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.

Neolithic Period



The "Neolithic Revolution"

During the Neolithic period, a rapid progression of human culture took place—primarily due to the introduction of agriculture and animal domestication.
The new sedentary lifestyle demanded new technologies and shaped the beginnings of the modern form of settlement.


The Neolithic period saw a rapid development in many aspects of human culture, characterized by 5 man's attempts to establish independence from the vagaries of the environment in which he lived. This process was made possible primarily by the broadening of the diet, which was linked to agriculture and the domestication of animals and occurred as a result of sedentary life in 3, 4 houses and communities. The hunt continued to play a role in providing nutrition, yet the supply of food was no longer completely dependent on the success of the hunt as there were now alternative food sources.


4 Early Stone Age family in a hut; 5 Reconstruction of Similaun man "Otzi" found in the Similaun glacier


There was a parallel technological revolution. The introduction of fired 1, 2 ceramic vessels, initially used for storing food supplies, defined whole cultural communities, such as the Middle European "Linear Ceramic Culture." Advances also included the use of rotating grindstones and mortars for the processing of plants for food and the construction of houses from clay bricks. Wood was worked at first with chisels and stone axes. Sickle tools were used to cut grasses and grains. After 3000 B.C., metallurgy (initially with copper), using simple pouring techniques, appeared in the Near East.

Agriculture demanded long-term planning as well as knowledge of climatic periods and seasonal cycles. The cultivation of fertile alluvial land began, particularly in Mesopotamia and along the Nile. Goats, sheep, pigs, and later cattle were domesticated for man's use.
New cults also formed around plants and grains. Many Neolithic houses had their own cult niche where offerings such as grain, fruits, and animal remains have been found. The surviving clay, stone, and metal statuettes are thought to be votive offerings, as many have raised arms or open hands in an attitude of supplication. Some represent God.

Most Neolithic settlements had separate cult edifices. In the Near East, there were early temple complexes. The transition to advanced civilizations began even before 3000 B.C. in these regions with the development of script or hieroglyphics and of religious monarchies.

1 Painted vase and pottery stemming from Neolithic cultures; 2 Ceramics stemming from the Funnel Beaker Culture; 3 View of Stone Age house nterior


The "Linear Ceramic Culture"

The oldest culture of the Paleolithic period in Central and Southern Europe is known as the Linear Ceramic Culture. It stretched from eastern France to Hungary in the fifth millenium B.C. The people lived in closed settlements with nave houses and pursued agriculture and animal husbandry.
The culture was named after the ribbon-like decorations typically used on their pottery. These decorations were made up of solid lines and dashes. The Linear Ceramic Culture tribes buried their dead positioned toward the sun, on their side, and with legs drawn up in a sleep-like pose. Some researchers infer from this that they had the concept of an afterlife. Skeletal remains have also been found in a supine position with outstretched arms, reminiscent of certain types of statuettes.


9000 все, the ice that covered much of northern Europe during the Paleolithic period melted as the climate grew warmer. The reindeer migrated north, and the woolly mammoth and rhinoceros disappeared. The Paleolithic gave way to a transitional period, the Mesolithic, when Europe became climatically, geographically, and biologically much as it is today. Then, for several thousand years at different times in different parts of the globe, a great new age, the Neolithic, dawned. Human beings began to settle in fixed abodes and to domesticate plants and animals. Their food supply assured, many groups changed from hunters to herders, to farmers, and finally to townspeople. Wandering hunters settled down to organized community living in villages surrounded by cultivated fields.

The conventional division of prehistory into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods is based on the development of stone implements. However, a different kind of distinction may be made between an age of food gathering and an age of food production. In this scheme, the Paleolithic period corresponds roughly to the age of food gathering, and the Mesolithic period, the last phase of that age, is marked by intensified food gathering and the taming of the dog. In the Neolithic period, agriculture and stock raising became humankind's major food sources. The transition to the Neolithic occurred first in the ancient Near East.

