From Prehistory to the
Rudiments of Civilization
Tracy Rosselle, M.A.T.
Newsome High School, Lithia, FL
 When does history start?
 What is civilization?
Before history
Scholars believe the world is more than 4.5
billion years old – and the earliest life forms
began 4 billion years ago.
Pangaea – the world’s lone landmass – broke
into two supercontinents (Laurasia and
Gondwana) about 180 million years ago …
and subsequently these continents broke
apart further into the continents we know
Impact on life
65 million years ago: an
asteroid 10 miles wide
and traveling at 50,000
miles an hour hit near
the present-day
Yucatan peninsula.
It opened a hole 3 miles
deep in the Earth’s crust
and blasted thousands
of times its original
mass into the
atmosphere and even
outer space.
Dino didn’t die because he smoked too
many cigarettes.
Evidence of the impact is thought to be the
“smoking gun” explanation for why dinosaurs
died out long before humans arrived.
Humans arrive
Earliest humanlike creatures (hominids)
emerged from eastern Africa 3-4 million years
Homo sapiens (“wise human”) appeared 100200 thousand years ago. Best-known
variants: Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon.
Modern humans – Homo sapiens sapiens –
may have lived as early as 160,000 years
Migrations led to peopling of the planet by
10,000 BCE
Stone Age
Earliest tools made of wood, bone, animal
skins and – most important, because they
survive as artifacts – stone.
Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) = 2.5 M to 10 K
years ago: roughly coincides with the
Pleistocene epoch, or last Ice Age.
Neolithic (New Stone Age) = 8000 BCE 
Neolithic Revolution: transition from
hunter-gatherer to farmer.
Call it the Neolithic transition
It took a few thousand years to transition –
independently, in various parts of the world –
to an agriculturally based society and
In regions that didn’t favor the cultivation of
crops, an alternative lifestyle: pastoral
nomadism, in which people lived off their
herds of animals as they traveled to find
grassland (or steppe land).
Seeds in the ground and breeds on
the ground
 Cereal farming came to dominate certain
regions, while root farming took hold in other
regions more suitable to those crops.
 Pastoralism and hunting or foraging
remained more important for supplying food
in lands less suitable for crop cultivation.
 Large domesticable animals more prevalent
in Eurasia (key to Diamond’s thesis).
 First domesticated animal: the dog.
Life in Neolithic communities
As people started to farm, they settled
down into communities, from which
cities would later emerge.
A more stable food supply (surplus) led
to job specialization – but not
necessarily a better life, at least initially.
Early farmers were shorter than earlier foragers (less variety
in diet/nutrition).
Death from contagious disease more of a threat
(settlements contaminated with human waste, vermin and
the diseases of domesticated animals).
More stability = more people
10,000 BCE
5000 BCE
3000 BCE
2000 BCE
1000 BCE
500 BCE
World Population
4 million
5 million
14 million
27 million
50 million
100 million
Surplus of food leads to innovation
Job specialization – Not everyone
needed to farm now, so some began
tinkering with new technologies, leading
eventually to jobs like blacksmith,
miller, brewer, trader and priest.
Three main craft industries common to
almost all agricultural societies: pottery,
metallurgy and textiles.
From practical to artistic
Pottery was the earliest
craft industry.
Clay pots were needed
to store surplus food.
Later, craftsmen began
etching designs into
their clay  pottery
then became a medium
for artistic expression.
The merits of metallurgy
Copper was the earliest metal mined and later
smelted for use in such things as tools and jewelry.
Technology of smelting and casting copper: the
foundation for later advances in working with gold
and other metals.
Metals were valuable because they could be made
into more effective tools: knives, axes, plows, hoes,
and weapons and armor.
Softer “precious” metals, like gold and silver, were
more rare and thus became valuable as status
The Bronze Age
Metalworkers in the Middle East around
4000 BCE created a stronger metal by
alloying copper and tin  bronze.
Around 1200 BCE, tools and weapons
made of iron – stronger and more
useful than bronze – were developed,
bringing the Bronze Age to a close.
The wheel and writing
Technological turning points
 the wheel (c. 3500 BCE),
which allowed for the
transport of heavier loads
and longer-distance travel
and trade, and
 writing (c. 3500-3000
BCE), which enabled
societies to keep records,
pass on learning and transfer
information more effectively.
Writing = history
This point in history – beginning
about 5,000 years ago – is the point
at which “history” really begins.
Everything before the advent of
writing is known as “prehistory.”
Almost all cultures that reached a
“civilized” state developed a system
of script writing. One key exception:
the Incas, a South American people
who came along much later (mid13th century CE) and developed a
unique system of recordkeeping
called the quipu (KEE-poo).
The quipu consisted of small
cords of various colors and
lengths, each suspended
from a larger cord.
Neolithic Age affects society
Social classes and wealth disparity develop
with the concept of private property.
The most successful (strongest, ablest, most
intelligent) and his/her family become the
wealthy, ruling elite … while everyone else
(95 percent of the population) remains in
peasant/laborer/slave class.
Gender roles change: men worked in fields,
women inside the home  over time, work
outside the home seen as higher status.
Culture is NOT the same as civilization.
Bands of humans developed shared ways of
doing things – communicating, dressing the
same, favoring certain foods, making tools –
long before the Neolithic Revolution.
Common components of culture today include
clothing, work, sports, religion, values, family,
government, economics, the arts, etc.
Civilization (Latin for “citizen”)
To say one society is more advanced or more
“civilized” is to impart a value judgment that may not
be supportable.
Civilization took shape following the Neolithic
Revolution. Its traditionally understood features:
Advanced technology
Advanced cities
Complex institutions
Specialized workers
Down by the river
The first farming communities that
developed into full-blown civilizations
were along major river banks.
The rivers provided a means of
transportation and communication, and
periodic flooding carried silt onto the
land, making it more fertile.
Irrigation required cooperation
To control the flooding, large irrigation
projects were undertaken – which required
cooperation  thus, institutions and social
processes arose to meet the challenge: cities,
government, law, military, social stratification.
Cities became region’s economic center, or
marketplace, and the river facilitated trade.
First river-valley civilizations
Mesopotamia (“land
between the [Tigris &
Euphrates] rivers”)
Fertile Crescent
The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History
(Bulliet et al.)
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective
on the Past (Bentley & Ziegler)
World History (Duiker & Spielvogel)
Patterns of Interaction (McDougal Littell,
The Eternal Frontier (Tim Flannery)
AP World History review guides: The
Princeton Review, Kaplan and Barron’s

1. Prehistory to Civilization