Remembering birthdate. Modern vs ancient humans

It is now very easy to remember your birthdate and anticipate it and mark it. Dates and times are relevant to man.

What about in ancient times. Did humans have a innate instinct about how old they were. Did they also instinctively know it was their birthday today.

It’s not possible to have a birthday without a solar calendar.

Do you have an innate instinct about how old you are?

In the most early days, people would probably know they were born in the spring, or the rainy season, or some other part of the year notable to their tribe but they wouldn’t know the exact date. They might count their age in full/new moons, or seasons, or something else.

But surely it’s possible to count the number of Spring-times you experience, roughly, without a proper calendar?

I doubt that early humans had any great interest in how many years had passed since they were born. They may well know that they were younger or older than contemporaries, but one wonders why that would have interested them.

Even in modern times, without a family to remind them, many people simply forget their age.

I’ve experienced 59 springs. What’s my birthday?

In China, the birthday is a single shared day to celebrate everyone, not a celebration of the individual. Everyone’s birthday falls on the lunar new year. Everyone turns one year older on that day.

Or at least that was how it used to be, I don’t know modern (post-Japanese invasion) practice.


Sure, it’s possible, but not every culture/language has a lot of numbers. One of the more extreme cases is the Pirahã language which might have “one”, “two”, and “many” for numbers. Not quite sure when people starting counting up to 100 on a regular basis, but prior to that time settling on a definite number for one’s age might be problematic. Some cultures might have valued events over named time intervals - noting when a person would, say, menstruate for the first time, or whether or not they had had children yet, or if their children had children. Our culture values rigidly defined time, others do not.

This is one of those questions posed by people who do not spend enough time outside. Having lived in the same area for most of my life, I am reasonably confidant that I could tell you what the date is within a plus or minus of 10 days, anytime of the year.

Possibly, though…

  • Your count/memory probably would be missing the first few springs, at a minimum.
  • As has been noted, an accurate count would depend, on part, on whether your culture even had a numbering system that went beyond a handful.
  • Unless there was a good reason to specifically know how many springtimes you had experienced, I would suspect that most primitive people would not have had a reason to keep count of years.

It’s not exactly that everyone’s birthday is on the lunar New Year. It’s that a traditionally person’s “age” is not the number of full years they have been alive - it’s the number of years they have lived in. So a baby is “1” at birth and will become “2” on the lunar New Year (even if that is the day after the baby is born) rather than the western method of calculating age where a child doesn’t become “1” until a full year after they are born and “2” on the date that is two full years from birth.

There’s also a method of calculating age by full years from birth based on the Chinese calendar and of course, the Western system of counting full years from the date of birth in the Gregorian calendar is also used. Apparently, the last one is what is used for passports and legal matters such as drinking age,

That might have a lot to so with where you live - where I live, the weather is not so different that I could tell July from August and I certainly could not distinguish between July 15 and July 25.

And although someone said it’s not possible to have a birthday without a solar calendar, I don’t see why not.* The months in a purely lunar calendar can cycle through all seasons - so that Ramadan can be in any season. If you use that sort of calendar, being outside is not going to be that helpful in determining the date.

* Sure, it won’t be exactly 365 days from one birthday to the next - but that happens with a solar calendar as well. There are leap years which means that sometimes there are 366 days between Feb 1 of one year and Feb 1 of the next and it’s never 365 days between one Feb 29 and the next.

Looking a lot recently at 19th century records that include ages, which were presumably supplied by the subject themselves and checking these against separate birth records, it was not uncommon to see discrepancies of 5 years or more. Actual birthdate may be similarly ephemeral in those peoples’ recall.

You may not need a birthdate when you are socially constructed as member of an age cohort, and progression to the next cohort is to do with physiological changes, knowledge and cultural expectations.

And often your actual place of birth may be an important part of your identity, so e.g. Aboriginal people may have a lifelong association with a specific place which is an early summer camping location because of their traditional annual cycles of travel through country.

Here in Chicago, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you a Dec 1 from a Jan 1 or pehaps even a Feb 1 with any degree of confidence. At any point, the weather could be exactly the same on any of those dates, and I can’t think of any other external natural cues like foliage or wildlife or whatnot that could reasonably disambiguiate them for me. OK, you have length of day, I suppose, but three weeks before winter solstice vs three weeks after winter solstice, I couldn’t tell you. It’s likely the latter will be colder than the former here, but certainly not a guarantee. For example, last year, December first had a high/low of 34/26; Jan 12, 2021 (about same amount of daylight) was 37/29. Hell, Feb 1 was 34/23. I mean, I could tell if I’m in the city and see Christmas decorations or Valentine’s Day ads, but otherwise, I can’t see how it’s possible to reliably determine a date within 10 days, at least in Chicago. Here I’d be reasonably confident within maybe a month in either directlon, although even then there will be outliers.

With summer, I may have a little more to go on if I’m somewhere with lots of vegetation and crops, as I reasonably know what’s in season when, and how far along various plants are at what time. There I might be able to guess to within two weeks in either direction. With winter, no such cues that I see.

The oldest known calendar is 10,000 years old, predating the earliest known writing by almost 5,000 years.

If they were building calendars then they were certainly capable of tracking birthdays. Whether or not they did is pure conjecture, since they didn’t write anything down.

Of course it’s possible to have birthday without a solar calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and one can certainly observe one’s birthday on the same date every year. The fact that the lunar calendar is not the same length as the solar calendar is irrelevant here.

When you ask someone’s age here in China, or in Korea, the answer is usually given in the traditional manner of reckoning (you’re one year old at birth, and your age increases on the first day of the year). For legal purposes in China and both North and South Korea, one uses the practice in the west of determining your age based on the date given in the Gregorian calendar. Stores that sell alcohol and/or tobacco products have a handy sign here informing people what their birthday must be on or before in order for them to legally purchase such products.

That’s exactly how a Capricorn thinks.

In other words when humans began writing they had had a calendar as long as they have had writing….now.