Studio guest: Dr. Matteo Valleriani of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science | All media content | DW | 24.09.2012
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Tomorrow Today

Studio guest: Dr. Matteo Valleriani of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Our studio guest: Dr. Matteo Valleriani of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. We ask him why archaeological findings are important for people today.

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DW: Dr. Valleriani, thanks for joining us! The Celts were much more highly-developed than we had believed. But why is developing a calendar so significant in terms of science or technology?

Dr. Valleriani: Calendars are the expression of the need to find regularities in nature. On the basis of such natural regularities, you can organize a group, or one group can organize itself. And especially it can organize the resources that the group needs to survive over time - like in reference to agriculture, which is the basic connection between calendars and human activities over millennia. 

DW: What you are saying is that it is important for humans to know how to arrange themselves. Is it an important psychological part of what we have to organize?

Yes, this seems to be, according to the sources we have at our disposal, one of the stable characteristics of human beings: searching for regularities in nature in order to organize themselves, especially as a group. And in this sense we have the emergence of scientific thinking already in antiquity, exactly for these reasons. So I would very much link these developments to this sort of material needs.

DW: We are creatures of habit and we need to know what time it is. What about how they kept track of time. They didn't have watches, they didn't have calendars ...

No, not in the sense that we have them. They had ways of keeping time and recording the calendaric major events at least. The most we have from antiquity are records in textual form - in very different languages starting from the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Egyptians - or in other forms that we now consider archaeological findings. This is the typical way of keeping a system that then allows you to recalculate the time or to foresee certain events when you need it. So these calendars are not just like graphic illustrations like we have nowadays. They are also systems like machines to calculate at the same time.

DW: Different methods of calculating the time - different perceptions of time as well? If I was late in the day back then....?

That is a good question: there is one thing that changes and one thing that remains stable, according to my research. What changes is the paradigm, the term of comparison that you use in order to set the regularity you are looking for. Astronomy has always been the term of comparison because of the apparent regularities of the stars, called fixed stars, or of the movements of the planets. Nowadays we look to nuclear physics and we look there for more regular natural phenomena. But basically the need is the same. We need something regular in order to be sure about our measurements of time.

DW: Dr. Valleriani, thank you very much for for joining us at Tomorrow Today.

Thank you.

Interview: Anne O'Donnell: