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Time and the science of history.
History: the science that studies humanity's past.

History studies all the aspects of human life:

  • politics
  • economy
  • society.
  • culture.
  • art.

Division of history.
To facilitate its study, we divided History into periods of variable lengths, separated by key events. The most important are:

  • eras. There are two of them:
  1. Prehistory, the period of time from the apparition of the first human being to the invention of writing.
  2. History, from the invention of writing to present day.
  • We divide eras into shorter periods of time, known as ages:

-Prehistory is divided into two ages:

  1. Stone Age, from the apparition of the first hominids (4,4 million years ago) to the invention of metal tools (4.500 B. C.).
  2. Metal Age, from the invention of metal tools (4.500 B. C.) to the invention of writing (3.250 B. C.).

-History is divided into four ages:

  1. Ancient age, from the invention of writing (3. 250 B. C.) to the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A. D.).
  2. Middle age, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the discovery of America (476 A. D.-1492 A. D.)
  3. Modern age, from the discovery of America to the French Revolution (1492 A. D.-1789 A. D.)
  4. Contemporary age, from the French Revolution to the present day (1789 A. D.-?).

Ages of History

The division of prehistory.
Prehistory is the period of time from the apparition of the first human beings (4,4 million years) to the invention of writing (3.250 B.C). We can divide it into two ages:

  • Stone Age, tools were made of stone. We can distinguish:
  1. Paleolithic (literally, Old Stone) from 4,4 million years ago to 10.000 B. C. Tools were carved from stone.
  2. Neolithic (literally, New Stone) from 10.000 B. C. to 4.500 B. C. Tools were made of polished stone.
  • Metal Age, from 4.500 B. C. to 3. 250 B. C.  Tools were made of metal. We can distinguish three periods according to the metal used:
  1. Cooper Age.
  2. Bronze Age.
  3. Iron Age.

The sources for prehistory.
In order to the study prehistory our sources are:

  • the remains left behind by primitive human beings: humans (bones) and material (tools, pottery).
  • the remains of animal or plants of their time.

Most of this remains are buried, because of that is necessary to carry out archeological excavations.

An archaelogical excavation is a slow and expensive digging to recover remains buried underground.

It is composed of several stages:

  1. Division of the site into a grid.
  2. Excavation of the site.Archeological dig
  3. Creation of a file for each object: number, description, site coordinates.
  4. Dating of the remains: the lower strata are older than the upper ones.



The problem of our origin.
Until modern times was though that human beings has appeared over this planet in the current form.
In the XIX century, the theory of the evolution was developed by Charles Darwin. According to it, human beigns evolved from primates, a type of mammals which appeared 65 million years ago.
Five million years ago, primates started to evolve into two different direcctions:

  • On the one hand appeared the pongids: chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla.
  • On the the other, appeared the hominids, our direct ancestors.

Hominisation process.
There were three biological changes that made hominids different from the rest of the large simians:

  1. A biped mode of walking. The position of their hip and the extension of their pelvis allow them to took firm steps and large strides. As a consequence, their hands were freed from the act of walking to use for other purposes.

  2. Developed and opossable thumbs (far more efficient that the ones belonging to pongids). That made possible to easily manipulate objects and therefore, developing tools.
  3. As a consequence, the brain and skull size increased, increasing their intelligence. This made possible: though, speech and formation of complex societies.Hominids brain size comparision

Human evolution and its stages.
Definition: hominisation was the long evolutive process trough which the hominids adquired their own unique features.
Chronology: this process took place in Africa between seven and 4 million years ago.
Causes: a climatic change that made the african climate a lot drier. As a consquence big extensions of tropical rainforest were transformed into treeless savannah, and the primates of this zones were forced to leave the trees and descend to the ground in order to look for new food sources.
We can distinguish several stages in this process:

  • First, in Africa, the oldest hominids, which were very similar to the other primates, appeared:
  1. Ardiphitecus, about 4,4 million years ago. It was perhaps the first hominid that can walk upright. It fed on fruits and could climb trees.Ardiphitecus, the first antecesor of the hominids.
  2. Australophitecus, about 4, 2 million years ago. The first hominid that used tools but did not make them.Australophitecus afarensis, the first biped early hominid.
  • Later, appeared the Homo genus: hominid classified as humans due to their appearance and toolmaking skills. We can distinguish:
  1. Homo Habilis, appeared 2, 4 million years ago. Considered the first human beign. First hominid who can make tools.Homo Habilis
  2. Homo Erectus, appeared 1, 8 million yeas ago. First hominid to leave Africa, he lived in Africa, Asia and Europe (the oldest european remains appeared 800.000 years ago). First hominid to use fire.Homo Erectus
  3. Homo Neanderthalensis. Lived between 200.000 and 35.000 years ago. He lived in Europe and the Middle East during the glacial period. He took refugee in caves and was the first hominid to bury their deads.Homo Neanderthalensis
  4. Homo Sapiens, appeared in Africa 195.000 years ago. They made tools from stone an bone and created the firsts art forms. They also extended across almost all the continents.Homo Sapiens


Palaeolithic is the first period of the Prehistory that started 4. 4. million years ago and ended 10.000 years B. C.


Paleolitic people lived in a wide variety of enviorments (torrid climates, frigid), life was very difficult and human beings had to use most of their time to find food or reefuge. The main characteristics of their way of life were:

  • Predatory economy (they took resources from Nature without replacing them). They obtained resources through:
  1. hunting (deers, reindeers, bisons, horses and mammoths).
  2. fishing
  3. food gathering (roots and fruits).

Apart from food, from their preys they obtained clothes (fat, tendons and hides) footwear (leather) and bones (tolos). We talk about a predatory economy, because

  • Nomadic life. Primitive human beings did not live in one place, instead they had to move constantly to follow their preys:
  1. During the summers they lived in huts made of branches and hides, located close to rivers.
  2. During the winters they sought shelters in natural caves.

Technological contributions and inventions.

The main technological advances of the Paleolithic were:

  • Stone tools, using the stonecarving technique:
  1. You strike one stone against another to make axes or bifaces, arrow heads and knives
  2. The pieces that came away were used as knives, scrapers…
  3. They also used bones and antlers to produce harpoons, fish hooks and needles.

  • Fire, was important because:
  1. It provided light and heat inside caves
  2. It frightened savage animals.
  3. It could be used to cook food and dry animal hides.
  4. It favoured social relations: around a fire, people shared their daily activities and assigned duties to one another.


Tribal society.

Humans lived in groups of about 20 or 30 people who were linked by family ties (tribes). It is thought that some members of the group had a greater importance:

  • the shaman or healer.
  • the strongest hunter.


Today is believed that there were three forms of religious beliefs:

  1. Belief in the power of natural elements: the Sun, the Moon, the stars, etc.
  2. Magic rituals to influence natural forces.
  3. Veneration of the dead that were furied along with food and weapons. This indicate a belief in a life after death.

Paleolithic art.

There were two main forms of art during the Paleolithic period:

  • Portable art, with the following characteristics:
  1. Were moveable objects.
  2. Made on stone, bone and ivory decorated with reliefs.
  3. The main examples were: engraved sticks, weapons and pendants; Venus small statues of women which acentuated feminine attributes.
  • Cave painting, appeared 40.000 years ago. This painting has appeared all across Europe, from Gibraltar to Siberia, but about an 80% has been discovered in France of the Iberian Peninsula. Their main characteristics were:
  1. located on the walls and ceillings of caves.
  2. Represented animals (bisons, horses, mammoths, deers), schematically drawn human beings and symbols such as hands or vulvas.
  3. Were polychrome. They mad pygments mixing animal fat with natural substances such as iron oxide (red), charcoal (black) and earth (ochre).

Cave painting. Bison


Iron oxyde


The Neolithic period started around 10.000 B. C. and ended about 4.500 B. C. with the apparition of metalworking.

Where and why.
10.000 B.C. ago, the last glaciar period ended with a climatic change and a rise in the atmospheric temperatures. As a consequence, there was less food and paleolithic groups had to find new ways to find food, developing agriculture and livestock farming.

These changes that started the Neolithic period took place in the Fertile Crescent, a half-moon shaped region extending from the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to the Nile. From there spread to Europe, India and China.