Ancient Near East

THE BEGINNING OF AGRICULTURE The remains of the oldest known settled communities have been found in the grassy uplands bordering the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia (parts of modern Syria and Iraq). These regions provided the necessary preconditions for the development of agriculture. Species of native plants, such as wild wheat and barley, were plentiful, as were herds of animals (goats, sheep, and pigs) that could be domesticated. Sufficient rain occurred for the raising of crops. When village farming life was well developed, some settlers, attracted by the greater fertility of the soil and perhaps also by the need to find more land for their rapidly growing populations, moved into the river valleys and deltas of the two rivers.

In addition to systematic agriculture, the new sedentary societies of the Neolithic age originated weaving, metalworking, pottery, and counting and recording with tokens. Soon, these innovations spread from Mesopotamia to northern Syria, Anatolia (Turkey), and Egypt. Village farming communities such as Jarmo in Iraq and Catal Hoyuk in southern Anatolia date back to the mid-seventh millennium
все. The remarkable fortified town of Jericho, before whose walls the biblical Joshua appeared thousands of years later, is even older. Archaeologists are constantly uncovering surprises, and the discovery and exploration of new sites each year is compelling them to revise their views about the emergence of Neolithic society. But three sites known for some timeJericho, Ain Ghazal, and Catal Hoyiik offer a fascinating picture of the rapid and exciting transformation of human societyand of artduring the Neolithic period.




Great stone tower built into the settlement wall, Jericho,
8000-7000 все

7000 все, agriculture was well established in at least three Near Eastern regions: ancient Palestine, Iran, and Anatolia. Although no remains of domestic cereals have been found that can be dated before 7000 все, the advanced state of agriculture at that time presupposes a long development. Indeed, the very existence of a town such as Jericho gives strong support to this assumption. The site of Jericho a plateau in the Jordan River valley with an unfailing springwas occupied by a small village as early as the ninth millennium все. This village underwent spectacular development around 8000 все, when a new Neolithic town covering about 10 acres was built. Its mud-brick houses sat on round or oval stone foundations and had roofs of branches covered with earth.

As the town's wealth grew and powerful neighbors established themselves, the need for protection resulted in the first known permanent stone fortifications. By approximately 7500 все, the town, estimated to have had a population of more than 2,000 people, was surrounded by a wide rock-cut ditch and a 5-foot-thick wall. Into this wall, which has been preserved to a height of almost 13 feet, was built a great circular stone tower, 28 feet high. Almost 33 feet in diameter at the base, the tower has an inner stairway leading to its summit.

Not enough of the site has been excavated to determine whether this tower was solitary or one of several similar towers that formed a complete defense system. In either case, a structure such as this, built with only simple stone tools, was a tremendous technological achievement. It constitutes the beginning of the long history of monumental architecture.



Near Amman, Jordan, the construction of a highway in
1974 revealed another important Neolithic settlement in ancient Palestine at the site of Ain Ghazal, occupied from the late eighth through the late sixth millennium все. The inhabitants built houses of irregularly shaped stones, but carefully plastered and then painted their floors and walls red. The most striking finds at Ain Ghazal, however, are two caches containing three dozen plaster statuettes and busts, some with two heads, datable to the mid-seventh millennium все.

The sculptures appear to have been ritually buried. The figures were fashioned of white plaster, which was built up over a core of reeds and twine. Black bitumen, a tarlike substance, was used to delineate the pupils of the eyes, which are inset cowrie shells. Painters added orange and black hair, clothing, and, in some instances, body paint or tattooing. Only rarely did the sculptors indicate the gender of the figures.

Whatever their purpose, by their size (as much as three feet tall) and sophisticated technique, the Ain Ghazal statuettes and busts are distinguished from Paleolithic figurines such as the tiny Venus of Willendorf
 and even the foot-tall ivory statuette from Hohlenstein-Stadel. They mark the beginning of monumental sculpture in the ancient Near East.

