Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Ancient Manipulation of Time: Part 1

As I wrote in my blog The Genius of Cavemen, early human beings had remarkable powers of recall, powers that allowed them to accurately draw bison from memory.

It is only recently that scholars have agreed that they also were keen observers of the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and the seasons. This, of course, required a number of skills: accurate long term observations and memory of those observations, the ability to pass along that information to others and to pass down that info from generation to generation, and the ability to extract long term patterns in the celestial movements. Comprehending these movements was essential for survival as it told people when to plant and harvest. As I have said from the beginning of this blog, humans could do this because they had a superior memory and sense of time which allowed them to understand time as no other animal had done.

Yet the implications are even more profound. By accurately observing the past and projecting that behavior into the future, humans could now, in a limited way, use time as a resource. They could manipulate time. Being able to predict meant that they not only knew when to plant, but when to start preparing months before the seeds went in the ground plus how much grain to store for the winter and how much fire wood to cut.  They had, to use the modern term, a handle on time.

The following pictures from prehistoric and ancient astronomy show both the early interest in astronomy and something about the extent of knowledge, although our full understanding of what humans knew back then will always be incomplete.

For a good listing of our current knowledge about this era, go to Archaeoastronomy: (Prehistoric Astronomers) on the Ancient Wisdom site in the UK.
Also see a list of archaeoastronomical sites by country.

Ironically, the advent of modern computers has made it easier to verify these astronomical calculators of the past -- because the complex movements of the planets thousands of years ago, for example, were quite difficult to simulate until now.

Yet what you will read in this article is only the beginning of ancient wisdom -- in my next blog I will show how about 3800 years ago discoveries were made in astronomy, astronomical science and technology which led directly to the modern day computer and our modern way of life. 
The Goseck Circle in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, built around 4900 BCE, is the oldest solar observatory discovered so far. The two southern openings line up with the two solstices plus it could have been used to reconcile the monthly lunar cycle with the solar year. Built by stone age peoples and only recently discovered, it reveals a sophistication that modern archaeologists had not thought possible. (
Diagram showing the openings that correspond to the two solstices. 

It is now generally accepted that Stonehenge in England, built and reworked over a number of years between 3100 and 1600 BCE, was both a kind of clock that lined up with the sun during solstices and equinoxes and was possibly a astronomical calculator that could predict eclipses and other celestial occurrences. (
Gathering of people to see the sunrise on the summer solstice at Stonehenge 2005.

The Nebra Sky Disk is the earliest -- ca. 1600 BCE -- accurate astronomical picture of the sky. Relatively small and portable it had the ability to reconcile the monthly lunar cycle with the solar year and could be used to predict when to plant. It was found not far from the Goseck Circle, but fabricated more than 3000 years later in the Bronze Age. (

Southern star panel of the earliest Egyptian star catalog, known as the  Egyptian Celestial Diagram, ca. 1470 BCE. It was found in the Tomb of Senemut. This shows the intense interest Egyptians had in mapping the heavens in detail. (
Copy of a chart that served as a night clock during the Egyptian month of Thoth, ca. 1140 BCE.  The name of star is on the right, the hour on the left and the position of the star is indicated in the column. (
The month of Thoth was associated with the God Thoth. 
"He invented all the arts and sciences, astronomy...and most important of all - writing. ...he was the first of magicians and compiled books of magic which contained 'formulas which commanded all the forces of nature and subdued the very gods themselves'." 
(Quoted from 
Model of an Egyptian sundial or shadow clock. 
Plowing in Egypt ca. 1200 BCE. 

Civilization was only possible because agriculture created a surplus of food. This ample supply of food was due in large part to a precise knowledge of the changing and repeating seasons that was uncovered by astronomy. The insights of astronomy were discovered because humans were able to see and grasp long term repeating patterns.

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