I. prehistory: the cosmos, earth, and the roots of humanity

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A. Perceptions of Cosmic Mysteries

1. Early humans sought to understand the world around them and created stories to explain their place in the universe.

2. Earliest known creation myths were recorded in Mesopotamia and mirrored in the Hebrew book of Genesis.

3. According to the Hindu myth, creation emerged from nothingness in an event akin the Big Bang.

4. The ancient Chinese believed that the creator Pan Ku shaped the universe from chaos and darkness.

B. Early Life and Evolutionary Change

1. Simple, single-celled life emerged by perhaps 3.5 billion years ago, but land-based animal life is more recent, with many species evolving and emerging between 400 and 500 million years ago.

2. Natural forces of the Earth, such as geology and climate, shape life and determine what forms of live survive.

3. Moving plates that constitute the earth’s crust move and continually reshape the planet’s surface.

4. Most natural scientists agree that living things, including humans, change and adapt to their changing environments over many generations through the process of evolution.

5. Nineteenth-century British biologist Charles Darwin explained that natural selection is the process that drives evolution, though scientists still debate the precise mechanisms of evolution.

6. Extinction of the dinosaurs led to the ascendancy of mammals, including humans.

7. Genetics confirm that humans are part of the primate order, the mammal category that includes the apes, and closely related to chimpanzees and other great apes.

8. Superior brains ultimately gave humans an evolutionary edge over other species, and human intelligence led to sophisticated technologies that allowed humans to manipulate the environment to serve their needs.

9. Fossil discoveries point to several stages and branches in early human evolution, including the development of bipedalism, or walking upright on two feet.

10. One branch of the early human family, called australopithecines, evolved into our direct ancestor about 2.5 million years ago.

11. Homo habilis had a larger brain and the ability to make and use simple stone tools.

12. Tool-making humans were more successful hunters, had a more varied diet, and traveled in larger groups, giving them a competitive edge over other species and other humans.

13. As hominid societies developed, males increasingly became the hunters or scavengers for meat, and females the gatherers of nuts and vegetables.

C. Homo Erectus and Migrations Out of Africa

1. A more advanced hominid called Homo erectus evolved in east Africa between 1.8 and 2.2 million years ago

2. Homo erectus were larger than Homo habilis and had a brain about two-thirds the size of modern humans.

3. Between one and two million years ago, some Homo erectus migrated out of Africa and eventually spread into Eurasia in the first great migration of human history.

4. Homo erectus proved to be very adaptable, surviving in a variety of diverse environments.

5. Most Homo erectus lived in caves, but some built simple wooden huts for shelter.

6. The Homo erectus fashioned very versatile hand axes, with a tip for piercing, thin edges for cutting, and thick edges for scraping and chipping.

7. Homo erectus were also the first humans to use and control fire.

D. The Evolution and Diversity of Homo Sapiens

1. Homo erectus evolved into archaic forms of Homo sapiens around 400,000 or 500,000 years ago in Africa.

2. Genetic studies support the African Origins theory, which suggests that Homo sapiens evolved only in East Africa, and then spread throughout Afro-Eurasia.

3. Only Homo sapiens remained, coming to constitute one species, with superficial differences, that could interbreed and communicate with each other.

4. Superficial physical characteristics gave rise to the idea of “races,” a concept that is generally dismissed by experts in modern times.

5. Anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago.

6. Development of language facilitated cultural expression and the rise of complex social interaction and became the main method of communication.

7. Human intellectual development also included abstract, symbolic thought, and a sophisticated aesthetic sensibility, as revealed in decoration and art.

E. The Globalization of Human Settlement

1. Much of the world was settled by extremely adaptable modern humans between 50,000 and 12,000 years ago.

2. Modern Humans crossed to the eastern fringe of Asia, reaching India and Southeast Asia 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.

3. Around 200,000 years ago, a group known as Neanderthals developed, mostly in Europe, with some presence in North Africa and Central Asia.

4. Recent controversial studies suggest that some interbreeding may have occurred between Neanderthal, the related Denesovans, and modern humans.

