Monday, July 15, 2013

The world's first calendar discovered in Scottish field

Humans had a sophisticated calendrical system thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to new research. The discovery is based on a detailed analysis of data from an archaeological site at Crathes Castle (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) - a row of ancient pits which archaeologists believe is the world's oldest calendar.

     The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004 - now a team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the complex of pits was designed to represent the months of the year and the lunar phases of the month. They believe it also allowed the observation of the mid-winter sunrise so that the lunar calendar could be annually re-calibrated to bring it back into line with the solar year. 

     Remarkably the monument was in use for some 4,000 years and the pits were periodically re-cut over those four millennia. It is therefore impossible to know whether or not they originally held timber posts or standing stones after they were first dug 10,000 years ago. However variations in the depths of the pits suggest that the arc had a complex design - with each lunar month potentially divided into three roughly ten day 'weeks' - representing the waxing moon, the gibbous/full moon and the waning moon.

     The  50 metre long row of 12 main pits was arranged as an arc facing a v-shaped dip in the horizon out of which the sun rose on mid-winter's day. There are 12.37 lunar  cycles (lunar months) in a solar year - and the archaeologists believe that each pit represented a particular month, with the entire arc representing a year. 

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