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Old 06-24-2007, 06:17 PM
Measure for Measure Measure for Measure is online now
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Which culture has the longest historical record with precise (+/- 1 year) dating?

The answer is probably Egypt, but for what time span? There is some argument regarding dates near 700BCE, and the precision only gets worse for earlier dynasties.

Which culture has the longest historical record with precise (+/- 1 year) relative dating? Whose time-line (for this level of accuracy) is longest?

If the dates of the 26th dynasty (663-525BCE) and afterwards are precisely known (big if - I know little about this topic), then Egypt's continuous chronology would be over 2650 years.

But I would think that the Greeks could beat that - the first Olympic games were in 776BC, for example. I'm less sure about the Romans, Chinese or those from the Indian subcontinent.

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A related question might be, "What's the oldest civilization?", with the probable winner being Egypt (though what about the Mesopotamians? Do we wish to rule them out? What does "civilization" mean here? Empires can fall: has any European civilization ever failed (like that of the Mayans)? If we impose a continuity requirement on the civilization itself, in addition to the chronology, how would it be specified?)

(Thread inspired by How Far Back Can We Actually Document Some Event, to the day? and How Far Back Can We Actually Document Someone?)
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Old 06-24-2007, 06:40 PM
dotchan dotchan is offline
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China technically might be a forerunner, but the connection between dynasties gets quite tenuous in places and there were at least a few spots where civilization was in the tank (even if the denizens themselves thought they were living in that vague place known as "the Middle Kingdom" - and national identity might only go as far as your local state, or to the dynasty). Doesn't stop everybody from talking about the "Five Thousand Years of Chinese Civilization (tm)", though.
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Old 06-24-2007, 08:39 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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I'm having trouble understanding the question. What does it mean for a culture to have "precise relative dating"? To take the ancient Greeks as an example, they used the Olympiad numbering scheme that counted back to 776 BC, but they didn't begin counting that way until long after that date. Most documents from the golden age of ancient Greece were dated by the name of the local archon or king, and our ability to date them in our calendar depends on later texts correlating those archons and kings with events in other civilizations. So I'm at a loss to say how far back we have "continuous precise relative dating" in Greece.
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Old 06-24-2007, 10:56 PM
Measure for Measure Measure for Measure is online now
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Brain glitch: sorry.

In an earlier thread, somebody pointed out that AD and the most recent BCE calendars are not entirely in sync, though the error is only a few days IIRC.

"Precise relative dating" means that we know the exact time span between 2 dates (again +/-1 year), though we may not necessarily know the exact date in our calender. But now that I've thought the matter over for about 10 seconds, I realize that this is redundant: it's highly unlikely that we'd have a terrific calender for 3000-500 BCE, but can't quite work out the 500BCE - 2000AD era.

So strike "relative".
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Let me restate the question. How far back can we date the major events in Greek history to an accuracy of 1 year? Roman history? Egyptian? Chinese, Indian, etc.? If there's a period where the timeline breaks down, stop at the end of that period.

Which civilization has the longest unbroken precise historical record?
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Finally I doubt whether this will matter, but I might allow +/- 1.25 years: if a battle is known to have occurred in the spring of 1323, 1324 or 1325 BCE, that's good enough for me.

Last edited by Measure for Measure; 06-24-2007 at 10:58 PM..
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Old 06-25-2007, 10:23 AM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Measure for Measure
Which civilization has the longest unbroken precise historical record?
The problem is that chronology tends to work not via long unbroken records, but by chaining events from different civilizations using different calendars.

For example, the Athenian statesman Pericles died in 429 BC. So far as I know, historians are pretty confident about that date. Why is that? Well, I'm far from expert on this period, but I imagine that there are documents stating that Pericles died when so-and-so was archon of Athens.

Now, it's not as if we have a list of 2,500 archons stretching from Pericles to today. At some point the office ceased to exist. But at some later date we have documentation that so-and-so was archon of Athens while someone else was consul at Rome. Then, we have a list of the Roman consuls that eventually links up with the ab urbe condita numbering scheme. Later events synchronize ab urbe condita with other ancient systems of reckoning, such as the Seleucid and Dionysian eras. Finally, the documents of the early Christian church, which labored diligently to construct accurate Easter tables, show how these other ancient systems convert to our modern year-numbering scheme dating back to the alleged birth of Christ.

So a chain of reasoning allows us to date events from ancient Greece, not an unbroken record of events in Greece itself. There may be isolated events from later Greek history that we can't date, simply because they were recorded on a schema that we can't chain to the present.

Likewise in China--acording to Wikipedia, the Zhou Chinese began dating documents from the regnal year of their emperor in 841 BC. China wasn't unified at that time, nor on many occasions since. No dynasty, obviously, ruled continuously during that time span, and at any given time parts of China might be suffering from anarchy and civil disorder. However, my (imperfect) understanding is that at least one dynasty, in one part of China, was keeping accurate enough records throughout the subsequent centuries to allow regnal dates to be "chained" backward to the first millennium BC with a pretty high degree of confidence.

What about ancient Egypt? We have fairly accurate dates in Egypt back to about 3,000 BC, but it's hard to argue that these are "continuous". Documents at the time were dated to pharaonic reigns, and there were periods of civil disorder where our knowledge of the pharoahs and the length of their reigns is pretty spotty. (Or, at least our knowledge was spotty; I don't pretend to keep up with Egyptology.) Accurate dating from the earliest dynasties depends at least partly on astronomy, as the quirks of the Sothic cycle and fortuitous records of eclipses help to establish absolute chronology.

I don't know if all that helps, but it's an ambiguous question.
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Old 06-25-2007, 10:44 AM
Baffle Baffle is offline
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In other words, the culture with the longest unbroken historical record is 'Mediterranean'.

Last edited by Baffle; 06-25-2007 at 10:44 AM..
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Old 06-26-2007, 12:18 AM
Measure for Measure Measure for Measure is online now
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A question of historical consensus

Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that the Farmer's Almanac has been published continuously since 3000BC. But I have the sense that historical dating gets less precise the further one goes back, as a rule, for events of a given significance.

Ambiguities exist of course. What is a major event? We don't know the birth year of every 3rd century CE Roman Emperor, but historians agree about the years that they actually ruled.

In Greece, most of the events of the First Peloponnesian War (460BCE+) are known to my level of accuracy, The First Messenian War (c. 735-715), not so much. For Athens, we might have a pretty accurate timeline from 550BCE onwards (my WAG).

As for Egypt, my link indicates that the 20th dynasty is dated c 1200 1090BCE, but that alternate estimates encompass the 1186 1069BCE time span. There's doubt about later dynasties, but unsurprisingly the estimates get more precise for later dates: the 25th dynasty might have occurred from 712 663BCE or perhaps 747 656BCE.

But I don't really know what I'm talking about. My Greek and Roman claims come from a skim of The Encyclopedia of World History ed P.N. Stearns.
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