Time Scale 7

10,000 to 1,000 years ago


Pyramids at Giza, Egypt
The pyramids in Giza, Egypt were built by separate pharaohs. The oldest and the largest of these pyramids is the Great Pyramid built by Pharaoh Khufu during the 4th Dynasty period, about 4,500 years ago. It is considered to be one of the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, and is the only one that is still in relatively good condition.

Credit: Photo by Ricardo Liberato, Courtesy of Wikipedia

How did early humans learn to domesticate plants and animals? What were the conditions that led to the independent rise of civilizations in the Near East, East Asia, Africa, and the Americas? How did the potential accumulation of wealth and power give rise to more socially stratified societies? How did technologies and lifestyles change with the rise of metallurgy?

This time period documents the slow transition from hunter-gatherer bands to early pastoralists and agriculturalists. With a more productive and reliable food base, populations grew and villages flourished. As farming spread in both the Old World and the New World, new innovations and technologies also spread: ground stone axes, pottery, grinding stones for processing cereal crops, shrines, and, eventually, the monumental architecture.

Then, in many parts of the world these give rise to the emergence of more complex urban societies, sometimes called “civilization.” The earliest evidence for cities, writing systems, metallurgy (copper, then bronze, then iron), wheeled vehicles, and horse transport are found during this period, as well as the first large-scale ships and early experiments in democracy.

Event 61

10,000 years ago

10th century dug out boat found in the Oder River, PolandFor millions of years water must have been a very formidable obstacle for humans and proto-humans. By the end of the last Ice Age, it appears that people began to adventure along and across bodies of water through the use of new technological innovations: floating devices such as rafts, canoes, and boats. By the use of paddles people could power and steer such vessels of transport, opening up new possibilities for fishing, hunting of marine animals, obtaining more distant raw materials, and for migrations.

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Event 62

10,000 years ago

Ground AxeA major shift in human economies occurred when hunter-gatherers began to control the reproduction of certain plants and animals (called domestication) and, over time, select favorable traits in these species and change their morphology. The rise of farming communities (in the Old World called the New Stone Age or Neolithic) is often correlated with larger, more permanent villages, higher population numbers and densities, a rise is social stratification by the accumulation of wealth and power by some individuals, pottery, and ground stone tools like axes.

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Event 63

8,000 years ago

Bronze spear pointsMetallurgy probably accidentally emerged from the high-temperature technologies required to fire pottery. If rocks containing copper were heated to a high enough temperature, the copper would melt and could be cast into various shapes such as axes or knives and daggers, or even jewelry. The earliest evidence for this goes back to between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago in Thailand and the Near East. Then craftsmen found that if you alloy copper with tin, you produce an even harder material called bronze. The search for copper and tin ores became an important part of the economies for these early metallurgists. The Bronze Age revolutionized human societies, making more durable tools and weapons that were superior to stone for keeping their edge. And, unlike stone, these metals could easily be recycled by melting them down and recasting them.

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Event 64

6,000 to 5,000 years ago

Khufu ship in Giza, EgyptAs more complex societies developed more complex trade networks, new ways of getting around became more crucial. Large-scale ships are seen in the Predynastic Egypt around 5,000 BC. The development of large ships powered by manned oars and sails became a common feature of many developing societies and made long-distance travel over the seas possible and much easier and safer than by small boats or canoes. In warfare, ships could develop into early navies which were often critical in decisive battles as well as transporting troops to a destination.

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Event 65

5,500 years ago

Standard of Ur, War Panel In some areas of intensive agriculture, the economic foundations were in place for a revolutionary change in social life and economy: the rise of complex societies (sometimes called state societies or “civilizations”) and cities or urban centers with thousands of occupants. The rise of more urban, complex societies is often associated with such features as monumental architecture (e.g. temples, tombs); a royal monarch such as a king or queen and a highly stratified social system with an aristocracy, craftsman class, merchant class, and peasant class; a professional army; much greater craft specialization; standard weights and measures (including some form of currency); more widespread trade routes; and the development writing for keeping records.

