This is an extended-family history and perhaps the best place to start is with human pre-history. Primates have been evolving for c85m years, but Homo Habilis was our first hominid grandparent with a brain of c660 cc; Homo Habilis lived in Africa c2.2 million years ago (mya)-c1.6 mya. Homo Erectus, was a hominid with a brain capacity of c850-1,100 cc, who first appeared in Africa c1.4 mya. Homo Erectus migrated into southern Europe and Asia, and survived until c200,000 years ago, when we appeared. Homo Sapiens appeared c730,000-128,000 years ago: he had a larger brain of c1200-1700 cc. Homo Sapiens is also known as the Neanderthal man, and he followed Homo Erectus, but migrated further northwest. Early historical evidence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, with an even larger brain size of c1000-1850 cc, exists in Africa, Asia, and Europe is widely documented for at least 50,000 years.
Man is known for his (non-exclusive) ability to make tools and the first paleolithic-era, flaked, stone tools have been dated to c2.6-1.8m years ago. There is also evidence that some Homo Erectus men made a stone hand axe and used fire-sharpened spears to hunt for meat. It seems likely that Homo Erectus first used fire regularly from about 0.5m years ago. He then used fire to cook his meat and protect himself from predators, and he probably lived in a hut from about 200,000 years ago. (It has been suggested that fire and cooking led directly to improved diet and increased brain size. Cooking breaks down meat fibres and makes chewing and digestion easier. Note the difference in Neanderthal's jaw and brain sizes compaired to our own.) Further evidence indicates that both Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens (separately) both collaborated in group hunting and even devised basic traps, or pit-falls. Such collaboration led to hunting big game by 200,000 years ago
The world was different 700,000 years ago. Climate varied widely with up to 30% of the earth's surface covered in ice causing up to 150m lower sea levels. The Sahara was a well-watered, grassy pasture. Britain and Japan were not always islands and man was able to migrate as far as China, and even to Australia (the latter as recently as 50,000 years ago). It seems likely that rudimentary boat travel enabled near-ocean voyages to Australia and presumably the near archipelagos. Modern archeological findings have raised the possibility of some early migrants reaching the coastal Americas.
The advance from rudimentary hominid to modern man was dependent on increasing brain size. It seems that the earliest Australopith hominids were spread across eastern and northern Africa. The redoubtable Mary Leakey found bipedal Australopithecus afarensis footprints near Olduvai in Laetoli, Tanzania, Africa now dated as 3.7 million years old (myo). The reconstructed hominids were c1.3m tall, walking upright without an apelike big toe, but with a hominid foot-arch. The apparent academic consensus is climate change cooled Africa and reduced woodland gave way to savannah grassland. The apparent impact on man was to force him to stand thereby freeing his hands. The need for defence against African predators led Australopithecus to make tools as weapons and increasingly he ate the meat from the animals he dominated and increased his brain size, always hungry for the extra energy in meat, to 700 cc. The increasing tool-making capabilities are evidenced by the discovered stone weapons, made by 'flaking' chips off a target rock by striking with a hand-held stone in a downward motion. There are similar discoveries of carved bone fishing hooks, spear heads, etc. Such weapons have been found worn-down in the area of large animal skeletons, clearly linking their function. The increased number and diversity of animal bones in occupied settlement areas have helped to date hominid evolution. Some of the bones found with evidence of being broken open for marrow indicate that cannibalism was prevalent.
It seems that Homo Sapiens Sapiens originated in Africa c200,000 years ago and began to spread out of Africa c70,000 years ago. Modern man co-existed with his larger cousin, Homo Neanderthalensis, until c25,000 years ago. It is unclear whether modern man fought with the Neanderthals and killed them off, or if the Neanderthals were just unable to compete. It seems likely that both hominids were able to communicate using language, as a key Neanderthal hyoid bone (which enables speech) was found in Israel. It is also possible that modern man lived closely with his Neanderthal cousins, and skeletal evidence has been found in Portugal of a child with both human and Neanderthal characteristics. While Homo Sapiens Sapiens is relatively tall (1.4-1.9 m), both our cousins were shorter at an average of 1.6m for Neanderthal and 1.8m for Erectus.
The challenges faced by our distant ancestors included competition with other hominids and predator animals, drastic climate change, and morphological or physical change. As man developed he lived in hunter-gatherer kinship groups of near-family members. Social coordination required the use of language to organise group hunting tasks, shelter construction, defence, tool making, and food preparation, etc. After study of 1,000 languages, researchers have claimed that the word papa was commonly used 50,000 years ago. Competition for game with wolves evidently led to the domestication of wolves and the earliest known evidence of a domesticated dog is a jawbone found in a cave in Iraq and dated to about 10000 BC. A dog's jawbone differs from a wolf's in that it has been bred to have a smaller jaw and teeth.
