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What is it and who started measuring the year by the moon?

What is it and who started measuring the year by the moon?

The lunar calendar, one of the oldest ways to measure time, has fascinated civilizations for thousands of years. Since the dawn of humanity, the lunar cycle has been observed and recorded, giving rise to calendar systems that shaped ancient societies and influenced agricultural practices, religious rituals, and even seafaring.

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Let us understand what is the lunar year, its history and how it differs from the Gregorian calendar in aspects such as agriculture, migration forecasting, astronomical accuracy, etc.

Lunar year: an overview

A lunar year, in essence, is the time needed for the Moon to complete a full cycle of phases, from one new moon to the next new moon, with an average duration of about 29.5 days. This cycle is known as the synodic month. It is worth noting that the actual length of the lunar year varies due to the irregularity of the moon's orbit, as it averages about 354 days.

Origin of the lunar calendar

The lunar calendar, one of the oldest ways of measuring time, has roots deeply intertwined with the beginnings of humanity. Its exact origin, although shrouded in mystery due to its antiquity, dates back to prehistoric times, dating back to about 20 thousand years ago. During this period, hunter-gatherer societies, seeking to understand the world around them, began to notice patterns in the phases of the moon and associate them with important seasonal events.

This early evidence suggests that our ancestors recognized a link between changes in the moon's phases and crucial natural events such as climate change and animal migration. For societies that relied on hunting and foraging, the ability to predict when certain species would migrate or when certain plants would bear fruit was vital to their survival. Thus, recording and monitoring the moon phases has become an essential tool for planning and organizing your daily activities.

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The phases of the moon differ because it reflects sunlight (Image: Reproduction/Pexels)

As these societies developed a more sophisticated understanding of lunar patterns and their relationship to seasonal cycles, the first rudiments of what we know today as the lunar calendar emerged. Although primitive compared to modern calendar systems, these early lunar calendars represented a major advance in man's ability to understand and control his environment.

Therefore, the origin of the lunar calendar cannot be traced to a single culture or civilization, but rather to a joint effort made by the ancients in harmony with the natural rhythms of the world around them. This ancient understanding of the moon and its cycles would go on to profoundly influence the way societies organized their time and activities, leaving a lasting legacy that resonates to this day.

Transition to the Gregorian calendar

While the lunar calendar maintained its supremacy in many ancient societies, such as the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Hebrew peoples, it was the Gregorian calendar that ultimately established itself as dominant in most of the Western world. The Gregorian calendar, unlike the lunar calendar, is a solar calendar based strictly on the Earth's one-year revolution around the sun, and its implementation, marked by the reform introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, represented a milestone in the history of time. measurement .

The Gregorian calendar emerged as a response to the increasing seasonal imbalance of the Julian calendar, its predecessor, due to inaccuracies in its calculation. The Julian calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, had an average length of 365.25 days per year, nearly a quarter of a day longer than an actual tropical year. This simple discrepancy has, over the centuries, led to a significant lag in the seasons, affecting the accuracy of transmitted religious dates, such as Easter, and causing confusion in the preparation of church calendars.

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Image: Pope Gregory XIII (Wikimedia Common) – Editing: Marcelo Zurita

Thus, Pope Gregory XIII encouraged a comprehensive reform, giving rise to the Gregorian calendar we know today. This reform included eliminating ten days from the calendar to compensate for the deviation accumulated since the implementation of the Julian calendar, introducing a more accurate leap year system, and establishing rules for determining leap years only in years that are divisible by 4, with the exception of those that are divisible. by 100 unless it is divisible by 400.

This move to the Gregorian calendar was not immediately accepted by all countries. For example, some Protestant states were reluctant to embrace the Reformation, considering it a papal imposition. However, over the following centuries, most countries adopted the Gregorian calendar as their official calendar because of its accuracy and practicality, especially with regard to organizing seasonal events and religious celebrations.

Differences between calendars: agriculture, migration, and astronomy

The lunar calendar was widely used to guide agricultural practices. Moon phases are important indicators for planting and harvesting crops. For example, in many ancient cultures, seeds were planted during the full moon, with the belief that the growing moonlight stimulated plant growth.

However, despite its popularity, there is controversy about the actual effectiveness of the lunar calendar in agriculture compared to the solar calendar. While some research suggests correlations between moon phases and plant growth, others have not found conclusive evidence.

The lunar calendar also played a role in predicting animal migration patterns, especially among hunter-gatherer societies. For example, Native American tribes often observed the phases of the moon to determine the best times to hunt or fish, as they believed that certain animals were more active during certain phases of the moon.

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In terms of astronomical accuracy, the lunar calendar has its limitations. Although it closely follows the lunar cycles, the number of its days does not keep up with the solar cycle. This results in a gradual separation between the lunar calendar and the seasons over time. On the other hand, the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar year, is more accurate for determining seasonal astronomical events such as equinoxes and solstices.

People who used the lunar calendar

Many ancient and still existing cultures used the lunar calendar in their daily practices. Civilizations such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Chinese, and Greeks based their calendars on the phases of the moon, and in addition, many indigenous cultures around the world continue to observe the lunar calendar in religious rituals and traditional celebrations.

The lunar calendar, with its long history and influence on ancient societies, continues to fascinate and arouse curiosity. Although it has been widely used by many peoples over thousands of years, its accuracy and effectiveness compared to the Gregorian calendar is still a topic of debate.