School in a Book: Prehistory


The Beginning of Time

The Big Bang: The theoretical beginning of the universe during which a large force of energy resulted in a huge explosion of matter. Rapidly, the matter cooled and expanded, forming stars, planets and everything else in the Universe. The approximate date of the Big Bang is 14 billion BCE.

The formation of Earth: 4.5 billion BCE. Oceans formed around 4.4 billion BCE.

The formation of the first living organisms (microorganisms): Approximately 4 billion BCE.

LUCA: Last universal common ancestor. 3.5 billion BCE. LUCA is the most recent living organism that survived to evolve into all current life on the planet.

Hominid: The great apes that eventually evolved into humans. The first hominids lived approximately 7 million BCE.

The Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

Homo habilis: The first human species. They evolved in East Africa from an unknown, extinct great ape around 2.5 million BCE. They were the first great apes to use stone tools and they had larger brains than their ancestors.

Homo erectus: The human species that evolved from Homo habilis around 1.5 million BCE and migrated out of Africa to Asia. These humans walked upright and were the first animal to use fire for cooking (around 1 million BCE). Around 500,000 BCE they started hunting with spears, building shelters and creating more complex tribal communities.

The Neanderthals: One of the most successful groups of the Homo erectus. After evolving in Africa at an unknown date, they migrated across Asia and Europe after the Sahara desert became passable and lived in Europe until around 40,000 BCE. They mated with Homo sapiens.

Homo sapiens: The modern-day human species. They evolved around 200,000 BCE in Africa and were highly successful, migrating across Asia and Europe along with the Neanderthals. They were the first apes to speak in a complex way. They led other related species in the complexity of their societies and technology. Around 25,000 BCE they began performing ritual burials and making clothing, artworks, jewelry, advanced tools, boats, ovens, pottery, harpoons, saws, woven baskets, woven nets and woven baby carriers.

Cro-Magnons: The group of Homo erectus who, around 25,000 BCE, replaced the Neanderthals in Europe. Like the Neanderthals, they mated with Homo sapiens. From them, Homo sapiens inherited larger brains.

Early modern humans: The group of Homo sapiens that evolved around 40,000 BCE and settled that last two habitable continents: Australia (using boats) and North America (using a land bridge connecting modern-day Alaska to Asia)

Last Glacial Age/Last Ice Age: The most recent Ice Age (of many throughout the history of the earth). It lasted from about 2.5 million BCE to about 10,000 BCE. During this time, a land bridge formed between Asia and modern-day Alaska, which humans used to cross into the Americas. The land bridge formed because much of the world’s water was locked up in huge ice sheets and could not flow freely. From the Alaska area, humans settled North, Central and South America.

Cradle of civilization: The various areas of the world in which civilizations arose, largely independently, along important rivers. These include Egypt (along the Nile River); Mesopotamia (along the Tigris River and Euphrates River); the Indus River Valley (along the Indus River); China (along the Yellow River and Yangtze River); the Incan civilization (in modern-day Peru); and, sometimes, the Mayan civilization (in modern-day Mexico–though this civilization arose later than the others, it might have arisen independently, with little or no external influence).

The first farms: People began raising crops in Mesopotamia, in an area called the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, around 10,000 BCE. Just prior to this, animal husbandry had begun. Some of the most important crops were barley and wheat, but other grains and vegetables were also grown.

The first towns: The ability to cultivate land and use it as a reliable food source led to a decrease in the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the formation of the first towns. Town-based Mesopotamians built religious sites, smelted copper, developed writing, built irrigation channels, invented the wheel (which was only used for pottery until later) and much more.

The Neolithic Revolution: The move from a nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a town-based, agriculture-based way of life. The revolution occurred at different times in different places throughout the world; however, the change was seen on all continents in the span of several thousand years, despite no known contact between some of them. Note that the Neolithic Revolution is also called the Agricultural Revolution, though the Second Agricultural Revolution of the 1800s that helped bring about the Industrial Revolution is sometimes also called the Agricultural Revolution. Around the same time that the agricultural revolution began, Caucasians settled Europe for the first time.

Linear A: The world’s first written language. Linear A has not been deciphered.

Linear B: The world’s second written language and the first to be deciphered by modern historians.

Cuneiform: The world’s first complex written language. It was developed and used in Sumer after approximately 3,000 BCE and used pictographs. Its use triggered the beginning of recorded history.

Hieroglyphics: The world’s second complex written language. It was developed and used in Egypt shortly after cuneiform was developed and, like cuneiform, used pictographs.


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