5. There is strong evidence of a migration from Asia across a land bridge to Alaska.

6. Gradually, people of Asian ancestry settled throughout the Western Hemisphere.


1. The Stone Age is divided into three distinct periods, each characterized by improvements in stone tool technology.

a) The long Paleolithic ended about 15,000 years ago with the receding of glaciers from the last Ice Age.

b) The Mesolithic saw the thinning out of the vast herds of large Ice Age mammals.

c) The Neolithic began between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago in Eurasia, with the transition from hunting and gathering to simple farming.

A. Hunting, Gathering, and Cooperation

1. Small family units of 20 to 60 members subsisted on fishing, hunting, scavenging, and gathering of edible plants.

2. Edible plants gathered by women were more essential for group survival than hunting.

3. Hunting and gathering generally encouraged cooperation, which led to closer-knit communities based on kinship.

4. The mostly nomadic life of hunters and gatherers made accumulation of material possessions impractical.

5. Sharing of food and resources ensured survival for both the individual and the group.

6. Egalitarian social structures were typical in hunter-gatherer groups and provided equal access to resources, though the most resourceful members might be rewarded.

7. Group success and survival depended on all members, so women and men probably enjoyed a comparable status.

8. These societies maintain a clear sexual division of labor giving men some advantages over women, though women may have participated in group decision making.

B. Cultural Life and Violence

1. Animism, the belief that all creatures and objects have souls, and polytheism, the belief in many spirits or deities, developed to explain dreams, death, and natural phenomena.

2. Paleolithic peoples developed the belief that spirits or supernatural forces were capable of helping or harming.

3. Many hunters and gatherers had ample time for leisure activities such as , music, dance, and making beer or wine.

4. Anthropologists disagree about whether humans are inherently aggressive and warlike or peaceful and cooperative, since both patterns are common.

5. Humans may not be genetically programmed for either violence or cooperation, but instead may naturally seek self-preservation, which might call for violence or cooperation in varying circumstances.

C. The Heritage of Hunting and Gathering

1. Hunting and gathering has never completely disappeared, since environmental constraints make this lifestyle the most realistic strategy for survival.

2. Remaining hunters and gatherers may reveal something about ancient civilizations, though generalizing from contemporary patterns to peoples who lived several millennia ago requires caution.

3. Hunting and gathering societies may disappear during the twenty-first century because of logging, commercial fishing, plantation development, dam-building, tourism, and other activities that exploit their environments.


A. Environmental Change and the Roots of Agriculture

1. Between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, agriculture started with small preliminary steps shaped by environmental and demographic changes that eventually led to permanent village life.

2. Climate change and population growth probably triggered a change between human societies and their environments that made settled agriculture possible and necessary.

3. By 10,000 b.c.e., the population of some regions grew to levels unsupportable by hunting and gathering.

B. The Great Transition to Settled Agriculture

1. Environmental changes forced many human groups to develop new food gathering strategies that eventually led to horticulture, or growing crops with simple tools, leading to a reorganization of human society.

2. The extensive horticultural knowledge acquired by women probably assisted the first steps toward domesticating plants.

3. Shifting cultivation, sometimes called “slash and burn,” was a major food-producing strategy in the spread of agriculture.

4. Domestication of plants and animals produced a much higher yield per acre, supporting much denser populations in the same area.

5. Permanent settlements also made possible the storage of food for future use.

6. Settled agriculture also brought new problems.

a) Farmers depended on fewer plant foods than hunter-gathers, making them vulnerable to natural disasters.

b) Population growth required more food, and thus, more intensive farming.

7. Agriculture eventually depended on peasants, mostly poor farmers who worked small plots of land that were often owned by others.

C. The Globalization and Diversity of Agriculture

1. The movement of peoples along an east-west axis without abrupt climatic changes facilitated the relatively rapid spread of agriculture throughout Eurasia.

2. Distinct climate change along a north-south axis slowed the spread of agriculture in the Americas.

3. The earliest known farming occurred in the Fertile Crescent, but also began independently in several other parts of the world.

