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t h e d e f i n i t i v e v i s u a l g u i d e

f r o m t h e d aw n of c i v i l i z at i on t o t h e p r e s e n t d ay

DORLING KINDERSLEY First American Edition, 2007

This edition published in 2012
Senior Art Editors Senior Editor
Published in the United States by
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Main Consultants

Professor Brian Fagan Dr. Karen Radner Professor Richard Lim Dr. Roger Collins
Origins Rulers and Hierarchies Thinkers and Believers Warriors, Travelers, and Inventors
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Lecturer in the Ancient Near East, University Professor in the Ancient Mediterranean World Honorary Fellow, School of History and Classics,
University of California, Santa Barbara, CA College London, UK and Late Antiquity, Smith College, Massachusetts University of Edinburgh, UK

Dr. David Parrott James Freeman Professor Richard Overy

Renaissance and Reformation Industry and Revolution Population and Power
Fellow and lecturer in Modern History, Postgraduate researcher, specializing in 18th and Professor of History, University of Exeter, UK
New College, Oxford University, UK 19th century history, Cambridge University, UK

Contributors and Specialist Consultants

Contributors: Simon Adams, Lindsay Allen, Kriwaczek, Keith Laidler, Siobhan Lambert- Consultants: Early Mesoamerica and History, University of Oxford, UK; Japan and
Robin Archer, Debbie Brunton, Jack Challoner, Hurley, Sarah Lynch, Margaret Mulvihill, Liz South America Dr. Jim Aimers, UCL Institute of Korea Dr. Angus Lockyer, Department of
Nick McCarty, Thomas Cussans, Erich DeWald, Mylod, Owen Miller, Sally Regan, Nigel Ritchie, J. Archaeology, UK; India Professor David Arnold, History SOAS, UK; How We Know Dr. Iain
Brian Fagan, Emma Flatt, Abbie Gometz, Reg A.G Roberts, Natalie Sirett, Giles Sparrow, Paul University of Warwick, UK; Food and diseases Morley and Dr. Laura Preston, McDonald
Grant, Alwyn Harrison, Ian Harrison, James Sturtevant, Jenny Vaughan, Philip Wilkinson. Professor Kenneth Kiple, Department of History, Institute for Archaeological Research, University
Harrison, Michael Jordan, Ann Kay, Paul Bowling Green State University, US; Latin of Cambridge UK; Consulting editor Philip
America Professor Alan Knight, Department of Parker; China J.A.G Roberts
Precious Metal
From copperworking to the Bronze Age, the
42 The Writing on the Wall
The independent development of writing
impact of the discovery of metalworking.

Town Planning 44
systems throughout the world, including
cuneiform and hieroglyphs.
The development of increasingly complex and
expanding communities.
Egypt in Order and Chaos
The rise and fall of ancient Egypt from the
64 700 BCE – 600 CE 84
order of the Middle and New Kingdoms Introduction and Timeline 86
to the chaotic Intermediate Periods. Frontiers of Power 90
ORIGINS N RAMESES II 66 How the vast ancient empires of Eurasia were
shaped by the landscape and environment.
The Realm of Osiris 68
4.5 MYA – 3000 BCE 12 The cult of the god Osiris, and the extensive The Persian Empire
The Achaemenid empire of Persia, the extent
rituals surrounding death and the afterlife in
Introduction and Timeline 14 of which was on an unprecedented scale,
ancient Egypt.
Our Remote Ancestors 16 stretching across Asia to the Mediterranean.
The human family tree from our earliest
The Greek City-States 94
relatives to the dominance of Homo sapiens. Building for Eternity 72 The great city-states of ancient Greece,
The architecture of ancient empires, including including Athens, Sparta, and Corinth.
The Art of Communication 20
The emergence of speech, language, and
artistic ability in early humans.
RULERS & the monumental tombs of ancient Egypt and
the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. N ALEXANDER THE GREAT 96

The Ice Age

Climate changes that began about 1.5 million
22 HIERARCHIES People of the Jaguar
The first great civilizations of Mesoamerica
74 The Greeks in Asia
The aftermath of Alexander the Great’s
conquests in the Middle East and Asia, and

and South America—the Olmecs and

years ago and how they affected humans.
3000 – 700 BCE 46 the Chavíns. the cultures that adopted Greek ideas.
Out of Africa 24 Introduction and Timeline 48 The Birth of Democracy 100
The migrations from Africa that resulted in
Europe’s First Civilization 76
The Minoans, who flourished on the The development of the democratic system in
human colonization of Earth. Sickness and Health 52 ancient Athens, whose principles inform the
Illness, disease, and early attempts to Mediterranean island of Crete during the
Hunters and Gatherers 30 Bronze Age. most common form of government today.
understand and treat them.
The prehistoric way of life—foraging and From Myth to History 102
hunting for food. The Cradle of Civilization 54 Bronze Age Collapse 78
The diplomatic and trading community The rediscovery of writing in ancient Greece
The rise of complex societies between the and the shift from oral to written history.
The Spirit World 32 Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia. of civilizations that existed in the Middle
Early rituals and beliefs in the afterlife. East, and the mysterious collapse of the Triumphs of Greek Science 104
The Divine Pharaohs 56 Bronze Age system. The roots of modern scientific method lie with
N EARLY SOCIETIES 34 Egypt’s Old Kingdom, which flourished on the
Rulers of the Iron Age 80 the ancient Greeks who sought logical
First Harvest 36 banks of the Nile River, over 2000 years bce, answers to life’s mysteries.
and saw the construction of the pyramids. The great Assyrian Empire, which dominated
The development of societies based on
the Middle East for two centuries during the The Rise of Rome 106
agriculture and the domestication of animals.
Mysteries of the Indus 58 Iron Age, from the 9th century bce. From humble beginnings on the hills above
Village Life 38 The cities and civilization that developed in the Tiber River, a mighty city and empire rose.
the Indian subcontinent’s Indus Valley. Conquering Sea and Desert 82
The cultivation of domestic crops and livestock
The complex network of trade routes that N JULIUS CAESAR 108
brought about the first settled communities.
Bronze Age China 60 developed over the Mediterranean Sea and
Rites and Rituals 40 The Shang dynasty, which produced two major across the deserts of Arabia and Africa. From Republic to Empire 110
Unraveling the mysteries of megalithic achievements: writing and bronze casting. The Roman empire gave rise to a remarkable
structures such as Stonehenge. culture, whose influence is still seen today.
The Roman Army 114 N BATTLE OF MILVIAN 148 The Ascent of Islam 174
The structure and organization of the BRIDGE The spread of the Islamic faith throughout
professional Roman army. the world following the death of Muhammad.
Decline and Fall? 150
Classical Art 116 The end of the Roman Empire, the changing N ISLAMIC TREASURES 178
The sculpture, pottery, painting, mosaics, and balance of power in the West, and the rise of
architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. the Christian Byzantine Empire in the East.
The Delhi Sultanate 180
The great Islamic kingdom that was founded
Greek and Roman Egypt 118 in India.
Egypt’s transition from a kingdom ruled by
Greeks to a Roman, then Byzantine province.
South of the Sahara 182
The trading centers and empires of Africa,
The Revival of Persia
including Great Zimbabwe, Songhay, and Mali.

The Silk Road 184

Persia after the Greeks—Parthian expansion
and the period of Sassanid rule.
The greatest trading route of the 13th–14th
centuries, which spread from Europe to
1450 – 1750 218

India’s First Empire 124

East Asia. Introduction and Timeline 220
The Mauryan domination of the Indian The Black Death 186 Voyages of Discovery 224
subcontinent and the rise of Buddhism.

The Unification of China 126

WARRIORS, The plague that decimated Europe during
the medieval period.
European expeditions around the globe
and the discovery of “new worlds”.
The “Warring States” period, which gave
rise to the Qin state.
TRAVELERS, & Medieval Europe 188
The establishment of the Holy Roman Empire,

The Centralized State

Han Dynasty China and the development
128 INVENTORS and the feudal system in Europe.



Contact Americas 230

of its highly efficient civil service.
600 – 1450 152 The Power and the Glory 194 The Spanish conquistadors in South
Classical Thought 130 Introduction and Timeline 154 The might of the Roman Catholic Church and Central America.
The emergence of key philosophical ideas in medieval Europe.
in ancient Greece, including the work of Diffusion of Knowledge 158 The Great Exchange 232
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Muslim scholarship and the spread
The Byzantine Empire 198 The two-way exchange of plants, animals, and
The great empire of the East, centered disease between Europe and the Americas.
of ideas to the West.
A Wider World 132 on Constantinople (Istanbul).
Increasing commercial and cultural exchange, China’s Golden Age 160 Spanish Silver 234
forging links across the ancient world. The Tang dynasty’s rule of China, which
The Crusades 200 The discovery and exploitation of South
The religious wars for control of America’s vast natural resources.
saw a great flowering of Chinese culture.
Celtic Warriors 134 the Holy Land (Palestine).
The spread of Celtic culture across Europe, The Song Dynasty 162 The Pilgrim Fathers 236
which leads to contact with Romans, Greeks, China under the Song, a period of upheaval
Raiders and Traders 202 The religious refugees who became the
The Vikings—the warrior tribes from founding fathers of the US and whose
and Christianity. and key reforms.
Scandinavia that spread across Europe. colonies set the tone for future colonization.
N BATTLE OF ’AYN JALUT 204 Trade and Empire 238
Nomads of the Steppes 138 The Ming Dynasty 166 The vast European trading empires that
The tribes of the vast grasslands of Eurasia, China under the Ming, during which Beijing
The Rise of Ottoman Power 206
stretched to Africa, Asia, and the Americas
The foundation of the Ottoman Empire by
such as the Scythians and Kushans. became capital and the Great Wall was built. between the 15th–18th centuries.
nomadic warriors in Anatolia (Turkey).
Early American Civilizations 140 The Rise of the Samurai 168 The Three Emperors 240
The cultures of Mesoamerica and South The establishment of the Shogunate and
Cities and Trade 208
The “prosperous age”, when China’s empire
The rise of commerce and city-states, such
America—Maya, Zapotec, and Nazca. the domination of the warrior class in Japan. expanded to its greatest extent.
as Genoa and Venice, in medieval Europe.
Gods and Goddesses 142 Korea in the Middle Ages 170 Japan’s Great Peace 242
The polytheistic religions and pantheons of The ascendency of the Choson kingdom,
Pre-Columbian Americas 210
The Edo period, when Japan isolated itself
The rich and complex societies of the Maya,
deities that developed in the ancient world. which dominated Korea until 1910. from the rest of the world, and developed a
Aztecs, and Incas.
unique cultural identity.
Spreading the Faith 144 Lost Empires 172
The emergence and expansion of the great The empires of Southeast Asia, including The Great Mughals 244
world religions. the Khmer, Pagan, and Dai Viet. Polynesian Expansion 216 The empire that at its peak ruled over 100
The colonization of the islands of the million subjects across the Indian subcontinent.
South Pacific.
The Ottoman Empire 246 N ABRAHAM LINCOLN 316 The Opium Wars 354
The Ottoman Empire at its height and the Conflicts between Britain and China during
beginnings of its decline.
Latin America Liberated 318 the 19th century.
The struggle for freedom in the Spanish and
N BATTLE OF LEPANTO 248 Portuguese colonies of South America. Rising Sun 356
Japan’s emergence as a modern industrialized
The Renaissance 250 Completing the Map 320 power after centuries of isolation.
The remarkable flourishing of European art, World exploration during the 18th and 19th
architecture, and culture during the 15th centuries. The Young Turks Revolt 358
and 16th centuries.


The urban explosion that took place in the
Islamic states and governments in the late
19th century.

The Reformation
The immense religious changes that swept
256 REVOLUTION 19th century throughout the world.

Germ Warfare 326

The Scramble for Africa
How Europe came to dominate and
colonize the continent of Africa.

through Europe during the 16th century.

1750 –1914 284
The increasing knowledge and understanding,
of anatomy, medicine, infection, and disease.
Introduction and Timeline 286 Our Country 328
The 30 Years War 262 The idea of nationalism in Europe and
The most devastating and costly war the The Food Revolution 290
Dramatic increases in food production that the US, and its consequences.
world had yet seen.
sustained a rapidly expanding population. Europe Redefined 330
The English Civil War 264 How Europe’s map was transformed in
The war between parliament and monarchy The Industrial Revolution 292
The technological and social developments the 18th and 19th centuries.
that changed the face of England.
that transformed the Western world from an N KARL MARX 334
Scientific Revolution 266 agricultural to an industrial society.
The radical breakthroughs in science and Workers Unite! 336
technology that changed our perception of The First Global Conflict 296 Political movements that aimed to organize
our place in the universe. The Seven Years War—the first conflict the expanding working class and share the
to be fought across continents.
The Enlightenment
US Declaration of 298
wealth of the Industrial Revolution.

The Romantic Movement 338 POPULATION

An intellectual movement born from scientific
method that dared to question the status quo.
The war between the American colonies
and Britain, which resulted in the formation
Ideas of self-expression and imagination
that led to a growing distinction between art
and science.
Masters of War 272 of the United States.
Origin of Species 340 1914 – present 362
As war became the dominant method of N STORMING OF THE 300 Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. Introduction and Timeline 364
settling trade disputes, so military tactics BASTILLE
became increasingly sophisticated. Science vs. God 342 N THE ASSASSINATION AT
Revolution in France 302 The public debate that pitted science against SARAJEVO 370
N ARMS AND ARMOR 274 The violent events and terror that shook religion in the wake of scientific advances.
The Rise of Capitalism 276 France at the end of the 18th century. The Great War 372
Ingenious Inventions 344 World War I (1914–18), which devastated
The emergence of the free market economy N NAPOLEON BONAPARTE 304 The explosion of technology in the Europe, wiping out an entire generation, and
and the beginning of modern financial
The Napoleonic Wars 306 19th century. reshaped the map of the world.
French imperial ambitions in Europe and The Imperial World 346
N LOUIS XIV 278 The Russian Revolution 376
beyond during Napoleon’s reign. The empires that dominated the world map Ten days that shook the world—the old order
The Slave Trade 280 NWILLIAM WILBERFORCE 308 by 1900. in Russia overthrown and the foundation of
The brutal trade that saw 10 million Africans the first communist state.
shipped across the Atlantic to work in Expanding the Frontier 310 N QUEEN VICTORIA 348
colonial plantations. The American pioneers, and their “manifest N JOSEPH STALIN 378
destiny” to colonize an entire continent.
Colonial Resistance 350
Exploring the Pacific 282 The relationship between the colonial The Hammer and Sickle 380
How European exploration and colonization of N AMERICAN INDIAN 300 powers and the indigenous populations The Soviet experiment—collectivization,
the Pacific became viable with the invention CULTURE of the Pacific and Southeast Asia. industrialization, and the oppression of
of an accurate device for measuring longitude. Stalinist rule.
The American Civil War 314 The British Raj 352
The conflict that ripped the United States India as the jewel in the crown of the N SOVIET PROPAGANDA 382
apart between 1861 and 1865. British Empire.
The Great Depression 384 N THE DEATH OF KENNEDY 420 Apartheid and Beyond 454 South America 494
The global economic depression that resulted The end of the system of Apartheid and a Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname,
from the Wall Street Crash.
Viva la Revolución! 422 new beginning for South Africa. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile,
The revolutionary and popular movements
Uruguay, Argentina.
Fascism 386 that transformed Latin America. Tiger Economies 456
The rise of fascism in parts of Europe, Asia’s economic boom. Europe 502
accompanied by increasing militarism and
China’s Long March 424 United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Monaco,
state control of all aspects of society.
Nationalism, communism, and Mao’s rise to Modern Technology 458 Spain, Andorra, Portugal, Italy, Vatican City,
power in China. The innovations that transformed the 20th
San Marino, Malta, Switzerland, Liechtenstein,
Spanish Civil War 388 and 21st centuries.
The conflict between fascism and
N BERLIN WALL 426 Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Netherlands,
Feeding the World 462 Belgium, Luxembourg, Iceland, Norway,
communism that tore Spain apart. The Sixties 428 The revolution in biotechnology that boosted Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia,
Sexual equality, radical politics, and pop
N ADOLF HITLER 390 agricultural productivity around the world. Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia,
music—the decade that changed attitudes. Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Croatia,
Blitzkrieg 392 World Health 464 Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro,
How Hitler’s armies swept through Western
The Vietnam War 430 How astonishing advances in health and
America’s war against communism in Macedonia, Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Russian
Europe in the early days of World War II. medicine have significantly improved and Federation, Ukraine, Belarus.
Southeast Asia.
extended our lives.
N STALINGRAD 394 Africa 548
Total War 396 Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Niger, Chad, Sudan,
War in the Atlantic, North Africa, and the
Civil Rights 434 The Gulf Wars 468 Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cape
The nonviolent struggle for black civil rights in Verde Islands, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-
turning tide against Nazi Germany. The wars against Iraq.
the US and other rights-based movements. Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory
N D-DAY 398 Globalization 470 Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon,
The Troubles 436 The increased mobility of goods, services,
The Holocaust 400 The 30-year sectarian conflict between Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé & Príncipe,
labor, technology, and capital as a result of Gabon, Central African Republic, Congo,
Mass murder on an unprecedented scale— Catholic nationalist and Protestant Unionist
new communications technologies. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea,
the Nazi concentration camps. communities in Northern Ireland.
Superpower China 472 Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda,
War in the Pacific 402 Dictatorship and Democracy 438 The rapid social and economic transformation Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia,
The Pacific theater of war, from Pearl Harbor Latin American politics and society in the later Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros,
of China after embracing the free market.
to 1945. part of the 20th century. Mauritius, Seychelles, Namibia, Botswana,
Dynamic Populations 474 Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho.
N HIROSHIMA 404 The Oil Crisis 440 The continual growth of cities as more and
The Cold War 406
Rising fuel consumption and dependence on
more people flock to urban centers. Asia 562
foreign imports that focused global attention Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Syria,
The world divides between the communist
on the Middle East. Climate Change 476 Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen,
East and the capitalist West.
The continual warming of the world as Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran,
The Iranian Revolution 442
N MAHATMA GANDHI 408 a result of human activity. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan,
The overthrow of the US-backed government
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
The Partition of India 410 and the foundation of the Islamic state of Iran. Shrinking World 478
India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives,
Independence for the former British Raj The erosion of the barriers of time and distance
War in Afghanistan 444 through technological advances that have
Bangladesh, Burma, China, Mongolia, North
as the subcontinent is divided into India
Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and the Korea, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Laos,
and Pakistan. created a global community.
decade-long war that ensued. Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore,
End of the Colonial Era 412 Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor.
Perestroika 446
The assertion of independent rule by the
Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Oceania 588
former colonies in Africa, the Middle East,
Soviet Union. Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea,
and Southeast Asia.
Tuvalu, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Antarctica.
Raising the Iron Curtain 448
The Promised Land
The foundation of the State of Israel and its
effects on the Middle East.
The end of the Eastern Bloc as the Soviet
satellite states assert their independence.

War in Yugoslavia 450 North and Central America 482 INDEX 594
N ALBERT EINSTEIN 416 United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala,
The ethnic nationalist divisions in post-
Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 608
The American Dream 418 communist Yugoslavia that led to civil war.
Rica, Panama, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican
The booming economy and increase in mass
United Europe 452 Republic, Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts
production that created postwar affluence
The formation and progress of the European & Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent,
in the US.
Community. Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago.
he history I learned at school was a mass of seemingly
T endless lists, formed of dates and the names of kings
and queens. As a result, I hated it, and never saw the
connections between the various strands of the subject. I now
realize that history is important and that we can all learn from the
triumphs—and mistakes—of our ancestors. Both utterly fascinating
and hugely informative, History is a reference book that teases out
the sparks of wars and revolutions, and uncovers the deep roots of
great civilizations. It brings the subject to life, painting broad pictures
of history’s great sweep, aiming to excite and enthuse the reader
by focusing on the most interesting, exciting, and dynamic people,
events, and ideas of the past.
The photographs, maps, and graphics throughout History are
spectacular, compelling you to dip in and discover what each page
will reveal. This image shows some of the ancient standing stones
at Callanish, Scotland, where 20 stone circles jut out from the bare,
peaty landscape. The primary purpose of these stones, which have
weathered through 4,000 years of human history, seems to have
been to mark a curious lunar event that happens only once every
18.61 years—those early astronomers must have been persistent.
One of the joys of this book is that most subjects, however vast in
scale, are presented within self-contained spreads. Some describe
hundreds of years of ancient Egyptian civilization, or momentous
periods of upheaval like the religious Reformation in 17th-century
Europe or the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Others take
as their theme much shorter periods of history, such as the English
Civil War or the Russian Revolution. There are also spreads devoted
to “Decisive Moments”, key events that proved to be historical
turning points, for example the assassination of Archduke Franz
Ferdinand, which triggered World War I, or the 1755 Lisbon
earthquake, which shook Europe to its very foundations.
But History isn’t just about the events that have shaped us. A key
strand in the book focuses on the ideas that have changed the world,
exploring concepts such as democracy, evolution, and globalization.
It also features biographies of some of history’s most important and
influential individuals from Alexander the Great to Adolf Hitler.
And, as an enthusiast of science and technology, I am delighted
to see coverage of the crucial innovations, inventions, scientific
discoveries, and theories that have had an impact on the human
story, from metalworking to the internet, and DNA to global warming.

4.5 MYA–3000 BCE
Evidence of the earliest hominins, the ancestors of modern humans,
has been found in Central and East Africa, and dates back millions
of years. Discoveries of early human remains reveal the remarkable
ability to adapt to Earth’s changing environment that has been so
significant in the evolution of our species.
4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

4.5 MYA–3000 BCE
4.5 MYA 1 MYA 30,000 YA 10,000 BCE

Olduvai Gorge  c. 1 MYA c. 150,000 YA c. 10,000 BCE

Homo erectus well Emergence of first Rising temperatures,
c. 4.5 MYA established in North Homo sapiens, Africa; retreating ice sheets,
Emergence of an early Africa and Middle East. subsequently coexists rising sea levels.
ancestor of modern c. 600,000 YA with Homo erectus Siberia separated from
humans, Ardipithecus Homo heidelbergensis in Asia and Homo North America,
ramidus, in Ethiopia. flourishes in Central neanderthalensis continental shelves
Europe; introduces (Neanderthals) in flooded.
Acheulean stone tools Europe and
(carefully flaked on Middle East.
both surfaces).
 Neanderthal skull  Domesticated goats
 “Lucy” skeleton  Ice age landscape
c. 3 MYA c. 30,000 ya
Australopithecus Cro-Magnon cave
afarensis, known art and decorated
as “Lucy,” lives in artifacts in Western
East Africa. and Central Europe.
c. 2.5 mya
First genus of human,
Homo habilis, Olduvai
Gorge, East Africa.

c. 2.75–1 MYA c. 24,000 YA  Village settlement

Earliest known stone Disappearance
tools found, Ethiopia. of Homo c. 10,000 BCE
Meat now apparently neanderthalensis. First settled agriculture
a central part of in Anatolia (Turkey),
energy-rich diet of Middle East, and
hominins. Mesopotamia.
c. 1.8 MYA–500,000 YA Evidence of early
Evidence of deliberate sheep and goat
use of fire. domestication in
northern Mesopotamia.
 Homo sapiens skull c. 20,000 YA
Ice Age populations
c. 70,000 YA live by hunting and
Population spread gathering, building
halted, possibly due shelters from available
to catastrophic resources.
volcanic eruption of
Toba, Sumatra; global
temperatures lowered
for a millennium.

 Fire c. 350,000 YA c. 10,000 BCE
Homo Earliest pottery
c. 4.2 MYA neanderthalensis from Jomon,
Earliest of the emerges in Europe. Japan, heralds
australopithecines gradual revolution
(“southern ape- in transportation
humans”), East Africa; and storage of food.
walks on two feet, has
a brain one-third the
size of modern
hand-ax  Jomon pottery 


Measured against the estimated 4.5-billion-year age of Earth itself, the Neanderthals. By about 24,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, socially
humans—anatomically modern humans in particular—evolved remarkably more sophisticated, had become the sole human species. Then,
recently. Modern man—Homo sapiens—appeared only about 150,000 in the Middle East, about 6,000 years ago, settled and increasingly
years ago, rapidly migrating from African homelands to join other human complex societies emerged. With them came the first cities and the first
species—Homo erectus in Asia and, across Europe and the Middle East, states. It was the birth of civilization as we know it today.

8000 BCE 6000 BCE 5000 BCE 4000 BCE

 Obsidian c. 4000 BCE

First use of plow
c. 7000 BCE in Mesopotamia.
First Chinese
Yangzi Valley.
Agriculture spreads
to southeast
Europe from
modern Turkey.
c. 6000 BCE  Corn
Early town cultures,
such as the Halafian c. 5000 BCE
in southwest Asia, Corn cultivated in
flourish. Ecuador and parts of
North America.
Cultivation of corn
begins in Tehuacán
valley, Central

 Çatalhöyük figurine c. 3100 BCE
King Narmer
c. 6500 BCE completes unification
Copper smelting and of Upper and Lower
trade in obsidian at Egypt and becomes
Çatalhöyük, modern first pharaoh. Nekhen,
Turkey. Egypt, an important
trading town.

 Warka vase, Uruk

c. 8000 BCE c. 6500 BCE c. 5500 BCE Gold from Varna  c. 3500 BCE
Foundation of Jericho, Cattle successfully World’s earliest Emergence of world’s
Palestine, the world’s domesticated in irrigation system, c. 5000 BCE first city-states in
oldest continuously North Africa, the Mesopotamia. Copper first used in Mesopotamia; Uruk
inhabited town. Indus Valley, and Asia. Mesopotamia; gold possibly the world’s
and copper artifacts first city.
produced in southeast c. 3350 BCE
Europe. “Ötzi the ice man”
dies in the Alps.

 Domesticated cattle Nekhen ivory 

c. 5500–4500 BCE c. 4500 BCE c. 3200 BCE
Linearbandkeramik Introduction of First hieroglyphic script
farming culture irrigation techniques in Egypt. Evidence
flourishes, Central in Indus valley. Horse of use of wheeled
Europe. domesticated in transport in Sumer.
Central Asia. Stone circles and
rows of standing
stones built in north
and west Europe.

