Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland

Vincent Gaffney1,10, Simon Fitch1, Eleanor Ramsey1, Ron Yorston1, Eugene Ch'ng1, 10, Eamonn Baldwin1, Richard Bates2, Christopher Gaffney3, Clive Ruggles4, Tom Sparrow3, Anneley McMillan5, Dave Cowley6, Shannon Fraser7, Charles Murray8, Hilary Murray8, Emma Hopla9 and Andy Howard1

Cite this as: Gaffney, V., Fitch, S., Ramsey, E., Yorston, R., Ch'ng, E., Baldwin, E., Bates, R., Gaffney, C., Ruggles, C., Sparrow, T., McMillan, A., Cowley, D., Fraser, S., Murray, C., Murray, H., Hopla, E. and Howard, A. 2013 Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland, Internet Archaeology 34. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.34.1


Visualisation of the midwinter solstice viewed from the Warren Field pit group

The capacity to conceptualise and measure time is amongst the most important achievements of human societies, and the issue of when time was 'created' by humankind is critical in understanding how society has developed. A pit alignment, recently excavated in Aberdeenshire (Scotland), provides an intriguing contribution to this debate. This structure, dated to the 8th millennium BC, has been re-analysed and appears to possess basic calendrical functions. The site may therefore provide the earliest evidence currently available for 'time reckoning' as the pit group appears to mimic the phases of the Moon and is structured to track lunar months. It 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. The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and ability to track time across the year, and also perhaps within the month, and that this occurred at a period nearly five thousand years before the first formal calendars were created in Mesopotamia.

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1. IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom. Email: v.l.gaffney@bham.ac.uk, e.chng@bham.ac.uk, rmy@tigress.co.uk, ellie.ramsey@gmail.com, si_fitch@yahoo.co.uk, e.p.baldwin@bham.ac.uk, andyhowardconsulting@gmail.com
2 Department of Earth Sciences University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife,KY16 9AL, Scotland. Email: crb@st-andrews.ac.uk
3 Archaeological Sciences University of Bradford, Bradford West Yorkshire BD7 1DP United Kingdom. Email: c.gaffney@bradford.ac.uk, T.Sparrow1@Bradford.ac.uk
4 School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, United Kingdom. Email: rug@le.ac.uk
5 School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom. Email: Anneley@worldfromabove.co.uk
6 Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 16 Bernard Terrace, Edinburgh, EH8 9NX. Scotland. Email: dave.cowley@rcahms.gov.uk
7 The National Trust for Scotland/University of Aberdeen, The Stables, Castle Fraser, Sauchen, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire AB51 7LD. Scotland. Email: sfraser@nts.org.uk
8 Murray Archaeological Services, Ltd, Hill of Belnagoak, Methlick, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, AB41 7JN. Scotland. Email: cmurray@btinternet.com
9 Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ United Kingdom. Email: emmahopla@hotmail.com
10 Centre for Creative Content and Digital Innovation, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


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