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Prehistory, the vast period of time before written records or human documentation, includes the Neolithic Revolution, Neanderthals and Denisovans, Stonehenge, the Ice Age and more.
This timeline of human prehistory comprises the time from the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa 300,000 years ago to the invention of writing and the beginning of historiography, after 5,000 years ago. It thus covers the time from the Middle Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) to the very beginnings of the world history.
The Middle Paleolithic (or Middle Palaeolithic) is the second subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. The term Middle Stone Age is used as an equivalent or a synonym for the Middle Paleolithic in African archeology. The Middle Paleolithic broadly spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. There are considerable dating differences between regions. The Middle Paleolithic was succeeded by the Upper Paleolithic subdivision which first began between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago. Pettit and White date the Early Middle Paleolithic in Great Britain to about 325,000 to 180,000 years ago (late Marine Isotope Stage 9 to late Marine Isotope Stage 7), and the Late Middle Paleolithic as about 60,000 to 35,000 years ago.
According to the theory of the recent African origin of modern humans, anatomically modern humans began migrating out of Africa during the Middle Stone Age/Middle Paleolithic around 100,000 or 70,000 years ago and began to replace earlier pre-existent Homo species such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus. However, recent discoveries of fossils originating from what is now Israel indicate that our species (Homo sapiens) lived outside of Africa 185,000 years ago; some 85,000 years earlier than previous evidence suggests.
300,000 years ago: approximate date of appearance of Homo sapiens (Jebel Irhoud, Morocco).
270,000 years ago: age of Y-DNA haplogroup A00 ("Y-chromosomal Adam").
250,000 years ago: first appearance of Homo neanderthalensis (Saccopastore skulls)
250,000–200,000 years ago: modern human presence in West Asia (Misliya cave)
230,000–150,000 years ago: age of mt-DNA haplogroup L ("Mitochondrial Eve")
195,000 years ago: Omo remains (Ethiopia).
170,000 years ago: humans are wearing clothing by this date.
160,000 years ago: Homo sapiens idaltu
150,000 years ago: Peopling of Africa: Khoisanid separation, age of mtDNA haplogroup L0
125,000 years ago: peak of the Eemian interglacial period.
120,000–90,000 years ago: Abbassia Pluvial in North Africa—the Sahara desert region is wet and fertile.
120,000–75,000 years ago: Khoisanid back-migration from Southern Africa to East Africa.
82,000 years ago: small perforated seashell beads from Taforalt in Morocco are the earliest evidence of personal adornment found anywhere in the world.
c. 80,000–70,000 years ago: Recent African origin: separation of sub-Saharan Africans and non-Africans.
75,000 years ago: Toba Volcano supereruption that may have contribued to human populations being lowered to about 3000-1000 people.
70,000 years ago: earliest example of abstract art or symbolic art from Blombos Cave, South Africa—stones engraved with grid or cross-hatch patterns.
67,000–40,000 years ago: Neanderthal admixture to Eurasians
50,000 years ago: earliest sewing needle found. Made and used by Denisovans.
50,000–30,000 years ago: Mousterian Pluvial in North Africa. The Sahara desert region is wet and fertile. Later Stone Age begins in Africa.
45,000–43,000 years ago: European early modern humans.
45,000–40,000 years ago: Châtelperronian culture in France.
42,000 years ago: Paleolithic flutes in Germany.
42,000 years ago: earliest evidence of advanced deep sea fishing technology at the Jerimalai cave site in East Timor—demonstrates high-level maritime skills and by implication the technology needed to make ocean crossings to reach Australia and other islands, as they were catching and consuming large numbers of big deep sea fish such as tuna.
41,000 years ago: Denisova hominin lives in the Altai Mountains.
40,000 years ago: extinction of Homo neanderthalensis.
40,000 years ago: Aurignacian culture begins in Europe.
40,000 years ago: oldest known figurative art the zoomorphic Löwenmensch figurine.
Bradshaw rock paintings found in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia
40,000–30,000 years ago: First human settlement (Aboriginal Australians) in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne.
40,000–20,000 years ago: oldest known ritual cremation, the Mungo Lady, in Lake Mungo, Australia.
35,000 years ago: oldest known figurative art of a human figure as opposed to a zoomorphic figure (Venus of Hohle Fels). 33,000 years ago: oldest known domesticated dog skulls show they existed in both Europe and Siberia by this time.
31,000–16,000 years ago: Last Glacial Maximum (peak at 26,500 years ago).
30,000 years ago: rock paintings tradition begins in Bhimbetka rock shelters in India, which presently as a collection is the densest known concentration of rock art. In an area about 10 km2, there are about 800 rock shelters of which 500 contain paintings.
29,000 years ago: The earliest ovens found.