Halaf figurine 


“ Human consciousness arose but a minute
No one knows when human beings first
appeared. Our only clues lie in fossils and
stone tools. The journey started some time
before midnight on the geological clock.”
around six million years ago (mya) in Africa. STEPHEN JAY GOULD, EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, 1992


Our Remote Ancestors

Humans are classified as
primates, a group that
includes apes and
monkeys. Our closest
living relatives are
chimpanzees, with whom
we share almost 99 percent of The evolution of modern humans extends back millions of years. It is not easy to trace, as our
our genes, but this tiny evidence comes from scattered, unrelated finds, making it difficult to form a cohesive picture.
genetic difference is
what makes us so far The dominance of Homo sapiens is a comparatively recent development.
removed from apes. CHIMPANZEE
n the 19th century, Charles Australopithecines—highly diverse
OUR ROOTS I Darwin, the father of the hominins that appeared for the first

Sahelanthropus tchadensis 18 ½½, found at theory of evolution by time one million years later. The STONE TOOLS
the southern edge of the Sahara in Chad, and natural selection (see pp.340–41), earliest found, Australopithecus afarensis,
dating to between 6 and 7 mya, may be the identified tropical Africa as the was famously nicknamed “Lucy” by Homo habilis used the simplest stone
earliest human ancestor. Although very early, cradle of humankind. Pioneering the archaeologists who found her in technology, which was refined by Homo
this skull seems more advanced in some ways paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey 1974. Although it seems that this long- erectus into stone axes and cleaving
than later species and it is unclear how it fits found evidence of this in the 1950s limbed hominin spent a great deal of tools for particular tasks such as
into the evolutionary story. Other very early with discoveries in Olduvai Gorge, time in the trees, some well-preserved butchering animals. The Neanderthals
ancestors about whom very little is known a deep gash in the eastern Serengeti footprints reveal that the species was were the first to mount scrapers, spear-
include Orrorin tugenensis and Ardipithecus Plains in Tanzania, East Africa (see bipedal (walked on two feet) (see p.18). points, and knives in wooden handles.
ramidus. Some of these species came to a left). It was in East Africa that our As such, “Lucy” is an important Modern humans developed more
dead end on the human family tree. Others human ancestors evolved at least 4.5 link between us and our tree- sophisticated technology, punching
may have led directly to our own ancestors. mya (million years ago). A wide range dwelling ancestors. off parallel-sided blanks from
of fossil finds provide evidence of a carefully prepared flint nodules.
THE MOLECULAR CLOCK remarkable diversity of early hominins The next generation They turned these blades into
Evolutionary biologists have developed a way that flourished in this area. By 3 mya, the Australopithecines scrapers, chisels, and borers to
of dating the evolution of more than 60 primate had diversified into many forms. work antlers, bone, and leather.
species. It is known as the molecular clock. HOMININ The term used to refer They flourished throughout After the Ice Age (see pp.22-
The clock starts with the last common ancestor to all early humans and their ancestors, much of sub-Saharan Africa, 23), hunters added tiny stone
barbs to their arrows.
of all primates about 63 mya, and dates the split including Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, especially in more open
between chimpanzees and humans to Homo neanderthalis and Homo sapiens. grasslands. These early
about 6.2 mya. This is the moment when the Also includes all the Australopithecines, humans were fully bipedal.
human story truly begins. Paranthropus boisei, and Ardipithecus. Nimble and fleet of foot,
species including
Earliest ancestors Australopithecus africanus were are thought to date from
One of the earliest known human skilled at scavenging meat from about 1.8 mya, and were
The “cradle of humankind” ancestors is a small forest-living predator kills. Their brain size was made by Homo habilis (“handy man”),
Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania is the most important
primate named Ardipithecus anamensis, also larger than their predecessors’. who left what could be the remains
prehistoric site in the world, where many finds that have
furthered our knowledge of early human evolution have which flourished in Afar, Ethiopia, of a camp by a lake, including a
been made. The oldest artifacts found at the gorge— some 4.5 mya. Ardipithecus was The first humans scatter of stone tools and broken
stone flakes and tools—are 2 million years old. probably the ancestor of the Ancestors of modern humans appeared animal bones. Homo habilis probably
about 2 mya in eastern Africa, quickly slept in trees, in relative safety from
spreading to the west. Tools dating lions and other dangerous animals.
from 1.8 mya have been found in a In this predator-rich environment,
FIRE dry stream bed at Koobi Fora on the humans were both the hunters and
shore of Lake Turkana, the hunted.
Fire is one of the most important discoveries Kenya. The tools were PALEOLITHIC A period covering The evidence
ever made. Possibly around 1.8 million made of stone from the time from the first use of stone from the Olduvai
years ago and certainly by 500,000 several miles away. tools about 2.5 mya to the beginning camp suggests
years ago—the date is uncertain—early It is not known of agriculture in about 10,000 BCE. that Homo
humans tamed fire, perhaps by who the tool habilis was
taking branches from a blazing tree users were, but they may have breaking up parts of animal carcasses
caused by a lightning strike. been some of the earliest humans, scavenged from predator kills.
Creating fire at will was another possibly a group who paused here At about the same time, what could
step forward. The control of fire and butchered antelope. be termed the first true human had
enabled humans to live in cold appeared. Large-brained, with a
environments, and in deep caves, Handyman receding forehead, and prominent
and provided protection against Clearer evidence of the earliest brow ridges Homo ergaster had strong
predators. The use of fire to cook also toolmakers and their descendants has limbs similar to those of modern
led to a greater variety of foods in the diet. been found on the ancient lake beds at humans. These newcomers were
Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The tools hunters rather than scavengers. ½½
4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

❯❯ to Homo erectus, the first humans

Homo ergaster was closely related The remarkable finds at Schöningen are
the earliest preserved wooden tools yet
to spread out of tropical Africa into discovered. Homo heidelbergensis lived in THEY WALKED ON TWO FEET
Europe and Asia as part of a general small, mobile groups. Each group
radiation of mammals and their probably returned to the same locations About 3.75 mya, a volcanic eruption left a
predators some 1.8 mya. Homo erectus to hunt and forage at different times of layer of ash at Laetoli, Tanzania that preserved
was a skilled hunter and a brilliant the year. However, their communication the footprints of Australopithecus afarensis
opportunist, quick to take advantage and reasoning abilities were limited (see (“Lucy”). They were identified as those of a
of different environments—a key factor pp.20–21), which affected their ability young adult who walked on two feet with a
in the success of the human species. to adapt and may be one reason why rolling gait, slower than that of modern
These early humans soon settled in they do not appear to have settled in humans. This bipedal posture—an important
South and Southeast Asia, reaching intensely cold environments or reached human anatomical feature that appeared
Dmanisi in Georgia by 1.7 mya (see the Americas and Australia. before 4 mya—allowed our ancestors to
pp.24–25). They were well established live away from forests in open terrain.
in Western Europe by at least 800,000 Adapting to different environments
years ago. Warmer conditions than By 500,000, early humans had adapted
today may have attracted Homo successfully to a wide variety of tropical 3–2.4 mya 2.5–1.8 mya
heidelbergensis to Northern Europe by and temperate environments, moving Site Africa Sites Africa
400,000 years ago. At about the same as far north as China, where numerous Brain size 375–500 cc Brain size 750 cc
time, small bands of early humans fragments of an evolving Homo erectus
were using long-shafted, aerodynamic have come to light in Zhoukoudian Australopithecus afarensis Homo rudolfensis, a contemporary
Known as “Lucy,” this early hominin of Homo habilis, has been the subject
wooden spears to hunt wild horses and Cave, near Beijing. The ability to use
was relatively short at 3 ft 3 in (1 m) of much debate concerning its age and
larger game at Schöningen, Germany, fire (see p.16) was crucial in making in height, had shorter limbs than later relationship to the hominin species.
and at Boxgrove in southern England. settlement possible in cold locations species, and, significantly, It had a relatively large brain and
walked on two feet. was bipedal.

Human family tree

New discoveries of fossils that add to our knowledge of human evolution are being made all the
time. The size and shape of the skulls help us to understand the abilities of our ancestors. Brain size
is measured in cubic centimeters (cc), with an average modern human brain measuring 1,400 cc.

6.2–5.8 mya 5.8–5.2 mya

Sites Africa Sites Africa
Brain size Unknown Brain size Unknown

Orrorin tugenensis is known to us Ardipithecus kadabba was one of

through finds of large canine teeth. the earliest species to be placed on the
Little is known about the species, human tree. Like Orrorin tugenensis,
except that it may have been bipedal. this species had primitive canine teeth.
Homo rudolfensis

Ardipithecus kadabba

Orrorin tugenensis Australopithecus afarensis

7 MYA 6 MYA 5 MYA 4 MYA 3 MYA 2.5 MYA 2 MYA

Sahelanthropus tchadenis Ardipithecus ramidus Australopithecus africanus

Australopithecus anamensis Homo habilis

4.5–4.3 mya
Sites Africa
Brain size Unknown

Ardipithecus ramidus is a
very early hominin. Fragmentary
remains include large canine
teeth found in Ethiopia, which
are similar to those of the

6.7 mya
Sites Africa 4.3–4 mya 3.3–2.4 mya
Sites Africa Sites Africa 2.5–1.8 mya
Brain size 320–380 cc
Brain size Unknown Brain size 400–500 cc Sites Africa
Sahelanthropus tchadenis Brain size 590–650 cc
may be one of the first humans Australopithecus anamensis Australopithecus africanus
or may be more closely related to is little known as few remains have was a slenderly built species. Its facial Homo habilis had relatively
apes, as it shows a mixture of human been found. The jawbone from Kenya features appear to have been more human long arms, marking it out from
and ape characteristics. Only the resembles that of a chimpanzee, while than earlier australopithecines. It had longer later humans. The species may
fragments of a skull have been found. the teeth are closer to human teeth. legs and shorter arms than modern humans. descend from the australopithecines.


during the climatic swings of the Ice Age, They were, however, expert hunters, (see pp.26–27) to argue that modern
but population levels remained very who pursued animals such as bison humans first appeared in tropical
low and the survival of early humans with wooden and stone-tipped spears. Africa by about 180,000 years ago. The arrival of Homo sapiens may have
must have been precarious at times. They made sophisticated tools and The earliest fully modern human fossils spelled the end for the Neanderthals.
dwelt in caves, rock shelters, and open come from Huerto, Ethiopia, and date
The Neanderthals camps. Theirs was a tough life in to about 160,000 years ago. From EXTINCTION AND SUCCESS
By 200,000 years ago, Homo savage environments, and they Africa, Homo sapiens spread across the Although Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived
neanderthalensis had evolved in Europe probably lived for 30–40 years. Most Sahara and into southwestern Asia by alongside one another, DNA evidence suggests
and Eurasia. The Neanderthals had experts agree that Neanderthals were 100,000 years ago. No one knows they did not interbreed. Neanderthals died
large brains and more rounded heads not the ancestors of modern humans. when humans developed the abilities out, perhaps at the hands of Homo sapiens, who
than their predecessors. Their body that set them apart from their earlier were successful in adapting to every corner of
shape was also more recognizably The appearance of modern humans ancestors, but they were fully the globe. More than any other species, humans
“human,” but it is believed that their Intense controversy surrounds the developed by 45,000 years ago, when have used their skills to their own advantage.
reasoning power and speech were not origins of Homo sapiens—ourselves. the first modern humans settled in
as developed as those of Homo sapiens. Most geneticists use DNA evidence Europe alongside the Neanderthals.

2.75–1 mya 2–0.5 mya 350,000–24,000 ya

Sites Africa Site Africa, Asia, Europe Site Africa and Eurasia
Brain size 500–550 cc Brain size 810–1250 cc Brain size 1125–1550 cc

Paranthropus boisei is the most Homo erectus was a powerfully built Homo neanderthalensis may have
extreme version of the early “robust” human with massive brow ridges, a lived alongside modern Homo sapiens
humans living in eastern Africa. Boisei large face, and a long, low skull to in Europe. The species had a large
flourished in the dry savanna areas accommodate a much larger brain. brain and short robust build with
that existed in Africa at that powerful limbs.
time and may have died out
after climate change.

Paranthropus boisei

Homo erectus Homo neanderthalensis


Homo ergaster Homo heidelbergensis Homo sapiens

1.9–1.4 mya 600,000–250,000 ya From 150,000 ya

Sites Africa Sites Africa and Europe Sites Worldwide
Brain size 600–910 cc Brain size 1225–1300 cc Brain size 900–2000 cc

Homo ergaster was relatively Homo heidelbergensis may Homo sapiens roughly
tall, with a brain size well below have been an ancestor of Homo translates as “wise man.” Our brain
that of modern humans. The skull neanderthalensis in Europe. The size is larger than earlier humans’,
was thick and the face long, with skull had a large brow ridge like and it is perhaps this which has
a “modern” projecting nose, a Homo ergaster and Homo erectus enabled us to thrive in a variety of
massive jawbone, and large teeth. but its brain was larger. environments around the world.


Little is known about the development

of human speech and conscious thought.
Physical evidence can yield some clues.
The Art of Communication
Speech and language were key developments in human history, perhaps even more so than toolmaking.
LOOKING AT THE EVIDENCE They turned the simple signs and grunts of our ancestors into increasingly sophisticated communication.
Internal casts of human skulls (endocasts) reveal
the relatively small brains of Australopithecus Archaeology and studies of human anatomy help to indicate when these important traits evolved.
¿¿ 16–19 as apelike and incapable of speech.
ur knowledge about when and sounds. Homo erectus, from around 1.8
The brain size of our early ancestors
O how speech evolved remains a
controversial area in the study
million years ago, was the first human
with a lower larynx, and finds from
grew gradually over millions of years, of early human history. Articulate Sima de los Huesos, in Atapuerca, Spain
allowing increasing levels of sophistication in speech is an important threshold in have shown that Homo heidelbergensis
communication and culture. Homo sapiens’ human evolution because it opened up had developed a hyoid bone—a small,
brain measures 97½ cu in (1,600 cm3), almost new vistas of cooperative behavior U-shaped bone that lies at the root of
three times the size of that of Homo habilis, and the enrichment of human life. the tongue, between the larynx and
whose brain capacity was 36½ cu in (600 cm3). From archaeological evidence alone, it pharynx—about 400,000 years ago.
is difficult to know accurately when It was only about 300,000 years ago,
NO TALKING speech first developed. Homo habilis had however, that the base of the skull
Homo habilis ¿¿ 16–19, who lived from about a slightly more humanlike frontal lobe evolved, physically allowing fully
2.5 million years ago, is thought to have had (where speech control is located) than articulate speech to develop.
very limited communication skills, possibly earlier australopithecines. Other clues
Discovering speech
using a range of signs and grunts to foster
The hyoid bone is found in the neck and is required for
are found in the position of the larynx The Neanderthal debate
cooperation between members of a group. speech to occur. Finds such as these fossilized pieces of (voice box)—unlike all other mammals, Neanderthals may have had some
400,000-year-old Homo heidelbergensis hyoid bone the larynx of Homo sapiens is positioned capacity for speech and communication,
from Atapuerca, Spain, help date the first human speech. low, permitting a wide variety of vocal and were apparently capable of


Artistic ability
17-000-year-old art from the Lascaux cave in France
shows a high level of sophistication. Modern humans Sophisticated levels of speech developed
created these images that we can still relate to today. as society became more complex. Written
records also became important as a method
of communication.
Africa or southwest Asia. It appears
that conscious thought evolved after POWER THROUGH SPEECH
modern human anatomy, for Homo Speech and language enhanced cooperation
sapiens flourished in tropical Africa at between hunters, which led to the greater
least 160,000 years ago, long before success of human societies around the world.
the appearance of the elaborate Groups could plan game drives, negotiate
art traditions of the exchanges of toolmaking
late Ice Age. stone, and share
intelligence about food
First artists and water supplies.
The creation of art
requires reasoning KEEPING RECORDS
and an ability to plan Cuneiform writing
ahead and express 62–63 ½½developed
intangible feelings. in West Asia c. 3000 BCE
Some of the earliest EGYPTIAN WRITING as a means of recording
known decorated artifacts, which commercial transactions
were found in Blombos Cave in South and inventories. Egyptian hieroglyphs
Africa, are about 75,000 years old (see developed at around the same time.
left) and are very basic. The full range
of human artistic skills came into play WRITING HISTORY
during the late Ice Age, epitomized by By the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, writing
the cave art, jewelry, sculpture, and was widely used for recording history,
carving of the Cro-Magnon people of philosophy, and science 102–103 ½½.
Western Europe (see pp.26–27). The
great bulls at Lascaux cave in France, PASSING ON KNOWLEDGE
and the polychrome bison at the cave Speech and writing allowed knowledge and
at Altamira, in Spain, reflect human cumulative experience to be passed on from
societies with complex religious beliefs generation to generation.
and relationships with the spirit world.
Although we do not know exactly ABSTRACT THINKING
what these paintings mean, it is clear Today, symbols such as road
that they had great symbolism for signs are part of an
those who painted them. This internationally
knowledge would have been passed understood language
considerable intellectual reasoning. information, perhaps about 250,000 down through the generations by we use every day.
The discovery of a hyoid bone in years ago. As group sizes increased, speech and song. For all later human
Kebara Cave, Israel, dating to about so did an ability to learn language societies, art has remained an ROAD SIGN SYMBOL
60,000 years ago, intensified the debate that could be used to articulate social important way of expressing our
about Neanderthal linguistic abilities. relationships. It was only later— beliefs and knowledge of the world.
The Kebara hyoid is almost identical to perhaps around 40,000 years ago
that of modern humans, which has led during a time that has been referred
some anthropologists to claim that to as the “Great Leap Forward”—
the Neanderthals were capable of that modern humans developed BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
fully articulate speech. Others language of the kind we would
disagree, pointing to the high recognize today. Research into the brain can reveal some
position of the larynx, evidence about the development of speech.
which would limit the Cultural explosion Soft brain tissues do not fossilize, and are
sounds they could Connected to the only preserved in casts of the inside of the
make. Some believe development of speech skull case. The earliest signs of development
that Neanderthals had is the arrival of cognitive of Broca’s area, the part of the brain that
the communication thought in early humans. controls speech, occur in Homo habilis
skills of modern infants. This includes qualities about two million years ago. Homo erectus
The controversy is such as perception of also shows signs of development in Broca’s
Blombos beads area, perhaps an indication of slowly evolving
unresolved, but most These 75,000-year-old perforated shell
our place in the world,
scientists agree that intelligence, and moral speech. However, any study of language
beads from Blombos Cave, South
Neanderthals did not Africa, are perhaps the oldest known codes that come with abilities from casts is tentative. Unless a
have the advanced human ornaments in the world. more elaborate societies. well-preserved hominin brain is discovered—
linguistic and None of these advances which is unlikely—the amount that we are
communication skills of Homo sapiens. would have been possible without able to discover from Broca’s area is limited,
Understanding speech production
sophisticated speech. We don’t know and tangible evidence from hyoid bones will Broca’s area—showing up red on this brain scan—
still be needed to learn about fluent speech.
The great leap when Homo sapiens acquired the is located in the left hemisphere of the frontal lobe.
Much remains speculative in our knowledge As our knowledge of the human brain grows, so
Human language may have evolved conscious thought and the abilities we
of the evolution of speech. does our understanding of how speech developed.
because of the need to handle have today, but it was at least 40,000
increasingly complex social years ago, and most likely in tropical

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E


Over millions of years, Earth has

experienced a range of temperatures and
climatic conditions that have played a
The Ice Age
part in the extinction or survival of whole Much of human history unfolded during the dramatic climatic shifts of the most recent Ice Age, which
groups of species, and changed the face of began about 1.5 million years ago. Our ability to adapt to changes in climate has been crucial to the
the planet.
development of civilization but, adversely, may be the cause of future global warming.
There is geological evidence (seen in rock ontrary to popular belief, an
surfaces and textures) for four major ices ages C Ice Age is not a continual deep

in Earth’s history. The earliest of these is believed freeze, but a period of constantly DEEP SEA AND ICE CORES
to have occurred around 2.7 to 2.3 billion years fluctuating climate conditions
ago during the Proterozoic period. punctuated by periods of intense cold. Layers of sediment build up over time on
The earliest millennia of the last ice ocean beds, and annual layers of ice are
HOT PLANET age—the critical period when our added to polar caps. By extracting cores of
Temperatures in the past were generally far remote ancestors first colonized Africa— ice or deep sea sediment and looking at the
higher than today. Following the extinction of are little known. The information composition, scientists can build a picture of
dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, perhaps gleaned from deep-sea cores and ice climate change. Increases in atmospheric
due to climatic change, average temperatures borings gives us a much clearer picture CO2 (carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane)—
rose to about 82ºF (28ºC). Tropical rainforests of ice-age climate after Earth’s both greenhouse gases—can be detected in
proliferated on Earth. magnetic field, generated deep inside the ice and indicate warming.
our planet, abruptly reversed some Similarly, the ratios of oxygen isotopes
THE BIG CHILL 780,000 years ago. (It has not reversed in the shells of microscopic marine animals
The abrupt cooling about 1.5 million years since.) Deep-sea cores from the Pacific reflect changes in sea temperature. The
ago that led to the last Ice Age, known as the Ocean reveal at least nine major glacial Vostok ice core from Antarctica provides
Pleistocene epoch, probably resulted from (icy) periods that have come and gone evidence for the last 420,000 years, and
small shifts in Earth’s tilt toward the Sun. over the past 780,000 years, the most shows that major shifts in temperature
occur about every 100,000 years.
recent of them ending in abrupt and
irregular global warming between

10,000 and 15,000 years ago. Sea cores 39/4 High
give only a general impression of Ice 36/2
Age climate change, but, as a rule, Earth is currently experiencing a
cooling proceeds relatively slowly and 32/0 warmer phase but is still affected by

Degrees ˚F/˚C

warming unfolds rapidly, as was the fluctuations in temperature and natural

Level of CO
case at the end of the last cold (glacial) phenomena such as El Niño.
period. Glacial periods in the past have 25/–4

been longer than interglacials—brief, 21/–6

volatile intervals of warmer conditions
during the Ice Age when the climate
was as warm (or warmer than) today. 14/–10 Low
These increases in temperature are 400,000 350,000 300,000 250,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000 0
caused by changes in Earth’s path Years before present

around the Sun and its rotation

on its axis. Natural increases in the Pyrenees, on the Andes, and on KEY
greenhouse gases add to the warming. Central Asian mountains and high- Level of CO2

We are currently experiencing an altitude plateaus. South of the Temperature

interglacial period caused by these Scandinavian ice sheets, huge expanses THE ABANDONED SITE OF CHACO CANYON
natural phenomena that began about of barren landscape extended from the Temperature variations of the Ice Age
Layers of sediment in ice cores taken from Vostok in
10,000 years ago. Atlantic to Siberia. These environments INCREASED VULNERABILITY
Antarctica have enabled scientists to chart temperature
suffered nine-month winters and were variations over the past 420,000 years. The levels of For most of human history, people have lived in
Environmental change uninhabitable by ancestors of Homo CO2 in the atmosphere have also been recorded and small, highly mobile bands 30–31½½. Farming
The Ice Age witnessed dramatic shifts sapiens, who lacked the technology and are linked to temperature rises, as can be seen here. 36–37½½ made humanity more vulnerable to
in global climate and major changes in clothing to adapt to the extremes of major climatic events because people were
natural environments. During glacial temperature. It is no coincidence unable to quickly move to avoid them. Such
periods, huge ice sheets formed over that Homo erectus, with their simple a factor in human evolution. Our short-term events were a factor in the rise and
Scandinavia, and covered most of technology and limited cognitive skills, earliest ancestors originated in tropical collapse of early civilizations. One example
Canada and parts of the United States settled in more temperate and tropical Africa and were basically tropical of this is Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a site
as far south as modern Seattle and the animals. During long periods of the that was settled between 900 and 1150 CE and

Great Lakes. Great glaciers formed on The number of meters ice ages, the Sahara was slightly wetter was abandoned following drought and other
the Alps and there were ice sheets on (yards) sea levels around than today. The desert can almost be unknown dramatic climatic changes.
the world dropped at the seen as a pump, drawing in animals
beginning of the last Ice and early humans during wetter THE EL NIÑO PHENOMENON
Age as water froze to form the ice caps periods, then pushing them out El Niño is a reversal in the flow of water in the
of present-day Antarctica and the Arctic. to the margins when the climate Pacific Ocean that causes dramatic changes in
became drier. This was the the weather every two to seven years.
environments. The cold caused sea ecological effect that allowed El Niño is one of the most powerful
levels to fall dramatically as more water Homo erectus and the animals influences on climate after the
was converted into ice. Huge expanses they preyed on to cross the seasons. The phenomenon
of what are now continental shelves desert and spread originates in the Southwest
(land under shallow coastal waters) into more temperate Pacific and results from
were exposed, linking land masses— environments some interactions between the ocean
Siberia was part of Alaska, and Britain 1.8 million years ago. and the atmosphere. El Niños
was joined to Europe. Only short A major interglacial raised have affected human history for at
stretches of open water separated temperatures, peaking around least 10,000 years. Major El Niños
mainland Southeast Asia from 400,000 years ago. By that time, EL NIÑO have powerful global effects,
Australia and New Guinea. Homo erectus was thriving in north causing monsoon failures, and
During interglacials, sea levels rose, Europe, but they could not adapt to drought or flooding elsewhere. This thermal
ice sheets shrank, and forests moved the extreme cold of the glaciation that image highlights El Niño
northward as the steppe-tundra followed around 350,000 years ago. currents in white and red.
vanished. Humans moved north, The few hunting bands living there
following the animals they hunted and probably moved southward to more PERIOD OF
the plants they foraged, and adapting temperate regions. By around 250,000 STABILITY
to a broad range of forested and years ago, there are traces of early As temperatures rose
grassland environments as well as arid human settlement in Europe and parts after the Ice Age, humans
and semiarid lands. of East Asia. The final interglacial adapted to a rapidly
peaked about 128,000 years ago, when changing world of
Humans and the elements Neanderthals (see p.19) were thriving shrinking ice sheets MONSOON SEASON, INDIA
The Ice Age climate was volatile and in Europe. They adapted to the extreme and rising sea levels.
the world’s environments changed cold of the last glaciation. After 50,000 After 5,000 years of irregular warming and
constantly, which meant that the years ago, modern humans had cooling, the world entered a warming period that
opportunism and adaptive ability of mastered all the global environments has lasted into modern times. The Vostok ice
humans was continuously challenged and were living in even the coldest core tells us this period is among the most warm
from one millennium to the next. and most extreme parts of the world. and stable of the past 420,000 years.
These challenges may even have been