Between 9000-6000 BC man learned to domesticate wild cereals and gradually to create grain crops. Wild grain was evidently deliberately selected and seeded by hand over several generations of farmers in southern Mexico to create modern maize, or sweet corn. Until c8000 BC, most humans had lived as hunter-gatherers, in small nomadic kinship groups. Agriculture changed that and enabled access to food surpluses, which led to free time, permanent human settlements, the domestication of animals and grains, and the use of metal tools. In the Indus Valley people farmed six-row barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, jujubes, and dates; and they later cultivated cotton. Agriculture encouraged trade and cooperation, and led to complex societies.
We owe something to these ancient people. Beer was brewed at least 7,000 years ago and a recipe was found on Babylonian clay tablets dated 4300 BC. Wine was produced in the Middle East in c6500 BC, and in China buried wine storage jars have been dated to 7000 BC. Bread loves have been found in 5,000 year old Egyptian tombs, and Neolithic people made cakes from stone-crushed barley and wheat in c10000 BC. Neolithic men in France also practised basic medical treatments lancing boils and removing bone from skulls in c20000 BC. The Indian healing system of Ayurveda has been dated to 3000 BC.
A by-product of the food surpluses was the need for a leader to decide on food distribution and to coordinate activities. A bureaucracy was also required to document food allocations and in turn that led to a written language to keep records. The first animals known to have been domesticated as a source of food were sheep in the Middle East in c8000 BC. Goats followed soon after, and the two animals supported the nomadic pastoralist tribes that moved their flocks, guided by the availability of fresh grass. Eventually farmers of cereal crops settled into a settled life to tend their annual crops.
Since wealth was accumulated in such conditions jealousies, rivalries, and war also followed. By c6,000 BC, the first proto-states had developed in Mesopotamia, the Nile and Indus Valleys, and in coastal Peru. Military forces were formed for protection. States cooperated and competed for resources, in some cases waging wars. Around 2000–3000 BC, some states, such as Persia, India, China, Rome, and Greece, developed through conquest into the first expansive empires. Influential religions, such as Judaism, originating in the Middle East, and Hinduism originated in South Asia.
Of the four basic farm animals, cattle represent the most significant development in village life. Not only does the cow provide much more milk than its own offspring require, but the brute strength of the ox is an addition to man's muscle power. From c4000 BC oxen were harnessed and put to work. They dragged sledges and later ploughs and wheeled wagons (an almost simultaneous innovation in the Middle East and in Europe). The plough increased the crops of wheat or rice. The wagon enabled the grain to be brought home from more distant fields. India and southeast Asia used the water buffalo, well adapted to hot, wet conditions. Whether dragging a plough-like tool through a flooded field or hauling a cart on a dry track, the buffalo is ideally suited to the role of a farm animal in rice-growing areas, and it also provides a good supply of milk.
Humans domesticated the horse by c7000 BC in the Arabian Peninsula. The recent discovery at al-Maqar in Saudi Arabia has been Carbon-14 tested and shows horse domestication, although horses had been herded for food for c50,000 years. Wild horses of various kinds had spread throughout most of the world. Their bones are among the remains of early human meals and they appear in cave paintings with other animals. Some of their earliest fossils have been found in America, but after crossing the Bering Land Bridge they become extinct in America. Horses were reintroduced by Spanish colonists in the 1500s. A natural habitat of the wild horse is the steppes of central Asia. Here, with its ability to move fast and far, it can gallop out of harm's way and make the most of scarce grazing.
Apparently the early Kazakhstanis also caught, tamed and bred horses c5,500 years ago in the steppes of central Asia; they also ate them and drank their milk, possibly fermented like the modern Kazakhstani alcoholic koumiss. The original purpose, as with cattle, was probably to gain a reliable source of meat and milk. However, men soon discovered that they could use a horse as transport. The horse may well have led to the expansion of languages and the spread of culture and technology. By riding a horse, man greatly improved his ability to move and hunt and the idea was quickly extended to asses and camels. By 2000 BC Asians had also domesticated red jungle fowl, and elephants.
