Scotland lunar-calendar find sparks Stone Age rethink

Jul 27, 2013 by Nancy Owano report

Archeologists have discovered a lunar calendar in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, that is nearly ten thousand years old. Their findings show that the calendar makers (1) thought about time and (2) figured out a means to follow it at a period in history that was still in the Stone Age. The discovery is considered both surprising and important because it now places a calendar nearly five thousand years before what was previously considered as the first formal calendar, created in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago. But here, a discovery has been made of a calendar construct appearing to track the phases of the moon nearly 10,000 years ago.

Scientists are now calling this discovery in Scotland that seems to mimic the phases of the moon to track lunar months the world's oldest known calendar.

"What we are looking at here is a very important step in humanity's earliest formal construction of time, even the start of history itself," said Vincent Gaffney, professor of landscape archaeology at Birmingham University, who led the team who analyzed the pits and their functions.

Also referred to as the "Warren Field calendar," referring to the land area in Aberdeenshire where the calendar was found, the discovery consists of an array of 12 pits and arc. They appear to represent the phases of the moon, going from waxing and waning to central arc, corresponding to the lunar months of the year.

However, said Prof. Gaffney, because the lunar year does not correspond to the natural year, the sequence had to be calibrated annually, and the site seems to align along the midwinter solstice, indicating that each year it was calibrated, and kept good time.

The experts believe the site dates back to around 8000 BC. Gaffney and team in their paper on the subject observed that the site "also aligns on the south east horizon and a prominent topographic point associated with sunrise on the midwinter solstice. In doing so the monument anticipates problems associated with simple lunar calendars by 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."

Although previously excavated back in 2005, geophysical survey teams from several universities have been working to map the sites again and to look for further features. The Warren Field site was first discovered as unusual crop marks spotted from the air by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

The pit-creators are identified as a Mesolithic group, referring to a group of cultures between Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The three "lithics" belong to the Stone Age, and the Mesolithic were a transition group who succeeded in adapting to a collecting and fishing as well as hunting economy The question remains, why did these hunter gatherers track the phases of the moon? For hunting purposes? To explore celestial bodies?

One theory comes from project member, Dr Christopher Gaffney, Archeological Science at the University of Bradford:

"For pre-historic hunter-gatherer communities, knowing what food resources were available at different times of the year was crucial to survival. These communities relied on hunting migrating animals and the consequences of missing these events were potential starvation. They needed to carefully note the seasons to be prepared for when that food resource passed through, so from this perspective, our interpretation of this site as a seasonal makes sense."

Explore further: Replica of 10,000 year old mesolithic dwelling built by UCD experimental archaeologists on campus

More information: intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue34/gaffney_index.html

Related Stories

World's first mission to the Moon's south pole announced

Jul 19, 2013

(Phys.org) —The world's first mission to the South Pole of the Moon was announced today by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Moon Express, Inc. The private enterprise mission will ...

'Leaping' into the realm of science

Mar 01, 2012

Yesterday was Feb. 29, the extra day we add to the calendar in leap years. But why do we need this extra day, and what is the science behind it? And what about the lesser-known leap second – which delegates ...

Recommended for you

West US cave with fossil secrets to be excavated

9 hours ago

(AP)—For the first time in three decades, paleontologists are about to revisit one of North America's most remarkable troves of ancient fossils: The bones of tens of thousands of animals piled at the bottom ...

Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists said Tuesday they hope that radar technology will help them find a century-old Aboriginal burial ground on an Australian island, bringing some closure to the local indigenous population.

Archaeologists excavate NY Colonial battleground

Jul 19, 2014

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground in upstate New York that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of an infamous massacre and the location of the era's largest ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VendicarE
2.4 / 5 (13) Jul 27, 2013
10,000 years old? Impossible. Christian Patriots, AKA God's Goons, AKA TeaPublicans tell me that the universe is only 6,000 years old.

These scientists must be stupid or something.
verkle
3.5 / 5 (13) Jul 28, 2013
I don't like the tone of some of the statements in the article, like "The question remains, why did these hunter gatherers track the phases of the moon?"

It treats these ancient people as if they were a kind of simple people without much knowledge or brains.

Why do we track months? Why do we wear watches? The reasons are myriad and don't need answering. The same for these ancient people. I would place my bets that many of them were a lot smarter than us.

SteveL
4 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2013
"For pre-historic hunter-gatherer communities, knowing what food resources were available at different times of the year was crucial to survival. These communities relied on hunting migrating animals and the consequences of missing these events were potential starvation. They needed to carefully note the seasons to be prepared for when that food resource passed through, so from this perspective, our interpretation of this site as a seasonal calendar makes sense."
I have to disagree with this presumption. Any group of hunter/gatherers that has lived in the area for just a few generations and is so tied to the seasonal and migratory cycles must already know these things to survive. They wouldn't need lunar a calendar to tell them the seasons are changing. They would only need to open their eyes.
philw1776
1.5 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2013
First it was the calendar, then Maxwell's equations, and soon to come Scotty will invent the Impulse Engine.
cantdrive85
1.9 / 5 (7) Jul 28, 2013
The question remains, why did these hunter gatherers track the phases of the moon?

It's really rather simple, they needed to know when they could finally get some sleep;
http://medicalxpr...yth.html

and when it's time to go "hunting";
http://medicalxpr...men.html
Shakescene21
3 / 5 (2) Jul 29, 2013
Very interesting. This lunar/solar calibrator shows that 10,000 years ago people were using months and years to measure time, as we do today.

Did they also have some kind of numbering system to measure months and years?