Noughts, Nots, and Knots
By R. D. Flavin
The creators of our Western Calendar: Julius Caesar, Abbot Dionysius Exiguus, the Venerable Bede, His Holiness Pope Gregory XIII, Christophorus Clavius S.J., and Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.
With the end of twenty-oh-nine (var. two thousand and nine), we conclude the first decade of the twenty-first century of the Christian or Common Era, that is the popular and conventional calendric reckoning which divides time and history into 'before' and 'after' an approximation of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Eastern Mediterranean Jewish peasant and Cynic philosopher, who many believe to have been a holy prophet and, in Christian doctrine, is/was the only son of God. While mathematics remains an exact science, our calendars have changed over the years more times, so to speak, than the quasi-secret Coca-Cola syrup formula. Still, and despite differences of calendric accounting, the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century of the Common Era is a big thing to a significant amount of people (except, for example, those who observe the Indian Saka, Jewish Luach, Islamic Hijri, Iranian Jalaali, or the Chinese folk or festival calendars).
All peoples, ancient and modern, have reckoned and continue to concern themselves with the passage of time and most have devised calendars, though not all. In Western society, our 'calendar' first arose in the early Roman period and was agrarian (Johnson 1963) and likely inspired by Greek, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian mathematics and traditions. The early Roman calendar was notably flawed because of its inaccurate estimate of the length of a natural 'year', as it used lunar phases and inadequate intercalations (extra days or a 'month') to approximate a solar year. By the time that Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BCE - 44 BCE) became a dictator and set into motion events which would allow the Roman Republic to change into an empire, the calendar had become unaligned from the seasons by eighty to ninety days (Aitken 1949, p. 379). Heeding the Greco-Egyptian advice of Sosigenes of Alexandria (fl. 90 - 50 BCE), a Peripatetic ("walking" Aristotelian) astronomer, Caesar instituted a major calendar reform in 45 BCE which specified a year as 365 days in length, with a single intercalary day added every third (“leap”) year. The Julian Calendar wasn’t perfect (the Ides of March on March 15, 44 BCE was especially nasty to Caesar), but with modifications by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus (63 BCE - 14 CE), specifically by changing the insertion of an intercalary day every three years to every four years, the calendar became dependable, proleptic, and enjoyed a long history of use (Bennett 2003). Okay, maybe it wasn’t perfect, perhaps it was or was not the calendar’s fault, though a slight (read: sort of fundamental) change was soon needed, as pagan Rome became Christianized.
And, so it came to pass, a wise man and teacher from Galilee brought forth a program of egalitarian charity and commiseration to help against difficult times, and Greek language texts akin to popular stage tragedies of the day were composed based upon this teacher’s words and deeds, and through simple appeal, eventually nearly everyone forgot about the non-fiction teacher and focused on the fictional tragedies. With Christianity as the new Roman state religion, a calendric adjustment was required to better observe Easter. [Note: Some celebrate birthdays, others deathdays; IMO it’s all fuzzy math - Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year!] As the new Christian scriptures (the Greek language tragedies about Jesus or “gospels,” plus debatably associated and ancillary pseudo-historical writings) were more concerned with comedy, irony, and drama, as opposed to accurate descriptions of who, what, when, and where, the only shred of chronological historicity which suggests a date for the death of the teacher would be a shared meal between the teacher and friends honoring the Jewish holiday of Passover (i.e., Mark 14:1,2; Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 26:7-38; I Cor 11:23-26). In other words, determine the Vernal Equinox, wait for the next full moon, make ready thy party, and the following week reenact the shared meal on Maundy Thursday (make sure your feet are washed), grieve on Good Friday, said to be the day of Jesus’s crucifixion (when, according to the fiction, the teacher became a hermaphrodite and when pierced with a spear, out flowed water and blood, like a birth, and so brought about Ekklesia, the Church), repair and prepare thyself on Lazarus Saturday (when, again, according to the fiction, the teacher harrowed Hell and said “Nay, …nay, nay, …nay, nay, nay” to Satan, and previously, had used a vocalization of the Tetragrammaton to resurrect Lazarus of Bethany, blessed be his fine sisters), and on Easter Sunday get thine butt to Church, or at least know someone who cares enough to attend, and celebrate extravagantly with dysfunctional family and friends the fictional zombification of the teacher (while listening to Mott the Hoople’s “Roll Away The Stone“) with food, booze, and much betting on sporting events. It’s complicated now and it was worse back then.
