A Brief History of Calendars & Timekeeping


By Franklin Howard


Smartphones, clocks, TVs, computers, tablets, etc. all display the time and date. We, humans, look at what time and most of us know what date it is each day. Have you ever stopped and thought about how timekeeping and calendars began? Why in some countries do people use  AD and BC and others use BCE and CE? What do the majority of the world celebrate on January 1st?

In this material world, many people consider money as the most important thing. However, the reality is, time is much more important than money. Money comes and goes, however, once time has gone it cannot return. Many of us tend to forget that, especially in this fast-moving world we live in. We should try and remember, time should be treasured. Many people assume money is more important than time, however, we earn money sometimes just to give us more free time.

A Brief History On The Modern Calendar

The invention of calendars was vital to the development of civilization. In early human history, there seemed to be many different types of calendars. Here are a few examples:

  1. The Hebrew Calendar
  2. The Egyptian Calendar
  3. Greek Calendar
  4. Chinese Calendar
  5. Babylonian Calendar


The calendar that is used nowadays in the West originated from the Roman calendar. The modern way of keeping track of days of the year was created in AD 525 by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus. He was the person who created AD and BC. Many people are still a bit confused about what AD and BC stand for so here is a quick explanation.

  1. BC stands for Before Christ was born. So, BC means before the start of the era. BC counts down from the birth of Christ.
  2. AD originates from the Latin words Anno Domini. This translates to English meaning ''In the year of Our Lord''. AD counts the dates after the birth of Christ. Many of us think that AD stands for After Death but this is simply not true. 


People have used this system for around 1500 years. This calendar system has been the unofficial global standard for dating for a very long time.

What do BCE and CE mean?


Later on, in the 20th-century some people preferred new terms. The use of BCE and CE has been common in some areas. There simply is no difference in dating whatsoever. The only difference is the way the terms are used. Some people prefer to use CE which stands for ''Common Era'' instead of AD.

They might also substitute BC for BCE which stands for ''Before the Common Era''. Lots of non-Christians prefer to use these terms. You can use either term, however many people in the Western world might not have heard of these popularised terms, so don't be too surprised if you get funny looks from people if you use them in a conversation.

Why are Calendars Important?


The world moves at a very fast pace nowadays, this is one of the main reason calendars are very important. Here are a few examples of why using a calendar has benefits.

  1. Accountability: Calendars help us to keep accounts for everything in our lives. It helps us keep track of what the future has in store for us, and also allows us to figure out what we have done in the past.
  2. Health Benefits: Keeping on top of everything that needs to be done can prove to be a little bit overwhelming at times. Just even the simple task of writing down on a calendar what needs to be done can save you from a lot of stress down the road. Studies show that keeping a calendar or a daily planner can have many health benefits. It can help reduce stress and help you to exercise more often, plan your diet better, and making sure you don't miss doctor's appointments.


These days calendars are everywhere. Your smartphone, computer, tablet all have calendars. There are lots of software and applications available with calendars and daily planners, although it seems many of us still prefer the traditional calendar to keep track of our life.

Nowadays, you can even go online to calculate the exact amount of time between any two times by using a time duration calculator. You find out exactly how many hours, minutes, and even how many seconds you've been alive for!

How Did People Tell The Time In Prehistoric Days?

Before anyone we had clocks, the only method to tell the time was the sundial. The first sundials go back to approximately 5,000 years ago. Sundials help us tell the time by casting a shadow onto a surface. These objects that cast the shadows have a stick in the center. This stick is known as a Gnomon. If the sundial is built well, it can be very accurate in telling the time. They were so accurate, that they were used to set the time in clocks before the modern era. Unfortunately, sundials are not perfect. They require the sun to display the time, so it was impossible to figure out the time at night time.

For many years people tried different things to help understand what the time was when it was dark. Some would use candles or sticks of incense to try and estimate the passage of time. Others used hourglasses. This oval-shaped glass consisted of either sand or some type of liquid in the upper part of the glass. It would gradually run into the lower section of the glass. When the liquid or sand fully emptied into the lower glass then that meant a whole hour had passed by. It's not sure who invented the hourglass, but it was used in the 14th century. Many ships would have hourglasses, and the device wasn't affected by the motion of the sea, unlike other time devices.

The Invention Of The Mechanical, Digital Clock & Smartwatch

The 13th century saw the birth of the mechanical clock. The world saw a major change in timekeeping. Clocks worked in two different ways. Some relied on a pendulum that swung and others needed the vibrations from a quartz crystal. These modern clocks proved to be much more accurate with telling the time than time-telling devices that relied on candles, incense, or sand.

The first digital watch was developed in the 1920s. It was nothing like the digital watch as we know it today. To function, the digital watch required wheels with numbers attached to them. During the 1920s the watches weren't operated by batteries so people would have to wind the watch to get the correct time.

Why Is Time So Important Nowadays?

Time allows us to accurately communicate with others throughout the world. Life would be very different if we couldn't tell what the time is. As time goes by, humans, animals, plants, even planet earth ages over time. Once the time has gone, it's never going to be able to return.

Time is also a privilege. Not everyone has free time. If you have a good job, and your hours are fair, you too are privileged. You will be able to enjoy your weekend, lunch breaks, and after work spare time. Others are not so lucky. Some people work tremendous hours in the job they are in and very seldom have time to themselves.