Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point without the need for the traveler to experience the intervening period (at least not at the normal rate). Any technological device – whether fictional, hypothetical or actual – that would be used to achieve time travel is commonly known as a time machine.

The Consensus

There is no widespread agreement as to which written work should be recognized as the earliest example of a time travel story, since a number of early works feature elements ambiguously suggestive of time travel. Ancient folk tales and myths sometimes involved something akin to travelling forward in time; for example, in Hindu mythology, the Mahabharata mentions the story of the King Revaita, who travels to heaven to meet the creator Brahma and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth.

Going Backwards

Another one of the earliest known stories to involve traveling forward in time to a distant future was the Japanese tale of “Urashima Tarō”, first described in the Nihongi. It was about a young fisherman named Urashima Taro who visits an undersea palace and stays there for three days. After returning home to his village, he finds himself 300 years in the future, when he is long forgotten, his house in ruins, and his family long dead. Another very old example of this type of story can be found in the Talmud with the story of Honi HaM’agel who went to sleep for 70 years and woke up to a world where his grandchildren were grandparents and where all his friends and family were dead.