A harsh world
10,000 The number of years
ago that the current
interglacial began. Based on past
The overuse of fossil fuels has increased global
warming. The future effects of this human-
Temperature variations up to 10,000 years ago meant
that humans could only survive by adapting to the shifts, this warmer phase could last made problem are still unknown.
changing conditions. Our ancestors became successful 100,000 years, although the influence
at surviving and thriving in the cold. of humans may affect this.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E


The ancestors of modern humans (Homo

sapiens) colonized Africa, Europe, and
western Asia.
Out of Africa
Every human today is the descendant of a small group of modern humans who left Africa
LIFE IN THE FREEZER around 60,000 years ago to explore the planet. We can see the legacy of these
The last glaciation (colder period) of the Ice Age,
when many areas were covered in ice, lasted journeys today in the diversity of races and cultures around the world.
from 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. During this
period, sea levels were far below modern levels ixty thousand years ago, Many people may not have H
and Siberia and Alaska were linked by land. S modern humans (Homo sapiens) encountered more than a few dozen T
It was also drier were confined to tropical fellow humans during their lives, R
than today and Africa and a small part of southwestern although we can only speculate about
tropical climates Asia. These were people with the this, as the population figures can only
were slightly same physical and mental abilities as be educated guesses. N
cooler ¿¿22–23. ourselves, hunter-gatherers capable Clovis
This was followed of adapting to any environment on Evidence of migration 12,000 YEARS AGO
by a slightly Earth, be it one with nine-month Dozens of archaeological sites—caves, Meadowcroft
warmer period winters and subzero temperatures, rock shelters, open camps, and huge
before a return or steamy tropical rainforests. Then, garbage heaps, or “middens,” of
to extreme cold during the last cold period of the last seashells and freshwater mollusks— Cactus Hill
about 18,000 Ice Age, the most significant of all document the great journeys made
ICY LANDSCAPE years ago. human migrations out of Africa began. as humans spread around the globe.
Toward the end of the Ice Age 15,000 Klasies River Mouth in South Africa
ORIGINS OF MODERN HUMANS years ago, this vast population is one such site where caves were
The original ancestors of modern humans movement was complete. Late Ice used as shelter by modern humans Big game hunters The
evolved south of the Sahara Desert in tropical Age hunting bands had settled all of about 120,000 years ago, showing that people associated with
Africa. The scattered human population was mainland Africa and Eurasia and had by that date the first modern people Clovis hunted big game.
very small, and groups developed in isolation crossed, or were about to cross, into had traveled from their origins in Their presence in America
about 12,000 years ago
from each other. the Americas. Homo sapiens had northeastern Africa (see pp.18–19).
coincides with the extinction
mastered tropical waters with canoes The techniques of molecular biology of several large species
EARLY MAN ON THE MOVE or rafts, had drifted or paddled to New are another way in which we can learn including mammoths,
Early Homo erectus fossils ¿¿19 Guinea and Australia, and penetrated more about the movement of these mastodons (a mammothlike
indicate that they had settled in as far south as Tasmania. early humans. By comparing certain species), and giant sloths.
western Europe by 800,000 years strands of DNA (the substance found
ago. Neanderthals ¿¿19 spread Survival of the fittest in every human cell that determines

into Europe and western Asia by Earlier forms of humans such as Homo the characteristics we inherit), we can
200,000 years ago. habilis and Homo erectus had long

vanished from Earth, forced into
extinction on marginal lands where 1 MILLION The estimated
human population of Earth

This technology, developed food was not plentiful, or killed by 500,000 years ago.
in Africa 2.5 million years ago, the newcomers, with whom they

was used for millions of could not compete. work out how Earth was colonized
years ¿¿17. FLINT HAND-AX Colonizing the planet was not a by Homo sapiens, and when splits in

deliberate project, undertaken by the population occurred. This was a
men and women set on occupying complex process involving constant
new lands or exploring the world that movement by small numbers of 12,000 YEARS AGO

100,000 The number of years

since small groups of
humans began to leave Africa. By 60,000
lay beyond their hunting territories.
Rather, the complex population
movements that took modern humans
people. We are only just beginning to
comprehend the process of colonization,
but one thing seems certain: all non- A
years ago genetically modern Homo to the limits of the harsh late Ice Age Africans are descended from what
sapiens were colonizing the Earth. world came about as a result of the American biologist Stephen J. Gould
necessities of hunting and plant once called “a single African twig” on
collecting in a great diversity of natural the human family tree.

environments. In more northern All people alive today have their

climates, meat was the staple food, ultimate roots in the so-called “African

while tropical and temperate groups Eve” of some 150,000 years ago. This

made considerable use of wild plant name stems from the fact that MtDNA
foods. The secrets to survival were (mitochondrial DNA) was passed from

adaptability—the ability to adjust to mother to offspring through every

sudden changes in climatic conditions generation since the first Homo sapiens.
by technological innovation—and We all share genetic information with
sheer ingenuity, mobility, and “Eve,” with each other, and with our Monte Verde
opportunism. People responded to ancestors (see p.27).
food shortages, drought, or extreme The earliest known
cold by moving elsewhere in a world settlement in South America
Mammoth cave painting dates from about 13,000 years
where the total global population was
The walls of Lascaux Cave in France are alive with bison, Human migration ago. Finds from the site, at
mammoth, wild oxen, and stag. Cro-Magnon artists (see perhaps no more than five million This map shows key sites for our early ancestors, Monte Verde in Chile, include
p.26–27) painted these powerful, ageless images in this people, scattered in small groups over as well as the routes that Homo sapiens is thought stone tools for chopping,
Ice Age treasure trove of art some 17,000 years ago. hunting territories large and small. to have taken from Africa around the world. scraping, and pounding.


Beringia Land Bridge Migration of Homo sapiens
around the world
Kennewick Site of early Homo sapiens find
C A 15,000 YEARS AGO
I Site of early Hominin find

This archaeologist holds the

remains of Homo erectus, which
This mammoth bone dates from about 1 million years
carving found at Dolní ago, and was found on this site.
Vestonice was made by The first modern humans in China
hunters between 28,000 occupied this site by about 40,000
and 22,000 years ago. years ago.

25,000 YEARS AGO




Lascaux Dolní Vestonice A S I A
Le Moustier

Atapuerca YEARS AGO


60,000 YEARS AGO



160,000 YEARS AGO Huerto
West Turkana Koobi Fora
Lake Turkana Flores
The cave paintings of Altamira Sangiran
date from about 15,000 years ago
and are famous for their dramatic Olduvai
Nariokotome Laetoli “Lucy” (Australopithecus
representations of bison, boar, afarensis) was found in
and red deer in charcoal and Ethiopia in 1974, dates from Malakunanja
earth pigments by people of the about three million years ago,
Magdalenian (Paleolithic) and is an important example of
culture of southern Europe. an Australopithecus (see pp.16–

17). This area of northeastern
Africa is rich with early hominin
remains and continues to yield
finds that provoke new theories
about our own evolution. L
45,000 YEARS AGO

Blombos Cave Klasies River Mouth The earliest finds in Australia

come from Lake Mungo. Tourists

today visit a landscape of strange

formations where over 20,000

years ago there was a lake and

Klasies River Mouth much human activity. Stone tools

Caves in South Africa were and animal bones found in the

area have shown us much about

occupied by hunter-gatherers
c. 120,000 years ago and have the first Australians.

revealed some clues about

how they lived. Some of Lake
the earliest known remains Mungo
of Homo sapiens were
found in the caves.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

The bone house wide range of Ice Age animals, including

This reconstruction of a shelter built from mammoth bison, mammoth, and woolly
bones is based on the remains of a dwelling that was rhinoceros. The eyed needle was
found by archaeologists in modern-day Ukraine. It another remarkable invention (see
demonstrates the ingenuity and adaptability of early
below). These people were also skilled
humans to local conditions and resources.
artists and developed a distinctive
visual tradition, which amplified their
Europe. These Cro-Magnon people— elaborate rituals and beliefs. One of
named after a rock shelter near Les the most famous examples of their
Eyzies in southwestern France—were art comes from the cave paintings of
opportunists. They relied for their Lascaux in southwestern France, which
subsistence on a range of plant foods are on a huge scale, and renowned for
and fish, taking advantage of salmon the skill of the artists who created them
runs, for example, when the rapidly
changing climate of the late Ice Age
allowed. Their success came not only
from their superior mental abilities, THE NEEDLE
but also from their ingenious multi-
purpose flint tools, which worked The eyed needle was a groundbreaking
almost like a modern Swiss Army invention. As early as 30,000 years ago,
knife. They used carefully shaped late Ice Age people in Europe and Asia
Sometime after about years. DNA research on Neanderthal flint nodules to produce standardized, made needles from polished bone and
½½ 50,000 years ago, when glacial bones suggests that the newcomers parallel-sided blanks, which they then ivory slivers, perforated with sharp-
pointed flints. They sewed tailored,
conditions in the north had improved did not interbreed with them, as had turned into points, scrapers, and other
and the climate was more temperate, previously been believed. One theory tools. One of these artifacts—a chisel— layered garments that enabled them to
modern humans moved into Europe is that Europe’s indigenous inhabitants allowed them to cut grooves in work outside in freezing temperatures.
and Asia. Tiny numbers of people were died out because they lacked the reindeer antlers, thereby “unlocking” It is believed that, like modern Inuits, they
involved—in the hundreds—but by adaptability, mental abilities, and a new technology for manufacturing used cured and softened animal pelts,
45,000 years ago they were well technology of modern humans. They harpoon heads, spear points, and other sewing the seams with fine thread made
established in the eastern European survived in some parts of southeastern hunting weapons. Barbed, antler- of animal and plant fiber. Without tailored
plains and in the Don Valley, now in Europe until as late as 24,000 years ago tipped spears were especially effective clothing Homo sapiens would never
Ukraine, and were moving rapidly before becoming extinct. on reindeer and other game. The have settled the Eurasian steppes or
across Central and Western Europe. Cro-Magnons produced other colonized the Americas.
A thriving European culture revolutionary items, including the
The Neanderthal controversy From about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, spear thrower—a hooked stick that
Homo sapiens had settled alongside a remarkable array of sophisticated, vastly increased the distance a spear
Neanderthal bands that had already cold-adapted hunter-gatherer societies could be thrown. They successfully
been in Europe for about 200,000 flourished in Central and Western used this new technology to hunt a

The longest journey

The first Homo sapiens left
Africa to colonize the planet
about 60,000 years ago. By the
end of the Ice Age 10,000 years
ago, they had reached all the
continents except Antarctica,
adapting to different conditions
wherever they went.

(see pp.20–21). For the first time,

people had the skills to live in harsh
environments like the Eurasian ADAPTING TO CHANGE
steppes, where there is little rainfall
and dramatic changes in temperature Study of the genes of modern populations differences in facial features and coloring are A hunter’s tool kit
with hot summers and very cold can help to show how the early humans down to minor genetic mutations that have As humans traveled around the
winters. Despite these skills, the colonized the planet. Mitochondrial DNA, taken place over the last 150,000 years. globe and experienced different
inherited through the maternal line back to environments and climates, they
Cro-Magnons appear to have moved Amazingly, the world’s population outside
adapted their weapons and tools
south into sheltered locations, only a fictional “Eve” (see p.24), can be traced Africa can trace their genetic history back to
to survive. These bone tools, found
moving north again as temperatures from an ancestral tropical African population perhaps as few as 1,000 individuals who in France and dating to between
rose. Some of them constructed to today. The male Y chromosome can also made the journey out of that continent. 18,000 and 10,000 years ago, were
elaborate dwellings, like the intricate be used to trace through generations. From Chromosome mutations can be used to used by hunters in Ice Age Europe.
mammoth bone houses at Mezhirich this evidence we know that 99.9 percent show when groups arrived in different parts
in modern Ukraine (see left), built of the genetic code of modern humans is of the world and to construct a genetic
partially into the ground and roofed identical throughout the world. The family tree that goes back to the Ice Age.
with hides and sod. Toward the end of
the Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago,
human society became more elaborate,
as populations grew larger and new
areas were colonized.

Siberia and the tundra

Homo sapiens migrated north from
southwestern Asia and colonized the
river valleys of Central Asia around
45,000 years ago. Small bands lived
permanently in the bitter cold of the Between 35,000 and 18,000 years across an extremely inhospitable
steppe-tundra—a windswept landscape ago, some hunting bands moved landscape. Such natural population
featuring low-growing vegetation— northeastward across the steppe- movements led to vast areas of the
that extended from central Europe all tundra into the Lake Baikal region of globe being colonized.
the way to Siberia far to the northeast. Siberia and farther to the northeast. Even earlier, from around c. 60,000
Enduring long winters, each band Some moved to, or formed, new years ago, other groups moved east
anchored itself on shallow river valleys groups, while others moved to find from northeast Africa and southwestern
like those of the Don and Dnieper in new hunting grounds or natural Asia into what is now India and
Russia, subsisting for the most part on resources. A variety of circumstances Pakistan, and into the tropical forests
animals such as the saiga antelope linked to hunting and survival of Southeast Asia. We know little of
and large game, including the arctic contributed to the movement of tiny these movements—the groups
elephant and the mammoth. numbers of these late Ice Age bands probably skirted the Eurasian ½½

(see pp.24–25). Most scientists believe
that the first Americans were Siberian
FLORES FIND hunters who crossed this bridge into By 10,000 years ago humans had spread
Alaska at least 15,000 years ago, to every continent (except Antarctica) and
Excavations in 2003 at Liang Bua Cave toward the end of the Ice Age. had learned the skills needed to survive
(right) on Flores Island, in Indonesia, in different environments. Later explorers
yielded the remains of a tiny skeleton Route south found their “new world” already inhabited
standing about 3 ft 6 in (1 m) tall. The More controversy surrounds the by the descendants of those first settlers.
bones display a unique mix of primitive and route by which the first Americans
more advanced characteristics, and date to penetrated the heart of North America, ADAPTING TO CHANGE
about 18,000 years ago. With a small skull something which is thought to have American Indian societies adjusted to warmer,
(below), large brow ridge, and a delicate taken place at least 13,000 years ago. often drier conditions, by intensifying the search
face, Homo floresiensis had slight legs like Huge ice sheets covered most of what for food, whether it be fish, game, or plant
some early hominins, yet modern teeth. is now Canada. One theory favors a foods. By 4000 BCE, some foraging groups were
Questions have been raised over whether movement south along the continental experimenting with the planting of native
this is a separate species or a small Homo shelves of southeast Alaska and British grasses 36–37 ½½, such as goosefoot.
sapiens. Others suggest this is the remnant Columbia, which was then a
of a Homo erectus population, or the landscape of steppe-tundra. LATER
descendant of humans who drifted to the Another common hypothesis EXPLORATION
island, then developed unique anatomical claims a rapid movement south Europeans first came in
traits in isolation. Unless more remains are
along a narrow corridor contact with
found, Homo floresiensis may remain an
between two ice sheets, one American Indians
intriguing, unsolved mystery.
mantling the Rocky Mountains 500 years ago when
and the other extending east they traveled the world
toward the Atlantic. The in search of new land
deserts and settled in after 1000 BCE. The evidence of human controversy is unresolved, but 230 ½½. Dutch settlers
½½ northeastern China by 25,000 life at Lake Mungo in Australia reveals we know that small numbers of early
IN AMERICA arrived in Manhattan
years ago, after the warmer south part details of hunter-gatherer life about American hunter-gatherers were south in the 1800s and traded
of the continent had been explored. 40,000 years ago. It is important as of the ice sheets, and some as far south with the native population before establishing
it captures a moment in time and as Chile, by at least 13,000 years ago. a permanent settlement there.
Sunda, Sahul, and Asia a lifestyle that remained largely The early Americans are best known
During the late Ice Age, a huge unchanged for thousands of years. from the remains of kills of bison, AN ISOLATED CULTURE
continental shelf—an area of land mammoth, and mastodon in North The culture of the Australian Aboriginals
connecting the continents that is now Reaching the Americas America. They are often labeled “big- developed in virtually complete
covered by higher sea levels—known Archaeologists have disputed the date game” hunters, which is misleading, as isolation. Like other hunter-
as Sunda extended from mainland of the first settlement of the Americas they relied on plant foods and adapted gatherer societies, they have
Southeast Asia far into the Pacific. for over a century. Most now agree to temperate and tropical areas, as well a complex relationship
Only short stretches of open water that native Americans originated in as the bleak lands at the margins of with their environment
separated New Guinea and Australia Siberia. Genetic and dental evidence retreating ice sheets. They did prey on and elaborate spiritual beliefs.
from this now-sunken land. Another links the two areas and backs up this indigenous species of large mammals,
landmass, Sahul, linked Australia and theory. There are also linguistic ties but, by 10,500 years ago, most of this
New Guinea themselves. Homo sapiens that hint at population movements “megafauna” was extinct, probably as
arrived in mainland Southeast Asia from Siberia to Alaska. But it is not a result of drier climatic conditions,
before 50,000 years ago. By 45,000 known precisely when and how the perhaps speeded by some overhunting. ABORIGINAL HUNTER
years ago—the date is controversial— first settlement took place.
a few hunting bands had crossed open Until about 10,000 Early evidence
water to Sahul and colonized what is years ago, a low-lying The archaeological record of the
now Australia. They may have crossed land bridge, Beringia, early Americas is sketchy. Key
on primitive rafts or in dugout canoes. joined Siberia to sites include a 12,000-year-old
Modern humans had settled New Alaska rock shelter in Meadowcroft, ATLATL
Guinea by about 40,000 years ago, Pennsylvania, a scatter of
and crossed to the Solomon Islands stone tools from a site at Atlatls (from an Aztec word)
by about 5,000 years later. Hunter- Cactus Hill, Virginia, and a are throwing sticks or spear-
gatherers had settled throughout well-documented foraging throwers, first developed by
Australia, including Tasmania, camp at Monte Verde, Chile, Cro-Magnon hunters over
by 30,000 years ago. dating to about 13,000 20,000 years ago. Spear throwers
This was the outer limit years ago. The first well- increase a spear’s range and
of human settlement of the defined culture is that of velocity—useful qualities for
offshore Pacific until outrigger the Clovis people, famous hunters who rely on stalking to
canoes (see pp.216–17) for their fine flint tools, kill their prey. The simplest atlatls
and open-water navigation who flourished between are hooked sticks. A weight
techniques allowed people about 11,200 and 10,900 adds stability and velocity
with domesticated animals years ago. One controversial to the throw. Such weights,
and root crops to make the discovery is a 9,500 year- often called “bannerstones,”
lengthy open-water passages old skull from Kennewick, are often found on native
Washington State, which is American sites, as they arrived
believed to have caucasian with the first inhabitants of the
Oldest footprints Clovis points region. The Aztecs later used them
features and may be an indication that
Hundreds of human footprints, preserved for over North American hunters made these flint spearpoints against Spanish conquistadors
20,000 years, have been found at Lake Mungo, Australia. over 11,000 years ago. They are some of the few objects some of the first settlers in America
(see pp.230–31).
At that time, the lake there would have been home to found from this early period. They would have been came from Europe. However, this has
fish, mussels, and crayfish—all valuable food sources. used to kill and cut up large prey such as mammoth. been the subject of much debate.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

Hunters and Gatherers

Hunting and foraging for food was the only way of life for all humans up until 12,000 years ago. It was
a successful lifestyle that, in some ways, had significant advantages over a life of farming. Today, only
a handful of hunter-gatherer societies survive, in the Amazon Basin and Africa.

e have been able to understand France, and Altamira, Spain. Rare overlooking a river valley and nearby
W more about the hunter-gatherer
diet from surviving artifacts
finds of wooden digging sticks and
flint sickle blades show that people
swamps. Among the objects found at
the site, which dates back to the last Ice
such as carved stone and bone tools dug for tubers and harvested wild Age, is the oldest known ceramic in the
and decorative items (see pp.34–35), grasses. Broken animal and fish bones, world—a “Venus” figurine (a carving
and also from hunting scenes in rock and fossil plant pollens, reveal details shaped like a female
paintings, such as those at Lascaux, of the hunter-gatherer diet, as do figure) dating to
deep shell middens (waste sites) between 29,000 and
crammed with the discarded shells 25,000 BCE. Other
B E F O R E of edible mollusks. carvings of bears,
In addition, the few surviving lions, and
hunter-gatherer societies mammoths
Hunting and gathering, or foraging for food, can tell us first-hand about indicate a culture
is the fundamental way that humans and the dynamics of human of some degree of
their ancestors lived. The success of the existence before sophistication. A
species depended on their ability to use agriculture and similar date has been
Earth’s resources to their own advantage. animal domestication. given to the Venus of
Willendorf (see p.34)
HUMAN SCAVENGERS Mammoth hunters found in Austria. It has
Evidence from bones and flints has shown that Most hunter- been suggested that these
early humans may have eaten the remains of gatherer bands were figurines represent fertility
animals killed by other predators rather constantly on the and the success of the
than hunting for most of their food. move, camping hunter-gatherer group
Gathered food
near lakes and other Wild plant foods, whether grasses, nuts, or
they are associated with.
A VARIED DIET strategic locations tubers, were the dominant staple for most
As the first modern humans during the times ancient hunter-gatherer societies. In most Stone age transition
spread around the world of year when a societies, women did the gathering. The line between nomadic
¿¿24–29 their diet changed in particular plant food hunting and gathering
response to locally available ripened or game was close by. At Dolní and settled farming is not always clear.
HAZELNUTS foods. A process of trial and Vestonice, in what is now the Czech Many communities may have stayed
error would have been necessary Republic, mammoth hunters lived in in one place while hunting, or moved
while learning what foods were good to eat and oval bone-and-timber huts (see p.26) around and cultivated crops. Ten
what could potentially be harmful. thousand years ago, bands of
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) fishers
CHANGING TO SURVIVE The hunter’s equipment and hunters lived by the Baltic Sea,
The earliest weapons took the form of simple flint arrow-
Human societies throughout the world had to which at that stage was newly
heads. As hunters became more sophisticated, weapons
adapt to radically different environments. grew more specialized. The harpoon point, below, is uncovered by retreating ice. Their diet
Predictability, seasonality, abundance, and carved from bone and suited to fishing. Arrows would mainly consisted of fish, supplemented
distribution of food resources such as fish have been used about 8,000 years ago for hunting. by birds, plant foods, and game, caught
and nuts affected their choice to live a nomadic
serrated edge
or more settled existence.
using stone-tipped arrows, antler
harpoons, and wooden spears. Many
groups in this area occupied the same
settlements for generations, living
along shorelines that shifted constantly.
Another site that has revealed details
about a community that was hunting
FISHING SPEAR twine binding and gathering while on the move
flints stuck in groove of wooden shaft throughout the year is Star Carr in
northeastern England. In 9000 BCE, a
small group of Mesolithic people settled
on waterlogged ground by a lake there.
FLINT ARROW The wet conditions preserved flint
flight of duck feathers tools, the remains of the elk and red
deer they hunted, and the barbed spear
points they used to kill them. Teeth
and seeds tell us the site was occupied
every year from March to June. These
MESOLITHIC ARROW people adapted successfully to a rapidly
reproduction shaft changing post–Ice Age world by




Bows and arrows appeared during the
late Ice Age and came into widespread
use by about 10,000 BCE. At first, these
would have been simple wooden bows
used with stone- or bone-tipped arrows.
The composite bow, made of sinews and
bone or wood laminated together, is
known from 1500 BCE, and reached North
America in the first millennium CE.



Some hunter-gatherer groups

had turned to farming by
10,000 BCE. Others continued
to develop and innovate.


From about 10,000 BCE there was a
general transition from the hunter-
gatherer lifestyle to farming. Some
groups continued to forage for
food, perhaps partly due to
conditions in the part of the world
they lived in, making growing crops
or staying in one place impossible. HAIDA HOUSE
Another reason may be that
farming needs more time spent devoted
to food production and carries a greater
risk of starvation if crops fail. Some groups,
such as the Haida people of North America
and the Aboriginals in Australia, seem to have
retained the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

In areas of exceptionally rich food resources,
much more elaborate hunter-gather
societies developed after about 3000 years ago.
In the Pacific Northwest of North America, for
example, rich salmon and coastal fisheries and
Hunting in the field abundant lumber led to the development of
maintaining a flexible way of life. Vir meant that people lived there for A modern San hunter takes aim with bow and arrow. complex societies under powerful chieftains.
Lepenski Vir in modern-day Serbia part of the year while also traveling to His success depends on meticulous stalking to approach
his quarry at close range. Many early hunters used
was also repeatedly used over many other areas. Finds at the site discovered INNOVATION
vegetable poisons on their arrows, pursuing wounded
generations and has yielded a lot of some distance away provide the animals for hours to kill them before predators struck. By 2000 years ago, the Norton people in North
information about a culture between evidence for this. America had developed sophisticated art
two lifestyles. The site, used from as styles and an elaborate harpoon weaponry
early as 6000 BCE, was situated on the A continuing way of life in South Africa. These people, well for hunting seals. By 1000 CE, the ancestors of
banks of the Danube River, and the Five thousand years ago, much of known for their rock art (see pp.32– the modern-day Inuit had settled in Canada.
group’s reliance on fishing was heavy. East and southern Africa was home 33), were the distant ancestors of the
The fish sculptures found there (see to nomadic hunter-gatherer bands, modern-day San hunter-gatherers, tiny
pp.34–35) are significant early works which subsisted on a wide variety of numbers of whom still live in the
of art and may be symbols of a religious animal and plant foods. Some sites, Kalahari Desert of Botswana. Modern-
cult, such was the importance of fish such as Gwisho in Central Africa, day San have long been in contact with
to this culture. The people lived in have revealed well-preserved wooden farmers, but the ancestry of their
structures whose wide ends faced the arrowheads and digging sticks, as well culture extends back to ancient times.
river. Revisited for several hundred as traces of brush shelters. Many of As in other traditional hunter-gather
years, Lepenski Vir provides a portrait these groups regularly visited rock cultures, the women are responsible for
of a gradual changeover from nomadic shelters, including those at Nachikufu much of the food collection and MODERN INUIT SETTLEMENT
life to more permanent settlement. in present-day Zambia, Pomongwe in hunting smaller animals, while the
The seminomadic lifestyle of Lepenski Zimbabwe, and Oakhurst rock shelter men hunt large prey.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E


There is little evidence that early humans

before Neanderthals buried their dead or
believed in a higher power.
The Spirit World
Ever since humans became conscious of their own frailty and mortality, they have sought the answers
NEANDERTHAL BELIEF to the eternal mysteries of life. Theories about the purpose of our existence and questions about what
Neanderthals ¿¿19 first buried their dead
at least 60,000 years ago. happens after we die will always be a part of the human experience.