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Event 66

5,500 years ago

Amarna Letters, cuneiform We take writing for granted – whether it is in the form of actual physical objects with writing on them – such as books, newspapers, magazines – or, today, in the form of electronic print, such as electronic books, emails, electronic newspapers, blogs, twitters, or text messaging. It is somewhat hard to believe that people haven’t always communicated through written words, but this is a fairly recent invention, introduced more than 160,000 years after modern humans arrived on the scene, long after the development of modern human language, and even thousands of years after humans ‘settled down’ and started producing our own food. It was with the rise of complex societies that it became more necessary to make records of important information: crop and material inventories, laws, religious texts, and historical events. In many parts of the world (the Near East, Europe, China, Egypt, and Mesoamerica) people began to use signs and symbols to stand for specific words or for specific sounds in their language. This was, in essence, an Information Revolution: no longer was oral tradition and memory required to maintain important facts. It could be written down.

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Event 67

5,000 years ago

Ur wheeled cart Anyone who has used a wagon, cart, wheelbarrow, or a dolly knows that it is much easier to move heavy things with wheels than with your brute strength. A wheel rotating on an axle requires much less energy to move heavy things than simply carrying or dragging them. Around 4800 years ago, human groups began to move things around with simple carts or wagons with solid wheels, pulled by cattle, asses, or horses.

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Event 68

3,500 years ago (1500 BC)

Iron artifacts, IndiaUnlike copper and tin (which alloy to make bronze), iron ore deposits are much more common and widespread in the world. And, unlike bronze, iron is usually hammered into shape rather than cast, since the melting point of iron is significantly higher than copper or tin. The first evidence of iron smelting and manufacture of iron tools and weapons is seen with the Hittite civilization of Anatolia (Turkey) around 3500 years ago (1500 BC), and later spread with the collapse of the Hittites. By about 2500 years ago (around 500 BC), people learned that if you intentionally added carbon to iron during the forging process you could create an even harder material: steel. Blacksmiths learned that by placing iron in a charcoal fire, then hammering it by folding, then quenching in water, you could make a much higher-quality steel. Bronze tools had been primarily owned by members of the upper classes, being relatively rare and expensive, but iron tools were much more plentiful and cheaper, and became available to all members of society.

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Event 69

2560 years ago (550 BC)

Roman SenateThe word democracy in Greek means “people” (demos) and “rule” (kratia). Democracy refers to a form of government in which governing is done by the people, either directly or through representatives that they elect. During the Classic period of ancient Greece the Athenians of the city-state of Athens developed a way of governing based on a majority vote of eligible citizens, rather than just the dictate of some monarch. This ancient democracy was far from egalitarian, however: only Athenian adult men could vote; women, foreigners, minors, and slaves could not. This early experiment in democracy was not very long-lasting: Athens was finally defeated by the more war-like Spartans in 404 BC after a 27 year-long Peloponnesian War.

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Event 70

2,210 years ago (200 B.C.)

Pont du Gard, FranceWhat does it take to ’build a city’? Early villages and cities started to develop fairly impressive size and complexity soon after the start of the “urban revolution,” with large clusters of buildings, including residences, palaces, and temples. There are many examples of impressive building complexes in a number of early civilizations, including Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, Dynastic Egypt, and Classical Greece. But it was around 2,000 years ago that some societies developed and organized great engineering projects to help bolster their sprawling cities and empires. We can see such large-scale urban planning and construction for instance in ancient Rome, with projects such as the Coliseum and the elaborate systems of roads and aqueducts that connected many parts of the Roman Empire. But at about the same time, other civilizations were also developing equally elaborate projects, such as the massive task of connecting and bolstering fortifications into what eventually came to be known as the “Great Wall of China by the first emperor of China, Qinshihuang, who also built himself an elaborate tomb filled with terra cotta soldiers and horses.

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