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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/250

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

There are annuals and perennials there, as elsewhere. Each kind has its month for sprouting, for flowering, for fruiting, for shedding its seed; and men in the tropics, some of them long isolated in oceanic islands, or in great insulated regions like Australia or New Guinea, from the rest of their kind in the temperate regions, nevertheless know and observe the year, and perform all their functions, agricultural or religious, by yearly cycles. For example, there is among them all an annual feast for the dead, and widows mourn their husbands for one year from their burial. Observation of the year, therefore, both automatically by organisms at large and consciously by man, antedates and is independent of observation of the existence of summer or winter.

I do not think, however, that man would have noted the merely astronomical year—the year of the sun's position—at least till a relatively late stage in culture, if he had not first noticed the organic year—the regular recurrence of plant and animal seasons. So many yams—that is to say, so many yam harvests—in other words, so many years, is a common savage way of reckoning times and ages. But they call it "yams," not summers or winters. And when I say yams, I give that merely as a single instance, for elsewhere the "seedtime and harvest" are reckoned indifferently in maize or millet, rice or barley, according to the agriculture of the particular people. Even hunting races know that at certain times of year certain foods abound; and this is true of equatorial savages and equatorial plants or animals, as well as of others.

Moons are more obvious measures of time than suns, in the tropics at least—probably everywhere; for the waxing and waning of the moon mean much to people who live largely out of doors; and the month is, perhaps, the earliest fixed mode of reckoning time beyond a day or two. Most savages count time mainly by so many moons. But they must also have noticed early that after a certain number of moons (usually about thirteen), certain fruits or seeds were ripe again; especially must they have noticed it when this recurrence coincided with the return of the rainy season, or of some other annual meteorological phenomenon, like the bursting of the monsoon or the Nile inundation. Thus, even in the tropics, and before the coming on of the Glacial epoch, men or the ancestors of men (one can not draw precise lines here) must probably have observed a certain rough relation between the months and the vegetative cycles; after so many moons, about say thirteen, the yam, or the mangoes, or the grains are ripe again. These organic years, I take it, must have been noticed before the astronomical ones. For it is now beginning; to be more and more believed that man is of preglacial origin; and even if something worth calling a man were not, then