CONSCIOUS THOUGHT t is difficult to know what thought of as a link to another and on beautifully carved and
Homo sapiens is unique in thinking and
planning ahead, and in conceptualizing ideas.
I the beliefs of humans were
before the advent of writing.
world, and the practices surrounding
burial are always significant. The
engraved antler tools (see pp.20–21).
The cave engravings and paintings
Such cognitive abilities first appeared around However, from the material remains art of early humans found in caves depict a wide range of animals, some
50,000 years ago, and perhaps even earlier ¿¿21. left to us, we can piece together some and on bone carvings are indications of them long extinct, such as the
of the ideas of the particular culture of their beliefs outside of their mammoth and woolly rhinoceros;
that created them. The main ways everyday existence. others, like wild horses, European
in which we know about prehistoric From about 40,000 years ago, the bison, and reindeer are more familiar
A wealth of grave goods
Two 25,000-year-old hunter-gatherers buried in Sungir religion today are from images painted Cro-Magnons of western Europe today. The animals on the cave
near Vladimir in Russia lie surrounded by spears, on cave walls, and from objects found developed a flamboyant artistic walls reflect a harsh late Ice Age
bracelets, brooches, and thousands of ivory beads. in graves (grave goods). Death is often tradition that survives on cave walls environment where people survived

for much of the year on meat. This Aboriginal dreamtime

reliance on hunting may have been Australian Aboriginals enjoy a complex relationship with
inspired rituals that became the focus the supernatural realm that permeates their living world.
Their art, such as this example from a cave wall, depicts
of cave art. By contrast, human figures
mythic animals and humans and forms an important
in cave paintings are rare, and when part of their spiritual beliefs—known as the Dreamtime.
they do occur are highly stylized or
masked. Impressions of human hands
and undecipherable signs do, however, shows that these people lived in
appear on the walls of caves including a complex society with a strong
Altamira in Spain, and Chauvet, Niaux, hierarchical structure, and that they
and Lascaux in France. were concerned with what happened
after death. One of the individuals, a
Magic and ceremony girl of about eight years old, was found
Generations of archaeologists have with the remains of over 5,000 ivory
argued over the meaning of Cro- beads, which, it is estimated, each took
Magnon cave art, which flourished over one hour to carve. The fact that
until about 14,000 years ago. One such wealth accompanied the burials
theory is that the paintings were done may indicate a religion in which these
by shamans (see box). In many hunter- objects were needed to accompany the
gatherer societies, shamans were dead on a journey to another life. In
believed to act as intermediaries with other cultures food was left with the
dead, suggesting a belief in an afterlife
in which sustenance is required.
Some of the earliest buildings relating
the spiritual world, using trances and commemorations of ancestral spirits. to religious belief may come from
hallucinogenic substances to pass into Hunter-gatherer societies that we know Çatalhüyök in Turkey from c. 7000 BCE,
the realm of the supernatural. They about today are almost universal in where murals are indications that the
were thought to communicate with possessing complex beliefs and world spaces were used for ritual purposes.
ancestors, as well as retelling stories, views that are intimately connected However, until later periods when
and legends. They also passed ritual to the natural world around them. written records are preserved, our
knowledge from one generation to the Although we do not know that people knowledge about belief and the
next. Late Ice Age shamans may have in ancient cultures shared these rituals afterlife can only be conjecture.
conducted ceremonies in caves, often and beliefs, some of the artifacts and
painted with murals, where the clues we have indicate this
acoustics lend themselves to chanting as a possibility. AF TER
and singing, and in other less accessible Other forms of art provide
caves far from daylight, where they further clues. The female
may have felt closer to powers outside figurines of hunter-gatherer Cultures throughout history
their immediate environment. societies (see p.30–31) may have shared a belief in an
have been made as objects afterlife and a higher power.
Surviving clues of worship, and related to a
In cultures that have survived up to fertility cult. Carved antlers EGYPTIAN AFTERLIFE
more recent times we may find further and bones similarly may The Book of the Dead is the
clues to past beliefs. The American have been connected with common name for a collection
Indians and Australian Aboriginals religious belief. of funerary scripts on
live in worlds where the living and papyrus, dating from c. 1600 BCE
supernatural realms are treated as a Grave goods BOOK OF
and thought to have been
continuation of one another. Both One of the earliest and most lavish THE DEAD used by the ancient Egyptians
enjoyed elaborate ceremonial lives burials found was in Sungir, Russia. as a set of instructions for
that included initiation ceremonies The sheer richness and diversity of the the afterlife 68–69½½. The grave goods
and seasonal rituals, as well as artifacts accompanying the bodies placed in the pyramids of the Pharaohs to help
them in the afterlife are further indication of a
strong belief in another life.


A belief in the afterlife or reincarnation is still
Shamans—doctors, priests, or medicine a part of human thought and is key to many
men—still exist in some cultures, including religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism,
this tribe from the Sepik Region of Papua and Christianity 144–47½½.
New Guinea (see right), where the shaman
is believed to possess supernatural powers. CELTIC BELIEF
By observing their practices and rituals, it Deities connected
is possible to draw some useful parallels with death,
with early societies. fertility, and
Archaeologist David Lewis-Williams argues birth are shown on
that much of the cave art of the San hunter- the Gundestrup
gatherers of southern Africa was painted by cauldron, dating
shamans in hallucinogenic trances. These from 2nd-century-
types of drug- or trance-induced experiences BCE Denmark. GUNDESTRUP CAULDRON
are still seen today in a few societies.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E













Early Societies
These objects reflect the changes that were taking place in human society
up to 3000 BCE. The shift from a hunter-gather lifestyle is revealed by the number
of farming tools and pottery objects that were made at this time.

1 Flint hand-ax made by Homo heidelbergensis in mill to grind cereal crops. This is a reconstruction of the
Europe about 500,000–300,000 years ago. 2 Deer’s head type used by the first farmers c. 10,000 BCE. 12 Serrated
carving from bone, 8000–6000 BCE, from Riparo Gaban, Italy. flint, antler harpoon, and flint point mounted on a wooden
3 Flint axe, c. 4000–2300 BCE, used to harvest cereal crops. shaft, made by modern humans during and after the late Ice
The original flint cutting edge has been fixed in a modern Age, 18,000–10,000 years ago. 13 Pottery cone from Jordan,
handle. 4 ”Venus” figurine carved in limestone, c. 25,000– 3rd millennium BCE. 14 Egyptian dagger, c. 3500–3100 BCE,
15,000 BCE, from Willendorf, Austria. Figures such as this from Gebel el-Arak, Egypt, with scenes of battle and hunting
have been found across Europe; they are always faceless carved on the handle, made from hippopotamus ivory, and
and appear to be heavily pregnant. 5 Carved rock from a blade of the highest quality knapping. 15 Naqada I bone
approximately 75,000 years ago, discovered in Blombos cave figure, 4000–3600 BCE. This is an example of one of the
near Stilbaai, South Africa. Considered to be one of the first earliest three-dimensional representations of humans from
examples of art, the piece is made from red ocher with a ancient Egypt, found in graves of the predynastic period.
deliberately engraved design. 6 Cro-Magnon flute, 16 Goddess figurine, from El’ Ma’mariya, Egypt, c. 3600–
c. 45,000 years old, discovered in a cave at Divje Babe, in 3500 BCE, made from painted terra-cotta. 17 Pottery shard,
the Idrijca valley in western Slovenia, and thought to be one c. 4000 BCE, from Romania. As well as being useful, pottery
of the earliest musical instruments. It is made from the femur was often strikingly painted and engraved as seen in this
of a young cave bear. 7 Flint arrowhead from around example. 18 Carved spearthrower in the shape of a
10,000 years ago. Arrowheads such as this were created mammoth, from the rock shelter of Montastruc, Tarn-et-
by skilled artisans by pressing a bone or antler tool against Garonne, France. Approximately 12,500 years old, this tool
the edges to create a finely flaked thin artifact. 8 Bone is carved from reindeer antler. 19 Foundation stone
carvings, c. 8700 BCE, from Dolní Vestonice, Czechoslovakia. engraved with cuneiform writing from the famous Sumerian
They are believed to be an amulet (left) and a stylized city of Ur. This 4,000-year-old brick cone was placed in a
female figure (right). 9 Carved pillar, c. 9000 BCE, from mud-brick wall to record the foundation of a building.
the Göbekli Tepe archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. 20 Egyptian comb from the predynastic period, c. 3200 BCE.
These pillars may be part of an early temple. Other examples Carved from ivory, the animals include elephants and
show various wild animals and birds. 10 Stone sculpture, snakes; wading birds and a giraffe; hyenas and cattle. Parts
c. 6000 BCE, showing both fish and human characteristics, of the comb’s teeth can be seen along the bottom edge.
from Lepenski Vir, Yugoslavia. Fish were important to the 21 Uruk pitcher of limestone with animal carvings from
people who lived at this site. 11 Quernstone, a simple hand Sumeria, 3500–3200 BCE.




4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

B E F O R E Corn, domesticated in central

America by 5000 BCE, developed
from a wild grass, teosinte, and is
still found in Mexico. As it spread
As the glacial period of the Ice Age ¿¿22– AGE OF TRANSITION throughout much of the Americas,
23 came to an end, conditions around the After the Ice Age, large game animals died out farmers developed strains that
world improved for human life and the in many areas, and people turned to smaller animals adapted to local conditions such
hunter-gatherer lifestyle began to die out. and wild plant foods. Following a drought about as arid environments.
13,000 years ago, hunting bands in southwest Asia
OUT OF THE ICE AGE began planting wild wheat, barley, and other grasses
Many of the advances in civilization were to supplement strains of what grew in the wild.
spurred on by global warming, which gave
new opportunities to humankind. BEGINNING OF FOOD PRODUCTION
Although people still lived as hunter-gatherers,
EXPANSION moving around seasonally in search of food, by
Human populations increased and spread as 12,000 years ago some groups had begun to N O R T H
areas that had been glacial became temperate. exploit and control their own food supplies.

First Harvest 2500 BCE

Potatoes are a highland
Andean crop, domesticated at
an unknown date, but before
5000 BCE. Farmers in the Andes
Everyone in the world lived by hunting and gathering 12,000 years 5000 BCE grew numerous potato
varieties, adapted to different
ago. But only 6,000 years later, virtually every human society with microenvironments high in
the mountains. Potatoes were
the ability to farm and herd animals produced its own food. introduced to Europe in
the 17th century.
griculture was not “invented” their movements. Plants were
A by one person in a sudden gradually adapted from their wild
Areas where farming
flash of genius. Hunting groups varieties into crops that were tended
would have been aware that seeds and harvested. Einkorn, a variety Spread of agriculture 5000 BCE
germinated when they were planted in of wheat, was the first domesticated Sites of early farming
the soil. The switch from the hunter- cereal and was grown in the Fertile
gatherer lifestyle to one of agriculture Crescent. The genetic changes to S O U T H
and animal domestication was one that cereal grasses and animals that resulted
happened independently in various from domestication occurred over a Llamas were the only pack A M E R I C A
animal in the Americas, used
cultures around relatively short time. by Andean traders for carrying
the world. It was NEOLITHIC The last part of the Stone Key sites for early textiles, fishmeal, and
partly prompted Age period, beginning c. 10,000 BCE in farming include other commodities between the
by climate the Middle East, c. 5500 BCE in central Gobekli Tepe, lowlands and highlands.
change and was Europe, and c. 4500 BCE in northern Jericho, Çatalhüyök,
a momentous Europe. The introduction of farming is and ‘Ain Ghazal. In
step forward for a key characteristic of the Neolithic. Abu Hureyra in the
humankind— Euphrates Valley
civilization as we know it today stems (modern Syria), a small foraging
from the changes that took place from settlement became a compact farming
about 12,000 years ago. community of mud-brick houses
In the area known as “the Fertile separated by courtyards and narrow
Crescent,” which includes Turkey, Syria, alleyways. As the plants they had
and Iraq, people began to domesticate sought out became harder to find due
goats, sheep, and pigs by living in close to the drier climate, the people there
proximity to wild herds and controlling began to cultivate the cereal rye. They also continued to hunt gazelles, and Pakistan, where farming villages such
keep sheep. Analysis of bones (see as Mehgarh were well established by
left) has revealed that the number 6000 BCE. Farmers in the Yangtze
of domesticated sheep gradually Valley in southern China had
TEETH AND BONES outnumbered wild animals, and domesticated wild rice by at least
ground cereals became part of the diet. 8000 BCE, probably at about the same
The remains of domestic and wild animals At Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, examples of time as along the Ganges River in
can tell us a lot about the diet and lifestyle what may be the earliest stone temples, India. In China, the Huang He (Yellow
of our ancestors. By examining jaws and the dating from c. 9000 BCE, have been River) valley was an early center of
growth patterns in teeth, one can establish discovered. This was a community on millet and cereal cultivation, perhaps as
the age and sex of an animal and whether the verge of becoming a permanent early as 7000 BCE. Chinese agriculture
it was wild or domesticated. From human village with structured belief systems. became highly organized and intensive
remains we can learn a lot about diet and over later centuries, especially in the
lifestyle. For example, the teeth of people South and East Asia south. Northern Chinese farmers had
from Abu Hureyra (see above) show heavy Agriculture developed independently to contend with frequent droughts and
wear associated with eating ground cereals. in South Asia. It is likely to have floods. In spite of these challenges, the
emerged in the Indus Valley of modern sophisticated Yangshao village culture


Einkorn and emmer Sheep were domesticated

wheat cereal crops were first early, by 10,000 BCE, probably as
domesticated in southeastern a result of close association
Turkey in about 10,000 BCE. between hunters and wild herds.
People may have first planted Domesticated sheep were valued
cereals as a way of preserving for their wool, which did not grow
their plant-gathering way of life. so thick on animals in the wild.

5300 BCE
6000 BCE 4500 BCE
Çatalhöyük 10,000 BCE
Abu Hureyra Gobekli Tepe Banpo
6000 BCE Jericho ’Ain Ghazal

Mehrgarh 7000 BCE Hemedu

6000 BCE
7000 BCE 7000 BCE 8500 BCE

2000 BCE I N D I A N
1500 BCE O C E A N

Domesticated cattle Rice is thought to have 1000 BCE

originated from the wild ox, been cultivated in several
Bos primigenius, and were locations, including south
domesticated before 6000 BCE. Asia and China’s Yangtzi
Goats were among the earliest animals
They were tamed in several Valley, where it was grown as
domesticated by humans in the Middle
locations, including the Sahara early as 8500 BCE, before
East in about 10,000 BCE. Voracious
and southwest Asia. spreading widely.
eaters, goats provided flesh, skins, milk,
and other by-products for their owners.
Gregarious by nature, they were
probably domesticated by putting young
animals and entire wild herds in pens. A U S T R A L I A
2000 BCE

The spread of agriculture

From around 10,000 BCE cultures began to live by
farming. The earliest evidence for this transition
comes from the Middle East. It seems to have
occurred in isolation in other parts of the world
over the next 8,000 years.

of the north (see p.60), which practiced growing sunflowers and other native
an early form of irrigation, was thriving plants as part of their vegetable diet.
by 5000 BCE. In the Andes Mountains in South Farming has had huge and far-reaching social produced surplus food. This was stored for
America, hunters experimented with effects beyond changing what humans eat. times of need or traded, creating new trading
First European farmers the cultivation of potatoes and other possibilities. Farming fed more people within
Farming spread to Europe from indigenous root vegetables. GROWTH OF VILLAGES AND TOWNS smaller areas, promoting growth in population.
southwest Asia by about 6000 BCE. The staple crops of native American Food production tied people to cultivated land
It expanded across the Mediterranean, agriculture—corn and beans—were and grazing grounds, giving rise to permanent GETTING MORE OUT
then northward, developing with slight both domesticated in Central America settlements 38–39½½. As populations increased, so did the pressure
variations in the associated crafts and by 3500 BCE. Corn was domesticated on the land. If favorable areas could not be
architectural style as it spread. from teosinte, a grass native to Central TIME TO INNOVATE sought out, new techniques had to be
America. Many varieties developed. Not everyone was needed in order to produce developed, such as the irrigation systems used
Farming the Americas From the tropics, this vital staple enough food to feed the community. Individuals in Egypt. The pressure on food production and
The ancient native American population spread to the Andes and into the North began to specialize in a particular trade, such the desire to produce more has continued to this
developed an expertise with wild American southwest by 2500 BCE, as pottery and metalwork 42–43½½. Farming day 290–91, 462–63½½.
plants. By 4000 BCE, many hunter- before coming into use later in eastern
gatherer groups in the Americas were North America.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

water or milk), people in the first
permanent village settlements lived
Early human populations were nomadic, TEMPORARY SETTLEMENTS on the meat and produce from their
moving around in search of food, as Hunter-gatherer sites, such as hunting camps, domesticated herds and supplemented
it became available. were seasonal and impermanent. Examples we know their diet with wild game and wild
about include Star Carr in Britain and Dolní Vestonice plant foods.
LIFE ON THE MOVE in Central Europe ¿¿30–31. People on the move One of the key features of these
DIGGING TOOL Up to about 10,000 years had fewer possessions, so they could remain settlements, which marks them out
ago, life revolved around mobile. This lack of material objects means that from early hunter-gatherer sites, is
the constant search for food. New areas were our evidence of this lifestyle is meager. the existence of storage facilities for
gradually colonized as groups of people food. This indicates that communities
sought to exploit new sources of food. BIRTH OF AGRICULTURE were planning for the season ahead
The switch to farming ¿¿36–37 began about and storing grain over the winter.
LIFESTYLE OF THE HUNTER 10,000 years ago. Tools, such as the digging tool, These early farmers would have lived
The way of life of the hunter-gatherers shown left, developed as part of this transition. from harvest to harvest, and the danger
was highly successful and adaptable. The first plow was used at about the same time. of starvation was always present. In
some ways, they had been better off
as hunter-gatherers, as gathering food
is less labor-intensive than producing
it. They would have enjoyed more

Village Life
leisure time and less risk of disease
brought about by overcrowding in
villages (see pp.52–53). However, the
benefits of farming—the ability to
support more people from a smaller
area—allowed populations to grow and
The cultivation of domesticated crops and livestock brought with society as we know it today to flourish.
it permanent settlements and new ways of life, including the first
settled communities and the beginning of religion and worship. People now lived in crowded
villages, with the same neighbors
he earliest farming villages beehive-shaped houses with stone for generations. Men were probably
T were small huddles of mud-
brick houses, nestled together
foundations and plastered floors,
many of which had private courtyards
responsible for herding animals, perhaps
some of the work in the fields, and
and separated by narrow spaces. At and ovens. Another highly successful, hunting, while women prepared food,
Abu Hureyra, Syria (see pp.36–37), long-lived, and large settlement was and were responsible for foraging and
several hundred farmers lived in Çatalhöyük in Turkey (see pp.36–37), food storage. Within such communities
close proximity to their fields and which thrived from 7000 BCE and was specific roles developed, as not
each other. In another early settlement, inhabited for over 1,000 years. Its everyone was required to find food.
‘Ain Ghazal, in modern Jordan, herds population lived in rectangular houses, At the same time, some people became
of goats were kept and wild animals built very close together, which were part-time specialists such as shamans
were hunted. ‘Ain Ghazal seems to entered through the roof. The houses (see pp.32–33) and spirit mediums,
have become a victim of its own were whitewashed and painted with canoe builders, and potters. A network
success as its population grew and the red geometric patterns. One reason of family members would have helped
land became overexploited, causing for the site’s success may have been each other in times of crop failure.
people to leave in search of more its trade in the highly-prized black
fertile lands. volcanic glass, obsidian, used to make Burial rites
cutting tools. With more permanent settlements
Growing settlements came new beliefs. Fertility of the soil
Jericho, in the Jordan Valley, was one Surviving day to day was associated with new life. Ancestors
of the first villages to grow successfully, Cereal grains were the staple diet in were associated with the fertility of the
over the period 9600–7000 BCE. By all early farming communities across land and were worshipped. Some of
8000 BCE it had become a small walled southwest Asia. Apart from bread or the dead at Jericho were decapitated
town, whose inhabitants lived in gruel (commonly oatmeal boiled in and buried beneath the floors of their
houses. Their relatives then modeled
the revered ancestor’s features in clay
on the skulls and buried them in pits.
POTTERY At ‘Ain Ghazal, collections of clay
figurines were also buried in a
Fired clay vessels are a feature of all early farming deliberate fashion. Although the
cultures around the world. Bowls were used for purpose of these ritualized objects is
cooking and eating; large jars and round-bottomed pots unknown, their existence indicates that
held liquids or stored grain. Most early vessels were made people may have been practicing an
by joining clay coils, or by shaping a pot from a clay lump. early form of religion (see pp.40–41).
Pots, such as this particularly sophisticated example,
first appeared among the Jomon people of Japan before
10,000 BCE, and in Mali, West Africa, at about the same time. The rise of community life
Most pottery was for strictly utilitarian purposes, but skilled In the first villages, people would have lived in close
communities like this modern-day Tuareg village in Mali,
potters also made fine-walled, elaborately decorated vessels
Africa, on an island in the Niger River. Domesticated
for grave goods or ceremonial purposes. animals including goats and sheep would have been
corralled and kept in areas between the houses.


Shrine figure
This ancestral figure
from ‘Ain Ghazal,
dating from c. 7250 BCE,
seems to stare into
eternity. It stood on
a house platform and
was probably dressed
in robes or costumes
commemorating a
revered ancestor.


The establishment of villages and farming

communities led to population growth and
new challenges for those who lived in them.


Villages expanded into towns and cities 44–45½½.

Growing population densities led to unsanitary
conditions. Living in close proximity to animals
allowed new diseases 52–53½½ to spread from
animal to human. Rising populations could also
lead to famine and malnutrition.

Higher populations led to greater intensification
of farming methods, such as irrigation.


4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E

ith the spread of farming Creating Stonehenge
W across the world (see pp.36– In an earlier phase, Stonehenge consisted of a low
circular bank with a ditch running along its inside and
As human mental abilities developed, 37), an early form of religion
a row of timber posts along the inner side of that.
so did beliefs in powers greater than developed out of a desire to worship
humankind and some kind of afterlife. ancestors, and to celebrate the seasons
and the cyclical movements of the remaining evidence of the wooden
ART AND SHAMANS sun, moon, and stars. The most visible structure is the post holes into which
Early art, such as cave art and bone mark of Neolithic beliefs are the the timber posts were set.
engravings ¿¿20–21, reflects an early human spectacular megalithic structures Stone circles are most commonly
concern with interpreting and trying to influence built after 4500 BCE in much of the found in southwestern England, western
the world around us through ritual. Mediterranean world and in Western Scotland, and northwestern France,
Europe, including Spain, France, perhaps due to the supply of suitable
FERTILITY Britain, and Scandinavia. Some of stone blocks in those areas. The stone
As farming took hold, societies made fertility these sites are world-famous today. circle at Avebury, in Britain, is among
goddesses, which indicates a desire to the largest that survive. The stones may
promote growth and life ¿¿30–31. Monumental sites have indicated astronomical alignments
There are several types of monuments and had religious significance. Similar
GRAVE GOODS AND RITUAL built using megaliths (“huge stones”) purposes have been suggested for sites
People buried grave goods with that developed at this time and that of standing stones and rows, such as the
the dead from 40,000 years ago continued to be used down to the rows at Carnac, in France.
¿¿32–33. Farming communities middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. Long barrows were mounds used for
such as Çatalhöyük, Turkey, had These include chambered tombs, communal burials. The barrows
rooms for ritual associated “menhirs” (single upright stones), contained a number of bodies, which
with the dead. stone rows, and stone circles. may have been exposed before final
In Britain, causewayed enclosures— burial. Some, such as the one at West
ENGRAVED BISON BONE ceremonial spaces enclosed by banks Kennet, in England, were built with
with multiple entrance gaps—preceded internal stone chambers and used over
henge monuments, which appeared several generations. Newgrange in
around 3200 BCE. Henges consist of a Ireland (see below) and Gavrinis
circular or oval area enclosed by a bank, in Brittany are other examples of
but usually have their associated ditch chambered tombs. Some of the stones at
on the inside rather than the outside of these sites are decorated with engraved
the bank, and fewer entrances. Some abstract patterns of spirals, circles, and
contained wood or stone circles— lozenges, referred to as “megalithic
Woodhenge in Wiltshire, England, is art.” Cigar-shaped ritual enclosures
perhaps the most famous example of with empty interiors (cursuses) are
a wooden circle. Here, the only often associated with barrow sites.

Center of a sacred landscape

West Kennet
The most famous of all the megalithic
The stone passageway in the West Kennet long barrow,
in southern England, leads from a small forecourt to sites is Stonehenge, England, which
side chambers for the dead. West Kennet was built as a was developed, altered, and used over
communal tomb c. 3650 BCE. hundreds of years. Like other Neolithic

Rites and Rituals would have been visible from a

The megalithic structures of the Neolithic period are awe-inspiring even today, and their mystery distance; when newly dug, mounds in
adds to their appeal. Frequently associated with burials and seeming to follow lunar, solar, or cosmic chalkland areas would have been quite
conspicuous. Stonehenge is close to
alignments, they are strongly tied to rituals linking humans to the wider landscape they inhabit. another circular structure, Durrington
Walls, as well as Woodhenge, and a
monuments from c. 3000 BCE in number of burial mounds, including
northern Europe, it was part of a large those in the town of Amesbury.
sacred landscape that included sites of The area around Stonehenge was
celebration and worship. Hills, lakes, farmed from around 4000 BCE. Then,
mountains, rivers, and trees were all in about 2950 BCE, a simple earthwork
considered a part of the landscape enclosure was dug containing a circle
that defined human existence. Many of wooden posts. Over the next 1,000
megalithic structures were constructed years, the site was developed in several
at the center of such a landscape and stages. The outer circle of stones that
we see today was put up by about
2550 BCE. Burials have been found
Newgrange around Stonehenge, along with finds
The entrance to the burial mound in Ireland’s Boyne
Valley is blocked by this curb stone decorated with the that include amber and bone beads,
concentric patterns that are common to megalithic art showing that it was a site central to the
in northwest France and Ireland. rituals of life and death.

