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Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of
human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, and linguistics, and since the History of writing, advent of writing, from primary source, primary and ...
between the use of the first
stone tools A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool A tool is an object that can extend an individual's ability to modify features of the surrounding environment. Although many animals use simple tools, only human beings, whose use of sto ...

stone tools
by
hominin The Hominini form a Tribe (biology), taxonomic tribe of the subfamily Homininae ("hominines"). Hominini includes the extant genera ''Homo'' (humans) and ''Pan (genus), Pan'' (chimpanzees and bonobos), but excludes the genus ''Gorilla'' (gorillas). ...
s 3.3 million years ago and the invention of
writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, p ...
s. The use of symbols, marks, and images appears very early among humans, but the earliest known writing systems appeared 5000 years ago and it took thousands of years for writing systems to be widely adopted. In some human cultures, writing systems were not used until the nineteenth century and, in a few, are not even used until the present. The end of prehistory therefore came at very different dates in different places, and the term is less often used in discussing societies where prehistory ended relatively recently.
Sumer Sumer ()The name is from '; ''kig̃ir'', written and ,approximately "land of the civilized kings" or "native land". means "native, local", ifrom ''The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary''). Literally, "land of the native (local, noble) lor ...

Sumer
in
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ( grc, Μεσοποταμία ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the ...

Mesopotamia
, the
Indus valley civilization , c. 2500 BCE. Terracotta Terracotta, terra cotta, or terra-cotta (; Italian language, Italian: "baked earth", from the Latin ''terra cocta''), a type of earthenware, is a clay-based ceramic glaze, unglazed or glazed ceramic, where the ...

Indus valley civilization
, and
ancient Egypt Ancient Egypt was a of , concentrated along the lower reaches of the , situated in the place that is now the country . Ancient Egyptian civilization followed and coalesced around 3100 (according to ) with the political unification of u ...

ancient Egypt
were the first civilizations to develop their own scripts and to keep historical records; this took place already during the early
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the , as proposed in modern times by , for classifying and studying a ...
. Neighboring civilizations were the first to follow. Most other civilizations reached the end of prehistory during the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
. The
three-age system The three-age system is the periodization of human history (generally including pre-history) into three time-periods; for example: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age; although the concept may also refer to other tripartite divisio ...
of division of prehistory into the
Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology ...

Stone Age
, followed by the Bronze Age and Iron Age, remains in use for much of
Eurasia Eurasia () is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as cont ...

Eurasia
and
North Africa North Africa or Northern Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in th ...

North Africa
, but is not generally used in those parts of the world where the working of hard metals arrived abruptly from contact with
Eurasian cultures Eurasia () is the largest continental area on Earth, comprising all of Europe and Asia. Primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east, t ...
, such as
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a geographic region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth ...

Oceania
,
Australasia Australasia is a region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The ...

Australasia
, much of
Sub-Saharan Africa Sub-Saharan Africa (commonly called Black Africa) is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the United Nations, it consists of all list of sovereign states and dependent territories in ...

Sub-Saharan Africa
, and parts of the
Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to East and West. ''North'' ...

Americas
. With some exceptions in pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas, these areas did not develop complex writing systems before the arrival of Eurasians, so their prehistory reaches into relatively recent periods; for example, 1788 is usually taken as the end of the
prehistory of Australia The prehistory of Australia is the period between the first human habitation of the Australian continent and the colonisation of Australia Colonization, or colonisation refers to large-scale population movements where the migrants maintain s ...
. The period when a culture is written about by others, but has not developed its own writing system is often known as the
protohistory Protohistory is a period between prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the invention of writing systems. The u ...
of the culture. By definition, there are no written records from human prehistory, so dating of prehistoric materials is crucial. Clear techniques for dating were not well-developed until the nineteenth century. This article is concerned with human prehistory, the time since behaviorally and anatomically modern humans first appeared until the beginning of
recorded history Recorded history or written history is a historical narrative History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past. Events occurring before the History of writing ...
. Earlier periods are also called "prehistoric"; there are separate articles for the overall
history of the Earth The history of Earth concerns the development of planet Earth from its formation to the present day. Nearly all branches of natural science have contributed to understanding of the main events of Earth's past, characterized by constant geolo ...
and the
history of life The history of life on Earth traces the processes by which living and fossil organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργανισμός, ''organismos'') is any individual contiguous system that embodies the Lif ...
before humans.


