A Short History of Calendars

Seeing that calendar printing season is now in full swing we thought we’d give you some “edutainment” with a short account of how the calendar, as we know it, came about. We’ll start by setting the scene……

It is a full moon and there is a chill in the night air. Among the undulating hills, a group of men are gathered at a series of twelve shallow pits arranged in a gentle arc fifty metres wide.
Above them, the dazzling highway of faraway suns looks down upon our world. The blue-black ink of the universe beyond only makes each brilliant star seem even brighter. It is a vision of clarity that we cannot imagine for there is not a speck of pollution in the atmosphere.
The year is circa 8,000 B.C., the site, what is today’s Aberdeenshire on Scotland’s northeast coast.

Lunar Calendar
Lunar Calendar

Finding Time
This was no ordinary site then, and the world’s interest lies focused on it again today, ten millennia later. That group of men in the hills was blazing a trail, one that would be lost by the ages, and then re-discovered in 2004; they were creating what is now regarded as the world’s first lunar calendar. It precedes the world’s previous oldest known calendar from Mesopotamia by 5,000 years.

The twelve pits were used to represent twelve lunar months of the calendar. They are not identical but vary in shape and size almost symmetrically across the arc. The largest one is right in the centre is circular and measures approximately two metres across. Scientists were stunned when they realised that this was done to reflect the waxing and waning cycles of the moon, with the full moon in the centre.

The sophistication of the hunter-gatherer group’s astrological prowess was beyond what many have assumed humans were capable of in the Mesolithic period. Even more intriguing is their need for a calendar of such sophistication.

The Sun and Moon Meet
A notch between the hills overlooking the pits was exactly where the midwinter solstice sun rose. This confluence of lunar and solar systems is significant – without a way to keep track of the solar year, a lunar calendar on its own would quickly become unrepresentative of reality – twelve lunar months would add up to approximately 354 days a year. It becomes necessary to calibrate the lunar calendar to keep pace with the approximately 365 1/4 days of the full solar year.

And the evidence is that this is exactly what happened at the Aberdeen site. Using advanced terrain tracking technology, scientists discovered that the twelve pits were shifted up to hundreds of times over their period of use. The notch in which the midwinter solstice sun rose acted as a reset button that dictated how the lunar calendar would be shifted to maintain its accuracy.

The final changes were made some 4,000 years ago, after which the site seems to have been abandoned.

Across the Oceans
At around this time, the Babylonians of Mesopotamia are the world’s leading astronomers. They still use a lunar calendar. Not far away, the annual flooding of the Nile cannot be predicted by the similar system used by the Egyptians.

Babylonian Calendar
Babylonian Calendar

Whether it was a single priest or a group, no one knows, but the Egyptians then discover Sirius, the Dog Star. It is observed that Sirius rises on the horizon just before dawn at the time where the Nile floods.

The all-important annual event can now be predicted with almost divine accuracy. This secret knowledge is well guarded, clothing the Egyptian temple priests privy to it in a godlike aura. The rise of Sirius marks the first day of the ancient Egyptian year.

In nearby Israel, the Jewish calendar keeps pace with the sun by adding an additional lunar month as required. The Muslim calendar, developed more than two thousand years afterwards, has no such contingency and even today falls back through the seasons to reset every 32 years.

The Mayans are closer to the mark with a 365-day year, divided into 18 months of 20 days each and a five day filler which is considered extremely inauspicious. The Mayas have an obsession with intricate calendars and devise the Calendar Round, a system in which no two days have the same name in each 52 year cycle.

The Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar on 1 January 45, incorporates the leap year system to become the most accurate representation of the journey of the earth around the sun thus far.

It is amazing that almost two millennia ago, Roman astrologers determined that the solar year is 365 days and 6 hours long. They were off by just 11 minutes and 14 seconds per year. Other than a few tweaks this is pretty much how the calendar is known by us now.  in card visit đà nẵng

We hope you enjoyed this, slightly different, post and look forward to speaking to you with regard to your printed calendars

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