Thank Ketchum, Dennis the Menace plied his prank and Jesus of Nazareth’s “birthday” established a tricky and arguable line from which 'one' began the years after the birth of Jesus. Born and raised in Scythia Minor (the Dobrogea region of modern Romania), the monk and abbot, Dionysius Exiguus (ca. 470 - 544 CE), arrived in Rome about the year 500 CE and spent the rest of his life translating various Greek works into Latin for the Church. Though not the first Christian to attempt to change the calendar to reflect a dating from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (Teres 1984, p. 177), his method of calculating Easter was effective and he is often accorded credit for introducing the designation “Anno ab incarnatione Domini,” rendered as “A.D.” or “The Year of the Incarnation of the Lord.” Today, many Christians argue that Dionysius Exiguous (Dennis the Little) was off by several years, if one accords historicity to the tragedies of the gospels. However, much like the can-opener was invented 45 years after the introduction of metal cans, the calendar and chronology need balance and if one is going to posit a time 'after' the birth of Jesus, it stands to reason that a designation was needed to specify a time 'before' the birth of Jesus. Yeah, that took a couple of centuries…
Often termed the “Father of English History,” the Northumbrian monk and scholar, the Venerable Bede (673 - 735 CE), was familiar with the work of Dionysius Exiguus and used the “Anno Domini” designation in his writings. Though borrowing perhaps too much from a disciple of St. Augustine of Hippo, Paulus Orosius (Dunn 1919), Bede’s Chapter Two of Book One of Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ( “An Ecclesiastical History of the English People”) begins: “BRITAIN had never been visited by the Romans, and was, indeed, entirely unknown to them before the time of Caius Julius Caesar, who, in the year 693 after the building of Rome, but the sixtieth year before the incarnation of our Lord…” This new method of dating events prior to the birth of Jesus ("ante vero incarnationis dominicae tempus" or "the time before the Lord's true incarnation") would eventually be expressed in English as B.C. or “Before Christ.”
The Julian-Augustan year of 365.25 days (three years of 365 days with every fourth year having 366 days) served the Church well, however with the dawn of the sixteenth century after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a ten-day discrepancy between the calendar date and the actual observed astronomical event of the vernal equinox had developed and in 1582, the spring equinox arrived on March 11, rather than its traditional March 21. For hundreds of years various general councils had convened to offset and correct the problem of the drifting date (though early on, the Easter holiday determination had been settled by anchoring the celebration to a specific day of the week, a Sunday after the vernal equinox), though it was an understood difficulty, in that all worked with approximations of the length of the solar year and not an exact (or exact enough) number.
When Ugo Boncompagni (1502 - 1585) was elected His Holiness Pope Gregory XIII in 1572, he dedicated his papacy to reform and implementing the suggestions arising from the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563), some of which concerned an adjustment of the calendar. An initial investigation produced a report in 1575 supporting calendar reform and in 1576 a manuscript by Aloisius Lilius (var. Aloigi Giglio), a professor of medicine at the University of Perugia, was presented to the Roman Curia by Antonius Lilius, a younger brother. The elder Lilius was likely dead by this time, as history contains nothing more about him, but the younger brother, also a doctor of medicine, is attached to the manuscript and its novel (read: new) calendar for some years forward. A papal committee was soon formed with representatives of Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Syria, along with religious orders and laity (the younger Lilius). While much credit is given to the efforts of Aloisius Lilius, his original manuscript has never been seen after it passed through the hands of the German-born Jesuit, Christophorus Clavius, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at the Collegio Romano. Clavius was the leading math geek for the Church, at the time, and his endorsement of the final commission report on calendar reform in 1580 probably, out of the eight signatories, most impressed Pope Gregory XIII. Aloisius Lilius was dead, Clavius continued to teach and publish, His Holiness Pope Gregory XIII got a calendar, our calendar, named after him (though he would pass away in a few years), and Antonius Lilius never did get his brother’s manuscript back, it wasn't copied or printed, and wonder of wonders, his failure to publish and continue legal claim to the new calendar quickly lapsed and all of Lilius’s rights converted to …none at all.
On March 1, 1582, a papal bull was issued (dated February 24, 1581), “Inter Gravissimas,” which ordered a new calendar algorithm, removed centennial “leap-years” not divisible by 400, and with the shaking of pens and crosiers, October 5 - 14, 1582 was expunged and in four Catholic countries (Italy, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Portugal, and Spain) and the Papal States, October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15, 1582. A special warning was attached that the deleted days should not be used in the calculation of debts, fees, rent, loan interest, etc.
