Sturgeon Moon and Time Enough

Tonight’s full moon is the Sturgeon Moon. August will also have a Blue Moon, or second full moon within the month, on the 31st.

Those were the days, when sturgeon were once so common on the East Coast and Great Lakes that Native Americans set their lunar calendar to them. Now these ancient fish are few and far between, and there are damn few of the big ones left. As with tuna, cod, etc. (and trees!) our unnatural selection of the large specimens has meant that it’s been the small fry who get to reproduce, leading over time to physically smaller populations (as well as greatly reduced numbers as well, of course, via unsustainable harvests).

And speaking of time:Turney, Chris. Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened. London: Macmillan, 2008.

Earth: 4.5 billion years old. Extinction of the dinosaurs: 65 million years ago. Homo erectus: 1.8 million years ago. Homo sapiens: 200,000 years ago. Settlement of Australia: 40-60,000 years ago (by boat, people, by boat!). Last Neanderthal: 25-30,000 years ago.

How do we know these dates (as vague as some of the are)? Chris Turney explains radiocarbon, potassium-argon, argon-argon, amino acid racemization, accelerator mass spectrometry, electron spin resonance, luminescence (optically stimulated and thermo), uranium series, and uranium-lead dating, as well as tree rings, cultural typologies, and the calendar. None of these is foolproof, although tree rings are surprisingly close, though they only go back a few thousand years, and have the added benefit of being a climate marker. The calendar itself is fascinating, a jumble of traditions dating back (but when precisely?) to the Babylonians. The Egyptians kept good records, but reset their calendars with every king. I’ve always thought the BC thing, counting backwards, was pure crazy. And it turns out this Jesus fellow was supposedly born four years Before Christ was born. Go figure.

But one of the oddest things re: calendars was the transition from the Julian calendar, which was more than a week off by the 18th century; this updating was delayed in Protestant countries like Britain because they thought moving to the Gregorian calandar, however more accurate, would be too papist. But eventually the Brits did it (along with British North America): the 2nd of September, 1752, was a Wednesday, and it was followed by Thursday, the 14th of September, 1752. “Give us our eleven days” says the banner on the floor in this Hogarth riot:Hence the “O.S.” for Old Style found in early 18th century dates. Because of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia didn’t update until the 1917 Revolution.

Damn poor design to have the planet not run on schedule.

2 Responses to “Sturgeon Moon and Time Enough”

  1. 1 Fork in My Eye August 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Looks like a very cool book. I think it will be next up on my nonfiction pile. Thanks for the recommendation.

  1. 1 Home From Dallas, Celebrating NYC « Out walking the dog Trackback on August 4, 2012 at 11:57 pm

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