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At extreme latitudes, what we would think of as the typical day/night cycle becomes very different.

The sun remains continuously visible for one day during the summer solstice at the polar circle, for several weeks only 100 km (62 mi) closer to the pole, and for six months at the pole. At extreme latitudes, the midnight sun is usually referred to as polar day.

[I]n practice the midnight sun can be seen as much as 55 miles (90 km) outside the polar circle ... and the exact latitudes of the farthest reaches of midnight sun depend on topography and vary slightly year-to-year.

-- Wikipedia

Presumably, native communities in the Arctic felt this was a normal pattern of the seasons. Were they aware that other places had a different day/night cycle? This could perhaps be mentioned in their mythologies or tales of other places.

I ask about the Arctic because there were far more people living in the high Arctic than equivalent regions in the south. I'm mostly curious about North American societies, but an answer could discuss European/Siberian people as well.

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    Why would they consider it unusual, if it is the norm for them? – congusbongus Jun 26 '18 at 8:05
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    Of course it's totally normal to them. Are you really asking, whether they knew the days are different further from the Arctic? – Semaphore Jun 26 '18 at 8:42
  • @Semaphore Yes, you're right, that's poor phrasing on my part, I removed it. – Azor Ahai Jun 26 '18 at 14:30
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    The word "unusual" isn't entirely accurate as it's all about perspective. To someone living in the north, what's "unusual" is a land without seasons. But regardless, I think this is a fine question that could be generalized. When and where did societies discover that the features and conditions of their own part of the world weren't global. – Steven Burnap Jun 26 '18 at 15:08
  • @StevenBurnap Well, yeah, that's why I wrote "unusual ... compared to the rest of the world." Basically, I'm wondering if the drastic change in day/night cycles as populations migrated was significant enough to be kept in cultural memory ... you could ask the same thing about whether some communities remember snow even if no one had seen it for generations. – Azor Ahai Jun 26 '18 at 15:31
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First: I have a problem with what I see as an implicit assumptions in the question that primitive peoples were simpletons. To understand the phenomena of midnight sun only a few straightforward facts need to be recognized:

  • Time can be measured.
  • Days are longer in summer and shorter in winter.
  • The variation in day length is more extreme as you approach the poles.

As soon as the measurement of time is possible in a culture, and individuals of that culture are capable of travelling substantial distances north and south, the second and third facts will be observed. As hunter-gatherer societies such as the Inuit, Aleut and Suomi meet all these criteria, we have no reason to believe that the following deduction was not made.

  • Far enough north (in NH) the sun will not rise and set during the longest days in summer and the shortest days in winter.
  • Far enough south (in NH) the sun will always rise and set, even during the longest days of summer and the shortest days in winter.

To address the challenge that primitive peoples "didn't travel that far in a lifetime":

The Caribou Inuit rely on the Caribou herds of Northern Canada exclusively, and follow them on their migrations across the height of the Canadian Far North. These migrations cross the Arctic Circle, from Hudson's Bay to the far reaches of Ellesmere Island, and occur semi-annually, in spring and fall.

Similar caribou migrations occur across the height of Eastern Alaska, and of reindeer herds followed by some of the Suomi people in modern Scandinavia and Siberia.


The question makes a deep assumption about the day-and-night pattern above the Arctic Circle that is invalid. This article on life in Tromsø, Norway, where the “Polar Night” lasts all winter, paints a more accurate description:

Over the following months I learned firsthand that, far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light. Even during the darkest times, there are still two or three hours of light a day as the sun skirts just below the horizon, never fully rising. During the longer “days” of the Polar Night, in November and January, the skies can be filled with up to six hours of sunrise and sunset-like colors.

The detailed pattern of day and night is different above the Arctic Circle, but not in a fundamental way. The 24-hour cycle remains intact, just different in degree thnn what would be experienced a few hundred miles further south.

enter image description here

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    Regardless of how whether or not there was a cycle or not, it's pretty clear that the experience of the length of the day during the year was utterly different for someone on the arctic circle vs. someone living on the equator. The question here(and an interesting one I think) is when did people in various places realize this variation existed. – Steven Burnap Jun 27 '18 at 19:41
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    @PieterGeerkens: (RE your comment) That seems ridiculous. Time has been measurable since pre-history and before that if one cares to go further than mankind, if only in the sense that one would note the sun rises, sets, and that there's a midday in between. Filing peculiarities at the polar circle under pre-history is merely dismissing what was there on the basis of units and precision and not answering the question at all. – Denis de Bernardy Jun 27 '18 at 20:13
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    "individuals of that culture are capable of travelling substantial distances north and south" Are they? Did individuals travel extreme enough distances over their lifetime to notice? Did natives of the area keep track of hours between the same day one year and the same day the next year, 500 miles south? – Azor Ahai Jun 27 '18 at 20:31
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    "Revenge" downvotes? What would I be taking revenge for? || "The variation in day length is more extreme as you approach the poles" yes, but this takes sustained observation over at least a few years over different latitudes. If either of those Vikings or the Thule knew that, that would be an answer. Right now, all you're saying is that it was possible for them to deduce it, not that any of them were able to make the observations (over a lifetime!) to enable them to do so. – Azor Ahai Jun 27 '18 at 20:40
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    One would indeed assume that Vikings, who ranged far and wide in individuals lifetimes, would indeed have noticed and communicated this. They did end up with a kingdom in Sicily, well south of Norway. – Jon Custer Feb 21 at 1:16

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