Human figure, from Ain Ghazal, Jordan,
6750-6250 все.
Plaster, painted and inlaid with cowrie shell and bitumen. Louvre, Paris.


The Tell Cultures

Modern village and city cultures developed from the Tell (Arabic for "hill") settlements of the Near East. These give evidence of a social differentiation between the inhabitants as well as an organized economic life. These communities, identifiable mostly through their characteristic pottery, demonstrate a fluid transition to early advanced civilizations.

The peoples of the earliest known village-like hill communities in the Near East are called Tell Cultures. As a rule, new settlements were built on top of older ones. However, it is possible to date cultural peaks and distinctive features by excavating deep shafts through the layers. 8 Coital Huyuk in Anatolia proved to be a particularly rich site for excavation. Many settlements were enclosed by protective stone walls, which testifies to competition between the sedentary agricultural communities and roaming nomad peoples.

8 Maternal goddess, statue, Anatolia.
Neolithic period

Often the different cultures can be distinguished by their characteristic pottery forms or ceramic decorations: The Syrian 9 ,10 Tell Halaf Culture, for example, which dominated the Mesopotamian area in the fifth and fourth millenium B.C., decorated its ceramics with axes or crosses.
Given the importance of ceramics in determining social and cultural development, a division is made between the "Aceramic Neolithic" (ca. 8000-6500 B.C.) and the "Ceramic Neolithic" after about 6500 B.C.


9 Detail from altar, castle of Guzana,
Tell Halaf ruins, Syria, from ca. 800 B.C.

10 Hill of ruins of Tell Mardich in Syria: Partial view of the excavation area,
showing what was probably a palace during the Bronze Age

The Tell Cultures displayed varied building styles—both round and angular—and pottery forms. The discovery of 6 seals and counting markers indicates an early organization and control of economic life and trade, as well as sophisticated property-ownership relations, which paved the way for more advanced civilizations and societies.

The Obed Culture in southern Babylon and Ur (ca. 5000-4000 B.C.) possessed 7 houses divided into rooms ("middle room houses"), early pottery wheels, seals, stamps, and cult and administrative buildings. It is believed that a cult and administration elite had emerged within the community—a sign of an advanced early civilization. These people dug a system of complex and strategically placed irrigation canals, and signs of a communication net-work and paths linking the communities have been found. The transition to the metropolitan civilizations of Mesopotamia began with the emergence of urban cultures in the Uruk period around 4000 B.C.

6 Stamp, Late Paleolithic period

7 Model of a building with animal skulls on the roof, Neolithic period

Catal Huyuk

The large city-like complexes in Anatolia of the early Neolithic period are a treasure trove for archaeologists because of their size and the variety of artifacts found. The clay brick houses possess central rooms that are usually decorated with painted figures, relief figures, and bull heads on the walls. The houses are so close together that the inhabitants had to enter them through a hole in the roof. Clay platforms are found along the walls under which the skeletal remains of the dead were buried. It is therefore assumed that some of the rooms were used for ancestor-worship. Numerous small sculpted figures indicate the worship of two pairs of deities and sacred animals. The inhabitants used wood and stone vessels but no pottery.


Remarkable discoveries also have been made in Anatolia. Excavations at Hacilar, Catal Hoyuk, and elsewhere have shown that the central Anatolian plateau was the site of a flourishing Neolithic culture between 7000 and 5000 все. Twelve successive building levels excavated at Catal Hoyuk between 1961 and 1965 have been dated between 6500 and 5700 все. On a single site, it is possible to retrace, in an unbroken sequence, the evolution of a Neolithic culture over a period of 800 years. (Only 1 of 32
acres had been explored before the recent resumption of excavations. The new project promises to expand and perhaps revise the current picture of Neolithic life.)

