taharqa during the 25th Dynasty
Weights were measured in terms of deben. This unit would have been equivalent to 13.6 grams in the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom. During the New Kingdom however it was equivalent to 91 grams. For smaller amounts the qedet (1⁄10 of a deben) and the shematy (1⁄12 of a deben) were used.
The qedet or kedet is also often known as the kite, from the Coptic form of the same name (ⲕⲓⲧⲉ or ⲕⲓϯ). In 19th-century sources, the deben and qedet are often mistakenly transliterated as the uten and kat respectively, although this was corrected by the 20th century.
Smaller units of time were vague approximations for most of Egyptian history. Hours—known by a variant of the word for "stars"—were initially only demarcated at night and varied in length. They were measured using decan stars and by water clocks. Equal 24-part divisions of the day were only introduced in 127BC. Division of these hours into 60 equal minutes is attested in Ptolemy's 2nd-century works.