Definition

;Beginning: The term "prehistory" can refer to the vast span of time since the
beginning Beginning may refer to: *Beginning (song), "Beginning" (song), by Kotipelto *Beginning (album), ''Beginning'' (album), by Pakho Chau *Beginning (play), ''Beginning'' (play), a 2017 play by David Eldridge *Beginning (film), ''Beginning'' (film), a G ...

beginning
of the
Universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological description of the development ...

Universe
or the Earth, but more often it refers to the period since
life Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities A bubble of exhaled gas in water In common usage and classical mechanics, a physical object or physical body (or simply an object or body) is a collection of matter within a ...

life
appeared on Earth, or even more specifically to the time since human-like beings appeared.Fagan, Brian. 2007. ''World Prehistory: A brief introduction'' New York: Prentice-Hall, Seventh Edition, Chapter OneRenfrew, Colin. 2008. ''Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind.'' New York: Modern Library ;End:The date marking the end of prehistory is typically defined as the advent of the contemporary written historical record. The date consequently varies widely from region to region depending on the date when relevant records become a useful academic resource. For example, in
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a spanning the and the of . It is bordered by the to , the () and to , the to the east, to , and to . In the northeast, the , which is the northern arm of the R ...

Egypt
it is generally accepted that prehistory ended around 3100 BCE, whereas in
New Guinea New Guinea (; : ''Niu Gini''; id, Papua, historically ) is the , and with an area of , the largest island in the . Located in in the southwestern , it is separated by the wide from . Numerous smaller islands are located to the west and east ...

New Guinea
the end of the prehistoric era is set much more recently, in the 1870s, when the Russian anthropologist
Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (russian: Никола́й Никола́евич Миклу́хо-Макла́й; 1846 – 1888) was a Ukrainians, Ukrainian-Russian Empire, Russian explorer, ethnology, ethnologist, anthropologist and biologist who be ...
spent several years living among native peoples, and described their way of life in a comprehensive treatise. In Europe the relatively well-documented classical cultures of
Ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, antiquity ( AD 600). This era wa ...
and
Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who stud ...
had neighbouring cultures, including the
Celts The Celts (, see pronunciation of ''Celt'' for different usages) are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-European peoples The Indo-European languages ar ...

Celts
and to a lesser extent the
Etruscans The Etruscan civilization () of List of ancient peoples of Italy, ancient Italy covered a territory, at its greatest extent, of roughly what is now Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio, as well as what are now the Po Valley, Emilia-Romagna ...
, with little or no writing, and historians must decide how much weight to give to the often highly prejudiced accounts of these protohistoric cultures in Greek and Roman literature. ;Time periods: In dividing up human prehistory in Eurasia, historians typically use the
three-age system The three-age system is the periodization of human history (generally including pre-history) into three time-periods; for example: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age; although the concept may also refer to other tripartite divisio ...
, whereas scholars of pre-human time periods typically use the
well-defined In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
geologic record forces near San Sebastián San Sebastián () or Donostia () is a coastal city and Municipalities of Spain, municipality located in the Basque Country (autonomous community), Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. It lies on the coast of the Bay of ...
and its internationally defined
stratum In geology and related fields, a stratum (plural: strata) is a layer of sedimentary rock or soil, or igneous rock that was formed at the Earth's surface, with internally consistent characteristics that distinguish it from other layers. The "str ...
base within the
geologic time scale The geologic time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating Chronological dating, or simply dating, is the process of attributing to an object or event a date in the past, allowing such object or event to be located in a previously establi ...
. The three-age system is the
periodization Periodization is the process or study of categorizing the past into discrete, quantified named blocks of time.Adam Rabinowitz. It’s about time: historical periodization and Linked Ancient World Data'. Institute for the Study of the Ancient Wo ...
of human prehistory into three consecutive
time period The categorization of the past into discrete, quantified named blocks of time is called periodization Periodization is the process or study of categorizing the past into discrete, quantified named blocks of time.Adam Rabinowitz. It’s about ...
s, named for their respective predominant tool-making technologies: :*
Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology ...

Stone Age
:*
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the , as proposed in modern times by , for classifying and studying a ...
:*
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
For the prehistory of the Americas see
Pre-Columbian era In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the original settlement of North and South America in the Upper Paleolithic The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) also called the Late Stone Age The Later Stone Age (LS ...
.