One possible reason these sites were
built may have been to ensure the AF TER
beneficial presence of ancestors at the
heart of village life and to allow the
living to maintain a connection with the The megalithic structures in Europe are MISSISSIPPIAN CULTURE other side of the world, an
spiritual world (see pp.32–33). Those echoed around the world in later cultures. This culture flourished in Anglo-Saxon King, who has
who performed the rituals that took They can be seen at sites in many countries, North America between been identified as Raedwald,
place here were thought to be able to including the US and Japan. 1000 and 1450 CE 212–13 ½½. was buried beneath a huge
communicate with the dead and Public ceremonies marked mound at Sutton Hoo in
would have been important MOUNDBUILDER SITES the solstices, and the first Suffolk, Britain, in his richly
members of the community. Elaborate funerary cults grew harvest was celebrated in adorned ship, in 620 CE.
These structures not only in North America after plazas surrounded by temples
reflect developed beliefs, they 1000 BCE. By 400 BCE the on top of earthen mounds. UPHOLDING TRADITION
also indicate an awareness of Hopewell people of the Ohio KOFUN BURIAL SITE The tradition of building
the natural world; some, such as Valley traded objects like this FUNERARY CUSTOMS elaborate sacred sites is
Stonehenge, may have been built as part of a cult, in which the Elsewhere around the world, funerary customs also still common today in cultures around the world in
to mark the summer and winter dead were interred in mounds. played an important role in society. Japan’s Kofun the form of Christian cathedrals, Islamic mosques,
solstices—critical events in farming culture of the 3rd century CE and later is remarkable Buddhist temples, and even in the monuments
societies. They are also striking feats of HOPEWELL CLAW for its keyhole-shaped burial mounds. On the erected to commemorate American presidents.
engineering and organizational ability.
Many remain spiritual places today.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E


As settlements became more complex, trade

and ties between communities grew and
material culture became more developed.
Precious Metal
Humans had made tools out of stone, bone, and wood for thousands of years. The advent of
BEFORE METAL copperworking around 8,000 years ago was the beginning of a long association with metals,
Flint was used to make the hardest and
sharpest tools and weapons for thousands of and a significant watershed in human history, which led to even further innovation.
years. From simple chopping devices, humans
went on to produce tools for particular tasks, t seems that humans have these dating back to the 6th resulted from ore being
including scrapers, cutters, and hand-axes ¿¿17. I always had a fascination with
rare and beautiful materials,
millennium BCE have been found
in Turkey and the mountains of
dropped into a hearth by
accident and reacting with hot
PERMANENT SETTLEMENTS from exotic shells Iran. Copper ores are embers. The earliest known
As agriculture spread throughout southwestern used as jewelry ORE A rock containing relatively common use of gold and silver dates to a
Asia after 8000 BCE, settlements became more to shiny metals. naturally occurring mineral from around the similar period. Gold was found
permanent. With permanent settlement came Copper occurs which valuable metals or other Mediterranean. Those in alluvial deposits in or along
closer ties to the land and to a specific territory both in its native constituents may be extracted. found in surface outcrops streams—which meant it did not
and its resources. form (uncombined are easy to identify by have be mined—and was valued
with other elements and so needing their distinctive green color. It was the for decorative and ritual
EARLY TRADE little processing) or in the form of discovery of copper smelting (heating purposes including
Most communities exchanged ore (a rock or mineral from which the the ore with charcoal to about 2,200ºF grave ornaments
commodities such as grain, metal can be extracted). Native copper [1,200ºC] to extract the metal) that (see right).
building materials, and is very malleable, with a distinctive opened the door to a world of The first
toolmaking stone. As a result, reddish color. When it was first found, innovation, and the development of metalworkers
OBSIDIAN trade networks and relationships it was mainly used to make shiny stronger and more practical items. This smelted copper in
grew. The village of Çatalhöyük ornaments. The earliest copper objects crucial discovery is believed to have open fires. They soon
in Turkey, for example, specialized in trading were hammered into shape to form been made at some point before began to use holes
obsidian, a highly prized volcanic glass used crude axes and beads—examples of 5000 BCE and may, theoretically, have lined with clay, then
for making tools, particularly sharp knives. crucibles (containers
designed to withstand
RITUAL AND WORSHIP the heat of the fire),
Both ritual and social life soon Egyptian daggers to produce the metal
became more elaborate. At These daggers from late more efficiently.
Çatalhöyük, what appear to copper nails predynastic Egypt date from
c. 3000 BCE. They are made
be family shrines, where
from bronze with copper nails
Trading up
people commemorated The use of copper
and ivory detail on the handle.
their ancestors ¿¿32 and not only stimulated
As technology developed,
worshipped a fertility technological
tools and weapons that had
goddess, have been tempered metal previously been cut from stone
advances, but also led
for stronger edge were made in metals, which
excavated, revealing to significant cultural
were lighter and more pliable.
distinctive goddess developments. As
GODDESS FIGURINE figurines made of clay. copper ore outcrops
bronze blade are patchily distributed,
copper items and metal
ingots of standard shapes and
sizes became valued as tradable
N items. Culturally advanced in other
ways, lowland Mesopotamia had no
0 1000 km
A native metal or ore, which meant that

0 1000 miles both copper and gold, the two most


Metal moves west prestigious ornamental metals, were


Metalworking started in imported from Anatolia (modern


Anatolia and Mesopotamia

(modern-day Turkey and
Turkey) and the Iranian Plateau. The
Iraq) in around 5000 BCE, .ORTH
"2)4)3( 3EA A IN traffic in these materials grew quickly,
and spread westward N 0L and growing lowland Mesopotamian

and northward, reaching R O towns began to exchange grain and


northern Europe by 2000 BCE. . O RTH% other commodities for imported
!4 , ! . 4 ) # % 5 2 /$ 0 %
Its spread was facilitated by $NI ON artifacts and ornaments. This trade
widespread trade, which was /#%!. EPE
growing during this period. S came to involve both overland
L P #A
! SP
travel and transport along the
)BERIAN Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where


0ENINSULA rafts made of wood and inflated

goatskins probably came into use
- E D
I T !NATOLIA -%3/ )RANIAN by 3000 BCE.
E 0/ ! 3 ) !
R A 4!
)! Metalworking reaches Europe
The earliest copper mines in Europe
3 E A 5RUK 0E
3ITE ! & 2 ) # ! *ERICHO N'ULF have been found at Ai Bunar in
3PORADICTRADEROUTE southern Bulgaria, and date to around

3PREADOFMETALWORKING 5100 BCE. A large network of exchange


Gold appliqué item,

to be sewn onto clothes AF TER

The use of metal, from bronze to iron and

steel, has transformed human civilization.
Between 2800 and
1900 BCE, at the beginning
of the Bronze Age, people
of the Beaker Culture
(so named for the
distinctive shape of the
pottery) lived across
a large area of northern
Europe. Both flint and
bronze tools, such
as these daggers,
are associated with BEAKER CULTURE
Beaten gold this culture. TOOLS

As one of the raw
Gold grave ornaments materials for bronze,
Hole for copper needed to
A cemetery of over 200 graves was
discovered at Varna, Bulgaria, in 1972. be transported in
The finds represent the oldest known COPPER INGOT increasingly large
gold artifacts in the world and date from quantities. Handles
the end of the 5th millennium BCE. The grave
on each end for carrying, and a uniform size,
of one individual contained almost 1,000 gold
objects, including beads and rings. These made ingots of the metal easier to transport,
decorative bulls may symbolize fertility. and trade and quantities easier to control. This
copper ingot found in a hoard from Cyprus
dates from about 1200 BCE.

yielding fine gold and copper complex levels of social BRONZE AGE A period defined
artifacts dating to about organization arose, with specialty by the use of bronze as the most
4500 BCE. Copper metallurgy roles developing within the important material for making tools
later developed in Italy and community—from baker to potter, and weapons. In the Middle East it
Spain from about 3500 BCE, and weaver to metalworker. is approximately 3000–1200 BCE.
and in Britain by c. 2000 BCE. This specialization of trades
allowed for innovation in the IRON AGE
Copper tools and ornaments production of metal objects. Iron was introduced in around 1200 BCE in the
Hammered Many of the innovations in Middle East and eventually became used more
decorative detail copperworking came about as Beginning of bronze than bronze, as it is tougher and more suitable
an indirect result of improved The first copper-tin alloy—bronze— for use in tools and weapons.
agricultural methods. Efficient arable was produced in around 2500 BCE,
farming in the Nile valley enabled although it did not come into EARLY STEEL
had been established by this time, and villages to develop and thrive, widespread use until much later. Bronze Iron can be smelted only at about 2,900°F
objects made from copper were traded maintained by a surplus of food. is harder than copper and therefore (1,600°C), though the metal can be worked at
all over southeastern Europe. Rich More efficient farming methods more suitable for practical applications, lower temperatures. Steel, an alloy (mixture)
graves have been discovered at Varna, meant that not everyone was needed such as weapons, armor, of iron and carbon, came into limited use as
on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, for food production, and so more and tools. early as 500 BCE in China.

In January of 1848 a work crew
camped on the American River at
OTZI THE ICE MAN Coloma near Sacramento, CA
found a few tiny nuggets of gold.
This discovery set off a mass
of migration as half a million
people from around the world
descended on California
in search of instant wealth. GOLD NUGGET

In 1991, the frozen body of a man dating to Arsenic, found in his hair, showed that he Ötzi was fleeing attackers—a flint arrowhead Steel only became a widely mass-produced
around 3350 BCE was found preserved in a had worked with copper. A copper ax, an lies in one shoulder and he parried a dagger metal with the advent of the Bessemer
glacier. He was nicknamed Ötzi, after the unfinished bow and arrows, and a flint knife attack with his hands before dying. Ötzi’s converter, which was developed in 1855
Ötztal Valley of the Alps where he was were found alongside his body. His last meal, bones show he suffered from arthritis, and during the Industrial Revolution 295½½.
found. Scientific analysis has revealed many containing the primitive wheat einkorn, was the tattoos found on his body may have
details about his life and violent death. preserved in his intestines. At the time of death, been put there for therapeutic purposes.

4 . 5 M YA – 3 0 0 0 B C E


The first settlements that developed from south relied on long-distance trade for many
villages to towns were in modern-day Iraq. commodities, and on irrigation and wetland
The change took place over a long period. agriculture. By 3500 BCE many southerners
lived in growing towns—precursors of
THE HALAFIANS Mesopotamian cities 54–55 ½½.
In what is now northern Iraq, the Halafian
culture flourished after 6000 BCE. Long- MORE COMPLEX SOCIETIES
distance trade of volcanic glass and brightly By 4000 BCE, village life in southwestern
painted pots was one of the factors that led to and east Asia was firmly established.
larger villages and towns and to greater contact Farming communities became
between settlements. Female figurines, like the larger and more organized.
one shown here, are characteristic of this society. Society became more
stratified, with a growing
MESOPOTAMIA social chasm between
Mesopotamia, which was also part of Iraq, the rulers and the ruled.
was settled by village farmers as early as
6000 BCE. The communities living in the HALAF FIGURINE

Treasure from Iraq

Naked men bearing offerings of fruit and vegetables
approach the shrine of the goddess Innin (Inanna), an
Earth goddess, on a carved stone vase of 3000 BCE found
in her temple at Uruk. In 2003, looters stole the vase from
the Iraq Museum in Baghdad; it was later recovered.

Egyptian market
Village markets with their visiting traders were a major
part of community life at a time when all information
was exchanged by word of mouth, and merchants
brought news of the outside world. This modern-day
Egyptian village is little different from the first villages
thousands of years ago.

Town Planning

The wheel originated in Mesopotamia in
the 5th century BCE and is believed to
have developed from the potter’s wheel. Four thousand years after agriculture began, many farming villages in southwest Asia had grown into
It is one of the most important inventions
towns with over a thousand inhabitants. In southern Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere, a few strategically
in human history as it revolutionized
transport. By the 3rd millennium the placed communities became towns with neighborhoods, public buildings, and sacred precincts.
use of wheels had spread east, where
burials with wheeled carts took place. he world’s earliest towns Uruk’s town core covered an Nekhen votive
Chariots pulled by domesticated horses
came into use in the Black Sea region
T developed in Mesopotamia,
perhaps as the result of a
estimated 620 acres (250
hectares) and housed at least
An ivory statue from Nekhen in Upper
Egypt depicts an early ruler wearing a
of Europe and northern Mesopotamia ceremonial headdress.
need to organize the construction of 5,000 people, with many
after 3000 BCE and became valued by irrigation channels and canals fed by more living in nearby villages.
armies on the move. The scene below the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. At Its rulers governed satellite away as the Zagros Mountains,
shows wagons with solid wheels and first, the towns were little more than villages extending at least several hundred miles to the
is taken from the Sumerian Royal agglomerations of villages and related 6 miles (10 km) from the north, to ensure control of
Standard of Ur dating to c.2600 BCE. families, but they soon became major temple, but most people major trade routes.
centers of trade and vast irrigation lived in the town, partly for Eridu was another early town
works that transformed the countryside protection, and also because close to Uruk. Mesopotamian
and produced several crops a year. everything was governed from legends called Eridu the dwelling
Each clustered around temples and the center. The growing town place of Enki, God of the Abyss,
sacred precincts built on top of mud was the hub of major trade the fountain of human wisdom.
brick pyramids called ziggurats. networks that brought metals, The people believed that Enki
lumber, and other commodities had created order from the chaos of
Uruk and Eridu from the highlands far upstream, in primordial waters. In its heyday, around
Uruk was the earliest Mesopotamian exchange for grain from the south’s 5,000 years ago, Eridu lay in a fertile
town and developed its initial phase fertile soils. Uruk may even have landscape near the coast. Archaeologists
between 4800–3800 BCE. By 2800 BCE maintained outlying colonies as far have deciphered the complex history of



As the first towns became more complex,

new ways of communicating within the
community and with other sites
became important.

By 3100 BCE, written
scripts like this one were
in use in both Egypt and
Mesopotamia. They developed
from clay tokens used for CUNEIFORM
recording commercial transactions. SCRIPT
Only a few people were literate—
scribes who recorded and controlled all
kinds of information for the state 62–63 ½½.

In Egypt and Mesopotamia, cities grew rapidly
to become major trading centers, with imposing
public buildings. As urban populations rose,
cities became the hubs of larger kingdoms and
empires. At the same time, the volume of long-
distance trade in commodities like iron ore and
lumber grew quickly, as did the demand for
gold, silver, and other precious materials.


By 3000 BCE, irrigation agriculture, which used
simple canals to divert floodwater to crops, began
to give way to more elaborate agricultural
landscapes with networks of canals. These
larger areas produced food surpluses that saved
labor, allowing rulers to engage in public works
such as pyramid building 56–57, 72–73 ½½.

Enki’s shrine, which began as a small their fields. It was a competitive world appearances, and lived in seclusion. importance. Life in early towns was
mud-brick construction and went of small kingdoms, the largest of which Perhaps the very fact that they were not unsanitary and chaotic with people
through at least six incarnations before were based on growing towns like often seen in public led to the perception living at close quarters.
becoming an imposing stepped pyramid Abydos and Nekhen in Upper Egypt. that they had supernatural powers.
adorned with brightly colored brick set While Abydos was a sacred place—the A divine ruler’s power Egyptian towns
in a 590-sq-ft (180-m2) enclosure. ancient entrance to the underworld— came from his ability In Egypt, town
Nekhen was a major pottery trading to control the labor dwellers—even high
The First Egyptian towns center. Nekhen’s chieftains may have of thousands of officials—maintained
In 4000 BCE, Egypt consisted of a valley been the forerunners of the Egyptian commoners. His close ties to relatives in
of farmers living in small communities rulers called pharaohs (see pp.56–57), authority came not areas surrounding the
spaced along the Nile, which watered for they are known to have supervised only from a threat of town. Little detail is
agriculture, and, like later kings, may force, but also from known about the first
have been considered living gods. pervasive ideas and Egyptian towns, which
religious beliefs developed toward the
HORUS AHA Town hierarchy commemorated by art end of the 4th millennium
As towns grew, so society became and writing on temple BCE, but they probably
King Horus Aha, often called Menes, is increasingly hierarchical. One can liken walls and reinforced by began as connected
a shadowy figure in Egyptian history. He these societies to a pyramid. At the top elaborate ceremonies. The groups of growing villages.
became the first ruler of a unified Egypt was the ruler, who may have governed latter were often displays Different communities
in about 3000 BCE. His predecessor, as a living god as well as a secular of power that required came together, perhaps for
Narmer, an Upper Egyptian chieftain, may leader. Beneath him were his imposing settings and defensive reasons, under the
have unified Egypt with decisive military immediate family and a small privileged conspicuous burial places rule of charismatic rulers.
victories, but it was Horus Aha who class of high officials and priests. Lower such as pyramids. Some early Egyptian
assumed the role of divine king, the living down the scale came artisans, lesser For reasons that are Palette of Narmer towns, such as Nekhen,
god Horus on Earth. Like other early Dating to c. 3000 BCE, this slate
functionaries, soldiers, and the still not fully understood, became important trading
palette, from a temple at
pharaohs, Horus Aha was buried at commoners who were the manpower by the end of the 4th centers and river ports,
Hierakonpolis, appears to show
Abydos in Upper Egypt (see pp. 64–65). upon which all of society depended. millennium BCE in an early king and the unification ruled by chiefs who
His power came from prowess in war Early Sumerian rulers and Egyptian Mesopotamia, almost of Upper and Lower Egypt. competed with their
and control of lucrative trade routes with pharaohs ruled by precedent (using the everyone lived in cities. neighbors. The roots of
Lower Egypt, even Mesopotamia. decisions of their predecessors rather This was a rapidly changing world many of the most important cities in
than written laws), gave limited public where wealth assumed increasing civilization began at this time.

3000–700 BCE
As humans began to band together in organized communities,
more structured societies emerged. They began to develop greater
powers of communication, create complex belief systems, and form
cultured urban civilizations, particularly in the Middle East, India,
Europe, China, and Central and South America.
30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE


3000–700 BCE
3000 BCE 2750 BCE 2500 BCE 2250 BCE

c. 3000 c. 2750 c. 2340 c. 2100

Beginning of Early First Chinese bronze Sargon founds 3rd Dynasty of Ur
Dynastic period of artifacts. and rules the city revives Sumerian
Mesopotamian city-states, c. 2700 of Akkad, uniting civilization in southern
including Sumerian- Mythical king city-states of Mesopotamia; King Ur-
speaking Uruk and Ur. Gilgamesh may Mesopotamia into Nammu of Ur builds
Start of Bronze Age in have ruled Uruk the first empire. a ziggurat (stepped
southeast Europe—in in Mesopotamia. tower), now typical
Minoan Crete and Silk weaving practiced of Mesopotamian
Cyclades islands of Greece. in China. architecture, while
renovating Ur’s temple.
Administrative tablet,
 Uruk, Mesopotamia Sargon of Akkad 
c. 2600 Stamp seal from
Rich array of grave Mohenjo Daro,
Indus Valley
goods buried at
Royal Graves at Ur, c. 2500
Mesopotamia, indicate Indus Valley civilization
trade links extending reaches its peak.
as far as the Indus. Metalworking, in
2613 the form of copper,
Beginning of 4th reaches across Europe
Dynasty in Egypt— to British Isles.
the age of the first
true pyramids.

c. 2900 c. 2550 c. 2500–2350 Pepy II, 6th-Dynasty

Early marble figurines Outer stone circle Border conflict Egyptian pharaoh
made by the Cycladic erected at Stonehenge, between Umma c. 2200
culture of Greece. Britain. and Lagash in First pottery in South
c. 2800 c. 2540 Mesopotamia is America.
End of Early Harappan Great Pyramid of earliest international 2181
phase of Indus Valley Khufu built in Giza, controversy recorded. Egyptian 6th Dynasty
civilization, which near Memphis, Egypt. c. 2500–2350 ends with collapse of
began c. 3300 bce. Destruction of city of Old Kingdom; First
Ebla in Syria conserves Intermediate Period
the palace archives. of Egypt begins.
Cycladic figure 
Standard of Ur c. 2100 Gudea of Lagash
In Mesopotamia,
2686 decline of Akkadian 2040
3rd Dynasty of Egypt empire founded Mentuhotep II, ruler of
heralds the beginning by Sargon; rise of Thebes, unites Upper
of the Egyptian Old regional rulers of and Lower Egypt and
Kingdom. city states, notably initiates Egypt’s Middle
Gudea of Lagash. Kingdom.

 Ziggurat of Ur

Caral ruins  c. 2650 Shipbuilding, 5th-

Step Pyramid of Dynasty Egyptian tomb
c. 3000–2750 Djoser built at
First cities develop c. 2300
Saqqara; start of great
in South America; Beginning of Bronze
period of pyramid-
several settlements Age in rest of Europe.
building in Egypt.
featuring temple c. 2600
complexes, such Evidence for use of
as Caral, emerge plow, Indus Valley.
in coastal Peru.

Great Pyramid
of Khufu, Giza 


Complex civilizations developed along the river valleys of the Tigris new societies in conflict with each other, particularly in the relatively
and Euphrates in the Middle East, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in India, highly populated Middle East, where Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, and
and later, the Yellow River in China. Trade, increasing prosperity, and Babylonians successively embarked on waves of military conquest. More
technological advances produced increasingly powerful centralized enduring was Bronze Age China, which flourished from about 1800 bce.
states, and in time, empires. These factors also brought many of these In Europe, culture was most sophisticated in Crete, from around 2000 bce.

2000 BCE 1800 BCE 1700 BCE 1600 BCE

c. 2000 c. 1755 c. 1600
Trading city of Ashur Law code of Mycenae, Greece,
becomes predominant Hammurabi of emerges as center
in north Mesopotamia. Babylon displayed of civilization in
Middle Kingdom on monumental Aegean; development
Egypt run by powerful stelae (memorial of Linear B script by
officials, such as stones) in temples Mycenaeans.
viziers. throughout
Middle Kingdom
 vizier, Egypt
 Shang bronze vessel Hittite statuette 
1965 c. 1800 Hittite capital,
Sesostris I of Egypt Beginnings of Shang Hattusha
conquers Nubia and state, China. Possible c. 1650–1550
extends southern sun worship in During Second
frontier of Egypt to Scandinavia, indicated Intermediate Period,
the second cataract by bronze artifacts. Lower Egypt ruled
of the Nile. Long-distance trade by the Hyksos, a
c. 1900 networks established warrior elite of
City of Erlitou in North America. In Asiatic origins;
develops on the Peru, ceremonial center Upper Egypt ruled
Yellow River, China. of La Florida built. from Thebes by
native kings.

c. 1900–1700 c. 1700 1595 c. 1570

Indus Valley civilization Most cities of Hittite king Mursili II Egyptian rulers buried
declines. the Indus Valley sacks Babylon: end of in rock-cut tombs in
c. 1894 civilization deserted. Hammurabi’s dynasty the Valley of the
Old Kingdom of c. 1680s and the Old Kingdom Kings.
Babylon established Development of Babylon.
in Mesopotamia. of leavened bread 1500s
c. 1890 in Egypt. The Kassites, the
Short-lived empire of warrior elite of the
Shamshi-Adad unites fallen Old Babylonian
north Mesopotamia: state, gain control over
a precursor to Assyria. south Mesopotamia.  Akrotiri ruins

Phaistos disk, Crete c. 1627

Beginning of several
c. 1763 years’ global cooling,
Hammurabi, king documented by tree
of Babylon, defeats rings, possibly
neighboring Elam indicates massive
and conquers and volcanic eruption,
integrates kingdom perhaps of Vesuvius
of Larsa. (Italy) or Thera
c. 1757 (Minoan–Mycenaean
Babylon controls all Greece).
of Mesopotamia.

c. 2000–1800 c. 1750 c. 1650 c. 1550

Lapita people begin Massive ceremonial Anatolian city-states Aryans settle northern
to settle Melanesia, architecture at Sechin unite as Hittite Old India. Rise of Egypt’s
in the Pacific, from Alto, Peru. Possible Kingdom, with capital New Kingdom, with
Indonesia. Minoan date of the Phaistos Hattusha. Arrival of new capital, Thebes,
civilization of Crete at disk, Crete. Aryan people in India. facing the Valley of
its height; palace of c. 1730 the Kings. Volcanic
Knossos built; Cretan Disintegration of eruption on island of
Linear A script Middle Kingdom Thera buries Minoan
developed. Egypt; start of Second town of Akrotiri;
Intermediate Period. Crete falls under
Knossos palace,
Minoan Crete  Mycenaean control.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

1500 BCE 1400 BCE 1300 BCE 1200 BCE

Mid-1400s Kassite Babylonian  1200s c. 1200

Lapita people move “boundary stone” Middle Assyrian Urnfield Culture
beyond Melanesia to c. 1400 period: kings such emerges in Danube
begin colonizing rest Anyang becomes as Tiglath-Pileser I area of Europe. Olmec
of Pacific. Mycenaean capital of Shang build an Assyrian civilization develops
Greece at summit of Dynasty China in empire in northern in Mexico. Chavín
power, with trading place of Zhengzhou; Mesopotamia, Syria, civilization emerges
links from the first Chinese and Anatolia. Cult of in coastal Peru. Jewish
Levant to Sicily. inscriptions on oracle Osiris, involving the exodus from Egypt
bones. Nomadic cattle “Book of the Dead,” to found kingdoms
herding develops popular in Egypt. in the Levant.
 Minoan vase, Crete on the steppes. Ugarit letter 
 Pharaoh Akhenaten c. 1250
Stronger defenses
c. 1350 around Mycenaean
Amarna Period of palaces indicate
Egypt; Amenophis IV increasing threats.
styles himself 1213
“Akhenaten,” founds Death of Rameses II.
short-lived capital El-
Amarna, advocates
worship of Aten, the
Sun, and instigates
an artistic revolution.

c. 1500 Mycenaean gold c. 1275 c. 1180

Hittite Old Kingdom Egyptians under Hittite capital
of Anatolia declines; Late 1400s Rameses II fight the Hattusha destroyed
kingdom of Mittani Warfare between New Hittites at the Battle by unknown invaders;
emerges nearby in Kingdom Egypt, Hittite of Kadesh. Hittite state collapses.
north Mesopotamia. New Kingdom, and 1166
c. 1500–900 Mittani for control Death of Rameses III,
Vedic-period Aryans of the Levant. Egypt’s last great
expand over north 1417 pharaoh.
India; hymns of Rig Egypt’s New Kingdom
Veda composed. reaches peak under
Amenophis III. Egyptian “Book Rameses III battling
 of the Dead”  the “Sea Peoples”
1300s Mid-1300s 1154
First alphabets evident City of Ashur breaks Kassite dynasty of
on Sinai peninsula free from Mittani; Babylon ended when
(now in Egypt) and its rulers proclaim city is sacked by
in city of Ugarit in themselves kings neighboring Elam.
the Levant. Kassite of Assyria. c. 1150
Babylonia, the Hittites, c. 1336 Mycenaean Greece
Mittani, and Egypt Priests of Amun collapses; start of
linked diplomatically restore religious and Greek dark ages.
and by intermarriage. artistic orthodoxy in
Egypt during young
 oracle bone Tutankhamun’s reign.  Philistine mask
Hatshepsut’s temple, c. 1258 1100s
New Kingdom Egypt Hittite king Hattusili III Mycenaean cities
agrees Treaty of destroyed. Ugarit
Early 1400s
Kadesh with Rameses letters give account
Bronzeworking in
II of Egypt. of maritime raids
Thailand and Vietnam.
Copper worked in on the Levant coast.
Sahara. Evidence of Egypt battles with
first metalworking in the “Sea Peoples”—
Peru. First pottery in some linked with the
Central America. Philistines. Chariots
spread to China from
Central Asia.