Acceptance of the Gregorian calendar reform was slow to be taken up by other countries, whether Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian or secular. Though somewhat anti-Catholic and paranoid (Stanhope 1901, p. 196), Lord Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694 - 1773) championed the “Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750” or “CAP. XXIII. An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year; and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use,” and England and her colonies (including America) lost eleven days as September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752. Also, as the Gregorian reforms suggested, New Year's Day was affixed to January 1, rather than March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin or, as it was known in England, “Lady’s Day” or "Lady Day.” Russia in 1918 and Greece in 1923 would lose thirteen days.
United States of America Presidents of the Y2K decade William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack H. Obama.
I was born in the '50s, raised in the '60s, came of age in the '70s, appreciated my age (perhaps a bit too much) in the '80s and '90s, and with the '00s? I’m still unsure what to call the past decade, let alone how to describe it. However, I’ll push ahead by evoking Ignatius of the North with “No surrender!” Y2K? The Gregorian calendar-based bimillennium celebration handicapped most of us, as differentiating between ordinal and cardinal year counts has collectively never been a strong point. And, to worse-ify, the decade we call the '50s is popularly regarded as lasting from the end of the Korean War (1953) to the assassination of Pres. Kennedy (1963). Likewise, the '60s are best exampled by the period between the assassination of Pres. Kennedy in 1963 and the resignation of Pres. Nixon in 1974. The '70s seemed the shortest of all the recent decades. The '80s began with the assassination of John Lennon, ended with the Exxon Valdez spilling its seed on the coast of Alaska, and there was some political twistory of some importance in between. The '90s? I especially enjoyed the '90s and am advised not to say or write anything more about the decade. Well, that brings the overview to the '00s… The Naughty Noughties was put forward, but rejected as too complicated to understand. It’s almost as if we just lived through a nameless decade… Or, perhaps, an Unnamable one?
With the usage of cardinal number years, we listened to Prince sing “1999” on December 31, 1999 and prepared for the world to end, as Chicken Little’s second cousin, the tech-hen, had warned that all the computer clocks would freak out with the time and date rollover and there would be a crash and sizzle of civilization. It didn’t happen on January 1, 2000, nor, if one prefers counting with ordinal numbers, the decade which began January 1, 2001. Yeah, that 2000/2001 party wasn’t that memorable; we do enjoy our cardinals!
When 2000 CE began, Pres. William J. Clinton was keeping a low profile because of getting caught doing naughty things in the Oval Office. The winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison, in commenting on Clinton’s public relations nightmare surrounding his House impeachment and subsequent Senate acquittal, wrote in an article published in the October 1998 issue of The New Yorker magazine: “Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas." Okay, the ‘00s started with a repeat of a joke made by Steve Martin in Carl Reiner’s 1979 comedy film, The Jerk. Laughter is usually a good thing, unless …you’re the one being laughed at.
On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States of America. And, after a side-trip to the woods of Kazakhstan by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and as bears everywhere began to convert to Catholicism, America was ruled for eight long and horrible years by the coward’s sneer of Vice President Richard B. “Dick” Cheney. The days and nights were dark and lonely during the Cheney/Bush administration and America’s friends and enemies joined in laughter as our good nation went to Hell without even bothering to take along a hand-basket to collect souvenirs.
For Tuesday, January 20, 2009, the Homeland Security Threat Level remained at Yellow (Elevated) and the National Weather Service predicted a cold, gray day in Washington D.C., with a high around 30 degrees. When Barack H. Obama was sworn in as our 44th President of the United States of America, our friends and enemies stopped laughing at us. A lot of us cried that day, most from joy and too many more from something far removed from joyousness.
Some said we had elected the nation’s first black president, overlooking Morrison’s approach to Clinton, others took safety in the Nazi/Apartheid grammar of labeling those of mixed-race heritage as “colored” (var. “coloured”), though almost all agreed Pres. Obama is an African-American (except for the way-whack wing of the “Birther” movement who claim he was actually born in Indonesia or Mecca or some such incredulous place). Yeah, we elected our first black president and our days and nights are no longer as dark or lonely. Now, if we can only bring up the Cheney/Bush administration on charges of Crimes Against Common Sense!
Brooke Grant, Miss Indian World 2009 and "Mrs. Freddie," a “Woman soaking acorn meal on the river shore (Goddard 1903, Plate 15).”