History of the term

The notion of "prehistory" began to surface during the Enlightenment in the work of antiquarians who used the word 'primitive' to describe societies that existed before written records. The first use of the word prehistory in English, however, occurred in the ''Foreign
Quarterly Review The ''Quarterly Review'' was a literary and political periodical founded in March 1809 by the well known London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom ...
'' in 1836. The use of the geologic time scale for pre-human time periods, and of the
three-age system The three-age system is the periodization of human history (generally including pre-history) into three time-periods; for example: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age; although the concept may also refer to other tripartite divisio ...
for human prehistory, is a system that emerged during the late nineteenth century in the work of British, German, and Scandinavian
anthropologistsAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposab ...
,
archeologists Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better understa ...
, and
antiquarian 's cabinet of curiosities, from ''Museum Wormianum,'' 1655 An antiquarian or antiquary (from the Latin: ''antiquarius'', meaning pertaining to ancient times) is an fan (person), aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More speci ...
s.


Means of research

The main source of information for prehistory is
archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better underst ...
(a branch of anthropology), but some scholars are beginning to make more use of evidence from the natural and social sciences.The Prehistory of Iberia: Debating Early Social Stratification and the State edited by María Cruz Berrocal, Leonardo García Sanjuán, Antonio Gilman. Pg 36.''Historical Archaeology: Back from the Edge''. Edited by Pedro Paulo A. Funari, Martin Hall, Sian Jones. p. 8.''Through the Ages in Palestinian Archaeology: An Introductory Handbook''. By Walter E. Ras. p. 49. This view has been articulated by advocates of
deep historyDeep history is a term for the distant past of the human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use of cultu ...
. The primary researchers into human prehistory are archaeologists and
physical anthropologists Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their extinct Hominini, hominin ancestors, and related non-human primates, particularly ...
who use excavation, geologic and geographic surveys, and other scientific analysis to reveal and interpret the nature and behavior of pre-literate and non-literate peoples. Human population
geneticists A geneticist is a biologist who studies genetics, the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργανισμός, ''organismos'') is any individual contiguous system ...
and
historical linguists History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past. Events occurring before the History of writing#Inventions of writing, invention of writing systems are considered ...
are also providing valuable insight for these questions. Cultural anthropologists help provide context for societal interactions, by which objects of human origin pass among people, allowing an analysis of any article that arises in a human prehistoric context. Therefore, data about prehistory is provided by a wide variety of natural and social sciences, such as
anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns of behaviour, while studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. studies how language influences social life. studi ...
,
archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better underst ...
,
archaeoastronomy Archaeoastronomy (also spelled archeoastronomy) is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic discipline An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivi ...
,
comparative linguistics Comparative linguistics, or comparative-historical linguistics (formerly comparative philology) is a branch of historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change ov ...
,
biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechanisms, Development ...

biology
,
geology Geology (from the γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is a branch of concerned with both the liquid and , the of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can ...

geology
,
molecular genetics Molecular genetics is a sub-field of biology that addresses how differences in the structures or expression of DNA molecules manifests as variation among organisms. Molecular genetics often applies an "investigative approach" to determine the ...
,
paleontology Paleontology (), also spelled palaeontology or palæontology, is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene epoch (geology), epoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes th ...
,
palynology pollen File:Pollen Tube.svg, Pollen Tube Diagram Pollen is a powdery substance consisting of pollen grains which are Sporophyte, microsporophytes of spermatophyta, seed plants, which produce male gametes (sperm cells). Pollen grains have a hard ...
,
physical anthropology Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, is a scientific discipline concerned with the biological and behavioral aspects of human beings, their extinct hominin The Hominini form a Tribe (biology), taxonomic tribe of the subf ...
, and many others. Human prehistory differs from history not only in terms of its
chronology 222px, Joseph Scaliger's ''De emendatione temporum'' (1583) began the modern science of chronology Chronology (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European language ...
, but in the way it deals with the activities of
archaeological culture An archaeological culture is a recurring Assemblage (archaeology), assemblage of types of Artifact (archaeology), artifacts, buildings and monuments from a specific period and region that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular p ...
s rather than named
nation A nation is a community A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as Norm (social), norms, religion, values, Convention (norm), customs, or Identity (social science), identity. Communities may share a sense ...

nation
s or
individual An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity Entity may refer to: Computing * Character entity reference, replacement text for a character in HTML or XML * Entity class, a thing of interest within an entity–relationship model or d ...
s. Restricted to material processes, remains, and artifacts rather than written records, prehistory is anonymous. Because of this, reference terms that prehistorians use, such as "
Neanderthal Neanderthals (, also Neandertals, ''Homo neanderthalensis'' or ''Homo sapiens neanderthalensis'') are an extinct species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, phys ...
" or "
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
", are modern labels with definitions sometimes subject to debate.


