British archaeologists have found what they say is the world’s oldest calendar, dating back to about 8,000 BC.
The monument was originally excavated at Warren Field near Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in 2004, as unusual crop marks spotted from the air by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
The monument, dated to the 8th millennium BC, is a group of 12 pits. It appears to possess basic calendrical functions and pre-dates the first formal time-measuring devices known to humans by about five thousand years, says new analysis published in the journal Internet Archaeology.
According to the study, the structure appears to mimic the phases of the Moon in order to track lunar months over the course of a year. The Warren Field site also aligns on the Midwinter Sunrise, providing an annual astronomic correction in order to maintain the link between the passage of time, indicated by the Moon, the asynchronous solar year and the associated seasons.
“The evidence suggests that hunter gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and sophistication to track time across the years, to correct for seasonal drift of the lunar year and that this occurred nearly 5,000 years before the first formal calendars known in the Near East,” said study lead author Prof Vince Gaffney from the University of Birmingham, UK.
“In doing so, this illustrates one important step towards the formal construction of time and therefore history itself.”
“The site at Warren Field is unique. It provides exciting new evidence for the earlier Mesolithic in Scotland demonstrating the sophistication of these early societies and revealing that 10,000 years ago hunter gatherers constructed monuments that helped them track time. This is the earliest example of such a structure and there is no known comparable site in Britain or Europe for several thousands of years after the monument at warren Fields was constructed,” explained co-author Dr Richard Bates from the University of St Andrews.
“The site did not mark particular moonrises as the changing patterns of moonrise are far too complex – the argument is that it represents a combination of several different cycles which can be used to track time symbolically and practically. There are certainly hunter-gatherer societies who use the phase cycles of the moon to help synchronize different seasonal activities but it is remarkable that this could have been monumentalized at such an early period,” said co-author Prof Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester.
Co-author Dr Shannon Fraser from the National Trust for Scotland added: “this is a remarkable monument, which is so far unique in Britain. Our excavations revealed a fascinating glimpse into the cultural lives of people some 10,000 years ago – and now this latest discovery further enriches our understanding of their relationship with time and the heavens.”
Bibliographic information: V. Gaffney et al. 2013. Time and a Place: A luni-solar ‘time-reckoner’ from 8th millennium BC Scotland. Internet Archaeology 34; doi: 10.11141/ia.34.1