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unit of linear measure used by many ancient and medieval peoples. It may have originated in Egypt about 3000 BC; it thereafter became ubiquitous in the ancient world. The cubit, generally taken as equal to 18 inches (457 mm), was based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and was considered the equivalent of 6 palms or 2 spans. In some ancient cultures it was as long as 21 inches (531 mm).