“ I resettled them in their abandoned towns and houses.

I imposed more tribute and tax on them than ever
before: horses, mules, oxen, sheep, wine, and labor.”

1100 BCE 1000 BCE 900 BCE 800 BCE

900s c. 900
Phoenicians major Kingdom of Urartu
maritime power in established in eastern
Mediterranean; their Anatolia. Later Vedas
alphabetic script composed in India.
widely used. Settled Nubian state of Kush
Ayran agricultural established south of
states in India. Adena Egypt. Olmec site
culture develops in of San Lorenzo
Ohio River valley. destroyed; Olmec site
Polynesian culture of La Venta assumes
evolves in Pacific. leading role.

Olmec sculpture c. 965 c. 800

Solomon king of Rise of urban culture
c. 1100 Israel. in Ganges valley. First
First fortified hilltop c. 950s ironworking south of
sites in Western Megiddo important Sahara. First phase of
Europe. Settlement royal fortress in Israel. Celtic Iron Age. Italian
established in Poverty 945 city-states in central
Point, present-day Civil war in Italy. Greeks adopt
Louisiana. fragmented Egypt. Phoenician script.
Evidence of writing
in Central America.
 Phoenician script Carthage 
Late 900s King Jehu of Israel 727–722
Assyria reintegrates pays tribute to Shalmaneser V makes
Shalmaneser III
lost territories by of Assyria Israel an Assyrian
conquest; beginning province and deports
of Neo-Assyrian c. 850 “Lost Tribes” of Israel.
period. Village established on 722
c. 926 Palatine Hill, Rome. Accession of Sargon II
Death of Solomon; Chavín politically and of Assyria; moves
Israel split into two culturally dominant capital to Khorsabad.
kingdoms—Israel in Peru; Chavín cult 701
and Judah. of supernatural were- Assyria besieges
jaguar reaches height. Jerusalem in Judah.

1000s Shang Dynasty c. 900–700 817 Stele of Kawa, Kush

Migrants, including the Chariot burial, China Scythians adopt Traditional birth
Philistines, settle in pastoral nomadism, date of Jain teacher 776
1027 Pan-Hellenic athletics
Syria and the Levant. Western Zhou expand across steppe, Parshvanatha.
Phoenicians expand and build kurgans 814 festival in Olympia.
Dynasty supplants 771
across Mediterranean. Shang in China. (burial mounds). Traditional date for
1069 883 founding of Carthage, Collapse of Western
1006 Zhou control in China;
Egyptian New According to Biblical Ashurnasirpal II a Phoenician colony
Kingdom fragments inherits Assyrian in North Africa. Eastern Zhou establish
tradition, Israelite new capital at Luoyang;
into smaller kingdoms. kingdom united throne and moves
capital from Ashur start of “Spring and
under David. Autumn” period.
to Nimrud.  Scythian kurgans
c. 1050 Zhou bronze vessel 753
Assyria loses territories Romulus founds Rome
to Aramaeans migrating c. 1000 (traditional date).
into Middle East but Western Zhou record c. 750
survives as a state. geography of China. Amos, first great
Dark age throughout Wet rice and bronze prophet of Israel.
Middle East. technology exported Works of Homer and
c. 1030 to Korea. Ironworking Hesiod first written
Aryans expand along reaches central down. Kush conquers
Ganges valley in India. Europe. Greeks Egypt to its north.
migrate to Asia Minor.
Etruscans arrive in Italy.
Sargon ll of Assyria 

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

t the beginning of the Bronze carried diseases such Hole in the head

Archaeological evidence suggests that

A Age, around 3000 BCE, the
civilizations of Mesopotamia
as the plague and
typhoid. In times of
The earliest known surgery,
dating back to 40,000 BCE, was
trepanning—drilling a hole in
prehistoric hunter-gatherers were robust (see pp.54–55), ancient Egypt (see flood, drought, or
the skull. This was probably
and healthy. Their diets—mainly raw fruits, pp.64–73), and the Indus Valley (see war, these problems done to release evil, disease-
leaves, and vegetables, with some lean meat pp.58–59) were already well established. were heightened. causing demons. The practice
and fresh fish—were probably very well Busy, booming cities were surrounded occurred in Central America,
attuned to the needs of the human body. by fertile land given over to agriculture, Explaining disease Europe, and Asia.
and farming became so efficient that No one in early
MOVING AROUND only a relatively small proportion of civilizations could
As they were constantly on the move, and not the population needed to be involved understand disease China has the
living in large groups, hunter-gatherers probably in producing food. This led to the the way modern strongest tradition of
suffered rarely from development of trade, mathematics medical science using herbs and roots
infectious diseases. Life and astronomy, writing, and a does. Thus, it was in medicine. According
expectancy was low, but flourishing of cultural activities. normal to attribute to legend, one of its
this probably had more to the causes of disease pioneers was the
do with physical dangers The price of progress to supernatural forces. emperor Shen Nong,
than disease or want. Along with the many benefits of their People believed that they who is supposed to have
way of life, however, people in early became unwell as the lived in the 3rd millennium
MEDICAL civilizations suffered from some ill result of possession by evil BCE. The story goes that he
INTERVENTION effects. Their diets were generally spirits—demons—or because tested hundreds of different
FLINT DRILL During the Neolithic lower in fiber and higher in fat and of angry gods or sorcery herbs, searching for ones with
period, people began to salt than their hunter-gatherer carried out by their enemies. medicinal effects. He is also credited
make sophisticated stone tools and weapons. predecessors. There is evidence that Just as explanations of disease with the introduction of tea-drinking—
Some tools were used in primitive attempts this led to an increase in conditions appealed to the supernatural, so did for its remedial qualities.
at surgery. For example, flint-tipped dental such as high blood pressure, heart most attempts to cure people. In most The therapeutic use of plants is found
drills, found in Pakistan, date back as far as 7000 disease, and cancer—a trend that cultures, priests and sorcerers were in almost every corner of the world.
BCE . Teeth in remains found nearby showed signs began with the rise of agriculture at least as important as physicians— The Olmec in Central America, for
of skilful drilling to remove rotten dental tissue. several thousand years earlier, and and exorcism of demons, sacrifice to example (see pp.74–75), had areas of
continues today. This pattern was the gods, shamanistic rituals, and their gardens set aside for growing
LIVING TOGETHER repeated elsewhere. In Central counter-sorcery were commonplace. medicinal herbs. Papyri from ancient
As people began domesticating animals and America, for example, early Maya The Ebers papyrus, written in Egypt Egypt list remedies involving plants
crops, communities grew larger, and their people began relying on corn as a in the 2nd millennium BCE and such as thyme, juniper, frankincense,
inhabitants started living more closely together
¿¿38–39. They lived close to their livestock,
too, and this led to a proliferation of diseases
that had not been a problem before. Waste
was another hazard, and water supplies quickly
became contaminated.

Sickness and Health
Settled, or sedentary, farming first appeared in The desire to stay alive and healthy is a basic human instinct. It is no wonder, then, that people in early
the Fertile Crescent ¿¿36 in what is now civilizations attempted to explain the origins of disease—and intervened to soothe pain, encourage
the Middle East, around 10,000 BCE. An
agricultural lifestyle brought with it diets healing, and effect cures. Some of these traditional approaches to medicine are still in use today.
very different from those of hunter-
gatherers. There was less staple in civilizations originating discovered in the 19th century, contains and garlic—although there were others
variety, and a single crop— around 1000 BCE. This led to a a long list of “medical” incantations that used beer and animals’ entrails.
often wheat—usually population explosion, but at the designed to turn away evil spirits. Herbalism is also central to Ayurvedic
dominated. Repetitive price of a dangerously medicine, which originated in the Vedic
tasks, such as restricted diet. Herbalism period of India (see p.144) shortly
grinding grain to As the Bronze Age Healing based on before 1000 BCE. Ayurveda (literally
make flour, caused GRINDING
gave way to the Iron supernatural beliefs is an “knowledge of life”) is a holistic system
excessive wear to people’s joints, GRAIN Age in Europe and Asia example of folk medicine. that uses a combination of religion and
leading to arthritis. At the same after about 1000 BCE, many Herbal remedies also fall science to create physical, mental, and
time, more food was cooked, a process that killer diseases arose for the into this category. Many spiritual well-being.
can destroy vitamins and introduce toxins, while first time in human ancient treatments based
babies depended less on their mothers’ milk. populations. Smallpox and on herbs or other plants Organized approach
These changes led to populations of smaller anthrax are two good evolved through trial and The Ayurvedic system is typical of the
stature and with weaker bones, as well as new examples. In both cases, error, and are so successful approach to science and technology
conditions such as anemia and scurvy. and in many others, that they are still used that began to emerge—in China and
the pathogens (disease- today for their analgesic India in particular—during the 1st
EARLY HEALERS causing organisms) (pain relief), antibiotic, millennium BCE. People began to think
Other medical interventions were practiced evolved to cross species or antifungal action. rationally, organize their thoughts,
besides dentistry (see above). Often, serious barriers from livestock, In Mesopotamia, for discuss them with others, and derive
bone fractures were successfully reset—remains and were able to take example (see pp.54–55), theories. This approach led not only to
show signs of regrowth. And in caves at Lascaux, hold because people were a willow bark extract was an encyclopedic knowledge of human
Egyptian surgical instruments
France, archaeologists have found preparations of living so close together used to relieve headaches anatomy and of a vast range of diseases,
In ancient Egypt, sharp bronze and
medicinal herbs dating back to 13,000 BCE. in mostly unsanitary copper instruments were used when and reduce fevers. That but also to well thought-out systems
conditions. Rats, fleas, embalming the dead, as well as for extract is salicylic acid, of diagnosis and treatment—the basis
and lice thrived, and operating on the living. the basis of aspirin. of modern medicine.


The god Pazuzu, who as

“king of the evil spirits” can
ward off disease, looks down
from the top of the amulet.


Medicinal plants
The health-giving or
healing properties
of many roots, seeds,
and leaves have been
recognized since
The “heavenly domain” shows (STIMULANT) ancient times and
the symbols of the highest gods, confirmed by modern
such as the star of the goddess Ishtar. medical science.

Priests dressed in fish skins
perform exorcism rituals at the SKELETAL HEALTH
bedside of the patient, probably
a mother who has given birth. Many of the ancient ideas about health
The lamp on the left indicates and disease can be gleaned from the
that this happens at night.
art, writing, and artifacts of the
time. But equally important are
human remains, such as bones,
teeth, and other tissues. Skeletal
Pazuzu, who has a dog’s head,
a scorpion’s tail, and bird talons, remains are the most valuable,
chases the malevolent Lamashtu because they decay very slowly.
back to the netherworld. They often show physical signs of
deformity or malnutrition, and can
also provide a physical record of
Lamashtu, the demonic certain medical interventions,
goddess who preys on pregnant including primitive surgery. Further
women and babies, has the
details can be revealed under the
naked torso of an old woman—
with a pig and a dog drinking
microscope and by carrying out
from her breasts. She carries a tests. Analysis of the chemical
poisonous snake in each hand. isotopes present and examination
of the DNA can reveal subtle clues
to what a person ate, how old they
Purging demons
The Mesopotamians had a complex were, and how they lived and died.
belief system of supernatural beings HEALED BONE FRACTURE,
and forces. This Assyrian bronze ANCIENT EGYPT
amulet highlights the importance
of these beliefs in explaining and
treating disease.


During the 1st millennium BCE, medicine of tattoos on a well-preserved body, nicknamed Ötzi ANCIENT GREEK MEDICINE ROMAN MEDICINE
became more systematic, but supernatural after its discovery, tally very closely with important The thinkers of ancient Greece Doctors in ancient Rome followed Greek
explanations and nonscientific folk remedies acupuncture points. Ötzi’s body was discovered in 104–05, 130–131 ½½were among medical practices, but while the Greeks
prevailed until after the scientific revolution 1991, in the Alps between Italy and Austria—he lived the first to apply careful observation had used philosophy to explain disease,
of the 18th century. about 3350 BCE ¿¿43. and rational thought to philosophical the Romans reverted to explanations
questions, and this extended to that depended on the whims of the
ACUPUNCTURE INDIAN PROGRESS medicine. Medical practice was gods. The greatest Roman physician
Acupuncture aims to The Ayurveda system flourished dominated by the theory of “humors.” and anatomist was Claudius Galenus
restore health and well- across the Indian subcontinent. According to this, the human body was (Galen) , who lived in the 2nd
being, and to relieve pain. Its main exponent was Sushruta, composed of four humors: blood, century CE. His ideas about anatomy
Still one of the mainstays whose 6th-century BCE work phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, were based on careful observation,
of Chinese medicine, it was Sushruta Samhita describes and illness was the result of an but many were false. Nevertheless,
probably developed in Han more than 100 surgical imbalance between them. GALEN DISSECTING they dominated Western medicine
China 128–29 ½½ around instruments and 300 surgical Although much of ancient Greek until the 16th century. Ancient Rome
200 CE —although there is procedures. Many historians of medicine was derived in isolation, Greek thinkers is celebrated for its initiatives on public health.
some evidence that it was medicine refer to him as the were influenced by Egyptian medicine, which Their water supplies, sewage and heating systems,
used earlier. The locations ACUPUNCTURE POINTS ”Father of Surgery.” had many excellent herbal remedies. and public baths were well ahead of their time.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

One figure is shown larger than

B E F O R E everyone else. It is likely that
T he civilization
of Mesopotamia
society—reaching its height
of sophistication slightly
this is the king, glass in hand,
at his court, with this top row
Settled life in Mesopotamia thrived across an ahead of Egypt. depicting a banquet scene.
dates back 10,000 years. area that today includes
A rich archaeological Iraq, southwest Iran, City-states and empires
record documents the east Syria, and By around 3000 BCE,
growth of irrigation, southeast Turkey. Mesopotamia was
agriculture, trade, writing, Mesopotamia is entering an era
towns, and complex societies. Greek for “between known as the Early
rivers”—civilization Dynastic, which lasted
here rested on a prime 700 years. Civilization
Farming began POTTERY FIGURE position between the was focused initially on
c. 8000 BCE in the case of Euphrates and Tigris city-states in the south, an
Halaf culture ¿¿44–45 in the north and rivers. This dependence area often called Sumer
c. 6000 BCE in the southern, Ubaid culture. on rivers echoes that of after the Sumerian language
three other civilizations: widely spoken there. The
IRRIGATION AND ORGANIZATION those in contemporary pattern of Mesopotamia’s
Settlements grew due to irrigation programs. Egypt (see pp.56–57) history emerged at this stage:
The surplus crops grown were traded, creating and the Indus Valley (see cities and city-states (see
wealth. The organization and control needed pp.58–59), and in China p.94), often linked by trading
resulted in more complex, layered societies. a little later (see pp.60–61). and diplomatic ties, would
As in Egypt, Mesopotamian cooperate and compete, rise and
THE RISE OF URBAN CENTERS crops relied on rich silts fall. Certain city-states and
By the 3000s BCE, the first urban centers were deposited by the river Tomb treasure city-based dynasties—Uruk,
The lavish jewels worn by
in place ¿¿44–45, with the southern Sumer waters, while marshlands Kish, Akkad, and Ur—rose
Queen Pu-abi (Ur, c. 2500 BCE)
region home to a thriving civilization by 3500 BCE. provided fish and waterfowl feature precious metals and to control others for a
for eating, and reeds—used semiprecious stones from while before being
FROM TRADING TO WRITING for roofing and baskets in Ur’s varied trading partners. dominated by yet others.
The record-keeping needed to control trade used Mesopotamia. Irrigation This contrasts with Egypt
seals featuring symbols and pictures, followed by and land-reclamation programs and its centralized rule, but bears some
the development of early writing 62–63½½. required well-drilled marshalling of similarity to the later life of the Greek
large numbers of people. This laid the city-states (see pp.94–95). Great
foundations for what is thought to be cities of the third millennium included
the world’s first stratified (layered) Ur, Lagash, Kish, Eridu, and Uruk


The Cradle of Civilization
Mesopotamia, a fertile land embraced by rivers, was the site of the first complex societies. By 3000 BCE,
E M P E R O R , D I E D c . 2 2 8 4 BCE
competing city-states of great wealth and sophistication were flourishing here, with advanced irrigation
and agricultural schemes, established trade, the first known writing, and grand palaces and temples.
Seen traditionally as a great warrior-king,
Sargon established the Akkadian dynasty KEY
and ruled c. 2340–2284 BCE. He founded Sumer, Early Dynastic Period c. 3000–2340 BCE
his capital city, Akkad, and created a "LACK3EA 0 300 km Influence of Sargon of Akkad c. 2340–2284 BCE
centralized state that oversaw the first Influence of Third Dynasty of Ur c. 2100–2000 BCE
0 300 miles
real empire in Mesopotamia. Few tales Hammurabi’s Babylonian Empire c. 1792–1750 BCE
about Sargon can be verified. It has been
suggested that he established ,AKE
himself as a successful 6AN ,AKE Empires of Mesopotamia
(ATTUSHA 5RMIA Over centuries, a series of dynasties and cities, including
independent ruler first
Ur, Lagash, Akkad, and Babylon, inherited power over
and then began his 4IGRIS Mesopotamia. The territory of Sargon was the greatest.
expansionist policies. 3HUBAT %NLIL
! N A T O L I A
His military prowess .INEVEH
could be explained by !SHUR
Akkadian techniques #ARCHEMISH -

being more efficient %UPHRATES E

than those of rival %BLA 4UTTUL PO
armies. We know about 5GARIT -ARI MI +HAFAJAH 4I G 3USA
Sargon’s rule from an

ancient document called #YPRUS 3 Y R I A N .IPPUR ,AGASH
the Sumerian King List. $ E S E R T 5MMA ,APSA


A courtier, one of several A court musician plucks at a Standard of Ur

celebrating with their ruler, lyre, decorated with the bull’s This object, whose purpose is a mystery, was found in the royal tombs
sits on a wooden stool and head that appears repeatedly on at Ur. With 20-in- (50-cm-) wide wooden panels inlaid with shell, red
raises a cup in honor of the examples of this apparently limestone, and lapis lazuli, it reveals much about Mesopotamian life.
great occasion. popular Mesopotamian instrument. This panel may show war booty being brought to court. During the next millennium, a succession
of cultures inherited the land between rivers.

As the Akkadian empire faded, local
leaders won regional power in Kish,
Uruk, and Lagash. The rule of
Gudea of Lagash saw his city’s
last thriving era. Irrigation systems
were set up, temples rebuilt, and
statues of Gudea were carved.

After the Akkadian era, the Third
Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100–2000 BCE) GUDEA OF LAGASH
fought off competing city-states to
found a short-lived empire built on Akkadian
achievements. The kings of Ur revived central
rule to create a Sumerian renaissance
harking back to the region’s former glories.


As the Ur dynasty faded, returning the south to
rival city-states, the Assyrian city-state of Assur
(c. 2000 –1800 BCE) 80–81 ½½ emerged as the
center of a vast trade network in the north.


Since c. 1900 BCE, the city of Babylon, north
of Sumer, had been emerging as a dominant
power. The Old Babylonian era (c. 1894–1595 BCE)
saw the rule of Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BCE)
and his famous law code, a rich source of
information about life in the Babylonian state.
Oxen, sheep, and donkeys Heavily laden people in the Fine detail in this scene gives
are apparently being brought in procession are shown stooping insight into the clothing of the
procession to the banqueting court. visibly under the weight of sacks time. This figure is seen in a MITTANI AND BEYOND
Perhaps they are being presented filled to the brim with foodstuffs fringed skirt, while others sport The Hurrian people of Mittani 78–79 ½½
as spoils of war. and other valuable merchandise. woolen fleeces. dominated the north (c. 1600–1350 BCE), until
control passed to the Hittites 78–79 ½½
(see pp.44–45), Ebla, and Mari. By the artifacts found in tombs at Ur where Rule and religion and the Middle Assyrian kingdom
24th century BCE, many southern lands either royalty or priestesses (or figures In common with other 80–81 ½½. In the south, the Kassites
were under one king: Lugalzagezi of combining both roles) were buried. civilizations of the time, 78–79 ½½controlled middle-era
Umma. Farther west, Akkad became As in Egypt, specialists were needed politics and religion were Babylonia (c. 1400–1100 BCE). Around
the center of a dynasty begun by to support such a society and its intertwined. Rulers took a lead 1100 BCE, the Babylonian state collapsed
Sargon (see left), whose influence administration—a in directing religious matters, along with other great Bronze Age
expanded to the Mediterranean and “professional” layer while priests and priestesses powers 78–79 ½½.
Anatolia, resulting in the Akkadian of experts such as conversely took on “state”
language being used for official bureaucrats, functions; some cities were ruled
documents and diplomacy scribes, and by priests. Each city had a
for many centuries to come merchants. In massive central mud-brick over a region that included
(see pp.62–63, 66–67, 78–79). this urbanized temple (such as the famous modern Iran, Afghanistan,
civilization, Ziggurat at Ur, see p.73), which the Persian Gulf, and the
A place for everyone many city- was the home-on-Earth of the Indus Valley. This drove
Mesopotamian society dwellers lived in city’s god and where priests much of the progress and
Precious lyre
had a hierarchy impressive town- carried out rituals to win the expansion of their culture
Playing lyres seems to have
and a centralized houses of locally god’s favor. Keeping order been a part of court or and gave them a leading
structure headed sourced mud brick, was made easier by the temple life in Mesopotamia. profile in world politics.
by rulers who mud plaster, and people’s belief that they must A bull’s or cow’s head is a Mesopotamia took the lead
were all-powerful wooden doors. do the gods’ bidding, to the recurrent decoration. in many fields. Its art
but, unlike Egypt’s A large labor force extent that, when royalty included exquisite jewelry,
pharaohs, were rarely was needed to cultivate died, palace staff entombed themselves musical instruments, and beautiful
thought to be divine. Royal game the land and run the with their king or queen. Around 74 stone carving dating back to 4th-
This game board of c. 2500 BCE, inlaid with
Grand royal palaces shell and lapis lazuli, was found in a royal
great irrigation and bodies were found in one grave at Ur. millennium Uruk. In science, their
appeared throughout tomb in Ur. This game was popular right building projects. numerical system based on the number
the region in the Early across the Middle East, Egypt, and India. However, there was A world player 60 dates back to the Sumerians of the
Dynastic era. We know some social mobility. Poor in natural resources such as metal 3rd millennium BCE. It lives on today
of the sophistication and wealth of Some laborers appear to have owned and stone, the Mesopotamians, like the in our division of a circle into 360
these palace cultures from discoveries land or received rations linked to their Egyptians, were forced to forge wide- degrees and in our splitting of the hour
such as the lavish, finely wrought work for central government. ranging trade (and so diplomatic) links and the minute into 60 smaller parts.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE


The great Egyptian civilization of the Old

Kingdom with its godlike pharaohs had
its origins in earlier dynasties.
The Divine Pharaohs
Egypt’s Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BCE) flourished on the flood-enriched banks of the Nile River. It was
PRE-DYNASTIC EGYPT an era of prosperity, relative stability, and strong centralized rule, during which the great pyramids
The period between early Neolithic settlement
and c. 3100 BCE is known as the Pre-Dynastic Era. were built and Egyptian society worshipped their mighty kings, or pharaohs, as “gods on Earth.”
Egypt existed in two parts—the north
(Lower Egypt) and the ld Kingdom society was tightly Through these connections, the
south (Upper Egypt).
Evidence discovered in
O controlled by a centralized
government headed by a
pharaoh was the upholder of a justice
system that aimed to reflect the cosmic
tombs suggests a wealthy highly powerful ruler, the pharaoh. order. He was also, vitally, the figure
society, and that people Central to life, politics, and religion, who worked with the gods to ensure
believed in an afterlife. which were all closely combined, was that the Nile brought silt-rich annual
the idea that the pharaoh was a semi- floods each year, keeping the Nile
EARLY DYNASTIC ERA divine figure who acted as mediator Valley fertile enough to support the
The Early Dynastic Era between the gods and his subjects. great Egyptian state.
(c. 3100–2686 BCE) covers As a religious and political leader, The pharaoh was the ultimate all-
NARMER the 1st and 2nd dynasties. the pharaoh not only seeing, all-knowing figure. He
Menes, or Horus Aha oversaw elaborate religious was often depicted dressed
¿¿45, who united the kingdoms of Upper and rituals that underlined his in a kind of kilt and false
Lower Egypt, is usually thought to be the first links with the gods, beard, bearing a crook,
pharaoh. However, Narmer may have come first, he also headed a vast, flail, and scepter, and
or Narmer may be another name for Menes. highly organized with the double crown
Population of builders
political and of Lower and Upper Egypt
This relief of an Egyptian
A SENSE OF IDENTITY administrative on his head. shipyard is from a 5th-
The Early Dynastic Era gave Egypt a strong bureaucracy, peopled A cobra, the “eye” dynasty (c. 2494–2345 BCE)
sense of identity. It brought a sudden (as yet by an army of of Ra, was shown official’s tomb at Saqqara.
unexplained) rise to greatness, with more advisors and rising up off his Ships were vital for travel
complex irrigation programs, grander royal officials, chief of forehead. He was along the Nile and for
trade with some of
tombs, a centralized state headed by a king with which was an officer accompanied by the
Egypt’s neighbors.
a semidivine identity, and a form of writing. called a vizier. The royal fan-bearer, and
bureaucracy also people fell prostrate
included local before him. Egyptians
governors, who did seem to realize he
oversaw regions was a flesh-and-blood
called nomes (former human, but they
IMHOTEP independent regions). stood in awe of his
Pharaohs are often sacred power.
Imhotep is credited as the main architect seen as being
of Djoser’s “step pyramid.” Djoser was despotic. However, ”Gift of the Nile”
the second pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty although their Ancient Greek
(c. 2686–2613 BCE) and Imhotep was his word was law, the historian Herodotus
chief adviser and physician, pharaohs did described the Nile’s
as well as being the leading delegate a significant bounty as a “gift.” devised to direct the waters to wide
genius of his day. His step amount to the The mighty river cut areas of agricultural land. Marshlands
pyramid is seen as the governors and, as a huge valley in the along the banks provided waterfowl for
building that helped the Old Kingdom northeastern corner eating (by wealthy people only) and
establish the Old progressed (see of Africa (see pp.64– the papyrus reed, used for making
Kingdom as an AFTER), gave 65). To the north, writing materials. The river waters
era of remarkable them more and in Lower Egypt, themselves supplied fish and a means
achievement. The more power. the Nile’s tributaries of getting from one place to another.
oldest surviving fanned out to create The Egyptians, surrounded by vast
building made from Kingdom of the Sun a wide, fertile delta, stretches of arid, inhospitable desert,
cut blocks of stone, The first pharaohs home to a high were only too aware of how dependent
it was the first true
were believed to concentration they were on this massive floodplain,
Egyptian pyramid.
be earthly of people. At the As a result, lookouts were posted along
Giza’s great tombs The pharaoh Khafre
representations of delta’s south was the the Nile in southern Egypt to spot early
adapted Imhotep’s design, Khafre, also known as Khafra, Chephren, or
the mythical figure “capital city” of Old signs of high or low waters that would
but filled in the stepped Khephren, was the fourth king of the 4th
Horus, son of the god dynasty. This statue, showing him wearing a Kingdom Egypt— affect the annual harvest.
sides to produce what we
Osiris, and Isis (see false beard and striped “nemes” headcloth, Memphis. Farther
now think of as the classic
pyramid. Imhotep’s skills
pp.68–69). Horus was is from his pyramid-tomb complex at Giza. south, in Upper Society’s pecking order
strongly linked with Egypt, the valley Society was fairly clearly divided into
as a physician were such
Ra (or Re), creator of life and falcon- snaked away in a narrow strip, with different levels. At the top was the
that he was worshipped
as a god in later ancient
headed god of the Sun. The Sun cult towns clinging to its fertile banks. royal family, presiding over court and
Egypt and Greece. became very important during the Old The Nile’s annual inundation left in administrative officials, such as scribes,
Kingdom and Ra emerged as a separate its wake the rich black silt on which and also priests. There was a strict
IMHOTEP figure from Horus. “Ra” even became the Egyptians relied to grow their pecking order, and showing duty
incorporated into pharaohs’ names. crops. Vast irrigation programs were and loyalty were top priorities.


