A Brief History of Human Perception of Time
With limited knowledge of prehistoric man, it is difficult to know how he perceived time with any degree of certainty. The best we can do is infer and draw logical conclusions in accordance with the information we have. As the hunter-gatherer, prehistoric man probably lived in the present, with little heed to the abstract concepts of the past or future. His life revolved around the inveterate drives of thirst, hunger, sleep, and reproduction. Rousseau saw him quenching his thirst at the first stream, finding shelter under the same tree that supplied his meal. Prehistoric man is exemplified by the notion of carpe diem, or living in the moment. Nothing besides the present was important.
It is only with the shift to food production within the past 11,000 years that the passage of time gained significance. Agriculture depends heavily on the seasons. Crop yields are more successful if the time of sowing and harvesting is opportune: grains grown during a temperate season are more likely to flourish, as opposed to perishing during the winter. As a result, ancient civilizations that successfully developed food production concurrently developed elaborate methods of recording time centered upon the cycles of celestial bodies: the sun, moon, planets, and stars. For example, Stonehenge was precisely aligned with the sun to determine certain days of the year. Similarly, the Egyptians based their calendar on the “Dog Star” Sirius, which rises next to the sun once every 365 days simultaneous
with the flooding of the Nile
(A Walk Through Time).
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