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History of Humans on Planet Earth

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Archaeologists study humans and human behaviors, and the data they produce help us to understand the past, present and future. The time lines they study begin with the hominin called Australopithecus and continue down to the present day. Here you'll find resources on archaeological information gathered about all of these time periods.
  1. Stone Age (2.5 million-20,000 years ago)
  2. Hunters and Gatherers (20,000-12,000 years ago)
  3. First Farming Societies (12,000-5,000 years ago)
  4. Early Civilizations (3000-1500 BC)
  1. Ancient Empires (1500-0 BC)
  2. Developing States (AD 0-1000)
  3. Medieval Period (AD 1000-1500)

Stone Age (2.5 million-20,000 years ago)

Sculptor's Rendering of the Hominid Australopithecus afarensis

The Stone Age or Paleolithic Period is the name archaeologists have given to the beginning of archaeology--that part of the earth's history that includes the genus Homo and our immediate ancestor Australopithecus. It began approximately 2.5 million years ago, in Africa, when Australopithecus began making stone tools, and ended about 20,000 years ago, with big-brained and talented modern humans spread all over the world. Traditionally, the Paleolithic period is broken into three parts, the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods.

Hunters and Gatherers (20,000-12,000 years ago)

Clovis points recovered from the Gault site, Texas.

For a good a long time after modern humans had evolved and won out over all of our cousins everywhere on the planet, we humans relied on hunting and gathering as a way to live. This ersatz category of mine lumps the more formalized periods in the Near East called the Epi-paleolithic and Natufian, the American Paleoindian and Archaic, the European Mesolithic, and the Asian Hoabinhian and Jomon.

First Farming Societies (12,000-5,000 years ago)

Wild Emmer wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. dicoccoides)

Beginning about 12,000 years ago, humans begin to invent a whole range of useful behaviors that together we call the Neolithic Revolutions. Most importantly, humans began to tend and then deliberately grow crops and animals, including a range of domesticated animals and plants

Early Civilizations (3000-1500 BC)

Clay Tablet with a Map of Nippur, 14th-13th century BC

Evidence for fairly sophisticated political and social organization has been identified in Mesopotamia as long ago as 4700 BC; but most of the post-Neolithic societies that we consider 'civilizations' are dated beginning just about 3000 BC.

Ancient Empires (1500-0 BC)

Early Western Zhou Bronze You, Baoji site, Shaanxi Province, China.

About 3000 years ago, towards the end of what archaeologists call the Late Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron Age, the first true imperialist societies appeared; however, not all societies which appeared during this time period were empires.

Developing States (AD 0-1000)

Inca Gold Figurine, Peru

The first 1000 years of the modern era saw the rise of important societies throughout the world. Not many of them became long-lasting states, but almost all modern states have their immediate roots in this period.

Medieval Period (AD 1000-1500)

Great Zimbabwe Ruins at Masvingo

The middle ages of the 11th through 16th centuries around the world established the economic, political and religious underpinnings of our modern world.

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