I sometimes introduce myself as coming from a mixed background, as my mother was Catholic and my father …was not. Sure, both sides of the family are Irish, but one’s from the South and the other …isn’t. It’s a green and orange thing.
On April 25, 2009, near the end of the 26th Annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, billed as the “most prominent Native American powwow in the world," the title of Miss Indian World was bestowed upon Brooke Grant, a 23-year-old student majoring in Political Science at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, California. Miss Grant is a member of the Hupa (var. Hoopa) Nation, but is also part Yurok, Karuk, and Chippewa. She hopes to achieve a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and become a lobbyist for Native American and Indigenous issues. With 564 tribes listed on the U.S. government’s Federal Register (“Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs”), Miss Grant will certainly have a lot of different needs to concern herself with.
Of the Hupa, it’s been written (Lewis 1992, p. 36), “The people call themselves Natinook-wā, 'the people of Natinook,' a geographically-centered name demonstrating linguistically the connection of people with land and earth.  In their elaborate origin cycles 'This Earth' has always existed, first as the home for the Kīxûnai, a race of immortals, and later as the home for mortal Indians who replaced the Kīxûnai. These mortals, called Kyuwinyanyan ('those who eat acorns' or 'acorn eaters'), emerged from the earth where the Hupa culture hero, Yīmantūwiñyai, stopped to deficate. Smoke hanging on the mountains signaled the emergence of Hupa Indians along the Trinity River, where Yīmantūwiñyai’s trails to and from sacred spots in the surrounding hills converged. They took over the sacred house (xonta nikyao) and the sacred sweat house (taikyuw nikyao) left by the Immortals and practiced the world renewal ceremonies established by their cultural hero. 
 Lee Davis, “On This Earth: Hupa Land domains, Images and Ecology on 'Deddeh Ninnisan'” (Ph.D. diss., University of California-Berkeley, 1988), 2-12. There is no standard orthography for the Hupa language, and being no linguist I have used that of Pliny Earl Goddard, The Morphology of the Hupa Language, in University of California Publications, American Archaeology and Ethnology (hereafter UCPAAE), v.3 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1905), but have incorporated some terms as used by Davis. See Davis, xx-xxi, on this problem of orthography.  Pliny E. Goddard, Hupa Texts, in UCPAAE, 1, no.2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1904), 96-134, 215-26; Goddard, Life and Culture of the Hupa, in UCPAAE, 1, no.1 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1903), 74-78; Alfred L. Kroeber and Edward M. Gifford, World Renewal: A Cult System of Northwestern California, in University of California Publications, Anthropological Records (hereafter UCPAR), 13, no.1 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949), 56; Davis, “On This earth,” 15-43."
“Hupa Calendar Stone (Goldschmidt 1940, p. 177).”
Recently, a series of Hupa calendar marks has come to my attention. The calendar was first identified in print nearly seventy years ago (Goldschmidt 1940), though further study, attention, and preservation of the markings appears to have passed it by. The account of its possible function is brief and is reproduced below in its entirety.
"The Hupa 'calendar stone' pictured is particularly interesting because of its existence in an area where permanent time records are absent.  Little data concerning it, however, are available.
In front of most Hupa houses and sweat houses are porch-like platforms of flat stone or earth, surrounded by a single course of stones. Several of these platforms are still to be seen at historic Hupa villages. As a part of the course of stones in front of the one extant plank house  (Xo' nta nikyau', big house), which is the starting place for the major local ceremonial dances  and is the only house with religious implications, are the three stones figured.
These stones are crude natural boulders, one roughly semicircular, the two others oblong. All show evidence of having been worked by man. The markings are uneven, about half an inch deep, and U-shaped in cross-section. The stone on the left -- ca. 18” broad at the base -- has an arc concentric with the outer edge of the stone, and between the arc and the outer edge are seven pits. The stone in the center has two horizontal grooves and some irregular, apparently natural, pits. The third stone has thirteen vertical grooves, about one and one half or two inches apart. Nowhere else at Hupa are there platform stones exactly like these; however, other platform stones show pitting. There is no means of determining the age of the stones, but informants claim the stones were put there by the cultural hero, who built the house and brought the acorn ceremony. Goddard does not mention them, but they appear in sililar position in pictures taken by Ericson at the beginning of the century. 
Several informants were questioned with respect to the function of these stones; all called them the calendar, but none were precise as to the way in which they were used. Their position, facing to the north, clearly bars any possible use of shadows to indicate the progression of the seasons, despite such a suggestion by some informants.