Stone Age

The concept of a "Stone Age" is found useful in the archaeology of most of the world, although in the
archaeology of the Americas The archaeology of the Americas is the study of the archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anth ...
it is called by different names and begins with a
Lithic stage In the sequence of cultural stages first proposed for the archaeology of the Americas by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips (archaeologist), Philip Phillips in 1958, the Lithic stage was the earliest period of human occupation in the Americas, as ...
, or sometimes
Paleo-Indian Paleo-Indians, Paleoindians or Paleo-Americans, were the first peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic groups who are native to a ...
. The sub-divisions described below are used for Eurasia, and not consistently across the whole area.


Palaeolithic

"Palaeolithic" means "Old Stone Age", and begins with the first use of
stone tool A stone tool is, in the most general sense, any tool made either partially or entirely out of Rock (geology), stone. Although stone tool-dependent societies and cultures still exist today, most stone tools are associated with prehistory, prehisto ...

stone tool
s. The Paleolithic is the earliest period of the
Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology ...

Stone Age
. The early part of the Palaeolithic is called the
Lower Palaeolithic 250px, Four views of an Acheulean handaxe The Lower Paleolithic (or Lower Palaeolithic) is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic or Palæolithic (), also called the Old Stone Age, is a period in human pr ...

Lower Palaeolithic
, which predates ''
Homo sapiens Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread of , characterized by and large, complex brains. This has enabled the development of advanced , , and . Humans are highly social and tend to live in complex s composed of many ...

Homo sapiens
'', beginning with ''
Homo habilis ''Homo habilis'' ("handy man") is a species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the large ...

Homo habilis
'' (and related species) and the earliest stone tools, dated to around 2.5 million years ago. Evidence of
control of fire Control may refer to: Basic meanings Economics and business * Control (management), an element of management * Control, an element of management accounting * Comptroller (or controller), a senior financial officer in an organization * Controlling ...
by early humans during the Lower Palaeolithic Era is uncertain and has at best limited scholarly support. The most widely accepted claim is that ''H. erectus'' or '''' made fires between 790,000 and 690,000 BP (before the present period) in a site at
Bnot Ya'akov Bridge File:Jacob's Bridge Wellcome L0033985.jpg, Daughters of Jacob Bridge 1799, from the north, with the Mamluk Khan to the left Jacob's Ford is a ford on the upper Jordan River where a number of bridges were built throughout history, giving rise to th ...
,
Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל, translit=Yīsrāʾēl; ar, إِسْرَائِيل, translit=ʾIsrāʾīl), officially the State of Israel ( he, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, label=none, translit=Medīnat Yīsrāʾēl; ), is a ...

Israel
. The use of fire enabled early humans to cook food, provide warmth, and have a light source at night. Early ''Homo sapiens'' originated some 200,000 years ago, ushering in the
Middle Palaeolithic The Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the second subdivision of the Paleolithic The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic or Palæolithic (), also called the Old Stone Age, is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original devel ...

Middle Palaeolithic
. Anatomic changes indicating modern language capacity also arise during the Middle Palaeolithic. During the Middle Palaeolithic Era, there is the first definitive evidence of human use of fire. Sites in Zambia have charred bone and wood that have been dated to 61,000 BP. The systematic burial of the dead,
music Music is the of arranging s in time through the of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the aspects of all human societies. General include common elements such as (which governs and ), (and its associated concepts , , and ...
, early art, and the use of increasingly sophisticated multi-part tools are highlights of the Middle Paleolithic. Throughout the Palaeolithic, humans generally lived as
nomad A nomad ( frm, nomade "people without fixed habitation") is a member of a community without fixed habitation who regularly moves to and from the same areas. Such groups include hunter-gatherer A hunter-gatherer is a human Humans (''Homo ...

nomad
ic
hunter-gatherer A hunter-gatherer is a human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use of culture, language and tools. T ...
s. Hunter-gatherer societies tended to be very small and egalitarian, although hunter-gatherer societies with abundant resources or advanced food-storage techniques sometimes developed sedentary lifestyles with complex social structures such as chiefdoms, and
social stratification Social stratification refers to a society's categorization Categorization is the ability and activity to recognize shared features or similarities between the elements of the experience of the world (such as Object (philosophy), objects, ev ...
. Long-distance contacts may have been established, as in the case of
Indigenous Australian Indigenous Australians are people with familial heritage to groups that lived in Australia before History of Australia (1788–1850), British colonisation. They include the Aboriginal Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Torres S ...
"highways" known as
songlines A songline, also called dreaming track, is one of the paths across the land (or sometimes the sky) within the animist belief system of The First Nations People of Australia, which mark the route followed by localised "creator-beings" during the ...
.


