Oldest Calendar Discovered In Scotland, 10,000-Year-Old Time-Measuring Device Predates Others By 5,000 Years [STUDY]

By iScienceTime Staff on July 15, 2013 12:16 PM EDT

moon phases
The world's oldest calendar, discovered in Scotland, may have worked by tracking the moon's phrases. The above collage depicts the lunar phases, from waxing to waning. (Photo: Flickr: sprit-fire)

The world's oldest calendar has been discovered in a field in Scotland, a team of archaeologists believes.

The team of archaeologists, led by the University of Birmingham in England, found 12 pits in Warren Field at Crathes Castle, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The archaeologists believe these pits form the world's oldest calendar, with each of the 12 pits representing a lunar month. Wooden posts for time measuring may have also been apart of the calendar, though no posts were found. 

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The University of Birmingham archaeologists believe the calendar is about 10,000 years old, predating Mesopotamian time-measurement structures by some 5,000 years. They believe the calendar was in use for about 4,000 years, from around 8,000 BC to around 4,000 BC.

The alignment of the Warren Field pits that make up the world's oldest calendar were not only designed to track lunar phases, but also to correspond with the mid-winter sunrise -- New Year's, essentially -- in order to allow the calendar creators to re-calibrate the calendar at the start of every year. 

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

The world's oldest calendar was designed in the form of an arc, with pits of varying sizes. The arc starts small at one end, grows larger towards the middle, and then becomes smaller at the other end of the arc, possibly to mirror and measure the phases of the moon. The waxing and waning of the moon takes 29.5 days, so can be used a measure of 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 Field was constructed," said Richard Bates, who worked on the study.

The study was published in the journal Internet Archaeology. 

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