It seems probable that the stones simply served as a mnemonic device for keeping track of the months from the winter solstice to the dances. The thirteen marks on the right hand stone might well represent lunar periods, which could be recorded by regrooving them. Informants did not give this interpretation but some of their disconnected remarks suggested such a possibility. For example: 'They are not supposed to have two dances in the same month, but are supposed to finish the Deerskin dance in the July month [seventh] and start the Jump dance in the August moon. The stone is a marker; the hole on the left [of the stone on the left] is for the last quarter of the moon when it rises in the morning and can barely be seen; the mark on the right is for the first quarter.' 
Since the Deerskin dance lasts eight days it seems improbable that the pits are counting those days, but the proper time for the dance falls in the period between the last quarter of the seventh moon of the year and the first quarter of the eighth.
The Hupa have now correlated their calendar system with ours and discount the discrepancy of a week between the solstice and our New Year. Formerly they counted the months, giving names only to the last two or three as did the Yurok  Time reckoning was important to the ceremonial life but knowledge of its methods was apparently limited to a few persons. The observation of solstice and moon and the counting of time was checked against such natural phenomena as the appearance of birds and flowers.
The association of these stones with one house connected with religion, and of the cylindrical system with the ceremonial complex, suggests that this probably mnemonic “calendar” was a part of the religious life."
 Leona Cope, Calendars of the Indians North of Mexico (University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 16, 1919), pp. 119-176.  For illustrations see P. E. Goddard, Life and Culture of the Hupa, same series, Vol. 1, plate 2.  Ibid. Also, Goldschmidt and Driver, The Hupa White Deerskin Dance, same series, in press.  Cf. Goddard, op. cit., Plate 12, 1.  Charles Tracy, informant.  A. L. Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California (Bulletin 78, Bureau of American Ethnology), page 74.
“Man making a flint arrow-head (Goddard 1903, Plate 12)” with visible Hupa calendar.
The Hupa calendar is also visible in historic and modern photographs, at least one other associated “house” has been repaired (its inside foundation replaced with red brick), yet the calendar and its "house" seems to have been overlooked, if not forgotten about. The Redwood and Cedar plank houses of the Hupa and Yurok Nations are cultural treasures. Prof. Marlon Sherman and his wife, Dale Ann Frye Sherman, both of the Native American Studies Department of Humboldt State University, have begun to sell scale-model reproductions of Yurok houses to raise funds for preservation (the smallest is 1/20th scale and sells for $1850).
"Hupa House," a 1923 photograph by E. S. Curtis and uncredited recent photograph of a Hupa complex, both with calendar stones visible.
A web-page by Prof. Ron Johnson of Humboldt State University features a 1989 photograph of the Hupa house, described as “Cedar Plank House (The Church) Takimilding 1989 Johnson Photo). Church? Okay, it could use a little Scott's Liquid Gold Wood Cleaner & Preservative or at least a good scrub with Murphy's Oil Soap in the worst way, but it's a fine looking church (compared to some I've seen).
Takimilding or "Hupa Town," photograph used without permission.
As Goldschmidt mentioned (see above) in his 1940 article, the calendar likely served as a mnemonic device to anticipate a lunar phase, such as a New Moon or a Full Moon, with the thirteen grooves approximating the nights separating either equally significant phase. Added with the remaining grooves and pits of the other two stones, perhaps with marks now weathered away, and the Hupa calendar could be compared to other Native American lunar counts.
Goldschmidt had certainly read of Leona Cope’s three types of calendars, “descriptive, astronomical, and numeral,” and her positional unwillingness to comment on such notational mnemonics like the Hupa calendar at Takimilding. She wrote (Cope 1919, p. 121):
Confusion in native reckoning often results from the fact that the names of the lunar periods are taken from natural seasonal phenomena, which of course vary in time of occurrence from year to year. Further difficulties arise because a characteristic which gives name to a ‘moon’ may be prominent for a longer or a shorter time than is implied by the lunation.
Another interesting fact of note about these calendars is that they were not used to record the passage of time; that is, the ‘calendar’ was not designed for recording the number of years or months or days since a given event took place, or between two given events. The Indians were able to keep a fairly close count of the passage of time within the current year, but beyond this all chronology was indefinite. Since their occupations, food, and manner of life in general varied according to the changes of nature, it is not strange that they carefully observed the atmospheric and celestial phenomena, or had acquired a practical knowledge of the instincts and habits of animals, birds, and fishes.
