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World's oldest calendar uncovered in a Scottish field

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July 25, 2013

A diagram showing how the pits are aligned and how they track the phases of the moon

A diagram showing how the pits are aligned and how they track the phases of the moon

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While we take calendars for granted these days, the invention of systems that track time stands as one of humanity's most monumental achievements ... in more ways than one. Long before written calendars emerged, monuments were used to measure time. Now a crude but working "calendar" discovered in Warren Field, Scotland, suggests that these time measuring monuments may have been developed much earlier than previously thought. Archaeologists believe the Warren Field calendar was created by hunter gatherers around 8,000 BC, making it the world's oldest calendar discovered to date by a significant margin.

The site of the calendar was first excavated by the National Trust for Scotland in 2004. It was investigated after unusual crop markings were spotted during an aerial survey conducted by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Recent analysis of the excavation data and site by a team led by the University of Birmingham has shed light on the Mesolithic monument.

The calendar comprises a set of 12 pits, each likely to have contained a wooden post with one for each month of the year. The monument was used to chart the phases of the moon in order to track lunar months. To keep the time of the seasons but account for differences between the lunar and solar years, the sequence could be calibrated annually on the December Solstice sunrise when the site aligned. It is thought the calendar was used by hunter-gather societies to track the seasons so they would know when migrating animals were due to pass close by.

Professor Vince Gaffney standing in Warren Field, the site of the world's oldest known cal...

"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 project leader Vince Gaffney, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Birmingham. "In doing so, this illustrates one important step towards the formal construction of time and therefore history itself."

"[This] 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," added Richard Bates of the University of St Andrews, "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."

Source: The University of Birmingham, Internet Archeology

About the Author
Dave Parrack Dave is a technology journalist with a ravenous appetite for gadgets, gizmos, and gubbins. He's based in the U.K., and from his center of operations writes about all facets of modern and future technology. He has learned more in his five years writing for the Web than he did in 11 years at school, and with none of the boring subjects thrown in to the mix.   All articles by Dave Parrack
9 Comments

Fantastic ! These Scottish hunter-gatherers were better astronomers than me. Kind of humbling...

Bart Viaene
26th July, 2013 @ 02:24 am PDT

I don't believe they were hunter-gatherers. There's enough finds around the world that hint that technology was far ahead than what we, in our arrogance about how advanced we are right now, estimate it was.

Some religions tell us about more planets in our solar system than we were told in school as we were growing up. We now think that there may be two more planets (although some scientists don't want to yet term them as planets, but never mind the semantics).

So who was more advanced? They, who knew more than us and were right....or us, who are still discovering what they already knew?

Or for example we think the pyramids were built by having slaves drag the stones (but then we can't explain how such a "primitive" society had built them to a precision that we can hardly match).

It's time we woke up and realized that previous civilizations knew things that we didn't and were therefore clearly ahead of us.

Siddharth Mehta
26th July, 2013 @ 08:41 am PDT

Who stands on a mans hay on a cloudy day ? These guys thats who.

Jay Finke
26th July, 2013 @ 09:35 am PDT

Could be. Or, these archeologists are ascribing astronomical meaning to something that's actually random. I'd like to know if other pits exist on the site that they choose to ignore before I accept their hypothesis about the ones they've highlighted. Just some healthy skepticism.

Fritz Menzel
26th July, 2013 @ 10:19 am PDT

Twelve? Way cool, but where did 12 come from? Yeah - we all know we've got 12 months in a year, but this is way older than us... why did they pick that arbitrary number? Why not 10, as in, 10 fingers?

christopher
26th July, 2013 @ 12:45 pm PDT

Siddharth Mehta... we have General Relativity, nuclear power stations, and a zillion other things they never dreamed of.. *We* are clearly ahead of previous civilizations. Its no contest...

Facebook User
26th July, 2013 @ 01:23 pm PDT

Look up Fajada Butte, known as the sun dagger calendar. The most interesting part is the slabs of which make the dagger of light shape are carved so that the sun dagger crosses the spiral vertically as the sun moves horizontally across the sky.

Gregg Eshelman
26th July, 2013 @ 09:42 pm PDT

Since when did a Scotsman ever know what day it was 8*)

nutcase
26th July, 2013 @ 10:03 pm PDT

Christopher, there are now 12.4 lunar cycles per year. I do believe the number 12 comes from that simple observation.

William Moran
28th July, 2013 @ 06:07 pm PDT
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