The source of Catal Hoyuk's wealth was trade, especially in obsidian, a glasslike volcanic stone Neolithic toolmakers and weapon makers valued highly because it could be chipped into fine cutting edges. Along with Jericho, Catal Hoyuk seems to have been one of the first experiments in urban living. The regularity of its plan suggests that the town was built according to some predetermined scheme. A peculiar feature is the settlement's complete lack of streets. The houses adjoin one another and have no doors. Openings in the roofs provided access to the interiors. The openings also served as chimneys to ventilate the hearth in the combination living room and kitchen that formed the core of the house. Impractical as such an arrangement may appear today, it did offer some advantages. The attached buildings were more stable than freestanding structures and, at the limits of the town site, formed a perimeter wall well suited to defense against human or natural forces. Thus, if enemies managed to breach the exterior wall, they would find themselves not inside the town but above the houses with the defenders waiting there on the roof.

The houses, constructed of mud brick strengthened by sturdy timber frames, varied in size but repeated the same basic plan. Walls and floors were plastered and painted, and platforms along walls served as sites for sleeping, working, and eating. The dead were buried beneath the floors. A great number of decorated rooms have been found at Catal Hoyuk. The excavators called these rooms shrines, but their function is uncertain. Their number suggests that these rooms played an important role in the life of Catal Hoyuk's inhabitants.

The "shrines" are distinguished from the house structures by the greater richness of their interior decoration, which consisted of wall paintings, plaster reliefs, animal heads, and bucrania (bovine skulls). Bulls' horns, widely thought to be symbols of masculine potency, are the most common motif in these rooms. In some cases they are displayed next to plaster breasts, symbols of female fertility, projecting from the walls. Many statuettes of stone or terracotta (baked clay) also have been found at Catal Hoyuk. Most are quite small (2 to 8 inches high) and primarily depict female figures. Only a few reach 12 inches.

Schematic reconstruction drawing of a section
of Level V Catal Hoyuk, Turkey,
6000-5900 все (after J. Mellaart).

Although at Catal Hoyuk animal husbandry was well established, hunting continued to play an important part in the early Neolithic economy. The importance of hunting as a food source (until about 5700 все) is reflected also in wall paintings, where, in the older decorated rooms, hunting scenes predominate. In style and concept, however, the deer hunt mural at Catal Hoyuk is worlds apart from the wall paintings the hunters of the Paleolithic period produced. Perhaps what is most strikingly new about the Catal Hoyuk painting and others like it is the regular appearance of the human figurenot only singly but also in large, coherent groups with a wide variety of poses, subjects, and settings. As noted earlier, humans were unusual in Paleolithic cave paintings, and pictorial narratives have almost never been found. Even the "hunting scene" in the well at Lascaux is doubtful as a narrative. In Neolithic paintings, human themes and concerns and action scenes with humans dominating animals are central.

In the Catal Hoyuk hunt, the group of huntersand no one doubts it is, indeed, an organized hunting party, not a series of individual figures shows a tense exaggeration of movement and a rhythmic repetition of basic shapes customary for the period. The painter took care to distinguish important descriptive details for example, bows, arrows, and garmentsand the heads have clearly defined noses, mouths, chins, and hair. The Neolithic painter placed all the heads in profile for the same reason Paleolithic painters universally chose the profile view for representations of animals. Only the side view of the human head shows all its shapes clearly. However, at Catal Hoyuk the torsos are presented from the frontagain, the most informative viewpointwhile the profile view was chosen for the legs and arms. This composite view of the human body is quite artificial because the human body cannot make an abrupt 90-degree shift at the hips. But it is very descriptive of what a human body isas opposed to what it looks like from a particular viewpoint. The composite view is another manifestation of the twisted perspective of Paleolithic paintings that combined a frontal view of an animal's two horns with a profile view of the head. The technique of painting also changed dramatically since Paleolithic times. The pigments were applied with a brush to a white background of dry plaster. The careful preparation of the wall surface is in striking contrast to the direct application of pigment to the rock face.