Mesolithic

The Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age (from the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
''mesos'', 'middle', and ''lithos'', 'stone'), was a period in the development of human
technology Technology ("science of craft", from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. I ...

technology
between the Palaeolithic and
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
periods of the Stone Age. The Mesolithic period began at the end of the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
epoch, some 10,000 BP, and ended with , the date of which varied by geographic region. In some areas, such as the
Near East The Near East ( ar, الشرق الأدنى, al-Sharq al-'Adnā, he, המזרח הקרוב, arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ, fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik, tr, Yakın Doğu) is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental ...
, agriculture was already underway by the end of the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
, and there the Mesolithic is short and poorly defined. In areas with limited
glacial A glacial period (alternatively glacial or glaciation) is an interval of time (thousands of years) within an ice age#REDIRECT Ice age {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from move {{R from ambiguous term {{R from other capitalisation {{R unprintwor ...
impact, the term "
Epipalaeolithic In archaeology, the Epipalaeolithic or Epipaleolithic (sometimes Epi-paleolithic etc.) is a term for a period occurring between the Upper Paleolithic The Upper Paleolithic (or Upper Palaeolithic) also called the Late Stone Age is the third and ...
" is sometimes preferred. Regions that experienced greater environmental effects as the last ice age ended have a much more evident Mesolithic era, lasting millennia. In
Northern Europe Northern Europe is the northern region of Europe. Narrower definitions may describe Northern Europe as being roughly north of the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, which is about 54th parallel north, 54°N, or may be based on other geographic ...
, societies were able to live well on rich food supplies from the
marsh A marsh is a wetland A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently (for years or decades) or seasonally (for weeks or months). Flooding results in oxygen-free (Anoxic waters, anoxic) processes prevail ...

marsh
lands fostered by the warmer climate. Such conditions produced distinctive human behaviours that are preserved in the material record, such as the
Maglemosian Maglemosian ( 9000 –  6000 BC) is the name given to a culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, ar ...
and Azilian cultures. These conditions also delayed the coming of the Neolithic until as late as 4000 BCE (6,000 Before Present, BP) in northern Europe. Remains from this period are few and far between, often limited to middens. In forested areas, the first signs of deforestation have been found, although this would only begin in earnest during the Neolithic, when more space was needed for agriculture. The Mesolithic is characterized in most areas by small composite flint tools: microliths and microburins. Fishing tackle, stone adzes, and wooden objects, e.g. canoes and bow (weapon), bows, have been found at some sites. These technologies first occur in Africa, associated with the Azilian cultures, before spreading to Europe through the Ibero-Maurusian culture of Northern Africa and the Kebaran culture of the Levant. However, independent discovery is not ruled out.


Neolithic

"Neolithic" means "New Stone Age". Although there were several species of human beings during the Paleolithic, by the Neolithic only ''Homo sapiens sapiens'' remained. (''Homo floresiensis'' may have survived right up to the very dawn of the Neolithic, about 12,200 years ago.) This was a period of primitive technological and social development. It began about 10,200 BCE in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the worldFigure 3.3
from ''First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies'' by Peter Bellwood, 2004
and ended between 4,500 and 2,000 BCE. The Neolithic is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domestication, domesticated animals. Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of origin of the domestic dog, dogs, sheep, and goat#History, goats. By about 6,900–6,400 BCE, it included domesticated cattle and domesticated pig, pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery. The Neolithic period saw the development of early villages, agriculture, animal domestication, tools, and the onset of the earliest recorded incidents of warfare. The Neolithic era commenced with the beginning of History of agriculture, farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution". It ended when metal tools became widespread (in the chalcolithic, Copper Age or
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the , as proposed in modern times by , for classifying and studying a ...
; or, in some geographical regions, in the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
). The term ''Neolithic'' is commonly used in the Old World, as its application to cultures in the
Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North North is one of the four compass points or cardinal directions. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to East and West. ''North'' ...

Americas
and
Oceania Oceania (, , ) is a geographic region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth ...

