There is no way for us to know when did humans realize the presence of patterns in the movement of celestial bodies. The position of stars, their repetitive motion and their correlation to this eternal rock that we are occupying for almost half a million of years, are a collection of ever-present clues of the fourth dimension. All obviously simple to the mankind of today. However, time tracking and the very first astronomers are much older than one would think.
We, the people of the planet Earth, observe, listen, breathe and practically live space. We invest in its exploration, we love talking about it, we film movies, write books, and all in all constantly wonder about the possibilities hidden in the vast darkness of the universe. Nevertheless its greatest mysteries still elude us, and the ones that we are familiar with keep us awake late at night, puzzled, and some of them even scare us. But maybe the real mystery is hidden inside of us, inside of our perception of what the universe is.
So what did inspire the very first astronomers to read the motion of the stars and connect those patterns to our environment and every-day lives? We will probably never know. However, as that one talented individual (or perhaps more of them) found a way to measure the movements of celestial objects and record them, he unwittingly started a tradition that lasts to this very day. Our perception of time is solely based on that experience and the idea that we can obtain deeper knowledge about the force that is consuming us, or passing us by. But what actually time is, in a certain way this question will always remain a mystery.
The renowned theologian and philosopher, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD) stated in his Confessions how much the definition of the time itself makes no sense to him, and noted that every man considering the validity of knowledge on this subject has yet to realize how little we know. As he continues to question the past and the future, St. Augustine tries to explain his troublesome perception of this dimension, saying that he is only aware that there is something that he can describe as NOW and that he is fully aware only of that entity. The yesterday and tomorrow are entities that he cannot experience momentarily and feels incompetent of depicting them.
This statement, coming from a prominent christian philosopher, provides us with the best impression of how astronomers were perceived almost 2000 years ago. Of course, Saint Augustine wasn’t one of the first astronomers. Far from it. One of the oldest known astronomers of the western world was Thales of Miletus (624-547 BC), the Astrologer who fell into a well. The anecdote of Thales is a very edifying story.
Namely, as our protagonist was wandering through the night, gazing at the stars and questioning their purpose and meaning, he fell down a deep well. As an elderly woman passed the same well, she spotted Thales, lying at the bottom of it, and she said to him:
O Thales, how shuldest thou have knowlege in hevenly thinges above, and knowest nat what is here benethe under thy feet?
Indeed, the genius astronomer managed to explain various metaphysical entities, derive complex theorems, and still he insisted that astronomers should keep their eyes on the ground and learn more about the life on Earth itself.
Both Saint Augustine and Thales used to condemn Astrological explanations of celestial entities, and absolutely hated horoscopes. However, the very first astronomers were considered to be priests, and a form of messengers of Gods. Although we will never know who the first astronomer was and how did he/she got the initial idea that we now recognize as the calendar, we can certainly try and explore the very first known creation and their path throughout the history of space.
The Warren Field Possible Artifact of the First Astronomers
The Warren Field, in the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland, is the location of the oldest calendar known. This monument was built around 8000 BC, and it is believed that its twelve pits arranged in an arc form depict phases of the Moon and present a form of a lunar calendar.
Although this discovery is a fascinating one for many reasons, probably the most peculiar suggestion about this creation is the fact that it was built by a group of hunter-gatherers. One would originally suggest that farmers would have a much better use of this sort of monument, or would connect it to a family of a higher status, considering the date of its origin, but the fact that hunters build it makes this discovery that much interesting. Could it be that this was a common knowledge of the 8000 BC people? If this is true than we know even less about the history of the world.
The Berlin Golden Hat
Among many other discoveries from the Bronze period, The Berlin Golden Hat is probably the most interesting one that we can think of. This late Bronze Age artefact was entirely made of thing gold leaves. While there are many assumptions about how this item was actually used, one thing is certain – it is a form of a time tracking device.
Interesting fact about this item is that it surely isn’t unique, or the only one of its kind. There are three similar objects found dating from the same period (about 1000 BC), all of them in the region of South Germany and France. These “hats” were probably somehow connected to the Sun cult, which was widespread in that region in that particular period. It seems that priests used to use it in their sermons and rituals, but in which way we will probably never know.
Join us next week, where I will address this matter further and examine the systems of some of the ancient civilizations.