The so-called historical ‘calendars’ -- annals, winter-counts, notched sticks, and the like -- will be given no consideration in this paper, since they are concerned with the recording of events in a vague historical sense rather than with time-reckoning. Moreover, they were the work of a few individuals and were not understood by the people at large.
The late Alexander Marshack (1918 - 2004) was familiar with the work of both Cope and Goldschmidt (Marshack 1972, pp. 827, 828):
The Upper Paleolithic notations, particularly when they are as complex as those on the La Marche bone, suggest that they were kept by some specialized person. Cope, writing of the American Indian, states (30, p. 130): “ …the more complex and highly developed the ceremonialism … the more careful the determination of the solstices, the lunar phases and the time reckoning.’ Indian informants were almost never those whose specialized task it was to keep the economic and ceremonial sequence. While the American Indian records were seldom on bone and stone, usually being kept on wood and skins, rare calendric notations have survived and, like the Yakutian examples, these lend meaning to the notations (11, 32).
(11) R. H. Merrill, Bull. Cranbrook Inst. Sci. 24, 6 (1945).
(30) L. Cope, Univ. Calif. Publ. Amer. Archaeol. Ethnogr. 16, 119 (1919). Cope documents the widespread tradition of lunar and seasonal naming sequences for the North American Indian, which is comparable to the Siberian tradition documented in Orlova (9) and Delaby (10). See also L. Spier (31)’.
(32) W. R. Goldschmidt, Amer. Anthropol. 42, 176 (1940).
Portrait of Chief Tshi-zun-hau-kau of the Winnebago by Henry Inman and a portion of the calendar stick (Marshack 1985, p. 38).
In the context of discussing what Cole refers to as a “notched stick,” Marshack left his usual concerns of Upper Paleolithic and Ice Age portable and parietal art and applied his full “close reading” technique to an early nineteenth century Winnebago/Ho Chunk calendar stick (Marshack 1985, p. 45). Marshack wrote:
For the purposes of this report I note that while all these hunting-gathering peoples [African San and Australian aboriginals, RDF] were aware of the seasonal periodicities of flora and fauna, the phases of the moon, the changing position and angle of the sun, and the seasonal appearance of constellations, their ideational and utilitarian concepts of these phenomena, and of process and functional time and space generally, were largely parochial. By contrast, the shamanistic traditions in much of Siberia, even among hunter-gatherers, involved complex, historically developed, abstracted notions of time and space, the four directions, a cosmological structuring of space, a lore of the comparative periodicities of sun, moon, and certain stars, all of which were combined and integrated with a knowledge of the differential seasonal reappearance and behavior of various plant and animal species. The abstracted, structural, and conceptual complexity of this ‘cosmology’ was of a different order from that found among the San or the Australian aboriginals. It is theoretically possible to derive native American astronomical and cylindrical knowledge and lore developmentally from these Asian concepts of time, space, and process. It is not possible to derive them from the conceptual contents of the historically and geographically isolated hunter-gatherer cultures that have so often served as the contemporary models of a supposedly typical, ahistorical, and archaic hunter-gathering way of life. One can theoretically derive the Winnebago calendar from prehistoric Eurasian traditions, one could not from San or Australian aboriginal traditions. I am not discussing the diffusion or dispersal of the artifact, but of the conceptual tradition from which such notation would derive.
Marshack suggests that the notational tradition used for certain Native American calendars had their conceptual origins in a transcontinental Holarctic cosmology based in north-central Eurasia. Archaeologists have recently argued for an early introduction into the New World of the domestic dog and the bottle gourd ca. 15,000 - 13,000 BCE. Perhaps a comparison of linguistic influence and distribution and genetic dispersal could improve a guess as to exactly ‘when’ and how many times Old World travelers traversed or navigated alongside Beringia and brought notational traditions into the New World. And, of course, with all those tallies of “straight lines” or “turkey-tracks” scattered across North America, maybe some comparison of counts could be made.
I’ll make some inquiries about the Hupa calendar stones and their present conservation status. I’m not sure if I’ll ever give acorn-meal a try, but those planked homes are awesome! Maybe I can start a “Planked Homes for the Homeless Movement” in New England… Or, I could just unties the knots and start to play the numbers and the lottery… Sure, one only wins once every Blue Moon. Right, today, Thursday, December 31, 2009 is the second or “Blue Moon” of this month (and my birthday). Nice way to end the decade!
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with tha' ol' anxiety,