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Stone Age History, Ancient Calendars and Ancient Written Languages

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Why the Old Stone Age had no historical records or annual calendars

(4th edition - June 2007) by A.O. Kime
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The fact Stone Age cavemen didn’t record their history is commonly thought to be a matter of intellectual ineptitude... well, we shall investigate this. Whatever their reasons however, it is perplexing not to know what happened during the Old Stone Age. Except for evidence that cavemen hunted, conducted burials and drew pictures, we know little else of their lifestyle and nothing at all about the human events which occurred.

The oldest known historical records were from the time of the Egyptian dynasties when their calendar debuted in 4,236 BC... commonly referred to as the ‘earliest known date’. Previously it was the spring and fall equinox and the summer and winter solstice that served man as a calendar... also phases of the moon. To early man, counting years was not important. However, since counting years (a calendar) would be necessary in order to put history into context, let’s follow this trail first.

The early calendars

While calendars were used in other parts of the world besides Egypt, exactly when is unknown because the earliest were lunar calendars. These lunar calendars were based on lunar and seasonal cycles, but without regard to how many occurred... nobody bothered counting years. The Chinese didn't either until 2,357 BC who had previously used lunar calendars as well. Such lunar calendars were primarily for agricultural purposes; it was only the seasons of the year which were important during the Stone Age.

Since lunar calendars were problematic because 28 days would gradually get out of synch with the seasons, other types were introduced throughout the ages. While the Hindus, Jewish and Buddhists still use seasonal calendars, they're considered ‘lunisolar’ which require a ‘leap-month’ every three years. Of all the major calendars in use around the world today, it is only the Gregorian (Christian) calendar which is not based on the seasons but nonetheless it too requires adjustments, an extra day every four years.

Of course, one also needs a written language in order to record history. Besides the Egyptian hieroglyphs, that didn’t occur in other parts of the world until about 5,000 years ago (3,000 BC). Many believe it was the Sumerians who first developing the art of writing and a people who lived between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which would be present-day Iraq, Syria and southern Turkey.

Since lunar (seasonal/cyclical) calendars have no regard for a particular year, disregarding them altogether, most of civilized society eventually adopted the annual (linear) calendars prepared by religions... having already picked an event to serve as 'year zero' from which to begin counting.

Finding value in calendars

In the beginning however, an annual calendar wouldn't have made much sense since an unknown number of years had already passed which couldn't be counted. It's water under the bridge. Besides, they saw no need to incorporate an eternal time continuum into annual affairs... which should explain why the American Indians, Hindus and Chinese tended to think in cyclical terms rather than linear. Fortifying their resistance was the foolish aspect of assigning values (a year) to a time continuum. It was arbitrariness. There was something very fundamental in the logic for having no annual calendars during the Stone Age.

As for recording history, surely the logic was that anything which happens probably happened before and will so again… just as sure as sun rises and sets. Wolves attack, people die, snow falls and fires burn… what’s to tell?

Well, eventually mankind found value in these 'civilized' things but the merits wouldn’t have been overly apparent at first. People just don’t do things unless some value is recognized. But in order to record history, both a written language and annual calendar would be needed… recording history would have little value without dates.

Even though the Egyptians were apparently the first to employ a calendar, no one else in the world used it. Later, when their dynasties ceased to exist, it was no longer in use. For centuries after that, there seems no evidence of annual calendars anywhere in the world. When the idea of calendars finally did re-emerge, it was primarily religions which developed them. While it may seem strange religions would become involved in calendars... assuredly the promotional value in putting their brand on ‘year zero’ was recognized.

While it is uncertain when religions devised their own calendars, the Gregorian calendar pegged year zero to when Jesus was born and the Jewish calendar begins from their belief in the date of creation (3,761 BC). Besides the Chinese calendar already mentioned, the Greeks and Romans had theirs and so did Babylon which was referred to as the Era of Nabonassar while the Muslin Era began on July 16, 622 AD after the flight of Muhammad from Mecca.

It probably seemed silly at first to refer to these numbered years realizing how arbitrary they were in relation to reality. Still, to this day, the different calendars in use around the world reflect this arbitrariness, not all cultures consider this is the year 2007. Some might say ‘arbitrary’ is an unfair characterization since most zero years were based on religious events but it's no less the arbitrary in an eternal time continuum.

Even though people have grown accustomed to using and referring to dates, we should understand why there was hesitation to devise (or even use) an annual calendar at first. The arbitrariness of calendars make them an abstract concept and practical people don't like abstract concepts. Practical people assuredly felt that since their forefathers did just fine without them for eons meant there was simply no need for one. However, like all new ideas... it became just a matter of getting used to. The same goes for the 24 hour clock; someone arbitrarily decided it should recycle in the middle of the night. It is easy to see how silly both the calendar and clock must have seemed at first. Even the idea of an hour is arbitrary and abstract... so too is a 'gallon' or 'mile'. Yet, trade depended on measurement standards of some type... it was destined to happen.

