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Learn about prehistory in this lesson. Look at everything about prehistory, from the earliest appearance of humans to the development of stone tools, agriculture, animal domestication, permanent settlements and writing.

Prehistory

History is everything humanity has done since we first started recording the past through written records, sort of like a person’s life before she or he starts remembering it. We know it happened, we just don’t have any personal memory of it happening.

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Thus, it may be argued that everything that happened before the invention of writing is prehistory. Some scholars push this back as far as the creation of the universe, while others push it back to the development of life on Earth, and still others only push it back to the first appearance of human beings. In this lesson, we will briefly discuss pre- history in terms of the Stone Age and it’s three major time periods: the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.

Paleolithic

Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared about 200,000 years ago during the Paleolithic period. Paleolithic means Old Stone Age, because in that time, we had just begun to use stones as weapons and tools. Because of that, Paleolithic stone works are somewhat awkward and bulky.

We know more than that about the Paleolithic period though. For one thing, we were the first and perhaps only species who could speak, and we developed that ability in the Paleolithic. Along with more efficient communication, we began burying the dead, tinkering with organized sound (that is, making music), and painting and carving objects. Throughout the period, the stone tools gradually became more sophisticated.The Paleolithic period finally ended when the Ice Age did, around 10,000 B.C.E.

That means that for the first 190,000 years of our existence, food was a rather scarce commodity. Humans were forced to move from place to place, exhausting all the food before moving on.

Mesolithic

The Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, was very different from the Paleolithic. Because the glaciers were gone, the northern and southern regions suddenly had a bountiful food supply.

Forested regions were for the first time being cut down in small numbers. Flint was worked into small tools, which were used for many different things. Fishing tackle and stone adzes have been found and could have been used for fishing and shaping wood. Canoes and bows have also been dated to this time period.With food more plentiful and the development of better tools and weapons to hunt and make use of animals, it’s not surprising that the human population blossomed. With animals and environments more diverse than they had been for thousands of years, it also seems only natural that cultures that were more and more different from each other developed during this time period.

Neolithic

When we realized that we could plant seeds and they would grow into something edible, we moved into the Neolithic, or New Stone Age.

In Mesopotamia and along the Nile, Indus, and Yangtze river valleys, this happened around 8,000 B.C.E.

, though some parts of the world only started farming around 4000 B.C.E.

In some places, like the deserts of Eurasia or the plains of North America, we wouldn’t start farming until only recently, if at all. When farming was used in any area, there was no longer a need to move every few weeks or months and settlements became permanent, and consequently grew larger.It wasn’t too long before writing was introduced too, though the time of its invention varied from area to area. In old world, in the major river valleys, it appeared as early as 3,600 B.C.E.

The tribes on their borders were writing by 3,200 B.C.E. In the Americas, the first writing only goes back to about 500 B.C.E or so.

Timeline

Here is a timeline base list of some of the important things that happened in the Stone Age, with all of the dates being rough estimates:

200,000 B.

C.E.

Homo sapiens appears
125,000 B.C.E. Humans first wear clothing
80,000 B.

C.E.

Language develops
38,000 B.C.E. Cave paintings in France
25,000 B.

C.E.

First pottery in Czechoslovakia
13,000 B.C.E.

Dogs domesticated in Europe
10,000 B.C.E. Ice Age ends; Jericho settled
9,700 B.C.

E.

Mediterranean flooded
8,500 B.C.E. Cattle domesticated in Middle East
8,000 B.

C.E.

First agriculture along the river valleys; cities arise along the Yangtze, Indus, Tigris-Euphrates, and Nile river valleys
7,000 B.C.

E.

Squash domesticated in Mexico
5,300 B.C.

E.

Cats domesticated in China
4,500 B.C.E. Potatoes domesticated in Peru
4,000 B.C.E.

Northern Europe develops farming and maize domesticated in Central and South America
3,600 B.C.E. Mesopotamia develops a writing system
500 B.

C.E.

First evidence of writing in the Americas

Lesson Summary

Prehistory can be defined as the span between the appearance of the first humans, about 200,000 years ago, and the development of writing. It is a huge amount of time and includes hundreds of cultures spread all over the world. In this lesson, we discussed prehistory in terms of the Stone Age and it’s three major time periods: the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (New Stone Age).The Paleolithic or Old Stone Age is characterized by the development of language, music, and art and ended with the last Ice Age. In the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, the environment was more diverse and humans improved their tools and began utilizing more resources and evolving varying cultures.

And in the Neolithic or New Stone Age, agriculture and permanent settlements were first developed. This establishment of settlements is what allowed for the introduction of writing and an end to prehistory.

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