4. The earliest crops grown and the technologies and systems developed varied according to local environments and needs.

5. Over time, farming became deeply ingrained in human psychology, social life, and traditions.

D. Animal Domestication

1. Domesticated animals were bred in captivity in close association with horticulture and were gradually modified from their wild ancestors.

2. Men may have tamed and looked after the larger animals such as oxen and cattle, while women may have taken charge of smaller species such as sheep and pigs.

3. Animals supplied meat and leather, aided in farming, produced fertilizer, or provided transportation.

4. Much remains unclear about the chronology and location of animal domestication.

5. Zoological differences among the continents determined which societies had animals available for domestication.

E. Agriculture and Its Environmental Consequences

1. Intensive agriculture more radically altered the ecology, especially as technology improved.

2. Technology solved some problems, only to create others.

a) Plowing increased yields but also exposed topsoil to erosion.

b) Irrigation was the foundation of flourishing agriculture and denser settlements, but with tremendous environmental and political consequences.

3. Other agriculture-related activities contributed to environmental destruction, particularly overgrazing and deforestation.

4. Farming altered humans’ relationship to the environment, generating new religious ideas that justified human domination over nature.


  1. Farming created more complex societies.

  2. With increasing surpluses and populations, villages grew into the first cities.

A. The Rise of New Technologies

1. Technological innovation was often the response to a serious resource problem, such as scarcity of food or water.

2. Development of metallurgy for farming tools and weaponry helped shape the increasingly complex societies.

3. The first metalworking was done with copper, and copper mining may have been the first real industry of the ancient world.

4. West Asian metal craftsmen created bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, by 3000 b.c.e.

5. Bronze and iron made better tools but also more deadly weapons, shaping ancient societies.

B. Urbanization and the First Cities

1. Agriculture supported the growth of populations.

2. Villages such as Çatal Hüyük grew into prosperous towns, became centers of long-distance trade, and eventually developed into cities.

3. Greater size and wealth allowed cities to control adjacent farmlands that provided the surplus needed to sustain city dwellers.

4. As farming became more efficient, urbanization became the next great transition in human social organization.

C. The Rise of States, Economies, and Recordkeeping

1. Food production and urbanization eventually led to the formation of states.

2. Diversified economies generated enough wealth to permit a substantial division of labor in urban societies.

3. Urban societies became the centers of extensive trade networks.

4. Increased trade created the need for recordkeeping, which lead to the development of writing.

5. In most literate societies writing was usually reserved for the privileged, though oral traditions were widespread.

6. Through extensive interchange among peoples, complex societies evolved into states.

7. The term civilization was once used to describe urban-based societies, but the term can be misused and misleading.

a) The subjectivity of the term limits its value in understanding world history.

b) Because of the misuse and abuse of the term, the term is not used in this text.

D. The Rise of Pastoral Nomadism

1. Pastoral nomadism is an economy based on breeding, rearing, and harvesting livestock.

2. Both trade and conflict between farmers and herders became common, and some pastoral nomads exercised a strong influence on societies with much greater populations.

3. Pastoral nomads domesticated horses in Central Asia around 4300 b.c.e. and camels in Arabia between 3000 and 2500 b.c.e.

4. The nomadic pastoral life had many similarities regardless of the region.

a) Herders lived in small, dispersed groups, generally organized by tribes or federations of tribes, mostly concentrated in grasslands or deserts.

b) Most pastoralists had few material possessions but humane values and rich cultural lives.

5. Some pastoral societies maintained egalitarian social structures, which included women warriors, while others were headed by chiefs.

6. Some pastoralists, such as the Huns and the Mongols, became tough, martial peoples who were greatly feared by the farmers, and played a central role in world history before modern times.

7. The various tribes, now known collectively as the Indo-Europeans, were one of the most influential groups of pastoral nomads.

8. The term Indo-European used to describe the language that spawned most of the languages of the region that stretches from Europe to northern India.

9. These languages have many similar geographic, climatic, botanical, and zoological terms that point to an original homeland near the Caucasus Mountains or Anatolia.

10. Most of the Indo-Europeans scattered in every direction sometime before 2000 b.c.e.

11. The dispersal of peoples from the Indo-European heartland set the stage for profound changes across Eurasia.

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