The main two characteristics of the Neolithic were the apparition of the productive economy and the sedentary way of life. These changes are so important that we call it, the Neolithic Revolution:

  • Productive economy, was based in agriculture and livestock farming:
  1. Agriculture appeared when people discovered that seeds which fell to the ground grew into new plants. The first domesticated plants were cereals such as wheat and rice.
  2. Livestock farming, appeared when they started to confining animals (sheep, goats, pigs and oxen) in pens to use then as a meat source, instead of hunting.
  • Sedentary way of life. In order to take care of their fields of crops and herds, farmers adopted a sedentary way of life with two main consequences:
  1. Apparition of hamlets, located on the banks of the rivers. First they were made of bamboo cabins reinforced with clay and later stone and adobe house.
  2. Apparition of different trades, along with farmers and herdsmen, craftsmen that made tools that exchanged for food, for example potters and weavers.

New inventions.
The main inventions of the Neolithic period were:

  • Development of the grinding or polishing tecnique to make stone tools. This technique has several advantages:
  1. Eliminated rough edges.
  2. Made stone more resistant.
  3. Allow to make new tools, necessary to carry out agricultural tasks such as hoes, sickles, pestles and mortars.


  • Pottery was made by hand from clay then baked in a fire. It was used to store and cook food.
  • Woven textiles were made from linen and wool and were woven in looms.

The productive economy the following social changes:

  • Enormous increase in the population.
  • Apparition of rulers who coordinated defence, water use and collective works. Over time, they became political authorities.
  • Apparition of social inequalities with different social groups distinguished by their wealth and labour.

Religious beliefs and art.
The main religious rites were dedicated to:

  • astrological entities, which guided the sowing and harvesting.
  • the mother goddess, who ensured the fertility.
  • the dead.

The most important art form was decorated pottery.


The Metal Age started around 4. 500 BC with the discovery of metallurgy and ended between 3.250 BC and 1.000 BC, according to the date of the invention of writing which supposed the start of history.

  • Metalworking:
  1. The first metal use in metalworking was cooper, starting around 4. 500 B. C. in the cities of the Fertile Crescent. Due to its limited durability was mostly used for adornments.
  2. Around 2.200 BC, they started to use bronze, an alloy of bronze and tin, harder and which can be used to make a greater variety of tools.
  3. Around 1.500 BC, iron production was discover around the Black Sea área, but its expansión was slow due to the advantage which gave to the peoples that used it.


  • Other economic activities.
  1. As during the Neolithic, agriculture and livestock farming provided the basis for the economy.
  2. Artisan production was very important also: wool textiles and pottery.
  3. Trade developed between the Fertile Crescent and Central Europe in order to exchange metal and another products.

New techniques, instruments and inventions.

  • Metalworking techniques. We can distinguish several stages in the metalworking process:
  1. First metal was worked in a cold state, by striking it with a hammer.
  2. Casting: process, in which metal was heated in a foundry until it melted. Then liquid metal is poured into a mold, that contains a hollow cavity of the desired shape, and then allowed to cool and solidify.
  3. Forge: metal was heated in a fire (forge) while it was hammered.

Finally, once cooled the items were polished.

  • New tools.
  1. agricultural tools: hoes, sickles.
  2. weapons: swords, spears, axes, shields
  3. domestic utensils: jugs and bowls.


  • Population increased and as a consequence settlements grew.
  • Most of the settlements were surrounded by walls, due to the apparition of wars between different peoples in order to control metal sources.
  • Society became more complex with the apparition of new roles such as metalworkers, traders.

  • Also, some human groups managed to control others due to their knowledge of metalworking.

Now, the first forms of architecture appeared, known as megalithic monuments, made of large stones or megaliths. We can distinguish the following types of megalithic monuments:

  • Menhirs, large stones placed vertically in the ground. We don't know its function: worship of the Sun, mark territory, to stop the souls of the dead roaming. When they were set out in a row, we talk about a stone row.
  • Dolmens, chambers formed of large vertical stones roofed over with horizontal stones. When there was a long trabeated corridor, we talk about a corrido tomb. They were usually used as tombs.
  • Cromlechs, or stone circles, formed of a number of menhirs placed in a circle. We think that there were sanctuaries for an agrarian or solar cult.

External Links:

How did Iron Age people live?


Activities about the content Ages and sources of prehistory