28,500 years ago: New Guinea is populated by colonists from Asia or Australia.
28,000 years ago: oldest known twisted rope.
28,000–24,000 years ago: oldest known pottery—used to make figurines rather than cooking or storage vessels (Venus of Dolní Věstonice).
28,000–20,000 years ago: Gravettian period in Europe. Harpoons and saws invented.
26,000 years ago: people around the world use fibers to make baby carriers, clothes, bags, baskets, and nets.
25,000 years ago: a hamlet consisting of huts built of rocks and of mammoth bones is founded in what is now Dolní Věstonice in Moravia in the Czech Republic. This is the oldest human permanent settlement that has yet been found by archaeologists.
21,000 years ago: artifacts suggests early human activity occurred in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.
20,000 years ago: Kebaran culture in the Levant: beginning of the Epipalaeolithic in the Levant
20,000 years ago: oldest pottery storage/cooking vessels from China.
20,000–10,000 years ago: Khoisanid expansion to Central Africa.
20,000–19,000 years ago: earliest pottery use, in Xianren Cave, China.
16,000–14,000 years ago: Minatogawa Man (Proto-Mongoloid phenotype) in Okinawa, Japan
16,000–13,000 years ago: first human migration into North America.
16,000–11,000 years ago: Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer expansion to Europe.
16,000 years ago: Wisent (European bison) sculpted in clay deep inside the cave now known as Le Tuc d'Audoubert in the French Pyrenees near what is now the border of Spain.
15,000–14,700 years ago (13,000 BC to 12,700 BC): Earliest supposed date for the domestication of the pig.
14,800 years ago: The Humid Period begins in North Africa. The region that would later become the Sahara is wet and fertile, and the aquifers are full.
14,500–11,500: Red Deer Cave people in China, possible late survival of archaic or archaic-modern hybrid humans.
Cave painting of a battle between archers, Morella la Vella, Spain, the oldest known depiction of combat.
14,000–12,000 years ago: Oldest evidence for prehistoric warfare (Jebel Sahaba massacre, Natufian culture).
13,000–10,000 years ago: Late Glacial Maximum, end of the Last glacial period, climate warms, glaciers recede.
13,000 years ago: A major water outbreak occurs on Lake Agassiz, which at the time could have been the size of the current Black Sea and the largest lake on Earth. Much of the lake is drained in the Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River.
13,000–11,000 years ago: Earliest dates suggested for the domestication of the sheep.
12,900–11,700 years ago: the Younger Dryas was a period of sudden cooling and return to glacial conditions.
12,000 years ago: Jericho has evidence of settlement dating back to 10,000 BC. Jericho was a popular camping ground for Natufian hunter-gatherer groups, who left a scattering of crescent microlith tools behind them.
12,000 years ago: Earliest dates suggested for the domestication of the goat.
11,600 years ago (9,600 BC): An abrupt period of global warming accelerates the glacial retreat; taken as the beginning of the Holocene geological epoch.
11,200–11,000 years ago: Meltwater pulse 1B, a sudden rise of sea level by 7.5 m within about 160 years.
11,000 years ago (9,000 BC): Earliest date recorded for construction of temenoi ceremonial structures at Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, as possibly the oldest surviving proto-religious site on Earth.
11,000 years ago (9,000 BC): Emergence of Jericho, which is now one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Giant short-faced bears and giant ground sloths go extinct. Equidae goes extinct in North America.
10,500 years ago (8,500 BC): Earliest supposed date for the domestication of cattle.
10,000 years ago (8,000 BC): The Quaternary extinction event, which has been ongoing since the mid-Pleistocene, concludes. Many of the ice age megafauna go extinct, including the megatherium, woolly rhinoceros, Irish elk, cave bear, cave lion, and the last of the sabre-toothed cats. The mammoth goes extinct in Eurasia and North America, but is preserved in small island populations until ~1650 BC.
11,000–9,000 years ago: Byblos appears to have been settled during the PPNB period, approximately 8800 to 7000 BC. Neolithic remains of some buildings can be observed at the site.
10,000–8,000 years ago (8000 BC to 6000 BC): The post-glacial sea level rise decelerates, slowing the submersion of landmasses that had taken place over the previous 10,000 years.
10,000–9,000 years ago (8000 BC to 7000 BC): In northern Mesopotamia, now northern Iraq, cultivation of barley and wheat begins. At first they are used for beer, gruel, and soup, eventually for bread. In early agriculture at this time, the planting stick is used, but it is replaced by a primitive plow in subsequent centuries. Around this time, a round stone tower, now preserved to about 8.5 meters high and 8.5 meters in diameter is built in Jericho.
10,000–5,000 years ago (8,000-3,000 BC) Identical ancestors point: sometime in this period lived the latest subgroup of human population consisting of those that were all common ancestors of all present day humans, the rest having no present day descendants.