The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The largest and oldest of the three Giza pyramids, this is
what many people now think of as the greatest “true”
pyramid ever. It probably took about 20 years to build,
involving a workforce of thousands.

The Giza pyramid complex

The vast size of these royal tombs reflects the divine
status of the 4th-dynasty kings. The most distant
tomb is Khufu’s “Great” pyramid; in the center is
Khafre’s; the smallest pyramid, in the foreground,
is that of the pharaoh Menkaure.

Working the land AF TER

This fresco shows people
harvesting wheat. The
Egyptians created large There are countless theories about
areas for cultivation,
the Old Kingdom collapse; but no one
using complex irrigation
systems fed by the Nile. knows for certain what happened.


By the 6th dynasty (c. 2345–2181 BCE),
the pharaohs granted certain
powers to nobles and governors
of the regional districts, or
“nomes.” This may have
It is said that most ordinary people 4th dynasty (c. 2613–2494 BCE). Built upward as the pyramid grew higher. gradually undermined the
in the Old Kingdom led miserable lives at Giza, close to Memphis at the edge The stone blocks may have been pharaoh’s authority. It is also
pressed into the pharaoh’s service, of the desert, these are among the moved up the slope manually by suggests that as the pharaoh
building vast constructions or growing greatest building achievements in using rollers and levers. lost control, others were able
crops to feed the cities, in return for history. The Great Pyramid—the tomb to take more power for themselves. PHARAOH
just enough sustenance to stay
alive. However, evidence
suggests that there was an
of the pharaoh Khufu—was one of the
Seven Wonders of the ancient
world, and the only one that
of limestone blocks, each weighing
At the end of the 6th dynasty, especially after

independent local life, too, survives intact today. Just to 16 tons (15,000 kg), used to construct the reign of Pepy II, the Old Kingdom started
including markets where the east of the pyramid lies Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza. to fade and Egypt moved into a more uncertain
people sold produce and the Great Sphinx, a massive time called the First Intermediate Period
simple crafts. The fact that part-lion, part-human statue, A Middle Eastern power 64–65 ½½. Royal authority weakened and
anyone could, theoretically, thought to have Khufu’s Egypt became a major player in Memphis lost some of its importance compared
gain high office also contradicts features. The Giza pyramids are Middle Eastern politics during the with other towns and cities.
the idea of a total dictatorship. one of the earliest examples of Old Kingdom period. There is evidence
using quarried stone. Huge blocks of long-distance contact with many WHY DID IT HAPPEN?
The age of the pyramids of limestone were transported from regions, including parts of modern Links have been made with Egypt’s dependence
The Old Kingdom is best some distance away, cut with Syria, Libya, Lebanon, and Sudan. on the Nile, saying that extreme flooding,
known for its advances in incredible precision, and lifted into Contact arose because Egypt wanted drought, or both brought great destruction
stone building techniques, place to make a perfectly to keep its borders safe, and to trade or famine. This would have been especially
which saw fruition in the Mallet fitted construction. No one for materials, such as wood. Borders disastrous if central authority was weak. Threats
Simple, short-shafted wooden
famous “step pyramid” at knows exactly how this was cannot be maintained or crossed to Egypt’s borders may also have been a factor
mallets like this were used
Saqqara, (see Imhotep, left) with chisels to cut stone slabs achieved. Each pyramid without negotiation, so Egypt must in the Old Kingdom’s decline.
and then in the colossal with great precision and to may have been surrounded have started to develop the diplomatic
royal pyramid tombs of the produce fine relief carvings. by a sloping bank, built skills for which it became famous.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

he Indus Valley civilization silver ornaments; and seals. The latter
peaked between about 2600 often featured images of animals
Indus Valley culture grew largely out of and 1900 BCE, in what is often common to the area, such as elephants
developing farming cultures west of the valley. called its “Mature Harappan” period. It and zebu (oxen).
flourished across an extensive area of These artifacts seem to tell us that
EARLY FARMING CULTURES present-day northwest India, Pakistan, there was not only skill, but also
Most notable was the Neolithic Mehrgarh and Afghanistan, along the fertile prosperity and an elite class, which
culture, starting c. 7000 BCE in modern Pakistan. Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra rivers. hints further at a society with different
At its height, the Indus Valley ranked social and economic levels. There are
HARAPPAN PHASES among the first great early civilizations, quite a few different artistic styles, too,
The “Early Harappan” phase of the Indus Valley in the company of Mesopotamia and perhaps pointing to a diverse ethnic
culture (c. 3300–2800 BCE) saw the first examples Egypt (see pp.54–57). Like them, it mix within the population.
Advanced sanitation
of the Indus script, more sophisticated depended heavily on farmland Some Indus Valley artifacts, most
Highly developed plumbing included drains (above),
agriculture, and growing trade links. nourished by major rivers. famously the jewelry, have some of which were covered, and latrines. To give each
Also in common with them, been found at sites elsewhere dwelling access to clean water, wells were built with
its people developed expert in the world, indicating high, sealed walls to avoid contamination problems.
knowledge about how widespread trading links. The
to harness and control Indus people relied heavily on Mohenjo-Daro
The city’s grid pattern is visible here. Archaeologists have
the annual flooding trading arrangements and guessed at its structure by giving certain excavated areas
patterns of the rivers. their partners included names such as “Citadel Mound,” “Lower Town,” and
Mesopotamia (see right), “the Great Bath,” but these remain contentious issues.
Artistic skills Iran, and Afghanistan.
The refined artifacts Trading practice was boosted
produced in the Indus by advances in methods of
Valley region clearly transportation, especially in TRADE WITH MESOPOTAMIA
show this to have been an boats suited to long-distance
advanced civilization. They travel along sea routes. Maritime trading connections with
include finely worked Sets of weights have also Mesopotamia were especially important
jewelry in gold and fired Indus rulers been found among to the Indus Valley civilization. We know
This famous figure from
steatite (soapstone); excavated artifacts, and the that they traded with Mesopotamia as
Indus Valley script Mohenjo-Daro is known
Indus valley seals are rich sources of imagery, featuring figurines fashioned from as “the priest-king”, Indus people seem to have Indus or Indus-influenced artifacts have
animal, human, and mythical figures alongside samples bronze, terra-cotta, and despite no evidence of been among the first to been excavated there—notably a set of
of the undeciphered script. faience; pottery; gold and rule by priests or kings. develop a precise weights etched carnelian beads, like those below,
found at the city of Ur in the tomb of
Queen Puabi, c. 2550–2400 BCE.

Mysteries of the Indus CARNELIAN BEADS

A fertile cradle of river-fed land, crossing parts of modern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, gave birth
to the Indus Valley culture. People in its impressive, well-planned cities lived a refined life, but
unlocking more about them is tantalizingly out of reach, as their script remains mostly undeciphered.

KEY and measures system. Behind this

Area of Harappan culture system lay the kind of expert
Harappan site knowledge that explains why their
Site of Mehrgahr culture SH city buildings were so impressive.
U +U
( IND The world’s first town planners?
A large number of settlements are AF TER
associated with Indus Valley culture.
The most spectacular, Mohenjo-Daro
-EHRGARH and Harappa (in modern Pakistan), The Indus Valley civilization went into
+ALIBANGAN were probably the world’s first planned an unexplained decline, with most of
cities. Here were broad avenues and its main cities deserted by c. 1700 BCE.

ES narrow side streets lined with spacious
$ ES
+OT$IJI 4 HAR townhouses, all set out in a well- MOHENJO-DARO
defined grid pattern. Remarkably, The city suffered severe flooding in the 1700s
Indus cities thousands of miles apart BCE , and was laid waste by unknown attackers.
were laid out in a similar way,
)NDIAN suggesting a centralized state and local LIFE IN THE VALLEY
/CEAN $HOLAVIRA civic organization. Whether there was Part of the river system may have dried up,
3URKOTADA such a structure, and other details overstretching the cities’ resources, although
A civilization on the floodplain about government and society, remain some southern settlements endured. Later Asian
The Indus Valley civilization spread over the ,OTHAL
. largely a mystery, as although many civilizations, such as the Vedic 124½½and
farmland that helped to support it—created from .ARMADA
a floodplain at the mercy of river inundations. distinct symbols appear on Indus Hindu cultures of the 1st millennium BCE, reveal
0 300 km
Similarities in the planning of its urban centers artifacts, they remain undeciphered cultural aspects of the Indus Valley civilization.
suggest complex, centralized organization. 0 300 miles and their secrets locked away.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

Bronze Age China A “taotie”—the head of a

ferocious animal with horns and
bulging eyes—is hidden within the
labyrinth-like decoration.

The Shang dynasty flourished from c. 1600 to 1100 BCE and was the first society to produce cast
bronze on a large scale. Believed to be semidivine, the ruling Shang kings performed rituals
to please their ancestors and gods. The artifacts that they used reveal a sophisticated society.

he Bronze Age (see p.43) in steppes (a vast belt of grassland that

B E F O R E T China produced two major
achievements: a developed
stretches from Europe to China), and
the state was kept on a war footing.
system of writing, and the discovery Nobles performed military duties in
In the Neolithic period (8000–1500 BCE), of bronze. The highly prized metal, return for land. Shang kings waged
the Chinese began farming millet and which was produced on a huge scale, wars against their neighbors, thereby
rice, and keeping animals. This required a was cast for weapons, tools, and vessels obtaining slave labor and loot. They
static population, so people began to build used exclusively by the noble classes established new settlements, and
houses, and to live together in villages. for religious rituals. Early Bronze Age cultivated captured land for farming.
civilization in China was a rigidly Despite being a warlike society, Shang
NEOLITHIC HEMUDU hierarchical society, ruled by a civilization was based on agriculture
In 1973, a Neolithic (late Stone Age) settlement supremely powerful king and his and hunting. The production of bronze,
dating from c. 5000 BCE was discovered at nobles. The people of the Shang— too, resulted in a relatively settled
Hemudu, in southeast China. The finds included the second of China’s ancient society, as a static community was
terra-cotta pottery, wooden and bone articles, dynasties—believed that the king was required to mine and smelt the ores
and the remains of pigs and buffalo. invested with divine power from his that contain copper and tin, the
There were also some whistles made ancestors, whose spirits were able to metals needed for bronze casting.
from the bones of birds, possibly used shape contemporary life if appeased
to attract birds to snares. The most with offerings. Bronze vessels were Shang capitals
exciting discovery was evidence used for the sacrificial food and wine The Shang ruled over much of
that the people of Hemedu offered during these rituals, which northern China and the center of
cultivated wet rice. can be seen as a precursor to the the country. The most important
ceremonies of state used by later capitals were Zhengzhou, the
YANGSHAO CULTURE Chinese emperors (see pp.126–27). capital in the earlier period of the
The area of Yangshao, in the Much of what is known of Shang dynasty, and Anyang, which was
eastern province of Henan, was society has been gleaned from the occupied c. 1300–1050 BCE. At
first excavated in the 1920s, and study of the writings found on the Zhengzhou, a defensive city wall
yielded some significant finds. In “oracle bones” (see right). 4 miles (6.4 km) long enclosed a
the village of Banpo, which was YANGSHAO
large settlement; the wall and the
occupied c. 4500–3750 BCE, the CLAY POT The Shang state buildings within were constructed
inhabitants cultivated millet, used In addition to support from aristocratic of stamped earth. The houses and
polished stone hoes and knives, and wore clans with whom they had family workshops that have been excavated,
hemp and possibly silk. Their village had a connections, Shang kings ruled their and the variety of artifacts found inside
residential area with about 100 houses and other state with the assistance of officials. The them, indicate that Shang society was
buildings. They produced pots made of red clay, Shang were frequently threatened by highly organized and rigidly ordered.
some decorated with spiral patterns, and others nomadic tribes from the inner Asian Outside the capital of Anyang, at
with human or animal designs painted on them.

Soon after the discoveries at Yangshao, a 3EAOF
completely different type of Neolithic pottery was *APAN
found at Longshan, in Shandong province. It was
much finer than Yangshao ware, and was black, :HOUKOUDIAN
decorated with rings and grooves, and often
elevated on a circular foot. Some of the pots
may have been turned on a wheel. Longshan 3HANDONG
culture, which also produced polished stone 9ELLOW
axes, spread along the middle and lower Yangzi VER
(the longest river in China). In time, it overtook
-IAODIGOU %RLITOU Shang dynasty China
Yangshao culture, which was already dying out. "ANPO
(ENAN Key Bronze Age sites include the early


capital city of Zhengzhou, which later moved



3ANXINGDUI to Anyang. Pre–Bronze Age finds have been



The Xia dynasty was long thought to be a (EMUDU made at the Paleolithic (c. 100,000–10,000 BCE)


mythological one, but in 1959, palacelike site of Zhoukoudian, and Neolithic (8000–1500 BCE)

buildings, tombs, and bronze artifacts from pottery has been discovered at Banpo and Hemudu.

c. 1900–1350 BCE were found at Erlitou, in Henan. 8INGAN


The bronze objects found there are the oldest KEY

. *IANGXI Palaeolithic site
yet found in China. Their shapes suggest that
they may have derived from Longshan pottery. Neolithic site
0 500 km Bronze Age site
0 500 miles Extent of Shang influence


Strong handles were Chariot burials

necessary for such a When an important person died, his chariot,
heavy pot to be removed charioteers, and horses were buried with him,
from the fire. as seen in this example found close to Anyang.

Xiaotun village, the remains have

been uncovered of what was the
ceremonial and administrative
center of the late Shang state.

Burial customs
At Xibeigang, just north of Xiaotun,
11 huge graves have been found,
which may belong to the 11 Shang
monarchs who reigned at Anyang.
When Shang kings died, they were
buried in large cross-shaped graves.
Their bodies were placed in wooden
coffins surrounded by goods important
to the deceased. The bodies of scores
of slaughtered horses and human
victims—possibly prisoners of war—
were laid out on the ramps that meats, others for the heating of wine. AF TER
led down to the burial chamber. Bronze was also used for musical
instruments and for weapons, including
Bronze industry swords and halberds, and hardware for Considered a tyrant, the last Shang ruler,
The most prized archaeological chariots (see above). Di Xin, was overthrown by the state of
finds from the Shang Zhou in the 11th century BCE. Many of the
period are the bronze Writing system achievements of the Shang period, however,
objects, made primarily Along with a mastery of bronze, remain central to Chinese culture.
for ceremonial purposes. a complete writing system was
The production of created by the Shang, which CHINESE CHARACTERS
bronze was controlled had a huge effect on their The writing system created by the Shang
by the king, and the organizational capabilities. developed over time into the Chinese characters
quantity of bronze Although some forms of early in use today. The script was fixed in its present
objects found indicates symbols appear on Neolithic form during the Qin
that it was a major pots and early Shang bronzes, dynasty (221–206 BCE)
industry, employing the oldest inscriptions of 126–27 ½½, and in
large numbers of skilled complete sentences are found 1716 the Kangxi
craftsmen. Early bronze on oracle bones (see below). Dictionary was
technology in the West allowed Over half of the known published, containing
an object to be cast from a single 2,500 symbols carved into over 47,000 characters.
mold, but early Shang vessels the oracle bones can be read, Studies in China have
were cast in several molds and many closely resemble shown that full literacy
and the parts assembled later. the Chinese characters of requires a knowledge of
Important finds of bronze later times (see AFTER). 3,000–4,000 characters. ANCIENT TEXTS
vessels were made at the
two capitals of Zhengzhou CALENDAR
Bronze dagger
and Anyang. These vessels The Shang created a lunar/solar calendar
The highly ornamented handle of this
had ritual functions; some dagger possibly depicts a stylized ram’s based on the zodiac, with ten “heavenly stems”
were intended for the head. Weapons such as this were probably and twelve “earthly branches.” When combined
preparation of sacrificial used for ritual and sacrificial purposes. together, the stems and branches formed cycles
of sixty days or sixty years. The Shang model,
although modified,
remains the basis for
the traditional
ORACLE BONES Chinese calendar.

Sold in the 19th century as “dragon ANCESTOR WORSHIP

Tripod shape is bones,” an ingredient of Chinese The Shang people
reminiscent of Longshan
(Neolithic) pottery medicine, “oracle bones” are actually the worshipped many deities,
(see BEFORE) shoulder blades of cattle. Questions most of whom were
about the future would be scratched on royal ancestors, and
the bones, to which a heated bronze tool communicated with them
was applied, and the resulting cracks through divination. This
were interpreted for an answer. Often, veneration of ancestors
the predictions would be compared with has remained an essential
the real event. They provide fascinating part of Chinese religious
Bronze ritual vessel evidence not only of events in the Shang
This highly patterned vessel was practice in modern times. STICKS
period, but also of early Chinese writing.
probably used by the Shang for
the preparation of meat offerings.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

ccording to ancient tradition, knowledge depends on surviving CUNEIFORM A writing technique
A writing was either invented by examples of ancient writing. Degradable widely used in the Middle East between
People used symbols to keep records long an individual or handed down materials, such as papyrus, bamboo, 2500–330 BCE. Scribes used symbols made
before the invention of true writing. to humanity by the gods. The Sumerian and parchment, have not endured, so with wedge-shaped impressions pressed
poem Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta the earliest surviving inscriptions tend into clay or carved into stone. Many
TALLY BONES describes how King Enmerkar invented to be found on monuments. These texts, languages and civilizations used
The earliest form of note-taking known in the writing instantly to record a message such as the hieroglyphs on Egyptian cuneiform, from Sumerian to Persian.
Middle East, the tally bone dates back 30,000 too complicated for his messengers to tombs, are too sophisticated to be the
years. The bones recorded lunar months, memorize. We now know, however, first use of writing. In Mesopotamia huge numbers, so the progression of
which governed the ritual cycles observed by that the development of writing was a (see p.54–55), however, people wrote their earliest writing can be traced. At
hunter-gatherers ¿¿30–31. gradual process, taking centuries. Our on durable clay tablets that survive in early stages, writing was made up of


The Writing on the Wall

From 9000 to 3000 BCE, people
in the Middle East used clay
tokens to record commercial
transactions, sealing them into
clay envelopes called bullae. A
token’s shape symbolized either
goods (animals, grain) or Writing—the symbolic representation of spoken language—and its development represents
specific large numbers. The a massive step forward in the intellectual evolution of humans. The development of writing
example above is from Uruk
¿¿44–45 and is dated to occurred independently in five different areas: Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Mesoamerica.
AND BULLA 3700–3200 BCE.
Message from a temple
STAMP AND CYLINDER SEALS This clay tablet was written in a temple
A seal ¿¿54–55 was a detailed engraved image of Mesopotamia in 3100–2900 BCE. The
identifying the sender of a message. The seal script is a kind of proto-cuneiform—an
was pressed on wet clay by stamping, or rolling early, pictorial stage in Mesopotamian
writing development. The tablet
in the case of cylinder seals. Such seals appeared
probably describes grain either
millennia before the development of writing. distributed by or offered to a temple.
Thousands of tablets such as this
have been unearthed at Uruk in
Mesopotamia (see pp.54–55). They
recorded transactions and contracts
HOW WE KNOW made by the temples.


Hieroglyphs were deciphered in 1822–24 The barley symbol is very
by French Egyptologist and linguist Jean common in ancient
Mesopotamian writing. Barley
François Champollion. He used the
was one of the most important
Rosetta Stone—a stele of Ptolemy V commodities and was used to
bearing the same inscription in three make bread and beer—the two
scripts: hieroglyphic Egyptian (top), staples of the Mesopotamian diet.
demotic Egyptian (middle), and Greek
(bottom). He deciphered the Egyptian
scripts by comparing identifiable words,
such as names, in all three scripts, Drawn symbols were
allowing him to work out the sound of used in proto-cuneiform.
each Egyptian sign from the Greek. Drawing was a messy and
time-consuming process
compared to impressing
standardized wedge signs,
as was done later by
cuneiform scribes.

A box of symbols
represented one transaction or
sentence. Writers of proto-
cuneiform grouped signs in
boxes, not lines or columns.

The walking (transport) symbol

A seal impression acted as a signature. suggests the items specified elsewhere on
People involved in contracts authenticated the tablet were moved. The absence of A transaction tablet was usually
them by pressing their seal into the clay, verbs makes it impossible to say whether sized to fit into the palm of the
rather than writing their names. In this case, the transport was to or from the temple in scribe’s hand, although much
the seal image represents a hunting dog. which the tablet was found. larger cuneiform tablets do exist.


Writing systems became simpler and more
The earliest cuneiform, or proto-cuneiform, by 90 degrees. No one knows why. True sophisticated, but the spread of written
was pictorial and drawn into clay. At some cuneiform appeared when scribes began communication was slow until printing was
point, all proto-cuneiform signs were rotated to form signs from impressed wedges. invented during the European Renaissance.

