The Batak Calendar from Sumatra, Indonesia

junio 05, 2012

Everyone reading this would know that it is the year 2012. And everyone would also know that the world did not begin 2012 years ago – so what does this mean?

If you belong to a community that is non-christian you would probably know that this is not the only dating system that is prevalent today.

I knew about the Hindu calendar and the Islamic calendar.

And now as I travel I have found the Batak tribal calendar.

The script is unique and writing skills were restricted to priests

A language that is almost extinct – with few living people practicing or transmitting the knowledge of this script, it is mostly found in scriptures stored away in museums.

On my recent travels I found a fascinating antique calendar inscribed on bone :

The concept that different groups of people have intelligently found alternate methods – all of which predict the same future through different means has captured my imagination.

Calendars came into being primarily to predict seasons for agricultural purposes based on astronomical data. Some used lunar cycles while others used solar cycles.

The language of science converged in Europe and this lead to thinkers building on each other’s work instead reinventing the wheel in their own isolated language cells oblivious of the development of others. And it is to this commonality of language that we owe the great advances in the predictive powers that science possesses today.

As Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”

It would be erroneous to attribute this success to the professors of the Gregorian calendar – rather it is the success of the team work of thinkers who used the Gregorian calendar as a base for their calculations.

Had the thinkers of the Renaissance period used any other calendar as a base for their calculations chances are that they still would have been able to predict the Transit of Venus or eclipses and leap years with equal accuracy.

Because while the notation and the Zero starting point differ – the logic having been derived from astronomical observations would have been the same. And given sufficient time for sufficient observations, the errors arising out of non-inclusion of factors or wrongful assumptions would have ironed out resulting in the same logical models.

A glance at Wikipedia showed me 2012 in other calendars :

Armenian calendar 1461        
Assyrian calendar 6762    
Buddhist calendar 2556
Burmese calendar 1374
Byzantine calendar 7520–7521
Chinese calendar
— to —4649/4709-11-19
Coptic calendar 1728–1729
Hebrew calendar 5772–5773
 Hindu Vikram Samvat 2068–2069
Iranian calendar 1390–1391
Islamic calendar 1433–1434
Korean calendar 4345

It would be a fun exercise to work out the paths that each group took to arrive at each of these different systems, and the logic and assumptions on which they based it!

The antique Batak Calendar is a part of the WovenSouls Collection linked here


June 2012


In November 2013, I received a note from Derek Scott, Canada. An excerpt is given below:

“I came across your description of the Batak Calendar inscribed on a bone while doing some searching for a similar one I also own.
I purchased several items  including a bone calendar inscribed identically to the one you have illustrated on the wovensouls website. Interestingly, however, they also gave to me a photocopy of the meanings of the calendar symbols. Please find attached a copy from the original”

The scans are linked below:

Batak Calendar – 1

Batak Calendar – 2

Thank you Derek!

jm | December 2013

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