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Prehistory. c. – means approximately. Exact date is unknown. B.C.E. – Before Common Era C.E. – Common Era Archeologist have limited evidence of humans who lived before the development of writing, but research has found a great deal of information about early civilizations.

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c. – means approximately. Exact date is unknown.

B.C.E. – Before Common Era

C.E. – Common Era

  • Archeologist have limited evidence of humans who lived before the development of writing, but research has found a great deal of information about early civilizations.

Hominids Homo Erectus “Upright Man” Homo Sapiens “Wise Human”

Paleolithic Era (Old Stone Age)

  • Early humans were nomads: moving from place to place in search of food. (Hunters and Gatherers)
  • Because Nomadic groups depended on nature, which was a serious risk (drought, disease, famine, etc.) many groups had to limit their population. (Infanticide)
  • Around12,000 years ago, groups of Homo Sapiens in several parts of the world began to cultivate crops and feed themselves.

Neolithic Era (New Stone Age) and Transition to Agriculture

  • Originally Archeologist referred to this era as the New Stone Age because of the refinement in tool making technique, but today the term refers to the early stages of agricultural society.
  • It is believed that some of the earliest wars were Paleolithic (Hunters & Gathers) vs. Neolithic (Agricultural Groups) .
  • Neolithic people sought to ensure themselves of more regular food supplies. They began to settle in permanent villages and learn to grow their own plants for food. (Women began care of plants.)
Neolithic Agriculture Revolution: Development of agriculture and the domestication of animals.

Agriculture = Permanent Villages = Population Explosion

  • Paleolithic experiments with cultivating crops led to this “transition” to early Neolithic agricultural societies.
  • This led to development of agriculture and taming of herd animals. (example: cattle and sheep) and also led to the formation of agricultural economies.
  • Early evidence of agricultural activity dates to 9000 B.C.E. Southwest Asia (Modern day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey) cultivated wheat and barley while domesticating sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle.
  • Evidence of agricultural was later discovered in Africa (sheep, cattle, yams, okra), Asia ( rice, soybeans, citrus fruits, pigs, chickens),

South America ( potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts),

and Mesoamerica (maize, beans, squash, tomatoes)

  • Once established, agriculture spread rapidly because of the methods of early cultivators:

1) Slash-and-burn cultivation

2) Merchants, Migrants, and Travelers

(Ex.: Wheat from Southwest Asia to Iran and Northern India – 5000 B.C.E., then to Northern China 3000 B.C.E. )

Population Explosion

  • Thanks to agriculture and the increase of food supply, the human population increased rapidly over time in regions across the world.

Years Human Population

3000 B.C.E. 14 million

2000 B.C.E. 27 million

1000 B.C.E. 50 million

500 B.C.E. 100 million

Emergence of Village & Towns
  • The agricultural economy encouraged Neolithic people to adopt new forms of social organizations. They did not continue to migrate like their Paleolithic predecessors, but settle near their fields in permanent villages.
  • 8000 B.C.E. Jericho: One of the earliest known Neolithic villages (freshwater oasis – present day Israel)

Foundations of Civilization

  • As people learned to farm and settle down, they began to establish towns; which in time led to civilizations.
  • Civilization: a highly organized society with complex institutions.
  • Most civilizations have three characteristics:

1) People are able to produce extra food.

2) People have built large towns or cities with

some form of government.

3) A division of labor exists: Different people perform specific

jobs instead of each person doing all kinds of work or the same work.

* Some historians consider a writing system as a characteristic of a civilization.

Division/ Specialization of Labor

A) Cultivate crops/ Tend to animals

  • Irrigation and better tools created a surplus of higher quality goods &

food, which led to a population increase and villages growing into cities.

B) Hunt and forages for wild plants

C) Crafts and Trade

1) Pottery– Artistic Expression and Store Food

2) Metalworking- Smelt copper for jewelry and tools, later developed expertise in bronze, gold, and iron.

3) Textile Production- Selective breeding of animals and plants to create more durable fabrics. Women probably developed technology to spin fabric into thread and weave threads into cloth. WHY?

Egyptians using water from the Nile River for irrigation.

Trade moved goods for sale and also passed along ideas.
  • Cross-Cultural Interactions. (Trade & Commerce)
  • The spread of culture, concepts, or ideas from one geographic area to another is called cultural diffusion.
  • Writing developed as trade increased, as well as the need to keep records. (calendars)

Social Distinction

  • The concentration of people into permanent settlements and the increasing specialization of labor provided the first opportunity for individuals to accumulate wealth. In the Neolithic settlement of CatalHuyuk (Modern day Turkey), this was evident through interior decorating and value of goods buried with individual when they die.

1) Trade

2) Owning land


  • Paleolithic tribes already honored Venus,-type figurines for fertility.
  • Neolithic communities reflected same beliefs but also life bearing deities associated with the cycle of life (life, death, regeneration)
  • They worshipped animals associated with change such as butterflies. Why?