[Note: this post was originally published on 14 December 2009, hence the date in the title. I have put this post back at the top of the blog because I still feel strongly about this issue. Our calendar should begin at least as far back as 4236 B.C. and there are reasons why it could be pushed back even earlier.]
Should today’s date actually be the 14th of December, 6245? I actually think that this year would make much more sense than the year 2009.
The earliest known calendar date is 4236 B.C. which marks the beginning of one of several Egyptian calendars that existed – a 365 day solar one they used (they also had a lunar based one for festivals, much as the Chinese still do, as well as another one for agriculture which the Chinese also still have). The only problem was that they did not have a leap year, so their calendar actually drifted over time (actually I have read contradictory statements about this and am still researching it). Whether this drift was accounted for or not I do not yet know, nor do I yet know if the record from that ancient date to the present is continuous without any gaps or unknown periods.
I think re-calibrating the current calendar year to 6245 (4236 + 2009, there was no year 0) makes a lot of sense, particularly with respect to understanding human historical development. 4236 B.C. is far enough back in archaeologic history that it could be seen as the beginning of human civilization and the end of the neolithic. Although there are shortcomings with using the three-age system to classify periods of human development 6245 years ago seems about far enough back that it precedes the development of major civilizations and cultural advancement for which archaeological evidence exists yet is not so far back as to be meaningless.
It predates the Minoan, Sumerian, Chinese, and pretty much every other civilization such that there wouldn’t need to be negative date numbers to reference periods within these cultures as is currently necessary using the B.C. designation (of course there exists extensive archaeological record of human activity before then, but these do not include writing and include very few artifacts of the more advanced civilizations which would later arise). It also significantly predates all bronze-age activity in all cultures, so it indicates a time, pre-bronze age, when civilization was in its nascent stage and the advances of the neolithic revolution (i.e.. agriculture, etc.) were being aggregated which would later lead to the first major civilizations. In short, the year 4236 B.C. seems like a much more logical anchor-point for human history.
Even though it is very rare for any ancient calendar systems to have been accurate, it would have been possible to re-calibrate them as necessary to take into account drift. The extent to which this was done is something I do not know but would like to find out. This is a fascinating area of study.
There is also the earliest historical event the date for which is known with precision, the Battle of Halys in 585 B.C., during which a solar eclipse occurred. Calculating backwards using a known astronomical phenomenon seems like cheating however. Its more interesting to find calendar systems which extend back continuously from the present time which are based on civilizations’ own developing astronomical knowledge.
Update: according to the National Institute of Time and Standards:
The earliest Egyptian calendar was based on the moon’s cycles, but later the Egyptians realized that the “Dog Star” in Canis Major, which we call Sirius, rose next to the sun every 365 days, about when the annual inundation of the Nile began. Based on this knowledge, they devised a 365 day calendar that seems to have begun around 3100 BCE (Before the Common Era), which thus seems to be one of the earliest years recorded in history.