Chronology of the Prehistory

Stone Age scene

Stone Age scene

A. Old Stone Age (Paleolithic), circa 2,000,000 – 8000 B.C.

1. use of crude tools and weapons, fire
2. the most advanced Paleolithic peoples were the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon peoples
3. early development of art and religious beliefs
4. development of language

B. Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic), ca. 8000 – 6000 B.C.

1. use of more complex tools
2. increased sophistication of art and religion

C. New Stone Age (Neolithic), ca. 6000 – 3000 B.C.

1. development of agriculture and animal domestication
2. change of core religious beliefs
3. weaving of cloth, milling and pottery-making

D. Bronze Age, ca. 3000 – 1000 B.C.

1. use of metal tools and weapons
2. use of the plow and of irrigation
3. religion and society more complex
4. development of the city and of specialization

E. It is important to remember that not all cultures advanced from one stage to another at the same rate.

1. some people remain hunters, while others became herders, farmers or city dwellers
2. even today there are some cultures still living in the Stone Age

II. Technological Revolutions

A. Social Revolution, ca. 2,000,000 – 300,000 B.C.

1. by 300,000 B.C. human all lived together in society; we still do. WHY?

a) human physiology demands that we live together

(1) the price we pay for upright gait is that our offspring are born grossly underdeveloped

(a) 10 years for brain to fully develop
(b) 20 years for body to fully develop

(2) life span exceeds usefulness

b) therefore, we had to stick together to protect the kids and old folks

2. early societies were small, consisting of 25-50 members, mostly related

a) this was a good size for mobility and population control
b) they mostly lived in caves and/or huts, in areas where natural food was plenty
c) were nomadic, following the food supply, or the seasons, or both
d) they were egalitarian, in that there was no concept of private property – everything was owned by everyone

(1) personal possessions were a nuisance, because they had to be carried everywhere; therefore, tools and dwellings were disposable or portable

3. food supply from hunting and gathering

a) men leave the common dwelling to hunt wild animals

(1) they might be gone weeks at a time
(2) they might not bring anything back (remember, animals were fierce and weapons were crude)
(3) hunting provides approximately 25% of the group’s food

b) women stay behind to gather natural foods

(1) mostly nuts, berries, edible roots, etc…
(2) gathering provides the other 75% of the food supply

4. hunting and gathering creates female-dominance in early society

a) because women provide most of the food, they make the decisions

(1) where to live
(2) when to move
(3) with whom to mate

b) religion was female-centered

(1) animism = the belief that the forces of nature (i.e. sun, earth, trees, animals) contain within them a divine spirit which can be contacted and influenced
(2) shamans (witch-doctors) = holy people who communicated with the divine by travelling to the realm of the divine, gathering sacred knowledge, and interpreting that lore for the group
(3) the main expression of divine power was the Goddess, the Earth-Mother

(a) female fertility emphasized over male fertility
(b) the earth’s cycles were sacred: the seasons, fertility

c) because females operate and communicate differently than males, the society dominated by females was static – once consensus was reached, there society remained: no war, no greed, no corruption, no crime, no progress, no change

(1) women seek consensus, men seek hierarchy

d) this female – dominant society endured for hundreds of thousands of years, but was eventually replaced by the male-dominant society in which we presently live; but WHY ??

B. Agricultural Revolution, ca. 10,000 – 6000 B.C.

1. population growth and the recession of some prey species are two reasons for this change in food supply
2. the main technology here is domestication = a way of rigging the natural system for our benefit, or a kind of crude genetic engineering

a) animal domestication developed first

(1) it suited the nomadic lifestyle
(2) provided more food and other animal products
(3) pastoralists (shepherds) still moved with the seasons, but now took their animals with them

b) plant domestication (agriculture) was a slower and more important discovery

(1) dramatically increases food supply (esp. combined with other technologies, like the mill and the oven

c) gave rise to a complete change in human society

3. required permanent settlement

a) people flocked around fertile areas for easy growing
b) settlement gave rise to the need for protection, defense, military, government

4. no more egalitarianism

a) inequality is created as personal possessions become important
b) desire for goods which show one’s prestige: precious metals, gemstones, amber, feathers, furs, purple dye, slaves
c) property also requires protection, in the form of laws

5. shifted position of dominance to the male

a) scratch plow requires the upper body strength of the male, thus he now brings in 100% of the food supply

(1) men now make the decisions, and women are relegated to the household, to care for children and to serve the men

b) agriculture can be seen as the conquering of nature, subjugating the mother goddess

(1) she no longer provides for us – we take what we want; we create our own food
(2) shift of emphasis from female fertility to male fertility; the mother goddess gives way to the warrior god

6. new relationships develop, between men and women, children and parents, haves and have-nots, masters and slaves, rulers and subjects
7. rapid population growth forces yet more changes

a) need for more space and more food
b) agricultural society expands over the territory of hunters/gatherers and pastoralists; they were dominated and absorbed

8. the first areas to be widely cultivated are known as the Four River Valley Civilizations: the Tigris/Euphrates, Nile, Indus and Huang-ho valleys

a) these areas were naturally fertile and more or less convenient to the development of civilization
b) as these societies developed, government became more complex

(1) those who controlled the supply of food, water, and/or prestige goods had power

9. this was the beginning of the age of men, characterized by the development of government, law, writing, literature, poetry, crime, war, greed, etc… all good things and bad
10. pretty soon these agricultural communities turned into full-fledged city/states

C. Urban/State Revolution, ca. 6000 – 3000 B.C.

1. reasons for development of cities

a) need for combined resources/management for large-scale projects like irrigation
b) growth of population, thus a greater need for productivity and sophistication
c) need for common defense against competing communities

2. how does a city develop? Case in point: Uruk, the first city

a) began as a religious center, a hilltop shrine to the goddess Inanna
b) surrounded by many villages and agricultural settlements
c) merchants, traders, others found it easier and more profitable to stay at the shrine 
d) eventually over 50,000 people live and work there

3. synergism = 1+1=3 or more; different parts of a society working together are more efficient than those parts working individually

a) results in an explosion of sophistication, complexity and technological advancement
b) the increased need for one element of society creates the need for others
c) each element potentiates others: more food supply creates population increase, which creates the need for more food, etc…
d) ultimately we have a new kind of society characterized by the development of politics, law, writing and specialization of labor

(1) the management of natural resources and large-scale irrigation and building projects required a more sophisticated system of government
(2) more people mean more personal property and interpersonal relationships, which require a more sophisticated system of legal protection and order
(3) the need for more sophisticated methods of record keeping led to the development of writing

(a) not for poetry but for the day-to-day functioning of society
(b) initially writing was pictographic, then syllabic, then alphabetic
(c) with writing comes “history’ – we move from the pre-historic to the historic period

(4) the need for writers, lawyers, engineers, politicians, carpenters, etc… led to a dramatic increase in the specialization of labor

(a) the development of slavery aids the further specialization of labor
(b) improved agricultural techniques meant that not everyone needed to be involved in food production

4. the development of the city/state reinforced the changes that had occurred during the agricultural revolution

a) men now have the administrative, legal, religious, cultural and military authority in the new more sophisticated society

5. our word civilization comes from the Latin civitas, city, which implies that life in cities is required for civilization