Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day


  Illustrated History of the World

Prehistory - until ca. 4000 B.C.



until ca. 4000 B.C.

Early or Lower Paleolithic

Middle Paleolithic

When compared to the history of humankind, let alone that of the Earth, the inquiry into the development, roots and relations of humans is very young indeed. Up until the 18th century, the biblical story of human creation—"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."—was accepted as an incontestable truth in many parts of the world. Then, however, natural scientists— Charles Darwin the most celebrated among them—appeared. They doubted the special status attributed to humans by the Bible and viewed their development within the context of a theory of evolution. The theory has since been supported and modified by the discovery of skeletal remains, primitive tools, and the remnants of ancient settlements. Their classification, dating, and evaluation using modern technologies has made possible an increasingly accurate perception of human origins.

Reconstruction of a hunting scene from the Old Stone Age, ca. 25,000-30,000 B.C.
For the Cro-Magnon man, the mammoth was a desirable prey as use could be made of the meat, hide, and teeth.


The Stone Age: The Beginning of Mankind

From the Beginnings to ca. 4000 B.C.


The Divisions of the Prehistoric Periods

Prehistory is divided into the Old Stone Age or Paleolithic period, the New Stone Age or Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age:

Early or Lower Paleolithic: ca. 2.5 miIlion-250,000 B.C.

Middle Paleolithic: ca. 250,000-30,000 B.C.

Late or Upper Paleolithic: ca. 30,000-10,000 B.C.

Neolithic Period: ca. 10,000-1800 B.C.

Bronze Age: ca. 4000-700 B.C. (Middle East), ca. 1800-800 B.C. (Europe)

Iron Age: from ca. 1100/800 B.C.

Mankind's prehistory occurred over the Quaternary period of geologic time:

Early Pleistocene: ca. 1.8 million-800,000 B.C.

Middle Pleistocene: ca. 800,000-127,000 B.C.

Late Pleistocene: ca. 127,000-10,000 B.C.

Holocene (post-Ice Age): ca. 10,000 B.C. to the present


Prehistoric Europe and the Near East.

1. Evolution from human ape to Homo sapiens

Paleolithic scraper

Even today, no definitive answers to the questions about the origins of mankind have been found. In 1871, Charles Darwin challenged the answers given by the biblical story of creation with his theory of evolution. The evolution theory suggested that man had 1 descended from anthropoids. Africa, site of the earliest hominoid discoveries, is considered to be "the cradle of mankind." The evolution of today's Homo sapiens can be traced by the trail of skeletal remains, tools, and the remnants of settlements—such as cave paintings—that have been left throughout the ages.


It All Began in Africa

With the development of the theory of evolution and the corroborating identification and classification of
hominoid finds since the mid-19th century, the hypothesis of an African origin for humans is generally accepted today.

The 2 story of man's origins and evolution was the subject of fierce controversy throughout the 19th century.

2 Evolution from Australopithecus anamensis (blue) to Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus and archaic Homo sapiens to Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens sapiens.




Waterworn pebble resembling a human face, from Makapansgat, South Africa, ca. 3.000.000 BCE.
Reddish brown jasperite.

Humankind seems to have originated in Africa in the very remote past. From that great continent also comes the earliest evidence of human recognition of abstract images in the natural environment, if not the first examples of what people generally call "art." In 1925, explorers of a cave at Makapansgat in South Africa discovered bones of Australopithecus, a predecessor of modern humans who lived some three million years ago. Associated with the bones was a waterworn reddish brown jasperite pebble that bears an uncanny resemblance to a human face. The nearest known source of this variety of ironstone is 20 miles away from the cave. One of the early humans who took refuge in the rock shelter at Makapansgat must have noticed the pebble in a streambed and, awestruck by the "face" on the stone, brought it back for safekeeping.

Is the Makapansgat pebble art? In modern times, many artists have created works people universally consider art by removing objects from their normal contexts, altering them, and then labeling them. In 1917, for example, Marcel Duchamp took a ceramic urinal, set it on its side, called it Fountain, and declared his "ready-made" worthy of exhibition among more conventional artworks. But the artistic environment of the past century cannot be projected into the remote past. For art historians to declare a found object such as the Makapansgat pebble an "artwork," it must have been modified by human intervention beyond mere selection — and it was not. In fact, evidence indicates that, with few exceptions, it was not until three million years later, around 30,000 все, that humans intentionally manufactured sculptures and paintings. That is when the story of art through the ages really begins.

