The Beginnings of Human History, Society, and Culture
The First Hominans
When does human history begin? If we seek help from anthropology, then we find that the first animals of the homininans appeared in Africa around 6 million years ago and the first Homo sapiens appeared 600,000 to 200,000 years ago, also in Africa. From this perspective, we are all descendants of mother Africa. The dates of this first appearance the sequence of species that arose over time is a constant state of flux as scientists uncover new fossil evidence.
Prehistory of human beings is usually divided up into the paleolithic period, neolithic period, bronze age, and iron age. In 1816, Christian Thomsen divided up prehistory into the stone age, the bronze age, and the iron age. In 1865, John Lubbock divided up the stone age into the old stone age (paleolithic period) and new stone age (neolithic period).
- The Paleolithic Period covers the time from the first emergence of Homo sapiens until the discovery of farming.
- The Neolithic Period covers the time from the first use of farming until the discovery of metals.
- The Bronze Age begins when a society starts to use copper and tin as part of their metal culture.
- The Iron Age begins when a society starts to use iron as part of their metal culture.
The genus Homo may have first appeared 2.5 million years ago. It is believed that with rise of this genus, hominoids began a more sophisticated tool culture. Many animals have been known to use tools at a very primitive level but the emergence of this new genus, we see remnants of stone flakes. There is controversy for when this genus begins.
It is currently believed that there were multiple species in this genus that may have lived simultaneously and interacted. There is also controversy for when Homo sapiens arise and whether Homo sapiens descended from the other species or whether the multiple species represent offshoots from a common ancestor.
The earlier Homo sapien appears over 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens lived in families within tribes. In the early stages, the lived as hunters and gatherers. All known human societies possess rich, tool cultures and spoken language. Lifestyles vary with the geography in which they live. For some, the geography was rich enough to allow a sedentary life of hunting and gathering while for others, a nomadic lifestyle was needed to follow herds of animals in their migrations or move to different locations as the seasons changed.
It is believed that the first human beings left Africa 70,000 years ago. Why they took so long to leave is not clear. Perhaps the date is wrong and only indicative of the earliest known fossil evidence. What does seem to be clear is that other species of the genus Homo left Africa far earlier than this so when Homo sapiens also left Africa, they may have encountered these other species. Current scientific evidence suggests that these encounters occurred.
Not all human societies have embraced farming. For certain geographies, the climate is too extreme and for others, hunting and gathering is enough. It is believed at this time that by this time, Homo sapiens are the only species remaining of the genus Homo.
Despite the connotation of farming representing the beginnings of civilizations, a more objective assessment is that farming represents a significant change in human sociology in the sense that it enables significantly higher human population densities. After all, all known human societies have spoken language, culture, sophisticated tool use, belief systems, traditions, and family units.
The neolithic period begins at different times for different places. The earliest evidence for a farming community can be found in Jericho dating around 9500 B.C. It is believed farming began first with wild and domesticated plants and then around 8000 B.C, it includes domesticated animals.
The bronze age begins with the use of copper and tin in the metal culture of a human society and ends with the discovery of iron. Not all cultures went through a bronze age distinct from an iron age. Some societies for example went directly from a neolithic society to an iron age society.
The earliest known bronze use begins around 3300 BC. Like the neolithic period, different societies passed through a bronze age at different times.
The first known domestication of horses began in this period.
The iron age is believed to have begun around 1200 BC. Iron is a harder metal to work with this bronze because its melting point is at a higher temperature. The high point of the iron age is the discovery of steel which is made from iron and carbon.