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Neanderthal Timekeeping

Copyright © 2002 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Earth has three natural timekeeping units: the day (the time it takes the Earth to revolve once on its axis), the month (the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth), and the year (the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun).

Because of our agricultural economy, which is based on seasonal sowing and harvesting, we emphasize the year — and corrupt the true lengths of all three units to make them into simple multiples or fractions of each other.

The actual sidereal year (one orbit around the sun, relative to the fixed stars) is 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9.54 seconds, but we reckon common years as 365 whole days and leap years as 366 whole days.

The true synodic month (a complete cycle of lunar phases) is 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes 3 seconds, but we have "months" ranging from 28 to 31 whole days long.

And the true sidereal day (a complete revolution of the Earth, measured relative to the fixed stars) is 23 hours 56 minutes 4.09 seconds, but we round that up to 24 hours.

Further, many of our religions obfuscated the calendar to reserve power to the clergy (the secret of how to calculate the date of Easter, for instance, was originally closely guarded).

But with a nonagricultural society and no religion, the Neanderthals have no reason to make timekeeping complex. Because of its importance to their reproductive biology, they never corrupt the length of the synodic month (the time between successive full moons). Of course, anyone can keep track of this time unit just by looking up at the night sky, so this is far more egalitarian than our system.

The smallest common unit of Neanderthal timekeeping is the beat, originally defined as the duration of one at-rest heartbeat, but now formally defined as 1/100,000 of a sidereal day.

The rest of Neanderthal timekeeping is mostly based on decimal multiples of the base units. Here are the standard units, in ascending order of duration, and their approximate equivalents in our units:

Neanderthal unit                      Equivalent
beat                                  0.86 seconds
hundredbeat                           86 seconds
daytenth                              2.39 hours
day                                   1 sidereal day
month (all of identical length)       29 days 12 hours 44 minutes 
tenmonth                              295.32 days
year                                  1 sidereal year
hundredmonth                          8.085 sidereal years
generation                            10 years (1 decade)
thousandmonth                         80.853 years

(Very roughly, one can think of a beat as a second, a hundredbeat as a minute, a tenmonth as a year, a hundredmonth as a decade, and a thousandmonth as a century.)

The Month

The Neanderthals divide the month both into its obvious quarters (new moon, waxing half-moon, full moon, waning half-moon), and into specific groupings based on menstrual cycles:

Day                    Event
 1                     new moon
 1 - 5                 peak menstruation 
 8                     waxing half-moon (first quarter)
10 - 17                pregnancy possible
15                     full moon
15                     peak ovulation 
22                     waning half-moon (last quarter)
25 - 29                "Last Five"


Generations are born every ten years. The year is used as the basis for generational calculation because births are timed to always occur in the spring; infant-mortality rates are reduced by giving the child eight months before having to face its first winter.

Calendar dates are designated by three numbers: the generation number, the month within that generation, and the day within that month: 148/118/28 is the 28th day (when the moon is a mere sliver, and about to disappear) of the 118th month (the middle of the ninth year) of the 148th generation since the founding of the modern Neanderthal calendar (which happened in the year we call A.D. 523).

Generation   Year      Current Age       Members
             Begun     of Members
             (A.D.)     (years)
148          1993          9        Megameg Bek, Dab
147          1983         19        Jasmel Ket
146          1973         29           
145          1963         39        Ponter, Adikor, Daklar Bolbay
144          1953         49         
143          1943         59        Dabdalb (keeper of alibis)
142          1933         69        Sard (adjudicator)
141          1923         79 

The Companion Era began when Lonwis Trob introduced the implants near the end of generation 140, in the year we call A.D. 1922.

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