Oceania
that did not fully develop metal-working technology raises problems. Settlements became more permanent with some having circular houses with single rooms made of mudbrick. Settlements might have a surrounding stone wall to keep domesticated animals in and protect the inhabitants from other tribes. Later settlements have rectangular mud-brick houses where the family lived together in single or multiple rooms. Burial findings suggest an ancestor cult where people Plastered human skulls, preserved skulls of the dead. The Vinča culture may have created the earliest system of writing. The megalithic temple complexes of Ġgantija are notable for their gigantic structures. Although some late Eurasian Neolithic societies formed complex stratified chiefdoms or even states, states evolved in Eurasia only with the rise of metallurgy, and most Neolithic societies on the whole were relatively simple and egalitarian. Most clothing appears to have been made of animal skins, as indicated by finds of large numbers of bone and antler pins which are ideal for fastening leather. woolen, Wool cloth and linen might have become available during the later Neolithic, as suggested by finds of perforated stones that (depending on size) may have served as Spindle (textiles), spindle whorls or loom weights.


Chalcolithic

In Old World archaeology, the "Chalcolithic", "Eneolithic", or "Copper Age" refers to a transitional period where early copper metallurgy appeared alongside the widespread use of stone tools. During this period, some weapons and tools were made of copper. This period was still largely Neolithic in character. It is a phase of the
Bronze Age The Bronze Age is a prehistoric that was characterized by the use of , in some areas , and other early features of urban . The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the , as proposed in modern times by , for classifying and studying a ...
before it was discovered that adding tin to copper formed the harder bronze. The Copper Age was originally defined as a transition between the
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
and the Bronze Age. However, because it is characterized by the use of metals, the Copper Age is considered a part of the Bronze Age rather than the Stone Age. An archaeological site in Serbia contains the oldest securely dated evidence of copper making at high temperature, from 7,500 years ago. The find in June 2010 extends the known record of copper smelting by about 800 years, and suggests that copper smelting may have been invented independently in separate parts of Asia and Europe at that time, rather than spreading from a single source. The emergence of metallurgy may have occurred first in the Fertile Crescent, where it gave rise to the Bronze Age in the 4th millennium BCE (the traditional view), although finds from the Vinča culture in Europe have now been securely dated to slightly earlier than those of the Fertile Crescent. Timna Valley contains evidence of copper mining 9,000 to 7,000 years ago. The process of transition from
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
to Chalcolithic in the Middle East is characterized in archaeological stone tool assemblages by a decline in high quality raw material procurement and use. North Africa and the Nile Valley imported its iron technology from the
Near East The Near East ( ar, الشرق الأدنى, al-Sharq al-'Adnā, he, המזרח הקרוב, arc, ܕܢܚܐ ܩܪܒ, fa, خاور نزدیک, Xāvar-e nazdik, tr, Yakın Doğu) is a geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental ...
and followed the Near Eastern course of Bronze Age and
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
development. However the
Iron Age The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the ...
and Bronze Age occurred simultaneously in much of Africa.


Transition into ancient history


Bronze Age

The Bronze Age is the earliest period in which some civilizations have reached the end of prehistory, by introducing written records. The Bronze Age or parts thereof are thus considered to be part of prehistory only for the regions and civilizations who adopted or developed a system of keeping written records during later periods. The History of writing, invention of writing coincides in some areas with the early beginnings of the Bronze Age. Soon after the appearance of writing, people started creating texts including written accounts of events and records of administrative matters. The term Bronze Age refers to a period in human cultural development when the most advanced metalworking (at least in systematic and widespread use) included techniques for smelting copper and tin from naturally occurring outcroppings of ores, and then combining them to cast bronze. These naturally occurring ores typically included arsenic as a common impurity. Copper and tin ores are rare, as reflected in the fact that there were no tin bronzes in Western Asia before 3000 BCE. The Bronze Age forms part of the
three-age system The three-age system is the periodization of human history (generally including pre-history) into three time-periods; for example: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age; although the concept may also refer to other tripartite divisio ...
for prehistoric societies. In this system, it follows the
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
in some areas of the world. While copper is a common ore, deposits of tin are rare in the Old World, and often had to be traded or carried considerable distances from the few mines, stimulating the creation of extensive trading routes. In many areas as far apart as China and England, the valuable new material was used for weapons but for a long time apparently not available for agricultural tools. Much of it seems to have been hoarded by social elites, and sometimes deposited in extravagant quantities, from Chinese ritual bronzes and Copper Hoard Culture, Indian copper hoards to European hoards of unused axe-heads. By the end of the Bronze Age large states, which are often called empires, had arisen in Egypt, China, Anatolia (the Hittites), and History of Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia, all of them literate.


