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The 6 stages of Prehistory

The 6 stages of Prehistory

July 14, 2024

Egypt, Greece, Rome ... there is much we know about countless peoples and civilizations that preceded us, and whose role in the world ended up causing our life to be what it is now. All this is mainly thanks to the invention of writing, which allowed us to record the events that occurred in the world. It is from the invention of this that we can start talking about history. But ... and before that? What happened before the human being began to record in writing what happened in the world he lived?

Of most of the events that our most remote ancestors lived, everything that our species lived before the invention of writing, we can only speculate through the analysis of bone deposits and tools, as well as a few artistic representations. Based on these elements, the human being has tried to organize a timeline that helps us understand our past, establishing different stages of prehistory .


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The main stages of prehistory: what are they?

The human being takes hundreds of thousands of years on earth, leaving its mark. Since its appearance, our species has had to face innumerable dangers and had to fight to survive. Without written documents that determine the great events that took place between peoples and tribes, historians, archaeologists and anthropologists They have divided prehistory in different stages according to the instruments and materials they used our ancestors.

It is necessary to bear in mind, however, that depending on the region of the planet of which we are speaking, the development of new technologies and techniques could have occurred sooner or later, there being a gap between the duration of the different ages according to the place where we let's find. Next we will see some of the main stages of prehistory. The dates are approximate, being able to vary greatly depending on the place.


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Stone age (up to 6,000 a.C)

The first of the stages of prehistory that has been identified is the stone age, characterized by the creation of various tools made of this material , both for hunting and other uses. Technically it would comprise from the appearance of the first hominids to the use of metal as a tool. Human beings were grouped into small groups or clans, and were mainly nomadic hunter-gatherers (although at the end of this age the first fixed settlements, agriculture and livestock appeared). Three major periods stand out within the stone age.

1. Paleolithic (2,500,000 a.C. -10,000 a.C.)

The Paleolithic is the first of the periods considered as prehistory, which would go from the appearance of the first tools created by hominids. It is also the longest period or stage. During this period great part of Europe was frozen, being located in the glacial stage. In this stage there were different hominid species besides ours , As the Homo habilis or the Homo neanderthalensis, which would eventually become extinct.


Our diet was mainly based on fruit and berry harvesting and hunting, being the hunter-gatherer human being . This stage of the stone age can, in fact, be divided into three: lower, middle and upper paleolithic.

The Lower Palaeolithic is the period of time that comprises approximately from the appearance of man (supposedly around two and a half million years ago) to approximately 127,000 BC. From this period date the first tools found, made in a rudimentary way with stone carved by friction with others.

The Middle Palaeolithic corresponds to the period that would go from that date to approximately 40,000 BC. This stage corresponds to the presence of Homo neanderthalensis in Europe, already existing the domain of fire, the first known funerary rites and the first ornamentations and cave paintings. The tools created used the Levallois method , that consisted in the elaboration of stone flakes to which it was given (at least to the top layer) before being extracted.

Finally, we would consider Paleolithic superior to the period between 40,000 a.C. and 10,000 a.C. One of the main milestones of this stage is the migration and expansion of homo sapiens sapiens in Europe after emigrating from Africa, as well as the disappearance of the Neanderthals. Rock art becomes habitual and begins the domestication of animals like the wolf.

2. Mesolithic (10,000 a.C.- 8,000 a.C.)

The second of the periods belonging to the Stone Age, the period known as mesolithic, corresponds to a large extent with the completion of the last Ice Age . In general, humanity remained mainly nomadic, with the exception of some settlements that are beginning to flourish. In effect, the first villages begin to appear. Elaborate tools tend to reduce their size and people are less likely to seek refuge in caves. Another characteristic element is that the first cemeteries begin to be seen.

3. Neolithic (8,000 a.C.- 6,000 a.C.)

The Neolithic is the last of the Stone Age periods. This stage is characterized by the birth, expansion and progressive improvement of agriculture and livestock . The human being no longer needed to make large migrations in pursuit of the herds of animals to hunt, and began to emerge settlements that over time would become great civilizations.

Age of metals (6,000 a.C.- 600/200 a.C.)

The so-called age of metals corresponds to a period in which the human being stopped using the stone to use the metal and in which would begin to appear the first civilizations and cultures .

1. Copper Age (6,000 a.C.- 3,600 a.C.)

Copper was one of the first metals that were used as material to create tools, producing more efficient and sharp elements than stone. Initially it was used without melting, using the same mechanisms as with the stone. Over time he would begin to experiment and metallurgy would end up emerging .

2. Bronze Age (3.600-1.200 a.C.)

Stage characterized by the use of bronze as a manufacturing material. In addition to bronze, other materials such as glass were also started to work. During the Bronze Age. The cremation of the bodies of the dead and the placement of the ashes in ceramic urns are also observed. The different cultures of antiquity had already appeared, such as the Mycenaean .

3. Iron Age (1,200 a.C.- 600/200 a.C.)

This stage is characterized by the use of iron as a material to create tools. This use is very complex and requires a high level of technique. This stage, in fact, could be considered already within the history, since already some of the main civilizations of the antiquity existed and in some places the writing exists from approximately the year 3,500 a.C. But nevertheless, the generalization of the use of iron would not occur in Europe until the existence of the Roman Empire (one of the reasons why although writing already existed is considered this stage even within prehistory)

And in America?

The aforementioned stages are those that are generally used at European, Asian and African levels. But nevertheless, the stages of prehistory varied enormously in other regions of the world . An example is the prehistory lived by the Native American peoples. For example, these people did not start using iron until they were invaded by people from Europe. The writing as such corresponds to the last moments of the Olmecs, of which there is not much information precisely because of this fact.

Prior to this, it is considered that American culture has the following stages of prehistory.

1. Paleo-Indian stage (up to 10,000 / 8,000 a.C.)

This stage is the longest of American prehistory, including everything that happened before 8000 BC. This does not mean that there were no major developments before 8000 BC, but there is no record of elements that allow a clear differentiation. Its beginnings are not clear, since it is not entirely clear when the American continent began to be populated by human beings.

It could be considered the Paleolithic equivalent, with its lower, middle and upper subperiods. It is observed the existence of population with stone tools, mostly hunter-gatherers that they came to deal with the megafauna that existed at the time . At the end of 8000 a.C. the ice began to recede, which caused great changes in the ecosystem of numerous species.

2. Archaic stage (10,000 / 8,000 a.C - 1,500 a.C)

Stage that begins with the removal of ice from a large part of the continent. The settlers of America began to stop being nomadic hunter-gatherers to little by little begin to establish settlements and the first cities. They began to domesticate animals and to grow plants .

3. Formative or preclassical period (between 1500 a.C. and 900 of our history)

This stage is characterized by the expansion of agriculture and the formation and apogee of the first hierarchical societies known in this continent. Among them, the Olmec civilization stands out.

4. Classic period (292 and 900)

The beginnings of this period correspond to the invention of writing in America. It is the most documented stage of pre-Columbian history , in which the Olmec civilization disappeared and one of the best-known Mesoamerican civilizations appeared: the Mayan civilization.

5. Postclassic (between 900 and the arrival of Columbus to America, in 1527)

In this last period prior to the encounter with the peoples of Europe, which in fact is already considered historic because written records have been found. The Mayans began to fall into decadence and they appeared among other empires like the Aztec or the Inca. Agriculture was the economic base, and there was a period of relatively frequent migrations and conflicts. Metallurgy and work with minerals and metals also appear for the first time.


Human Prehistory 101: Prologue (July 2024).


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