While only counting seasons and years, but not weeks or months, how far can human civilization progress?

Can they reach the middle ages?

Or is the invention of the calendar such a cornerstone of civilization that it is inevitable for it to exist?

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    $\begingroup$ Only tracking seasons and years is a perfectly viable calendar. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 11 '18 at 13:28

As far as you like, the calendar is not that important.

It also depends on what counts as a calendar!

The reason the constellations tend to not look anything like a description of their names, without an awful lot of artistic liberty being taken, is they were actually used as a calender to indicate upcoming events on Earth. Aries the Ram is basically a triangle, but in ancient times indicated something about sheep herding (I think it was the time to mate sheep; let the Ram loose).

Similarly for harvest time, monsoons and other seasonal things. Time could easily be measured by full-moon to full-moon, and corrected by very reliable constellations, without ever worrying about days.

If by "calendar" you mean a day-by-day calendar, I don't think that is really necessary at all, not even in modern times. We currently celebrate various holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, etc on different days of the year all the time, without this causing any hassle. The days we pick are culturally determined, but could just as easily be fixed to various celestial or natural events that may vary year to year.

You really don't even need a clock; other than sunrise and sunset. Even much industrial work and schooling could easily be by quota. Finish your 1000 pieces and you can go home. Things that require teamwork could be timed relative to sunrise, noon, and sunset; all of which people are trained to recognize. You show up at sunrise, work together until X is done, then go home. Likewise, the idea of weekends and days off is a recent development; it certainly isn't a requirement for an advanced society. Many professionals like doctors and lawyers and authors will work 7 days a week and take time off in bigger chunks; they don't need more than the phases of the moon for timing: The moon is around three quarters, I'll return when it is full.

An obsessions with the calendar and making specific days for specific purposes is an artifact of our culture, not something absolutely necessary for an advanced society. Most actual inventors of technology were not on a schedule to invent something, they were on an open schedule, fooling around with ideas as they came to them, and one day came across something interesting. Edison, famously, had no idea how long it would take to find a good filament substance for the light bulb.

That is what technology is based upon, not strict schedules at all, by clock or calendar.


Shorter periods are very handy for early economies: Calculating rent, taxes, water distribution, installment payments, interest periods and the like without requiring everybody involved to be skilled at multiplication.

Shorter periods can also be handy for common understandings of non-work days, worship frequency, market days, and other common uses so that everybody need not carry a stone-tablet calendar around with them to achieve common understandings.

The precision required for useful astronomy to accurately determine seasons and years is exactly the same precision required to determine shorter periods.

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    $\begingroup$ Child gestation takes nine months. How is that shorter than a season? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 11 '18 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that shorter periods are needed and useful, but not accurately measuring child gestation isn't something that would prevent civilization from occurring. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 11 '18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ That's not a harp. It's a perfectly valid question about a single part of an otherwise excellent answer of which mine is the sole upvote. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 11 '18 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Deleted child gestation. Thanks for the input! $\endgroup$ – user535733 Aug 11 '18 at 17:43

Besides what @user535773 said, even hunter-gatherers need timekeeping more finely grained than seasons. For example, some plants flower in early spring, others in late spring; some fruits are ready in the early fall, and others in late fall. Ditto migrating animals, the start of the rainy season, etc.

But mainly agriculture needs finer divisions within seasons.

  • $\begingroup$ Even in recorded history the earliest agricultural efforts did not use a calendar; they went by "feel" of the season and their senses of a stable change of seasons, as well as signs in wild plants of "spring", flowering, seeding, how hard or cold the ground was, whether a rain had come, etc. There is archaeological evidence that even early hunter-gatherers following a seasonal route would gather seeds along along part of a route and scatter them elsewhere, and they took. sometimes just for flowers, others were for food plants like melons or beans. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Aug 11 '18 at 18:06

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