Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter Gatherers: What I Left Out

The goal of the Time Keeping presentation I gave at the 2014 ESHE conference is to establish a framework of data toward understanding the time keeping methods of Pre-Neolithic people.  Geographically, I focus on Europe, Northern Asia and North America in order to limit the scope.

Not covered in the presentation are solar, lunar and astral alignment sites and artifacts in Africa, most sites in Central and South America, Australia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and India.  I also left out many Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in Europe, Northern Asia and North America.

In terms of the ethnographic record, there is cultural astronomy data on many autochthonous groups in parts of the world that I did not cover.  On every continent, people kept time from an ancient date.

A number of very good books have been written that describe ancient time keeping cultures across the continents. For those interested in exploring archaeoastronomy further, I highly recommend the books, conference proceedings, and summary papers in the list, below.

I'll occasionally refer to some of these references in my blog posts in the coming weeks, in order to place in context the "framework" time keeping cultures mentioned in the presentation.

So, again, my intention isn't to suggest that the only ancient people to keep accurate time were in Europe, Siberia, or North America, but only to limit the scope of the discussion (for now, anyway).

Archaeoastronomy Reading List

Aveni, Anthony, “Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Americas”, Journal of Archaeological Research, June 2003.

Clarke, P.A., "An overview of Australian Aboriginal ethnoastronomy" in Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture. Vol. 21, pp.39-58. (Link)

Esteban, Cesar, "Archaeoastronomy of North Africa", Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, 2008, pp 180-187. (Link)

Holbrook, Jarita C. (Chairman), "African cultural astronomy : Current Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy rsearch in Africa", Astrophysics and space science proceedings, 2008 (Link)

Kelley, David H., Eugene F. Milone, Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy, Springer, 2011 (Link)

Penprase, Bryan E., The Power of the Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization, Springer, 2010 (Link)

Ruggles, Clive (Editor) and Michel Cotte (Editor), Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the UNESCO World Heritage, August 10, 2012 (Link)

Ruggles, Clive L. N., Ancient Astronomy: An Encyclopedia of Cosmologies and Myth, 2005 (Link)

List of archaeoastronomy sites by country (wiki Link)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Upcoming blog direction

I finally got around to posting my powerpoint slides from the conference presentation I gave at the European Society for the study of Human Evolution 2014 conference in Florence last September.

As it turns out, the development of solar alignment structures during the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age appears to be strongly associated with areas of the world where there are expansion hot spots for the Q and R y-dna haplogroups.  I had vaguely suspected this when I embarked on this study in April 2014, but never dreamed that I would find that virtually every area associated with an expansion of these haplogroups also has abundant archaeological evidence for solar alignment measurement.  These guys really wanted to be on time in a big way!

The slides only touch on the total picture of what I discovered.  To create a more detailed picture, over the next few months, I will be blogging many of the papers and archeological sites mentioned in the presentation, starting next weekend.

Thanks for your interest.  I hope you find this as fascinating as I have.

Majorville Wheel, Alberta, Canada

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers

Marnie Dunsmore
Conference presentation, ESHE 2014, Florence


This conference presentation synthesizes data from archeology, human ecology and ethnohistory to build a picture of time keeping among hunter-gatherer cultures of pre-Neolithic Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America. Recent analysis of the pit alignment archeological site at Warren Field, Scotland, dated to 10,000BP, suggests that hunter-gatherers in Scotland were able to correct for the misalignment between lunar months and the solar year [18]. This ability, alignment to solar or stellar events using built structures, has been proposed as a hallmark of the cultural means to measure and maintain accurate time [11]. In North America, analysis of pit houses and stone wheel observatories shows that prior to European contact, hunter-gatherer groups were able to align built structures to the solstices, and to other events in the sky, and calibrate the observable lunar month to the solar year [13][24]. Evidence of counting is another important indicator of the potential to track time. For instance, to count days, and the length of the month, the Blackfoot are recorded to have used knot tying to mark off days from the new moon. Several important artefacts in France, including those found at L’abri Blanchard and at Bruniquel, also suggest that hunter-gatherers could count [18]. Some evidence indicates that hunter-gatherer groups maintained pictographic calendars recorded on various media, including birch bark and animal hide. The naming of months for seasonal hunting and gathering patterns is another indication of the longevity of time keeping: the naming of months in the calendar of Todja reindeer hunters of South Siberia, of the Ojibwe and of the Blackfoot, of Canada, reflect naming according to hunting and gathering patterns as they were practiced. Pictographic-mnemonic systems were also used to communicate information inter-generationally among elite groups. For instance, after eighty years, four independent Blackfoot Winter Counts, a pictographic-mnemonic system, recorded a meteor shower which occurred in 1833 with an accuracy to within two years [3].

Given this data, within this paper, a categorized framework is constructed to document and compare time keeping among different hunter-gatherer cultures. The key categories are: (1) solar alignment using built structures, (2) evidence of counting artefacts and counting customs, (3) use of pictographic calendars, (4) months named according to hunting and gathering functions, and (5) evidence of inter-generational communication using pictographic-mnemonic systems. Archaeological dates, specific cosmology and time symbols, and lithics associated with alignment structures or artefacts are categories that augment the framework. Finally, documentation of game (species, regional extinction dates, and migratory or non-migratory) are noted.

From the official dates available for man-made alignment structures discussed herein, it can be inferred that accurate monthly time keeping, to within several days of the solar year, was well established on the Northern Plains of North America by 5,000BP, and in Northern Europe, by 10,000BP. Using the information presented in this framework, it is possible to compare time keeping practices of these hunter-gatherer groups. The overall picture, in Northern Europe by 10,000BP, and in North America by at least 5,000BP, are of fully developed time aware cultures that could keep accurate time in order to coordinate their hunting and gathering strategies with the seasons.

The Evidence for Time Keeping Among Pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers (Powerpoint Slides)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sioux Worshiping at Red Boulders

“A large boulder and two small ones, bearing some resemblance to a buffalo cow and two calves, painted red by the Indians, and regarded by them with superstitious reverence, near the ‘Coteau des Prairies.’” George Catlin (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Butte de Mort, Sioux Burial Ground, Upper Missouri







1837-1839, George Catlin

Smithsonian American Art Museum (Link)

"In his 1848 Catalogue, Catlin noted that the French called this Sioux burial ground Butte de Mort, or “Hill of Death,” and that the Indians regarded the site “with great dread and superstition. There are several thousand buffalo and human skulls, perfectly bleached and curiously arranged about it.” (Catlin, 1848 Catalogue, Catlin’s Indian Gallery, SAAM online exhibition)"