Civilisation has been defined as the social process whereby societies achieve an advanced stage of development and organization. Necessarily this process involves the formation of groups of people. As increasingly sedentary farming drew people together the people created central gathering places, often religious in character. They also developed languages and writing to keep their records and develop trade. As time passed permanent cities were built and social hierarchies were developed. These characteristics are what define civilisation. Later unique civilisations sometimes developed around single cities, which much later evolved into city states.
Farming was the key that had led to small groups being able to live in the same areas. They developed villages and common-ground ceremonial centers, but no early cities. When people gradually learned to manage their water resources, chiefly river water, permanent settlements became possible. The earliest form of irrigation was natural, such as that at Catal Huyuk in southwestern Turkey. Rivers and water became powerful symbols for ancient man, especially as cities grew along the river banks. Some groups became herders and gatherers and thus remained nomads, while others combined herding with farming. The result of sedentary farming and animal husbandry was permanent settlement with excess food. This allowed occupational specialization and the development of cities, which supported an increased population.
It is unlikely that we will ever determine which city is the more ancient. The evidence now available suggests 7000 BC as a likely date for the beginning of cities, 20,000 years after the oldest known villages. Jericho is located near a permanent spring a few miles west of the Jordan River. There were indications of settlement there after 9000 BC. This settlement grew into a city by 7000 BC, and Jericho is perhaps the oldest continuously occupied city on earth.
Cities, or settlements, existed in Mesopotamia from 5500 BCE. The earlier cities lay in the northern part of Iraq, and in northeastern Syria. City living quickly spread down the Euphrates River and into the valley of the Tigris River, reaching the swamps at the head of the Persian Gulf before 4000 BC. Eridu, to the south of Ur and close to the Gulf, built its first temple before 5000 BC. By 4000 BC the combined valleys of the Tigris-Euphrates were dotted with small cities whose peoples ruled over the built-up area and its supporting agricultural lands. The increased populations led to competition and frequent warfare between the developing city states and their kings.
Pottery-making had existed in the Middle East since c7000 BC. By the time the Sumerians entered Mesopotamia, around c3500 BC, most of the technology of Ancient Mesopotamia was already there. Copper, gold and silver were in use; and bronze, available in southern Canaan and Thailand, was a later addition. Most scholars think that Sumerians invented the wheel, brick-mold, pick-axe, and sailing ship; and that they also developed writing to its essential role in their public and private lives. The origin of the Sumerians is unknown. Their language is unrelated to any other language thus far discovered. The Sumerians had invaded Mesopotamia and conquered the local people who may have been the Subartu. Whoever the Sumerians were, they may have been the first residents to become literate, although Chinese evidence might contest that.
1 Adapted from Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective; and Chris Scarre, Timelines of the Ancient World, pp. 42-92. . See also Human evolution at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution#Genus_Homo; Australopithecus at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus; Homo (genus) at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_(genus); and Human at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapiens; Trevor Homer, The Book of Origins. See also the reference to the first image below, BBC report by Jonathan Amos, Fossil finds extend human story, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8285180.stm, dated 1 October 2009.
2 See BBC report by Paul Rincon, 'Oldest sculpture' found in Morocco, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3047383.stm, dated 23 May 2003; BBC report by Jonathan Amos, Dig unearths Stone Age sculptures, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3129654.stm, dated 22 September 2003; and BBC report by Jason Palmer, Human fossils set European record, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7758986.stm, dated 2 December 2008. See also BBC report by Griet Scheldeman, "Early toolmakers were 'engineers'", http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8195664.stm, dated 14 August 2009. Early modern humans in South Africa were using "heat treatment" to improve their stone tools about 72,000 years ago, according to new research.
3 See Laetoli at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laetoli_footprints. The Footprints of the more modern Homo Erectus have also been found and dated as 1.5 myo. See BBC News report, Earliest 'human footprints' found, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7913375.stm, dated 26 February 2009.
4 See BBC report by Jonathan Amos, Oldest human skulls found, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2978800.stm, dated 11 June 2003. The report outlines the discovery of three skulls, all c160,000 years old, in Ethiopia. Stone tools, a hippo skull, and buffalo fossils were also found indicating the ancient humans had a meat-rich diet. Evidently there are some differences from modern humans and a new species has been named as Homo sapiens idaltu. See also Human evolution at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution#Genus_Homo.
5 See Neanderthal, language at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal. See also BBC report by Pallab Ghosh, 'Oldest musical instrument' found, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8117915.stm, dated 25 June 2009. The last article "...suggests that the playing of music was common as far back as 40,000 years ago when modern humans spread across Europe."
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