The vast majority of human history occurred more than 2016 years ago.
The Gregorian calendar, developed more than 400 years ago, is the most widely used calendar in the world. It uses the life of Jesus Christ to define year 0. Well, actually there is no year 0; the calendar goes straight from 1 BC to 1 AD, complicating the process of calculating years. Most scholars believe that Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC (Before Christ) and that he died between 30 and 36 AD (Anno Domini, latin for “in the year of the lord”).
Academics have recently attempted to separate the calendar from Christianity to make it more secular and inclusive by changing BC to BCE (Before Common Era) and AD to CE (Common Era). This does nothing but muddy the waters. If we are going to base our calendar around the life of Jesus, we should have it labeled accordingly. BCE and CE are simply more vague versions of BC and AD—they don’t change the religious roots of the calendar system, they simply hide them by removing historical context.
Perhaps it is time for a bolder solution, a calendar that represents the entirety of human civilization.
By our current method of measuring years, Julius Caesar died in the year negative 44. Ancient Egyptian civilization lasted from negative 3,100 to negative 332. Construction of Stonehenge started in negative 3,100, and the stories of the Torah were first compiled and written down sometime around negative 500. Why don’t we pick a year 0 that places all of these major events and periods of human history on the positive side of the scale?
As a new video from the delightfully animated YouTube channel In a Nutshell points out, that is exactly what Italian-American scientist and historian Cesare Emiliani suggested in 1993.
But where to start? We want a calendar that represents the entirety of human civilization, starting at the moment we rose up and began to shape the world around us like no other species (on this planet) has done before. As a geologist by training, Emiliani’s solution was to use the beginning of the Holocene epoch that began roughly 12,000 years ago—the geologic epoch we are in now. As Encyclopedia Britannica states, “The Holocene is unique because it is coincident with the late and post-Stone Age history of mankind. The influence of humans is of world extent and is so profound that it seems appropriate to have a special geologic name for this time.”
Twelve thousand years ago, around negative 10,000 by our current calendar, a building that we believe was the very first large-scale structure in history was completed: Göbekli Tepe (pictured above). Thought to have served as the first temple, Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey was constructed from stone, and it is such a sophisticated structure that its creation suggests a level of ingenuity and cooperation that we didn’t think humans were capable of at the time. The ancient temple predates agriculture by some 500 years, and it showcases some of our most human traits: artistic carvings of animals and mythical beasts, a gathering place to practice our faiths, and the ability to shape the world around us to suit our needs.
The discovery of Göbekli Tepe in 1996 presents a delightfully elegant and accurate way to modify our calendar so it represents our species’ history more completely: add 10,000 years. Make year 0 correspond with the construction of Göbekli Tepe and the beginning of the Holocene epoch, the same change to the calendar Emiliani proposed in 1993. Everything else could remain exactly the same. According to the Holocene calendar, as Emiliani called it, Julius Caesar was killed in 9,956 HE (Holocene Era), the Ancient Egyptians ruled from 6,900 to 9,668, construction on Stonehenge began in 6,900, and the Tora was transcribed around 9,500. Jesus Christ was born around 9,995 HE and died in roughly 10,030.
Let January 1 ring in the year 12,017, and no more shall 80 percent of the human epoch be relegated to the negative years of the calendar.