Paleolithic Art
The several millennia following 30,000 все saw a powerful outburst of creativity. The works produced by the peoples of the Old Stone Age or Paleolithic period (from the Greek paleo, "old," and lithos, "stone") are of an astonishing variety. They range from simple shell necklaces to human and animal forms in ivory, clay, and stone to monumental paintings, engravings, and relief sculptures covering the huge wall surfaces of caves. During the Paleolithic period, humankind went beyond the recognition of human and animal forms in the natural environment to the representation
(literally, the presenting again — in different and substitute form — of something observed) of humans and animals. The immensity of this achievement cannot be exaggerated.

There were two schools of thought. According to the creationist doctrine of the monotheistic religions, man had been created by God, after which he did not evolve. In opposition to this stood Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which stated that life was 3, 4, 5, 6 continually evolving and emphasized the connection between human origins and the animal kingdom, specifically primates. Darwin's theory proposed a progressive refining of the intellectual, social, and creative abilities of early man. He illustrated this theory with reference to the increasing use of tools and man's lifestyle shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer and animal breeder.
Simultaneously the 19th century saw the beginning of a systematic notation and classification of hominoid fossils and stone tools. Of particular concern was the determination of the age of the fossils; however, accurately dating the finds only became reliable with the discovery of the radiocarbon dating method in 1947 by Professor Willard F. Libby of the University of Chicago.
As the oldest hominoids were found in East Africa, a theory proposing Africa as the "cradle of mankind" emerged. This hypothesis was substantiated by the discovery of the "Taung Baby." a 2.2-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus in 1924.

3 Australopithecus anamensis (ca. 4.2 million B.C.), 4 Australopithecus afarensis (ca. 4-3 million B.C.), 5 Australopithecus,
6 Homo erectus (ca. 1.9 million— 200,000 B.C.), reconstructions.


Early Hominoids

According to the most recent discoveries, man's beginnings can be traced back more than six million years.
Through a succession of progressive stages, the earliest hominoids developed increasingly greater skills.
Slowly man began to leave his African "cradle."


Following Darwin's theory, paleontologists looked for a "missing link" between man and his nearest relative in the animal world, the chimpanzee. Since then, many hominoid species have been discovered, not all of which are direct ancestors of the modern Homo sapiens.
For a long time, the Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived 5.5—4 million years ago in present-day Ethiopia, was considered the earliest hominoid. In 2000, however, Orrorin tugenensis ("millennium man") was found. It lived about six million years ago in Kenya.

The next stage after the Ardipithecus was the 7, 8 Australopithecus, which lived 3.7-1.3 million years ago and was already using primitive pebble tools. The Australopithecus afarensis became famous through "Lucy," whose skeletal remains were found in 1974.

7 Skulls of Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus boisei
8 Skull of an Australopithecus with added lower jaw

The next stage of development was the Homo genus. Homo habilis, which lived 1.5-2.3 million vears ago, had a larger brain and ate a broader diet than did previous hominoids. The new diet included meat and animal fats— until then the hominoid diet had been purely vegetarian. Homo habilis was the first hominoid to leave the forest and 11 hunt in the savannas. He is credited with the earliest hewn stone tools, which were probably used to break open bones to get at the marrow.

Homo ergaster (Homo erectus), which lived approximately 1.8-1 million B.C., settled throughout the African continent and was the first hominoid that resembled modern man in size and proportions. He walked erect only, stored food supplies, and made stone artifacts. About 1.6 million years ago, he made the first completely reworked 9, 10 hand axe that also functioned as a pick. Homo ergastcr was also the first hominid to travel beyond Africa, gradually populating the nearer parts of Asia and Europe.

9,10. Flint hand axes, worked tools, Paleolithic period


No hominoid discovery has elicited such a sensation as the almost complete, 43-inch-high skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis found in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia in 1974. She was named "Lucy" after a Beatles song that had been playing in the research camp. The press promptly named her the "missing link." She belongs to man's plniogenetic line and possesses all the anatomical prerequisites for walking erect. Her bones and teeth provided valuable information about her lifestyle.

11 Australopitheanes hunting on the plains, Paleolithic period


Territorial Expansion

Spreading out of Africa, early man initially settled in Asia and Europe, and then in Australia and the Americas.
Due to the climate, it was primarily the robust Ice Age hunters—represented by the Neanderthal and the
Cro-Magnon man—who were able to establish themselves in Europe.

It was long believed that early man did not leave his African homeland until ca. 1.4 million years ago. However, in the 1990s, a 1.7-1.8 million-year-old hominoid skull was found in Georgia in western Asia.

