Perception Of Time In Ancient Civilizations

Peter Oye Sagay

Language is one of humanity's greatest inventions. It allows us to formulate refined and communicable thoughts. However, sometimes language is problematic. There are instances when precise definitions of certain concepts are difficult to realize. So we try and try, and we come up with various definitions, from simple to complex, and still fall short of the desired goal. I believe that Time belongs to this group. It is perhaps the most defined concept. It has preoccupied humans since the dawn of their existence. There are thinkers who believe it does not exist and among those who believe it exists, its exact nature is often debated.

As early as about two and a half million years ago, ancient Africans made tools from stone. At about two million years ago, ancient Asians also made tools from stone. Ancient Europeans were similarly engaged in tool making about one and a half million years ago. Paleoanthropologists identify this period as the stone age: a time when ancient human cultures used stones as tools. The stone age was also a time when their environments were changing as a result of changes in climatic conditions. These ancient humans were primarily hunters and food gatherers. What were their schedules like as they chipped away at stones, as they hunted and gathered food, as they observed the sky and their environment change with changing climatic conditions, and as they engaged in other activities? From their activities we are able to deduce that they were not creatures governed solely by instinct, so they must have been aware of some type of time-concept . If so, how did they define time? We probably will never fully know because there are no detailed records of their thoughts. However, many millenia later, their descendants were able to acquire the capacity to communicate in detail, through art and writing.

The ancient Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations are generally credited with the invention of writing. Writing in the forms of cuneiform scripts and hieroglyphics were in place in these civilizations at about 3300B.C. The discovery of agriculture about 8000B.C made possible settlements that later became cities. The social needs of the societies that ensued were keystones to the invention of writing and the intellectual activities that followed. Humans began to search for concepts in their activities and to define and formalize them. As the spirit and mind grew, the boundary of the knowable environment was extended to the stars. The stars, primarily the sun and the moon, were observed and studied and their influence on both seasons and personal lives defined and formalized. It is from such formalizations that the Sumerians originated astrology in about 3000B.C. Read on

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