More meaningful date systems


in Daily updates, Geek stuff, Politics, Writing

Expressing dates in the ‘Common Era‘ system is familiar, but perhaps not overly rational or useful. To be sure, there were things of historical significance happening around 1 CE. Tiberius quelled revolts in Germania; the Kingdom of Aksum was founded; and Ovid wrote ‘Metamorphoses’.

At the same time, it can hardly be considered a watershed point in human history. While it would be less precise to do so, I think a case can be made that we could be better off measuring the date using the start of human civilization as the zero point, with years before expressed in terms of how far they are ‘pre-civilization’ or ‘pre-civ’ and those after expressed in years ‘post-civilization’ or ‘post-civ’.

One risk is that we may discover that our present understanding of when civilization emerged is wrong. The general sense at the moment is that we are around the year 10,000 post-civ. It’s possible that archaeological evidence will reveal older civilizations, which would raise the question of either moving the zero point or accepting one that is no longer seen as accurate.

An alternative, which would be more precise, would be to choose a date to represent the start of the Industrial Revolution – say, 1750 CE. We could then measure dates both forward and backward from that point. This would be year 261 of the industrial era. The former year 0 would be 1750 years before the industrial era.

Either the civilization or the industrial approach could be helpful in making us think accurately about human history. We have been living in civilizations for about 10,000 years now – a fact that has importance for what we know about human beings, and how we can try to achieve our aims in the world. The same is true of the fact that we have lived in an industrialized world for about 250 years (though it obviously didn’t arrive all at once).

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

BuddyRich April 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm

The Julian date system starts in mid 4500 BC and is inherently an ordinal which is useful for comparisons, especially when computing, though the way that calendar aligns with other solar events is not as optimal as the Gregorian.

Of course anything is arbitrary, numerous dictators have started year renumbering to mark their birth, etc.

Maybe we can use year 1 as the start of the “space age”, so the first manned spaceflight… whose anniversary recently passed.

. April 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Holocene calendar
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Holocene calendar, also known as the Holocene era or Human era (HE), is a year numbering system that adds exactly 10,000 years to the currently world-dominant Anno Domini (AD) and Common Era (CE) system, placing its first year near the beginning of the Holocene epoch and the Neolithic revolution. Holocene calendar proponents claim that it makes for easier geological, archaeological, dendrochronological and historical dating, as well as that it bases its epoch on a more universally relevant event. The current year of 2011 AD can be transformed into a Holocene year by adding the digit “1” before it, making it 12011 HE. The Human Era was first proposed by Cesare Emiliani in 1993 (11993 HE).

Milan May 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Another option is to count years starting with the approximate time of the Big Bang.

For simplicity, we could just add 13.7 billion to all of our dates.

. June 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm


Geologic time
October 10, 2007

Patrick June 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm

It’s AD, not “CE”. I’m an atheist as I’m sure you are, but I don’t use euphemistic, revisionist, overly-politically correct garbage. Until we move on to another calendar that is not Christianity-based, I will use AD/BC.

As for whether the Anno Domini system is “rational” or “useful”… how is that relevant? Is “Tuesday” rational or useful, considering its basis on the Norse god Tyr? No! They’re cultural conventions, that’s all.

We are in the year 2011 because a medieval monk guessed that Jesus was born in 1 AD (even though it was more near 5 BC).

. June 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The Clock is being machined and assembled in California and Seattle. Meantime the mountain in Texas is being readied. Why would anyone build a Clock inside a mountain with the hope that it will ring for 10,000 years? Part of the answer: just so people will ask this question, and having asked it, prompt themselves to conjure with notions of generations and millennia. If you have a Clock ticking for 10,000 years what kinds of generational-scale questions and projects will it suggest? If a Clock can keep going for ten millennia, shouldn’t we make sure our civilization does as well? If the Clock keeps going after we are personally long dead, why not attempt other projects that require future generations to finish? The larger question is, as virologist Jonas Salk once asked, “Are we being good ancestors?”

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