Deer hunt, detail of a wall painting from Level III, Catal Hoyuk, Turkey, ca. 5750 все.
Museum of Anatolian Civilization, Ankara


More remarkable still is a painting in one of the older rooms at Catal Hovuk that generally has been acclaimed as the world's first landscape (a picture of a natural setting in its own right, without any narrative content). As such, it remained unique for thousands of years. According to radiocarbon dating, the painting was executed around 6150 все. In the foreground is a town, with rectangular houses neatly laid out side by side, probably representing Catal Hoyuk itself. Behind the town appears a mountain with two peaks. Many archaeologists think that the dots and lines issuing from the higher of the two cones represent a volcanic eruption, and have suggested that the mountain is the 10,600-foot-high Hasan Dag. It is located within view of Catal Hoyuk and is the only twin-peaked volcano in central Anatolia. The conjectured volcanic eruption shown in the mural does not necessarily depict a specific historical event. If, however, the Qatal Hoyuk painting relates a story, even a recurring one, then it cannot be considered a pure landscape. Nonetheless, this mural is the first depiction of a place devoid of both humans and animals.

The rich finds at Catal Hoyuk give the impression of a prosperous and well-ordered society that practiced a great variety of arts and crafts. In addition to painting and sculpture, weaving and pottery were well established, and even the technique of smelting copper and lead in small quantities was known before 6000 все. The conversion to an agricultural economy appears to have been completed by about 5700.

Landscape with volcanic eruption(?), detail of a watercolor copy of a wall painting
from Level VII, Catal Hoyuk, Turkey, ca. 6150 все




Aerial view of Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, ca. 2550-1600 все. Circle is 97' in diameter; trilithons approx. 24' high.

Western Europe

In western Europe, where Paleolithic paintings and sculptures abound, no comparably developed towns of the time of Catal Hoyuk have been found. However, in succeeding millennia, perhaps as early as
4000 все, the local Neolithic populations in several areas developed a monumental architecture employing massive rough-cut stones. The very dimensions of the stones, some as high as 17 feet and weighing as much as 50 tons, have prompted historians to call them megaliths (great stones) and to designate the culture that produced them megalithic.

Although megalithic monuments are plentiful throughout Europe, the arrangement of huge stones in a circle (called a cromlech or henge), often surrounded by a ditch, is almost entirely limited to Britain. The most imposing today is Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain in southern England.

Stonehenge is a complex of rough-cut sarsen (a form of sandstone) stones and smaller "bluestones" (various volcanic rocks). Outermost is a ring, almost 100 feet in diameter, of large monoliths of sarsen stones capped by lintels (a stone "beam" used to span an opening). Next is a ring of bluestones, which, in turn, encircle a horseshoe (open end facing east) of trilithons (three-stone constructions) five lintel-topped pairs of the largest sarsens, each weighing 45 to 50 tons. Standing apart and to the east (outside our photograph at the lower right corner) is the "heel-stone," which, for a person looking outward from the center of the complex, would have marked the point where the sun rose at the summer solstice.

Stonehenge probably was built in several phases in the centuries before and after 2000 все. It seems to have been a kind of astronomical observatory. The mysterious structures were believed in the Middle Ages to have been the work of the magician Merlin of the King Arthur legend, who spirited them from Ireland. Most archaeologists now consider Stonehenge a remarkably accurate solar calendar. This achievement is testimony to the rapidly developing intellectual powers of Neolithic humans as well as to their capacity for heroic physical effort.



The first sculptures and paintings antedate the invention of writing by tens of thousands of years. No one knows why the first "artists" began to paint and carve images of animals and humans or what role those images played in the lives of Paleolithic hunters. All that is certain is that the statuettes, reliefs, and mural paintings were not created as "art" in the modern sense of the word. But the Paleolithic artists were the first to represent the world around them in stone and paint, initiating an intellectual revolution of enormous consequences. They and their Neolithic successors also invented many of the techniques and established many of the conventions that would characterize sculpture and painting for millennia.