Abri Blanchard Calendar: The Sun

Image: Alexander Marshack © Peabody Museum: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Alexander Marshack © Peabody Museum: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett

The diagram above illustrates the path of the Sun; the calendar for the year. We again begin at lìchūn. Notice how the planet Saturn (the Chinese Earth Star) is positioned at solar longitude 315° and adjacent to the yīn symbol (two dots) for 3 February. The position of the sun is recorded every 12 days, using the 30 ‘sunset dots’, which gives us a total of 360 days for the year. The five planets are then used to represent five extra days to give a total of 365 days.

Image: Edward Tarbuck et al.
Image: Edward Tarbuck et al.

If you look up analemma for the sun on the Web, you will see that the shape resembles the image above. The dimensions for the diagram on the pocket almanac are only around 55 mm by 25 mm. In order to give the largest possible scale in a small area, the analemma has been divided into two at the Equinox. You turn the bone one way to get the southern portion of the analemma, and the other way to get the northern portion.

Images: Alexander Marshack © Peabody Museum: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett

Interestingly, we can tell from the position of the months in the diagram that it depicts what would be seen using a sundial. February on the right records the position of the Sun’s shadow in that month¹.

Some of the ‘sunset dots’ have been placed at important points in the calendar, for example the ‘turning points’ for the Summer and Winter are 27 June and 12 December. These two dates mark the latest and earliest points in the year, at latitude 45 degrees, when astronomical twilight ends.

If we compare the graph of the analemma with the bone, we can see that the first retrograde arc on the bone is dated to 18 November. This would be the first point in the range when an observer would notice that the path of the sun was beginning to turn as it approached the Tropic of Capricorn.

The calendar starts with a ‘modern’ festival date. Note also, how there is a dot on 4 April. We have encountered that date before at Grotte de Bayol where it may represent a festival that coincided with Qīngmíng. There are ‘sunset dots’ on 24 December for Christmas Eve and 5 January for Twelfth Night, the 12 days of Christmas. At one time these dates would have been associated with the European festival of Yule. Of course, we can’t say with certainty that the more modern festivals have 35,000 year old roots, but it is nice to think that they might.


Image Credits:

Schematic rendition of the engraved marks on the bone from the Abri Blanchard as determined by microscopic analysis, indicating the differences in the engraving points and the strokes structuring the serpentine form: Alexander Marshack, 1972: The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation, p.48, Fig. 9: Weidenfeld and Nicholson: © President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology: Peabody ID Number: 2005.16.1.318.57: Schematic Rendition of the Incised Design on a Carved Bone Fragment: https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/

The Analemma, a graph illustrating the latitude of the overhead (vertical) noon sun throughout the year: TARBUCK, EDWARD J.; LUTGENS, FREDERICK K.; TASA, DENNIS G.; PINZKE, KENNETH G., APPLICATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS IN EARTH SCIENCE, 7th Edition, © 2012: Exercise Twelve/Earth-Sun Relations, p.177, Figure 12.6: Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.


1. Teo Shin Yeow, 2002: The Analemma for Latitudinally-Challenged People: Chapter 4: Analemma: p. 28, Figure 29: http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/projects/tsy.pdf: Accessed: 30 June 2013