Iron Age

The Iron Age is not part of prehistory for all civilizations who had introduced written records during the Bronze Age. Most remaining civilizations did so during the Iron Age, often through conquest by the empires, which continued to expand during this period. For example, in most of Europe conquest by the Roman Empire means that the term Iron Age is replaced by "Roman", "Gallo-Roman", and similar terms after the conquest. In archaeology, the Iron Age refers to the advent of ferrous metallurgy. The adoption of iron coincided with other changes in some past cultures, often including more sophisticated agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles, which makes the archaeological Iron Age coincide with the "Axial Age" in the history of philosophy. Although iron ore is common, the metalworking techniques necessary to use iron are very different from those needed for the metal used earlier, and iron was slow-spreading and for long mainly used for weapons, while bronze remained typical for tools, as well as art.


Timeline

All dates are approximate and conjectural, obtained through research in the fields of
anthropology Anthropology is the of ity, concerned with , , , and , in both the present and past, including . studies patterns of behaviour, while studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. studies how language influences social life. studi ...
,
archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis Analysis is the process of breaking a complexity, complex topic or Substance theory, substance into smaller parts in order to gain a better underst ...
, genetics,
geology Geology (from the γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is a branch of concerned with both the liquid and , the of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can ...

geology
, or linguistics. They are all subject to revision due to new discoveries or improved calculations. BP stands for "Before Present (1950)." BCE stands for Before Common Era".


Paleolithic

; Lower Paleolithic * c. 2.8 million BP – Genus ''Homo'' appears * c. 2.5 million BP – Evidence of early human tools * c. 600,000 BP – Hunting-gathering * c. 400,000 BP – Control of fire by early humans ; Middle Paleolithic * c. 300,000–30,000 BP – Mousterian (
Neanderthal Neanderthals (, also Neandertals, ''Homo neanderthalensis'' or ''Homo sapiens neanderthalensis'') are an extinct species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, phys ...
) culture in Europe. * c. 200,000 BP – Anatomically modern humans ''(Homo sapiens sapiens)'' appear in Africa, one of whose characteristics is a lack of significant body hair compared to other primates. See e.g. Omo remains. * c. 170,000–83,000 BP – Invention of clothing * c. 75,000 BP – Toba catastrophe theory, Toba Volcano supereruption. * c. 80,000–50,000 BP – ''
Homo sapiens Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread of , characterized by and large, complex brains. This has enabled the development of advanced , , and . Humans are highly social and tend to live in complex s composed of many ...

Homo sapiens
'' exit Africa as a single population.This is indicated by the M130 marker in the Y chromosome. "Traces of a Distant Past", by Gary Stix, ''Scientific American'', July 2008, pp. 56–63. In the next millennia, descendants from this population migrate to southern India, List_of_islands_of_Malaysia, the Malay islands, Australia, Japan, China, Siberia, Alaska, and the northwestern coast of North America. * c. 80,000–50,000? BP – Behavioral modernity, by this point including language and sophisticated cognition ;Upper Paleolithic * c. 45,000 BP / 43,000 BCE – Beginnings of Châtelperronian culture in France. * c. 40,000 BP / 38,000 BCE – First human settlement in the southern Australia, southern half of the Australian mainland, by indigenous Australians (including the future sites of Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne.) * c. 32,000 BP / 30,000 BCE – Beginnings of Aurignacian culture, exemplified by the cave paintings ("parietal art") of Chauvet Cave in France. * c. 30,500 BP / 28,500 BCE – New Guinea is populated by colonists from Asia or Australia. * c. 30,000 BP / 28,000 BCE – A herd of reindeer is slaughtered and butchered by humans in the Vezere Valley in what is today France. * c. 28,000–20,000 BP – Gravettian period in Europe. Harpoons, needles, and saws invented. * c. 26,500 BP – Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Subsequently, the ice melts and the glaciers retreat again (Late Glacial Maximum). During this latter period human beings return to Western Europe (see Magdalenian culture) and enter North America from Eastern Siberia for the first time (see Paleo-Indians, pre-Clovis culture and Prehistoric migration and settlement of the Americas from Asia, Settlement of the Americas). * c. 26,000 BP / 24,000 BCE – People around the world use fibers to make baby-carriers, clothes, bags, baskets, and nets. * c. 25,000 BP / 23,000 BCE – A Dolní Věstonice (archaeology), settlement consisting of huts built of rocks and mammoth bones is founded near what is now Dolní Věstonice in Moravia in the Czech Republic. This is the oldest human permanent settlement that has been found by archaeologists. * c. 23,000 BP / 21,000 BCE – Small-scale trial cultivation of plants in Ohalo II, a hunter-gatherers' sedentary camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. * c. 16,000 BP / 14,000 BCE – Wisent sculpted in clay deep inside the cave now known as Le Tuc d'Audoubert in the French Pyrenees near what is now the border of Spain. * c. 14,800 BP / 12,800 BCE – The African humid period, Humid Period begins in North Africa. The region that would later become the Sahara is wet and fertile, and the aquifers are full.


