The Calendar

Kara Byers 1CH tutor: Dr. Gerard McCartan Our View of the Universe It took several thousand years to establish a satisfactory calendar. Even in this century not all the countries in Europe kept the same calendar. Why was it so difficult? Do we really need an accurate means of recording civil time? Astronomy originated earlier in human history than the other natural sciences. In the earliest civilisations, the divine or occult was used to explain the movement of the stars and the Sun: the Aztecs, for example, believed that the Sun had to be nourished with a sacrifice of blood and a beating human heart, or else it would vanish. In those dark days there was no conflict between science and religion: a priest, magician or shaman would jealously guard scientific knowledge of the seasons and calendar. Knowledge, regarded as a sign of divine work in the world, conferred immense status on priests in their community, because they were able to foretell the future with some success. Astronomy meant power over people. It guided Man through the seasons, showing when to plough, to harvest or to move herds. Religious and sacrificial acts also had to be performed on specific occasions, for example, to coincide with the phases of the Moon or solar solstices. Astronomy also helped to guide the traveller. With the rise of the calendar, human activities could be linked more accurately with the seasons and thus better co-ordinated. Three of the periods used in calendars days, months and years are based on astronomical cycles that have the greatest bearing on human life. The very earliest calendars relied on the Moon, which not only rose and set but changed its shape over a period of around a month that is convenient for describing the seasons. Later calendars evolved to take account of the Suns annual cycles. The ancient Egyptians are credited with one of the most advanced solar calendars of ancient times. As…

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