The discovery of a nearly 10,000-year-old lunar calendar in Scotland has archaeologists scrambling to rethink the beginnings of history. The implications are huge; it turns out that the men of the Stone Age weren’t as primitive as we’d previously thought.
The calendar itself is primitive to be sure. However, it’s also the oldest calendar ever discovered, pre-dating the bronze calendar in Mesopotamia that had held that title until now by several millennia. The array is made up of 12 pits, one for each month of the year, arranged in a 50m long arc and topped with a series of stones thought to represent the phases of the moon. The full moon stone, a round 2m wide boulder, is prominently displayed in the middle, and on the far side is a notch to show where the sun would rise on the midwinter solstice 10,000 years ago.
While the basic astronomy at work is impressive, the mere existence of the calendar is arguably its most important trait. At this time the land around the Dee River in Aberdeenshire — where the calendar was found — would have been populated by hunter-gatherers who would’ve used the calendar to keep track of the migratory patterns of the big game that would pass through the area. But the arrangement of pits and stones also shows mankind contemplating bigger questions. As Vincent Gaffney, a professor of landscape archaeology at Birmingham University who led the excavation team, put it: “It represents a time when people became concerned with anticipating and measuring and time and in some ways represents the start of history.”
More than anything, however, this calendar’s existence is just proof that we still know shockingly little about life at this point in history. Or as Richard Bates, a geophysicist from University of St Andrews who also helped with the dig, told National Geographic, “It shows that Stone Age society was far more sophisticated than we have previously believed, particularly up north, which until lately has been kind of a blank page for us.”
From here it will be interesting to step back and compare the methods in Scotland with those found in the Fertile Crescent and begin to see how these ideas might have spread. Until then, book your tickets now to go see Stone Henge’s ancient, less epic but much older big brother. [Gizmag]