The act of recording history would have had even more silly aspects to it. With a fully functioning human memory which everyone has, recording history would have seemed redundant and therefore unnecessary. If anything seemed noteworthy, it was assuredly thought, one can easily pass it along orally and if it was forgotten it wasn’t worth remembering. The American Indians from the Old West felt the same way. Early peoples probably thought the first historians were idiots, wasting time writing down events everyone knew about. Only years later and distances afar would their work be appreciated.

Suspicious cavemen

The Cavemen's suspicions were effectively right though; nobody would figure out a realistic calendar... although religious meddling kept that from happening for centuries. While modern scientific instruments could have proven cavemen wrong, the counter influences of religions, business and habits continue to be prove cavemen right. While the Iranian Zoroastrian calendar is by far the most precise and realistic... that doesn’t matter; nobody wants to be realistic about calendars anymore because changes would require too many adjustments such as the date for Christmas.

It all boils down to the fact cavemen were more realistic... basic. And, like redneck cowboys, lumberjacks and ironworkers, cavemen didn’t believe in superfluousness either. Counting years would have been considered a silly concept during the Stone Age, which became effectively ridiculous just as the cavemen suspected... with leap years, unequal days of the month and without regard to the solstices and equinoxes. For these reasons, who can demean Stone Age people who did not subscribe to having a calendar? The cavemen were not people prone to subscribing to weird ideas either... and they certainly wouldn't have gone along with the idea that on New Years Eve it could be a different year depending on what part of the planet one lived. Celebrating such an arbitrary date would have seemed even more ridiculous. Howling during a full moon is one thing but howling when it isn't is stupid.

It's unfortunate Stone Age cavemen didn't develop a calendar first though... after all, is keeping time really a religious matter? If they had, at least they'd been smart enough to have a year recycle on a solstice or equinox. Of the four choices, they'd likely picked either the vernal equinox (March 21st) or the winter solstice (December 21st).

The historical record of the Stone Age

Whoever the first humans were to consider making a historical record before Herodotus finally did, undoubtedly there were many questions about how it could be done. The first problem to overcome, besides what should be told, is to develop a method whereby it could be deciphered by others. While perhaps at that point symbols were being used for rudimentary record-keeping on clay tablets, still a more sophisticated system (written language) would be needed to record history which would be a huge undertaking. As it turned out, simple symbols (hieroglyphs) were used for at least a thousand years before the more complex systems with pronounceable alphabets.

To imagine this huge undertaking is to further understand the reason for the delay. It was not due to their inability but rather their unwillingness primarily. Further, it would take people with a lot of spare time on their hands. There also had to exist a public interest in historical accounts... who might care. While we could dwell upon the immense difficulty to develop a written system others could decipher, let’s consider the overall need for it instead. So, would it make sense to tribes of isolated peoples? It wouldn’t, not for the vast majority of them. While a written language, calendar and recording history would eventually make sense for large concentrations of people, they'd be preposterous concepts for small scattered groups... being effectively independent-minded.

Stone Age cavemen could function just fine without knowing whether it was Tuesday or Friday. However, due to the difficulty in knowing the phases of the moon during continual cloudiness, cavemen might have admitted a calendar would have been helpful. But to attach a number to a year… that would be, well, silly. All they really needed to know was planting time… a simple matter. Anyone who needed a calendar to determine whether it was winter or summer would have been considered another idiot.

However, before one tried to develop a system of writing, one question had to be answered... what would be worth recording which might serve others? It had not yet been established what it should be… although it probably would have been recognized immediately that time and space would dictate only important things could be recorded. Of all the events which transpire daily, or yearly, which of these should be recorded then? Leaders hadn't yet dominated the scene like today evidently since cave-art didn't reflect it, and they weren’t advanced enough to have exciting wars to write about. Besides, until clay tablets and papyrus paper came along, cavemen had only stone and wood to work with initially. How much history can be chiseled out (petroglyphs) or painted (pictographs)?

The threshold for ancient civilization

Even after recognizing the value but still facing these problems, we should understand why it took so long before someone began to record history. We should also understand the process wouldn’t begin anyway until a certain threshold was met, that of population densities. In other words, until this threshold is met, none of the things deemed necessary in order to be considered ‘civilized’ would ever occur. If there were only a few million people scattered about today, man's 'civilized' status would be nonexistent. No uniform code would exist. So it wasn’t a matter of intellectual ineptitude that kept these things from happening, it was a matter of need.

Yet, couldn't cave-art be considered a historical account? After all, in referring to the picture they drew, cavemen were effectively saying "I was here and I saw this". If so, then we have some Stone Age history after all... chapter one. Their cave-art is telling us something else too… they had no pharaohs, kings, queens or presidents wanting to be remembered for eternity. Also, with no depictions of cavemen slaying cavemen suggests they had no wars either. I think the petroglyphs depicting animals and the acts of hunting just about sums up their life since they left us nothing else. It lieu of more information we could assume that, just like today, the sun rose and set, wolves attacked, people died, snow fell and fires burned. The recording of history changed nothing.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana
"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." George Bernard Shaw

While old wounds won't heal while frozen in history books, cavemen would have blamed it on the cursedness of a long memory.

A.O. Kime

Last modified: 10/25/13