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An anachronism (from Greek ana, back, and chronos, time) is an artifact that belongs to another time, a person who seems to be displaced in time (i.e., who belongs to another age) or something located at a time when it could not have existed or occurred. One of the most common uses of the term restricts it to the ante-dating of events, circumstances or customs. It can be used to imply a neglect or falsification, whether deliberate or accidental, of chronological relation.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Social
3 Art and Fiction
4 Psychology
5 See also


An anachronism can refer to an artifact which appears out of place archaeologicallyly or geologicallyly. For example, some see the antikythera mechanism and baghdad battery as anachronisms because they appear more technologically advanced than our carefully assembled assessment of the technology of their time would otherwise allow. A seeming anachronism calls out for explanation. Artifacts in the archaeological and geological record are commonly interpreted to best fit a view of the past that itself needs reinterpreting at times in the light of new discoveries. Residues of wine found in datable pottery in northern Iraq may push backwards in time our date for the invention of wine-making. Thus an apparent anachronism is resolved.

A popular view of history presents an unfolding of the past in which humanity has a primitive start and progresses toward development of technology. Every culture has a horizon that delineates what Fernand Braudel termed 'the limitations of the possible.' Anachronisms, such as Julius Caesar's bicycle, lie beyond these limits.

Unearthed anachronistic artifacts demonstrate contradictions to the mainstream historians' ideas of antiquity. Some archaeologists believe that seeing these artifacts as anachronisms underestimates the technology and creativity available to people at the time, although others believe that these are evidence of alternate or "fringe" timelines of human history. Anachronisms do not fit the established pattern of history, indicating the existence of technology before it has been accepted as being "invented". The anachronism artifacts may confirm ancient tales describing alternate or "fringe" timelines of human history.


The term is also often used (more metaphorically) to describe the experience of encountering things in general life which appear to be out of place in time, though on a literal level they are not. Monarchies and other overly lavish political traditions from past centuries are considered by many to be quite anachronistic, as are some old-fashioned languages and certain religious traditions. Moral values which were prevalent in another time period, which have now fallen out of favor, may also be referred to as anachronistic.

Art and Fiction

Anachronism is used especially in fictional works of imagination that rest on a historical basis for the introduction of details borrowed from a later age. Anachronisms may be committed in many ways, originating, for instance, in disregard of the different modes of life and thought that characterize different periods, or in ignorance of the progress of the arts and sciences and the other ascertained facts of history. They vary from glaring inconsistencies to scarcely perceptible misrepresentation.Much discussion of the past is so deficient in historical perspective as to be little better than a continuous anachronism. It is only since the close of the 18th century that this kind of untruthfulness has jarred on a general audience. Anachronisms abound in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare, as well as in those of less celebrated painters and playwrights of earlier times.

In particular, the artists, on the stage and on the canvas, in story and in song, assimilated their characters to their own nationality and their own time. The Virgin Mary was represented here as an Italian contadina, and there as a Flemish frow; Alexander the Great appeared on the French stage in the full costume of Louis XIV of France down to the time of Voltaire; and in England the contemporaries of Addison could behold, without any suspicion of burlesque,

"Cato's long wig, flower'd gown, and lacquer'd chair."
Shakespeare's audience did not ask whether the University of Wittenberg had existed in Hamlet's day. (Though they might have taken note of the bells which ring in Julius Caesar's ancient Rome.)

Modern realism (especially in film), the progress of archaeological research, and the more scientific spirit of history have encouraged audiences and artists to view anachronism as an offense or mistake, where our ancestors may have been less likely to do so.

Dramatic productions sometimes use anachronism for effect. In particular, directors of Shakespeare's plays may use costumes and props, not only of Shakespeare's day or their own, but of any era in between, or of an imagined future: the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet crosses The Tempest with popular music to create a science fiction musical.

Even with careful research, science fiction writers risk anachronism as their works age, because of things they failed to predict: many books nominally set in the mid-21st century assume the continuing existence of the Soviet Union, for example.


Some people suffer from a psychological condition called anachronistic displacement, referring to an obsessive or dysfunctional belief or claim that a person "belongs" or should properly exist in another time period, and are thus unable to deal with ordinary factors in the everyday world.

See also