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A Million Years In A Day

A Curious History of Everyday Life From the Stone Age to the Phone Age

By Greg Jenner
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A Million Years In A Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life From the Stone Age to the Phone Age by Greg Jenner

It’s easy to assume that our daily rituals are merely recent traditions that have taken shape in recent generations. In reality, a surprising amount of basic habits can be traced all the way back to the Stone Age. Greg Jenner’s A Million Years In A Day (2015) depicts a typical modern Sunday, from brushing one’s teeth to reading the newspaper, and reveals the long and hefty history behind our everyday lives.

Key idea 1 of 7

Timekeeping and the toilet date back as far as the Stone Age.

It’s 9:30 on a Sunday morning and your alarm clock rouses you from your sleep. You’d rather snooze a little longer but your clock gives off another annoying buzz, and you reluctantly get out of bed.

Today, clocks certainly govern the pulse of our lives; but the act of keeping time is actually something that dates back all the way to the Stone Age.

In fact, the world’s oldest calendar is 30,000 years old. It was found in Le Placard in the Dordogne region and is made out of eagle bone. Along its surface are scratched a series of notches that chart the waxing of the moon, from new to full.

This relatively crude timekeeping is nothing compared to what the ancient Egyptians developed. With their sundials, they could use the shadow of a rod to indicate the approximate hour. And at night, they could track and chart the movement of the Decan stars that appear over the eastern horizon just before dawn, and move from east to west by one degree each day. This allowed the Egyptians to determine the day of the week as well as an approximate hour of the night.

But returning to our morning routine: it’s 9:45 a.m., and having dragged ourselves out of the bed, we make a morning trip to the toilet. But how old are toilets after all?

Toilets date as far back as the Stone Age, too – just not toilets as we might imagine them.

Stone Age urban sanitation wasn’t especially sophisticated. In Çatalhöyük in Turkey, archaeologists have found evidence that, 9,500 years ago, sanitation basically meant piling human waste in a courtyard. But about 4,500 years ago, advanced sanitation systems appeared in the cities of the Harappan societies, in modern-day Pakistan. They had sewers, wiping material, water to flush and even a seat.

Now that we’ve finished our toilet stop, it’s time to have breakfast. Next, we’ll move into the kitchen and consider the history of breakfast.

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