Jad Adams

Time Out Of Mind

Empires of Time – Calendars, Clocks and Cultures

By Anthony Aveni

I B Tauris 371pp £16.95 order from our bookshop

 

The Nuer compute time according to male maturity rites, whether events happen before or after the last incision ceremony.The Mayan calendar started at the time the rains came, then ran for 260 days – a human gestation period. The Trobriand islanders set their clocks by the palolo worm. When it comes to the surface of the water and gyrates, thereby loosing its genital products into the Pacific, that is the time the planting month starts. They have measured out their lives in worm ejaculate.

Anthony Aveni’s book is full of such information about the way cultures mould concepts of time and the concepts maintain the integrity of the cultures. The moral of the tale is that when humans talk of time they are relating to social values rather than to an eternal verity about man’s relationship with the infinite. This may be somewhat predictable from a Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, but the proof of it is so rich and varied that it compensates for any lack of novelty.

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