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.
"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."