9,500–5,900 years ago: Neolithic Subpluvial in North Africa. The Sahara desert region supports a savanna-like environment. Lake Chad is larger than the current Caspian Sea. An African culture develops across the current Sahel region.
9,500 years ago (7500 BC): Çatalhöyük urban settlement founded in Anatolia. Earliest supposed date for the domestication of the cat.
9,200 years ago: First human settlement in Amman, Jordan; 'Ain Ghazal Neolithic settlement was built spanning over an area of 15 hectares.
9,000 years ago (7000 BC): Jiahu culture began in China.
9,000 years ago: large first fish fermentation in southern Sweden.
8,200–8,000 years ago: 8.2 kiloyear event: a sudden decrease of global temperatures, likely caused by the final collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which leads to drier conditions in East Africa and Mesopotamia.
8,200–7,600 years ago (6200-5600 BC): sudden rise in sea level (Meltwater pulse 1C) by 6.5 m in less than 140 year; this concludes the early Holocene sea level rise and sea level remains largely stable throughout the Neolithic.
8,000–5,000 years ago: (6000 BC–3000 BC) development of proto-writing in China, Southeast Europe (Vinca symbols) and West Asia (proto-literate cuneiform).
8,000 years ago: Evidence of habitation at the current site of Aleppo dates to about c. 8,000 years ago, although excavations at Tell Qaramel, 25 kilometers north of the city show the area was inhabited about 13,000 years ago, Carbon-14 dating at Tell Ramad, on the outskirts of Damascus, suggests that the site may have been occupied since the second half of the seventh millennium BC, possibly around 6300 BC. However, evidence of settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC exists.
7,500 years ago (5500 BC): Copper smelting in evidence in Pločnik and other locations.
7,200–6,000 years ago: 5200–4000 BC:Għar Dalam phase on Malta. First farming settlements on the island.
6,100–5,800 years ago: 4100–3800 BC: Żebbuġ phase. Malta.
6,070–6,000 years ago (4050–4000 BC): Trypillian build in Nebelivka (Ukraine) settlement which reached 15,000—18,000 inhabitants.
6,500 years ago: The oldest known gold hoard deposited at Varna Necropolis, Bulgaria.
6,000 years ago (4000 BC): Civilizations develop in the Mesopotamia/Fertile Crescent region (around the location of modern-day Iraq). Earliest supposed dates for the domestication of the horse and for the domestication of the chicken, invention of the potter's wheel.
5,900 years ago: 5.9 kiloyear event: a rapid and intense aridification event, which likely started the current Sahara Desert dry phase and a population increase in the Nile Valley due to migrations from nearby regions. It is also believed this event contributed to the end of the Ubaid period in Mesopotamia.
5,800 years ago: (3840 to 3800 BC): The Post Track and Sweet Track causeways are constructed in the Somerset Levels.
5,800 years ago (3800 BC): Trypillian build in Talianki (Ukraine) settlement which reached 15,600—21,000 inhabitants.
5,800–5,600 years ago: (3800–3600 BC): Mġarr phase A short transitional period in Malta's prehistory. It is characterized by pottery consisting of mainly curved lines.
5,700 years ago (3800 to 3600 BC): mass graves at Tell Brak in Syria.
5,700 years ago (3700 BC): Trypillian build in Maidanets (Ukraine) settlement which reached 12,000—46,000 inhabitants, and built 3-storey building.
5,700 years ago: (3700 to 3600 BC): Minoan culture begins on Crete.
5,600–5,200 years ago (3600–3200 BC): Ġgantija phase on Malta. Characterized by a change in the way the prehistoric inhabitants of Malta lived.
5,500 years ago: (3600 to 3500 BC): Uruk period in Sumer. First evidence of mummification in Egypt.
5,500: oldest known depiction of a wheeled vehicle (Bronocice pot, Funnelbeaker culture)
5,300 years ago: (3300 BC): Bronze Age begins in the Near East Newgrange is built in Ireland. Hakra Phase of the Indus Valley Civilisation begins in the Indian subcontinent. 5,300–5,000 years ago (3300-3000 BC): Saflieni phase in Maltese prehistory.
4,600 years ago: (2600 BC): Writing is developed in Sumer and Egypt, triggering the beginning of recorded history.
3,450 years ago (1450 BC): Mycenean Greece, first deciphered writing in Europe
3,200 years ago (1200 BC): Oracle bone script, first written records in Old Chinese
3,200–3150 years ago: Late Bronze Age collapse, beginning of the Greek Dark Ages
3,050–2,800 years ago: Alphabetic writing; the Phoenician alphabet spreads around the Mediterranean
2,260 years ago (260 BC): Earliest written records in South Asia (Middle Indo-Aryan)