The oldest Homo erectus fossils have been found in Asia; "Java man," named after the island where the first example was discovered, is today dated to 1.7 million years B.C., while 2 "Peking man," found in China, is dated to 600,000-200,000 B.C. By that time, Homo erectus was probably already using fire and possibly a form of human speech. Homo erectus was also the first hominid to live in Europe, which was at that time characterized by extreme ice ages. The European form of Homo erectus is named 3 Homo heidelbergensis after a find near Heidelberg in 1907. They are thought to have lived 400,000-800,000 years ago.

3 Homo heidelbergensis hunting

2 Skull of "Peking man,"
Middle Pleistocene period


The Late Pleistocene era (127,000-10,000 B.C.) was the age of the Neanderthal. This new hominid, considered to be cither a side branch of Homo sapiens or a separate subspecies, came about through a series of evolutionary stages and died out about 30,000 years ago. Since the first finding of a Neanderthal skullcap in 1856, this has become the best known example of primitive man. 1, 4 Neanderthals were stocky Ice Age hunters with the greatest skull volume of all hominoids known to date. Their wide nose and large nasal cavity were well suited to the cold climate.
Around 40,000 years ago, modern Homo sapiens, in the form of the Cro-Magnon man, finally migrated out of Africa to Europe. This direct ancestor of today's man inhabited modern-day Israel as early as 100,000 в.с. ("Proto-Cro-Magnon"). They were taller, more slender and had more stamina than the Neanderthals, but the two coexisted in parallel in Europe for about 10,000 years. Many theories concerning their coexistence and the causes of the Neanderthal's displacement have been suggested. It is generally assumed that there was interaction and a mutual influence between the two hominid genera, but interbreeding of the two is considered highly unlikely.

At least 60,000 years ago, although possibly much earlier, early man settled the Australian subcontinent by way of New Guinea. The first hominids did not reach the Americas, however, until just 11,500 years ago. Ice Age hunters came to the continent via Siberia and Alaska. The oldest finds discovered in America arc worked stone arrowheads and spear points. These, known as "Clovis points." are thought to stem from the Clovis culture.

1 Homo neanderthalensis
(ca. 150,000-30,000 B.C.),
sculpted reconstruction of a Neanderthal

4 Neanderthals hunting cave-bears

Skull found at Kalpe

Neanderthal fossils

Following the classification in 1863 of a partial skull found in a cave in the Xeander Valley near Dusseldorf in 1856, one of man's early relatives became known as the Seanderthal. Researchers later determined that previously unclassifiable bones discovered in Engis, Belgium, in 1829-1830 and again at Kalpe (Gibraltar) in 1848 belonged to this hominid. The Kalpe skull is much better preserved than the skullcap that was finally identified, and the Neanderthal should perhaps have been named the "Kalpe."



Human with feline head, from Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany, ca. 30,000-28,000 все. Mammoth ivory. Ulmer Museum, Ulm.

Western Europe

Even older than the Namib-ian painted plaques are some of the first sculptures and paintings of western Europe
, although examples of still greater antiquity may yet be found in Africa, bridging the gap between the Makapansgat pebble and the Apollo 11 painted plaques. One of the earliest sculptures discovered to date is an extraordinary ivory statuette, which may be as old as 30,000 все, from a cave at Hohlenstein-Stadel in Germany. Carved out of mammoth ivory and nearly a foot talla truly huge image for its erathe statuette represents something that existed only in the vivid imagination of the unknown sculptor who conceived it. It is a human (whether male or female is debated) with a feline head.

Such composite creatures with animal heads and human bodies (and vice versa) were common in the art of the ancient Near East and Egypt. In those civilizations, surviving texts usually allow historians to name the figures and describe their role in contemporary religion and mythology. But for Stone Age representations, no one knows what their makers had in mind. The animal-headed humans of Paleolithic art sometimes have been called sorcerers and described as magicians wearing masks. Similarly, Paleolithic human-headed animals have been interpreted as humans dressed up as animals. In the absence of any Stone Age written explanations this is a time before writing, before (or pre-) historyresearchers can only speculate on the purpose and function of a statuette such as that from Hohlenstein-Stadel.

Art historians are certain, however, that such statuettes were important to those who created them, because manufacturing an ivory figure, especially one a foot tall, was a complicated process. First, a tusk had to be removed from the dead animal by cutting into the ivory where it joined the head. The sculptor then cut the tusk to the desired size and rubbed it into its approximate final shape with sandstone. Finally, a sharp stone blade was used to carve the body, limbs, and head, and a stone burin (a pointed engraving tool) to incise (scratch) lines into the surfaces, as on the Hohlenstein-Stadel creature's arms. All this probably required at least several days of skilled work.