Mesolithic/Epipaleolithic

* c. 12,500 to 9,500 BCE – Natufian culture: a culture of sedentary hunter-gatherers who may have cultivated Rye in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean)


Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...

* c. 9,400–9,200 BCE – Figs of a parthenocarpic (and therefore sterile) type are cultivated in the early
Neolithic The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, also known as world history, is t ...
village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley (Middle East), Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). The find predates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. * c. 9,000 BCE – Circles of T-shaped stone pillars erected at Göbekli Tepe in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey during pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period. As yet unexcavated structures at the site are thought to date back to the epipaleolithic. * c. 8,000 BC / 7000 BCE – In northern
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ( grc, Μεσοποταμία ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the ...

Mesopotamia
, now northern Iraq, cultivation of barley and wheat begins. At first they are used for beer, gruel, and soup, eventually for bread. In early agriculture at this time the planting stick is used, but it is replaced by a primitive plow in subsequent centuries. Around this time, a round stone tower, now preserved at about 8.5 meters high and 8.5 meters in diameter is built in Jericho.


Chalcolithic

* c. 3,700 BCE – Pictogram, Pictographic proto-writing, known as Cuneiform#History, proto-cuneiform, appears in
Sumer Sumer ()The name is from '; ''kig̃ir'', written and ,approximately "land of the civilized kings" or "native land". means "native, local", ifrom ''The Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary''). Literally, "land of the native (local, noble) lor ...

Sumer
, and records begin to be kept. According to the majority of specialists, the first Mesopotamian writing (actually still pictographic proto-writing at this stage) was a tool for record-keeping that had little connection to the spoken language. * c. 3,300 BCE – Approximate date of death of "Ötzi the Iceman", found preserved in ice in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. A copper-bladed axe, which is a characteristic technology of this era, was found with the corpse. * c. 3,000 BCE – Stonehenge construction begins. In its first version, it consisted of a circular ditch and bank, with 56 wooden posts.Caroline Alexander, "Stonehenge", ''National Geographic'', June 2008.


By region

;Old World * Prehistoric Africa ** Predynastic Egypt ** Prehistoric Central North Africa * Prehistoric Asia ** East Asia: *** Prehistoric China *** Prehistoric Korea *** Japanese Paleolithic *** East Asian Bronze Age *** Chinese Bronze Age ** South Asia *** Indus Valley Civilization, Prehistory of India *** South Asian Stone Age *** Prehistory of Sri Lanka ** Prehistory of Central Asia ** Prehistoric Siberia ** Southeast Asia: *** Prehistoric Indonesia *** Prehistoric Thailand ** Southwest Asia (Near East) *** Prehistory of Iran *** Aurignacian *** Natufian culture *** Ubaid period *** Uruk period *** Ancient Near East * Prehistoric Europe ** Prehistoric Caucasus *** Prehistoric Georgia *** Prehistoric Armenia ** Paleolithic Europe ** Neolithic Europe ** Bronze Age Europe ** Iron Age Europe ** Atlantic fringe *** Prehistoric Britain *** Prehistoric Ireland *** Prehistoric Iberia ** Prehistoric Balkans ;New World * Pre-Columbian Americas ** Prehistoric Southwestern cultural divisions ** 2nd millennium BC in North American history, 2nd millennium BCE in North American history ** 1st millennium BC in North American history, 1st millennium BCE in North American history ** 1st millennium in North American history ** Prehistory of Newfoundland and Labrador ** Prehistory of the Canadian Maritimes ** Prehistory of Quebec * Oceania ** Prehistoric Australia


See also

* Archaeoastronomy * Archaeology * Archaic humans, Archaic Homo sapiens * Band society * Behavioral modernity * History of the family * Holocene * Human evolution * Lineage-bonded society * Paleoanthropology * Pantribal sodalities * Periodization * Prehistoric art ** List of Stone Age art * Prehistoric medicine * Prehistoric migration * Prehistoric music * Prehistoric religion * Prehistoric technology * Prehistoric warfare * Three-age system * Younger Dryas


References


External links


Submerged Landscapes Archaeological Network
* The Neanderthal site a

Belgium.
''North Pacific Prehistory''
is an academic journal specialising in Northeast Asian and North American archaeology.



a collection of resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library. {{Authority control Prehistory, World history