This section deals with the earliest history of humankind as it has been and is being reconstructed from studies of archaeology and anthropology. The divisions are early, middle, and late prehistory. As details are added from archeological and anthropological studies, this picture of the human past is likely to change and become clearer, although the broad outlines are reasonably well established.

Much of the history of this period is given in terms of periods, including the Paleolithic (Old Stone age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone age), Neolithic (New Stone age), and Chalcolithic (Copper-stone age). These periods are are overlapping, vary from place to place, and not well defined, since they have more to do with assemblages of artifacts than chronology.

Early and middle prehistory dates are approximate and are given in years BP, that is Before Present (2000). The regular modern calendar is used beginning with late prehistory, so that 10,000 years BP corresponds to 8000 BC.

Early prehistory (Before 50,000 years ago)

This period includes the development of humankind as accepted by anthropologists. Divisions will include the Pliocene from 5 million to 2 million years ago, when Australopithecines were predominant. The Early pleistocene from 2 million to 1 million years ago includes species now called Homo Habilis. The early middle Pleistocene, from 1 million to 500, 000 years ago includes species now called Homo Erectus. The late middle Pleistocene from 500,000 to 100,000 years ago includes what is called Neanderthal man. The late Pleistocene from 100,000 to 50,000 years ago can perhaps be associated with the earliest known origins of what is called anatomically modern man.

Middle prehistory (50,000 - 10,000) years ago

At present I do not have details of the 5th decamillennium BP. The oldest known remains of anatomically and culturally modern man, as far as I have been able to determine, date from the 4th decamillennium BP, about 40-35,000 years ago, in North Africa and Iran. Between 35-30,000 years ago, there was still evidence of Neanderthal man in Europe, but Cro-Magnon cultures appeared there, as well as somewhat similar cultures in the Middle East. In the 3rd decamillennium BP, Between 30-25,000 years ago, Neanderthal man disappeared from the archeological record, but the record concerning other stone age cultures is somewhat scanty. Between 25-20,000 years ago, cultures were still considered upper stone age. There may have been limited migration into the Americas. In the 2nd decamillennium BP, between 20-15,000 years ago, modern man spread into Australia. Between 15-10 thousand years ago, the last ice age was coming to an end. Cultures called Mesolithic (middle stone age) were arising in Europe and the Middle East, while China, Japan, and central Asia were being inhabited. It is generally thought that the Americas were first populated during this period, by way of a fairly short-lived land bridge from Asia.

Late prehistory (8000 BC - 5000 BC)

The dating scheme shifts in this period, to the conventional historical periods. In the early 8th millennium BC from about 8000 BC to about 7500 BC, Neolithic (New stone age) cultures developed in the Middle East. There is evidence of domestication of sheep and goats, and the beginnings of settled agriculture. In the late 8th millennium BC from about 7500 BC to 7000 BC, these development continued, notably at Jericho (in modern Palestine), but also in other areas. In the early 7th millennium BC from 7000 to 6500 BC, pottery and weaving appeared in the archeological record. In the late 7th millennium BC between 6500 and 6000 BC, settlement at Jericho declined, but the site called Catal Huyuk in modern Turkey) became prominent. In the early 6th millennium BC from 6000 BC to 5500 BC, islands in the Eastern Mediterranean were first settled, farming began in Southeast Europe, and at Halaf in Mesopotamia, and animal and plant domestication began in the New World. In the late 6th millennium BC from 5500 BC to 5000 BC, Farming apeared in Italy and southwest Europe and along the Nile River, appeared further south at Hassuna in Mesopotamia, and at Samarra in southern Mesopotamia, irrigated farming made its appearance.

Other History

Events of this period are followed immediately by antiquity. Some information about prehistory was probably lost and forgotten in the classical and medieval period. In modern times, archaeology is the best available method for reconstructing events of this period. These will be investigated more in the future.


Prehistory depends heavily on sociology. Peoples of the world are highly important. Most communities of this period were small and do not appear on a list of major cities. Principles of social structure and change are especially important in examination of early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory.


The social institutions of religion, government, economics, education, and families can be used to examine early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory, although modern institutions often influence investigations of this period.


Culture including behavioral culture, conceptual culture, and material culture can be applied to and used in the study of early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory.


Particular groups, human geography, human ecology, physical anthropology, demography, and social foundations will be useful in examination of early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory.

Personal studies

Biography, psychology, and the human body can be used to examine early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory.


Physical and natural science including biology, earth science, astronomy, chemistry, and physics can be used to examine early prehistory, middle prehistory, and late prehistory.

© 2006 - 2012 Thad Coons
Created 18 Oct 2006, Updated 19 Jan 2012