Whether you’re a seasoned time traveler or a new recruit who’s just completed your maiden voyage through the cosmos, one question that invariably arises is: “What year is it?” Unlike our forefathers, who had to rely on sundials and the phases of the moon, we have the advantage of using numerous indicators to ascertain the era we find ourselves in. Below, we’ve compiled a list of helpful pointers to help you get your bearings.
Look around you. The technology people are using can be a significant clue. From the steam engine to the smartphone, every era has its defining technological invention. If you spot horse-drawn carriages or steam locomotives, you’re probably in the 19th century or earlier. If you see cars, airplanes, and television sets, you’re likely in the 20th century. If people are using smartphones, tablets, and self-driving cars, you’re probably in the 21st century.
Clothing styles have evolved significantly over time. For instance, Victorian-era clothing is drastically different from the mod fashion of the 1960s or the athleisure trend of the 21st century. Fashion is not just about clothing, though. Hairstyles, accessories, makeup, and even body language can give you a sense of the era. A general knowledge of fashion history can help you figure out the era quite quickly.
Look at the buildings around you. If you’re in a city, the architecture can give you a rough idea of the era. From Gothic cathedrals to modern skyscrapers, each era has its unique architectural style. Infrastructure like roads, bridges, and even the layout of cities can also be a giveaway. Additionally, the presence or absence of certain landmarks—like the Statue of Liberty (completed in 1886) or the Eiffel Tower (completed in 1889)—can help you narrow down your time frame.
Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and the internet all provide excellent indicators of the era. News items can give you the exact date, and even if you can’t read the language, the style of printing or broadcasting can help. Newspapers have been widely available since the 17th century, radio became common in the early 20th century, and television spread in the mid-20th century. The internet became widely available in the 1990s, and social media has been prominent since the early 21st century.
Language evolves over time. Pay attention to the words people use, their accents, and the phrases they commonly say. If people are speaking Old English, you’re probably in the Middle Ages. If you hear a lot of “thee” and “thou,” you might be in the Early Modern period. And if people are using words like “selfie,” “hashtag,” or “meme,” you’re likely in the 21st century.
Historical events are perhaps the most precise way to determine the year. If you can witness or learn about a significant event, you can pinpoint the exact year, and often the exact day. However, this requires a certain degree of historical knowledge. From wars and political events to scientific achievements and natural disasters, knowing key historical events can help you figure out when you are.
If you find yourself in a more natural environment away from human civilization, it might be a bit trickier to determine the year. However, even nature can provide clues. The presence of certain species that have gone extinct or proliferated at certain times can provide indications. For instance, spotting a dodo bird would place you before the late 17th century, while the presence of plastic waste could indicate a time post-1950s.
If you can get your hands on some money, it can give you a wealth of information. The portraits, symbols, language, and even material can help you establish the era. For instance, US currency featuring the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on a $100 bill was introduced in 1914. Also, the Euro as a physical currency has only been in circulation since 2002.
9. Pop Culture
Pop culture references can be extremely helpful in identifying the year. Listen for mentions of popular music, films, or sports events. The Beatles dominated the 1960s, Michael Jackson was the king of pop in the 1980s, and if you hear a lot about BTS, you’re probably in the late 2010s or 2020s. Similarly, sports events like World Cups can provide specific years.
10. The Stars
If all else fails and you’re lost in an era before written history or far in the future, you can always turn to the stars. Astronomical events such as comets, eclipses, or supernovae can help identify the year. Furthermore, due to the precession of the Earth’s axis, the position of stars shifts slowly over time. This method, however, requires specific astronomical knowledge and instruments.
Determining the year as a time traveler can be a thrilling endeavor. While it might seem challenging at first, the clues are all around us. From the clothes people wear to the technology they use, every element of daily life carries the imprint of its time.
Remember, as with any travel, it’s essential to respect the cultures and environments you encounter, regardless of the era. Happy time traveling!
PS – still asking “what year is it?“
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