Date 3200 B C E 3000 B C E 2400 B C E 1000 B C E

“to walk”


Egyptian hieroglyphs ALPHABETIC SYSTEMS

Formal writing in Egypt retained the use of pictorial MUSEN At first, written symbols represented a variety of
symbols—hieroglyphs—for more than 3,000 years. This
“bird” words, syllables, ideas, or sounds. The idea that
example from a 4th-century-BCE sarcophagus differs little
in style from the earliest surviving inscriptions made in every symbol should denote a sound was an
c. 3200 BCE. When reading hieroglyphs, the reader starts innovation in the Middle East and led to the
at the top on the side the signs face (in this case, right). alphabet. The first alphabetic writing, with
SE each sign representing a consonant but with
“barley” no vowels, appeared in the 2nd millennium
BCE , using adapted Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The people of Ugarit in Syria developed
Cuneiform stylus a cuneiform alphabet, but the need for clay
Cuneiform signs were formed by prevented it from spreading. Alphabets became
pressing a stylus into wet clay, important in 1000–700 BCE, being used for
each time producing a wedge
meaning already. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician writing.
shape. Cuneiform means
“wedge-shaped” in Latin. It seems likely that The Phoenicians 82–83 ½½used separate signs
others could have understood for vowels, influencing Greek and Latin writing.
it with a little training. Writing was
Numerals are expressed with soon taken up by the rulers of ancient AMERICAN SYSTEMS
these circular impressions.
They mirror the shaped clay societies, however, and adapted to The earliest surviving American writing is on
tokens once used to signify of signs reproduce spoken language, allowing 600 BCE Zapotec monuments in Mexico and
numbers (see BEFORE). They to around them to write literary, religious, and records the names of sacrificed captives.
appear next to the sign for the a hundred in scholarly texts. From this point, special Later inscriptions on
commodity (barley). Before scripts such as training was needed. Maya monuments
the invention of numerals,
Akkadian cuneiform. Egyptian and record conflicts between
scribes had to draw a sign
once for each item. Maya hieroglyphs remained pictorial Spread of the written word city-states 140–41 ½½.
for decorative use in religious writing Cultures in the 3rd and 2nd millennia The cultures of the
and inscriptions on monuments. For BCE were not really literate societies. Andes developed
pictures of the things it everyday use, however, the Egyptians Once writing became abstract, rather quipu 212 ½½—a system
records. Over time, these developed a more efficient, abstract than pictorial, only a small number of that recorded numerical
pictures were simplified system called hieratic. It was written merchants, administrators, and elites information with patterns
and made abstract to with fragile reed pens, which restricted would have had enough schooling to of knots on webs of ZAPOTEC
make writing quicker and the shapes the scribe read and write. It is color-coded string. CALENDAR
easier. In Mesopotamia, could form. When thought that only one
this process resulted in written on papyrus, per cent of Egyptians PRINTING
wedge-based cuneiform hieroglyphs were were literate. The spread of written material was hampered
writing (see box, above). painted with brushes, Ancient rulers used by the need to copy by hand. In Europe from
Many early scripts were allowing the scribe a writing to manage the 1454, with the Gutenburg printing press
logographic, meaning that freer hand. information on which 253 ½½ featuring movable type, books were
each symbol represented Chinese writing also their states ran, not to produced quickly and cheaply on a large scale.
an entire word or idea. A diverged, with different disseminate it. Royal
logographic system may use styles of calligraphy political inscriptions
thousands of signs. Modern being developed for might be combined
Chinese writing remains different uses. In most with imagery, and it
Egyptian scribe
logographic, using around Chinese scripts, the seems that the masses
Education of scribes began in childhood,
12,000 symbols that allow meaning of signs was lasting at least 10 years, and included would have read only
written communication simplified as well. mathematics and accountancy. The scribal the images, while the
between the many different The earliest writing profession usually ran in families. writing was aimed
dialects of Chinese. Cuneiform records only objects at fellow elites and at
and Egyptian hieroglyphic scripts, (usually goods) and numbers (quantities posterity. Assyrian kings, for instance,
meanwhile, mixed logograms with of goods and measurements of time). buried inscriptions in the foundations
symbols representing sounds. Such Grammar was absent, so this writing of temples, recording their exploits so LETTERS OF MOVABLE TYPE READY FOR PRINTING
sound signs were combined to form cannot be read as language, but it aided that future kings rebuilding those
words, which reduced the total number the memories of people who knew its temples would read them.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

raditionally, ancient Egyptian also on irrigation systems (for example, and statues of Rameses II (c. 1279–
T history is seen as periods of at Fayum near Memphis) that 1213 BCE; see pp.66–67) were erected.
At the collapse of the Egyptian Old Kingdom order and prosperity separated benefited all. The country’s defenses Southern Theban culture prevailed,
¿¿ 56–57 centralized rule broke down by “intermediate” periods of chaos. were strengthened and new trade with Thebes being rebuilt and great
and an unsettled time known as the First Historians now think this is an routes sprang up. Nubia, which came temples erected to the sun god,
Intermediate Period (c. 2180–2040 BCE) began. overexaggerated contrast, but under Egyptian control, supplied Amun-Ra. Royalty was now buried in
prosperous eras under strong not only gold and copper, but also elaborate underground tombs, centered
FIRST INTERMEDIATE PERIOD centralized rule were certainly the labor to mine these, as well on Thebes’ Valley of the Kings.
Egypt saw civil war, drought and famine, separated by times of division. as personnel for Egypt’s army. Amenophis IV (1352–1336 BCE) took
and oppression by local tyrants. However, the Through all of this, however, sun worship to extremes, bending his
greater powers of nonroyals at the end of the ancient Egyptian culture and Disorder and restoration kingdom to the cult of Aten—worship
Old Kingdom ushered in some broader-minded ways of life continued with The Middle Kingdom’s stability of the sun’s disk alone—and renaming
thinking, including a better justice system for all. surprising consistency for dissolved when local governors himself Akhenaten in honor of his
thousands of years—far pushed for more power. Civil war beliefs (see pp.68–69).
HERAKLEOPOLIS VERSUS THEBES longer than those of any brought about another unsettled
One of the competing factions was a
dynasty of kings based at Herakleopolis,
central Egypt. They were bitter rivals of
other ancient civilization.

Middle Kingdom
era—the Second Intermediate
Period (c. 1730–1550 BCE; late
Dynasty 13 to 17). During this
379 The number of diplomatic
letters in the archive of
El-Amarna, Akhenaten’s capital, recording
the Theban kings farther south. Often said to last from time, a people called the Hyksos Egypt’s role as the world’s leading power.
Dynasty 11 to Dynasty gained control and ruled Lower
REUNIFICATION 13, the Middle Kingdom Egypt as pharaohs. Egyptian Just as the Old and Middle Kingdoms
In the 11th Dynasty, Thebes sealed its (c. 2040–1730 BCE) saw dynasties continued had dissolved, so did the New
rise to prominence when Theban Thebes becoming a Keeping order to rule Upper Egypt Kingdom. It is unclear why outside
Powerful figures called viziers, as depicted
king, Nebhepetre Mentuhotep major royal center, from Thebes. Theban threats (see AFTER) again became
by this 12th-dynasty statue, headed the
II (c. 2060–2010 BCE ; right), although the seat of administration of the Middle Kingdom. rulers triumphed impossible to hold back. Rebellion and
defeated his rivals from government stayed In the New Kingdom, one took control in when the Hyksos internal corruption may have played a
Herakleopolis. He reunified near Memphis (see Lower Egypt and another in Upper Egypt. were finally expelled part, but the truth remains a mystery.
Egypt and so took it into NEBHEPETRE
the Middle Kingdom era. MENTUHOTEP II

Egypt in Order and Chaos
Over 100 years of uncertainty and lack of centralized control followed the collapse of Old Kingdom
0 300 km
+ADESH Egypt. However, order and glory were restored once again with the great Middle Kingdom and New
0 300 miles
"YBLOS Kingdom eras, which were themselves separated by another period of some disorder.
pp.56–57) at the new city of Itj-Towy. under pharaoh

-EDITERRANEAN $ESERT Middle Kingdom Egypt had a distinct Amose I, and the
3EA *ERUSALEM character, but it was not as different from New Kingdom
,ACHISH $EAD the Old Kingdom as once thought. In (c. 1550–1069 BCE;
4ANIS the 12th Dynasty, the royals regained Dynasties 18 to
! R A

,/7%2 )UNU a strong grip—perhaps as strong as in 20) began. This

%'904 'IZA 4IMNA
-EMPHIS Old Kingdom times. The pharaoh took era is often seen

back some powers from nobles, but as a time of glorious

society did not return to a more feudal- “empire,” with a


type structure (in which powerless militaristic, nationalistic


laborers worked for the pharaoh)— outlook and new heights of


!SYUT LE society was more democratic. wealth and power. The king’s

role as warrior–defender of his




4HEBES Rise of the bureaucrat lands gained a new emphasis.


One of society’s democratic features


500%2 was that posts formerly held by New kingdom power



royals passed to high-ranking “civil During the New Kingdom, trade links

servants.” Egypt was now run extended and the art of diplomacy
more like a corporation than an intensified, as seen in the famous

!BU3IMBEL In-fighting

extension of the royal family. Amarna letters and the treaty of Kadesh Private armies abounded during the Intermediate

Greater rights for ordinary people (see pp.66–67, 78–79). Egypt quashed Periods, gathered by the leaders of regional factions
.5")! included access to mummification threats to the throne, thanks greatly to fighting endlessly for control. This model army of
05.4 (see pp.68–69), and more interest was warfare techniques borrowed from the Nubian archers is from the tomb of a governor of Asyut.

taken in the poor and needy. Money Hyksos—especially the use of two-
was spent not only on royal tombs but wheeled, horse-drawn chariots that New Kingdom opulence
+53( were fast and lightweight. Queen Ankhesenamun anoints her young king,
.APATA The New Kingdom was an age of Tutankhamun, in a scene taken from a gold-inlaid
'EBEL"ARKAL Height of Egyptian control throne entombed with the pharaoh in the Valley of
Egypt’s lands reached their height under New Kingdom
spectacular architecture and art. The
the Kings. Tutankhamun’s short reign continued the
+%9 pharaoh Tuthmosis III (c. 1479–1425 BCE). Marked here lavish tomb contents of the pharaoh New Kingdom’s grandeur and returned Egypt to its
2EGIONSOFCONTROLUNDER4HUTMOSIS))) are major centers of royal, religious, and administrative Tutankhamun (c. 1336–1327 BCE) were traditional religious practices after the Aten-cult
&ERTILELANDINTHE.ILEVALLEY control during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. interred and the monumental buildings worship of his predecessor, Akhenaten.


Q U E E N , A C T I V E c . 13 0 0 s BCE

The most famous wife of Akhenaten
(see p.64), Nefertiti seems to have taken
a prominent role in her husband’s rule.
Art of the period frequently shows her
alongside her king, sharing
his worship of the
sun’s disk. She is even
depicted in warrior-
like poses suggestive
of royal power.
Nefertiti may have
died in 1338 BCE,
when all record of
her disappears.
Some believe that
Smenkhkare, a
mysterious figure
who seems to have
ruled jointly with
Akhenaten for some
of his reign, was in
fact Nefertiti.


Egypt’s New Kingdom had become a vast

empire, increasingly difficult to police. Late
in the 20th dynasty, central authority again
gave way to a destabilized spell—the Third
Intermediate Period (c. 1069–664 BCE).


Spanning Dynasties 21 to 25, this era lasted
about 400 years and saw a complex mixture of
foreign control and Egyptian independence.
Native pharaohs in Upper Egypt gave way to a
period of Libyan control. Lower Egypt split into
many separate regions.

By the 25th Dynasty, at the end of the Third
Intermediate Period, Kushite rulers from Nubia,
notably Piye (c. 747–716 BCE)
controlled both Lower
and Upper Egypt
under their rule,
so reunifying



Kushite sovereignty ended with the reigns of
Taharqa and Tantamani (c. 690–656 BCE). Their
rule gave way to nearly a decade of occupation
by Assyrians 80–81 ½½at the end of the Third
Intermediate Period. Next came a brief Egyptian
renaissance—the Saite Dynasty 118 ½½.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

KING OF EGYPT Born c.1302 BCE Died c.1213 BCE

Rameses II
“ All the lands… have fallen
prostrate beneath his
sandals for eternity.”

he greatest pharaoh of the New Seti I, Rameses inherited an established

T Kingdom era (c. 1550–1069 BCE), empire that stretched from modern-
Rameses II reigned supreme for day Syria in the north to Sudan (then
almost 70 years and brought a stability Nubia) in the south. Like his father, he
and prosperity to Egypt. Like a present- had territorial ambitions in Syria, but
day international statesman, he skillfully he had to contend with the threat from
used diplomacy, military strategy, and the Hittite Empire (see pp.78–79)
propaganda to promote Egypt and, further north in Anatolia.
maintain his empire. In doing so His most famous confrontation with
he become a major figure in the Hittites was at the battle
Middle Eastern politics. of Kadesh (or Qadesh) in
The future Rameses II was Syria in c.1275 BCE. Rameses
born just before the 19th claimed this as a single-
dynasty (c. 1295–1187 BCE), handed victory for himself,
and became its third while others said the
pharaoh. From his father, Hittites won decisively.
The truth is probably
somewhere in between,
Portrait and cartouche with neither side winning
This impressive statue of Rameses II outright or making any
(left) stood in the temple of Luxor, in
major gains.
Egypt. The oval carving, or cartouche,
(right) has symbols representing
Rameses as king, and wearing the double Rameses the diplomat
crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Around 1258 BCE, after
further skirmishes, the
Hittites and Egyptians drew up a
groundbreaking agreement, effectively
ending hostilities between them (see
right). Mindful of his role as a diplomat
serving Egypt’s wider interests, Rameses
later underlined this new accord by
making at least one Hittite princess
one of his wives.
The new, friendly tone of relations
between the two powers is also clear
from the letters found in the archives
of the Hittite capital, Hattusha. Like
the famous “Amarna Letters” from the
reigns of Amenophis III and Akhenaten
(see pp.64–65), this correspondence is
written on clay tablets in Akkadian
cuneiform script (the language of

Rameses II as a boy
This limestone fragment from a stele (commemorative
pillar) shows Rameses sitting next to hieroglyphs that
indicate he is destined to become king of Egypt. He
wears the side braid and a heavy ear decoration that
were typical of a young Egyptian prince.

diplomacy, see pp.62–63), and features Battle of Kadesh

exchanges between a range of Middle This bas-relief from Abu
Eastern powers and peoples. These Simbel portrays Rameses N c. 1302 BCE The future Rameses II is born to
II fighting the Hittites Seti I, whose family came from nonroyal stock,
lively letters are the earliest significant
single-handedly. He is
evidence of international diplomacy, and his wife Tuyu. The crown prince Rameses is
seen astride a chariot,
painting a clear picture of long-distance made regent while still young, to ensure that he
wielding a bow and
trading, political agreements, and arrow, and wearing the will succeed his father.
diplomatic and daily affairs. The letters “crown of war.” N c. 1292 BCE The young Rameses bears the rank
between Egypt and the Hittites, and of army captain at only about 10 years old (this
specifically between Rameses II and the title is probably honorary); accompanies his
Hittite king, Hattusili III, with whom father on military campaigns to learn his craft.
the 1258 treaty had been made, discuss N c. 1287 BCE Rameses is married to Nefertari, who
issues from international politics to is around 13 years old and younger than her
medical problems and wedding plans. husband. Often said to be his favorite wife, she
certainly seems to have been one of his chief
Artistic license wives for around 20 years. He may have had as
An outstanding feature of Rameses’ many as eight wives, but also had a harem.
reign were his buildings. All over Egypt, N c. 1279 BCE Rameses is inaugurated as pharaoh,
monuments sprang up or old ones probably in his early to mid-twenties. He begins
were added to. Giant statues and his reign by traveling south to officiate at his
images of the pharaoh swiftly appeared, father’s funeral in Thebes.
and craftsmen wrote inscriptions The Ramesseum
A symbol of the N c. 1277 BCE Appears to have defeated some
praising him on every available surface. pharaoh’s power and pirates, possibly Shardana people, who have
He created the new capital city of wealth, this funerary been linked with the mysterious, controversial
Per-Rameses in the Nile delta, close temple was part of a “Sea People.” The defeated pirates appear to
to modern-day Cairo. It was beautiful, grand complex including
have been absorbed into the pharaoh’s army.
and convenient for military forays into a splendid funerary
temple, a palace, a N c. 1276 BCE First campaign in Syria.
Asia. He also built the famous temples
smaller temple dedicated
dedicated to himself and his favorite to his parents, courts N c. 1275 BCE Second foray into Syria culminates
wife, Nefertari, at Abu Simbel, close framed with massive with the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites,
to Egypt’s modern border with Sudan. statues of Rameses II who had long posed a threat to Egyptian power.
The four massive statues of Rameses himself, and grand His opponent is the Hittite king, Muwatalli. The
at Abu Simbel are among the greatest avenues of sphinxes. building of Abu Simbel is probably under way.
achievements of Egyptian art. Their N c. 1260s BCE A large number of Hebrew peoples
style was not subtle, but Rameses’ may be living in Egypt, perhaps forcibly “press-
creative lead helped the arts to thrive, ganged” into the pharaoh’s service. There may
as they had under his father. have been an historically important “Exodus” of
Another major site was Rameses’ vast “ What will people say, when it is heard these peoples from Egypt into Sinai at some
point in the 1260s.
mortuary temple, the Ramesseum.
This was built on the west bank of the of you [his soldiers] deserting me.” N c. 1258 BCE After repeating his father’s pattern
RAMESES’ CLAIM THAT HE FOUGHT THE HITTITES SINGLE-HANDEDLY 1275 BCE of years of indecisive power struggles with the
DECISIVE MOMENT Hittites, Rameses and the current Hittite king,
Hattusili III, draw up a famous peace agreement.
THE FIRST PEACE TREATY Nile at Thebes, the southern capital a tight web of able officials, including N c. 1259–1255 BCE It is likely the temples at Abu
where Rameses created many new many old friends and many of his own Simbel are complete.
The 1258 peace treaty between architectural projects. A palace, very numerous (over 100) children.
Rameses II and Hattusili III was first N c. 1256 or 1255 BCE
religious and political center, and also There seems little doubt that Rameses
recorded on a silver tablet (contemporary Probable date of death
a seat of learning, the Ramesseum II was a major figure in Middle Eastern
clay copy shown below). An astonishingly of Nefertari. Another
inspired the English Romantic poet history, despite his undoubted skill for
modern document, it is seen as the first wife, Isetnofret,
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s self-promotion. His
real international peace treaty, containing now seems
famous 1817 poem reign was the last to become
clauses on advanced concepts such “Ozymandias.” great era of imperial
as amnesty issues for refugees and Rameses’
glory for ancient principal queen.
extradition for fugitives. It is thought to be
Keeping control Egypt, and he made
such a milestone in international relations N c. 1245 BCE
Rameses II kept a his presence felt as
that a copy of it hangs in the Rameses
tight grip on his lands far away as modern
headquarters of the United Nations. marries
and on his people. Turkey. He left a
the eldest
Government records wonderful record of
daughter of NEFERTARI (MURAL
that survive from his art and history, and the Hattusili III. She is FROM HER TOMB)
rule build a picture a real taste of the called Maathorneferure.
of a highly organized grandeur and power
N c. 1230 BCE Rameses probably marries another
leader with a strong of the pharaohs.
Hittite princess.
interest in law-
making and order. Rameses’ mummy N c. 1224 BCE One of Rameses’ many sons,
With major centers Discovered in the 19th century, Merneptah, is named as his heir.
at Per-Rameses and the mummy of Rameses II was N c. 1213 BCE Rameses’ reign of about 66 years
around Thebes, he later unwrapped to reveal his
ends with his death, probably from an infection
body. He was a tall man for the
ensured strong (possibly a dental abscess).
times, with a long narrow face,
control over both prominent nose, large jaw, and
Lower and Upper red hair. He is thought to be
Egypt. He appointed about 90 years old.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

B E F O R E A jury of 12 gods sits in judgment

or the ancient Egyptians, the His grandfather was Ra (see BEFORE) of the deceased. They pronounce

The ancient Egyptians believed

F need and desire to please their
gods were driving forces that
and his brother was Set, god of chaos.
Osiris was husband (and brother) of
their decision in a chamber often
referred to as the “hall of Ma’at.”

in many gods, and in an influenced most aspects of their lives. Isis, a protective and magical goddess,
afterlife. Various gods rose They believed that the god Osiris and father of Horus, who was
to prominence and then judged them on the lives they god of the sky and protector of
faded again. had led and that those who had the ruler of Egypt. Myth also
lived “good lives” would attain told that the jealous and
LIFE AFTER DEATH a happy eternity alongside the vengeful Set trapped Osiris in
Items found in graves from gods. He was thought to preside a coffinlike chest and threw it
predynastic Egypt (before over their complex burial rituals, in the Nile River, then took his
c. 3100 BCE) suggest that, even including embalming and brother’s position as king. Isis
then, Egyptians performed mummification (see opposite), found and hid the body of her
GRAVE GOODS death-related rituals. which they devised to ensure beloved husband, only for
a passage through the Set to discover it and tear it
THE ORIGINS OF OSIRIS underworld to an afterlife. apart, scattering the pieces.
Belief in Osiris is thought to have begun in the Osiris’s cult continued It was said that Isis lovingly
Nile Delta region and probably developed from to develop during the Old sought out all the remains
the local god of a place called Busiris. Initially, Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BCE). and buried them where she
Osiris may have been a god of People came to believe that found them (so aiding the
agriculture, linked with fertility the pharaohs, Egypt’s leaders, spread of the cult). His body
and the afterlife. He gained were reborn as Osiris after was then reassembled and
popularity throughout Egypt death. This powerful link to the bound with bandages, and he
and by the middle of the Old Egyptians’ belief in kings as gods so became the first mummy. Isis
Kingdom ¿¿56–57, c. 2400 BCE, was reflected in the “rebirth” revived Osiris by magic, and he
had become a dominant figure, elements of their burial rituals. traveled to the underworld to
associated with death and the become king of the dead.
resurrection of the ruler. Cult of the people
After the collapse of the Old A matter of life and death
RIVALRY WITH RA Kingdom (see pp.56–57), the From these myths it is clear that
Before Osiris, the cult of Ra (or popularity of the Osiris cult the Egyptians’ burial practices,
Re), god of the Sun and bringer was assisted by the shift in particularly mummification and
of life, held center stage. Ra is government dynamics. embalming, were a reflection of
depicted with a falcon’s head, With the pharaoh no Osiris’ own sufferings and
RA, THE Osiris figurine
on which is carried the sun. SUN-GOD longer an all-powerful figure, The god was traditionally the journey his soul made
local officials gained in portrayed partly bandaged, to the afterlife. Ideas about
importance. In this slightly as if being mummified. the soul and spirit were
more democratic climate, the central to burial practices,
burial rites and the right to rebirth, and to beliefs in general. The Egyptians
once strictly confined to the pharaohs, came to believe that each human being
INVESTIGATING MUMMIES were increasingly extended to ordinary consisted not only of a physical body,
Egyptians. At the height of Osiris’s but also of three spiritual parts. First,
In the 5th–1st century BCE, historians such popularity, even mere mortals were the ka, was part of a kind of “soul”
as the Greeks Herodotus and Diodorus believed to connect with the god at and the essential life-force—a person’s
Siculus provided the first reliable data on
mummies. Since then, studying them has
become an increasingly sophisticated The deceased, Any,

The Realm of Osiris

science. DNA is analyzed (see p.465), followed by his wife, walks
into the “court,” ready for
and the mummy checked for the
the weighing of his heart
presence of diseases, to reveal more and judgment by the jury
about its identity and the Egyptian way of gods above.
of life. Imaging techniques, such as X-rays
and CAT-scans (below), can reveal a great The growth of the cult of Osiris, king of the dead, was immensely important to the ancient Egyptians.
deal without causing permanent damage.
Osiris gradually became the dominant figure among a cast of potentially vengeful gods. These gods
had strong moral codes, so living a good and honest life was vital if you were to gain eternity.

their death (this identification with “double.” The ba formed another part
Osiris was considered essential to reach
eternal afterlife). Previously, such an
of the “soul” and, in modern terms,
an individual’s personality. Finally, the
“ Homage to thee,
honor was confined to their kings. akh was the form in which a deceased
person existed in the afterlife, when
Osiris, lord of
Family drama
Despite his growing importance, Osiris
the ka and ba were reunited.
It was typically believed that the ka
eternity, king
remained part of a broad and complex
family of divine characters, each with
and ba were released from the body at
death and needed to find each other
of gods, whose
a vital role to play in the Egyptian
belief system. Tradition held that Osiris
again in the afterlife in order to create
a happy, eternal akh. The released ka names are
was the son of Geb, god of the earth,
and Nut, goddess of the sky, and that
returned to the dead body, feeding off
it to stay alive. If the body was decayed manifold.”
he was once king of Upper Egypt. or unrecognizable, the ka might not be THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, 1240 BCE


The bird-goddess Ma’at, keeper Osiris, the supreme judge of Amun-Ra was an amalgamation of the AF TER
of truth and harmony, daughter of Ra such ceremonies, sits among sun god Ra and the god of the air,
and linked with Thoth, perches the jury of gods. He is wearing Amun. He has a falcon’s mask and
symbolically atop the scales of justice. the crown of Upper Egypt. bears the solar disk on his head.
The cult of Osiris survived
beyond the ancient Egyptian
period, and influenced newly
developing belief systems.

By the Ptolemaic period in Egypt
(323–30 BCE) 118–19 ½½ the cult
of Osiris had begun to fade and
the cult of Serapis was on the
rise. This combined the cults of
Osiris and the sacred bull Apis.
Serapis was at first identified with
Osiris, but then became entirely ROMAN-ERA
separate. Cults of Osiris and Isis MUMMY
lived on in various provinces of
the Roman Empire 110–13 ½½, with temples
to Isis built in Roman London and Pompeii.


Many scholars believe that the ideas surrounding
Osiris and his kingdom of the dead influenced
the development of the world’s major religions
144–147 ½½. The belief in a god’s rebirth and
the idea that happiness in the next life could be
achieved by being good can be reinterpreted as
the concepts of resurrection and salvation.
The performance of rites to connect humans
with a divine presence is related to the idea of
sacrament. These ideas are present in a variety
of religions, including Christianity.

Osiris lives on today within the “secret society”
known as the Freemasons. Some of their beliefs
and symbolism are connected to the figure of
Osiris, partly as a way of evoking a sense of order
and mystery rooted in ancient wisdom.

Osiris sitting in judgment

This papyrus scene, from the Book of the Dead of Any
(New Kingdom, c.1550–1069 BCE), shows Osiris deciding
The scales are Any’s destiny in a ceremony believed to take place after
Any’s heart, depicted supervised by the The Feather of Ma’at Ammit, a strange beast death. Any’s heart is weighed against the feather of
with the Egyptian jackal-headed Anubis. lies in the other pan. If Thoth, chief scribe that is part lion, crocodile, Ma’at, goddess of truth and justice. Bearing instructions
hieroglyph for “heart,” Considered to be the heart weighs the same of the gods, notes the and hippopotamus, waits on dealing with obstacles in the afterlife, a “book of the
lies in one pan of the Osiris’s son, Anubis was as the feather, eternal results of the weighing to devour any heart that dead” was commissioned just before the subject’s death,
scales of judgment. an underworld guide. afterlife is assured. of Any’s heart. is found wanting. and always showed a favorable judgment.

able to feed and survive to linen (to keep its proper

reach the afterlife. This shape and appearance)
is why preservation and made whole THE CULT OF ATEN
was so important—to again. It was soaked
keep the “soul” alive with preservative During the period of Egypt’s New Kingdom
after death. salts, resins, and oils, (c.1550–1069 BCE), when Osiris worship was
and decorated with at its peak, the 18th-dynasty pharaoh
Preserving the body protective charms, Akhenaten created a breakaway cult of his
Embalmers washed the called amulets. Those own. He decided to worship the Sun’s disc,
body, preferably in shaped like a scarab in the form of a god called Aten. The cult,
water from the Nile. They Organ storage beetle were especially which some scholars cite as the first example
The removed organs were of the worship of a single god (monotheism),
then removed the intestines, potent as the insect’s life
placed in canopic jars to came to an end at the close of Akhenaten’s
stomach, liver, and lungs and prevent decay. The jar second cycle reflected the daily
placed them in four vessels “rebirth” of the sun. The reign, after which the old order returned. This
from right represents Anubis,
called canopic jars. The brain the main god of embalming. body was wrapped in image shows Akhenaten with his chief wife,
was removed through the linen bandages, placed Nefertiti (see p.65), and one of their
nostrils, but the heart, considered to be in a coffin, and buried along with other daughters (they are known to have had at
the source of intelligence, was left in amulets or items from everyday life least six) worshipping the Sun’s rays.
place. The body was then stuffed with to provide comfort in the hereafter.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE











Egyptian Artifacts
Ancient Egypt has left a wealth of items that reveal a remarkable civilization.
Implements for everyday use tell us much about the domestic life of period, while
discoveries in the tombs of the pharaohs have uncovered extraordinary treasures.

1 Drinking cup decorated with a lotus flower pattern. c. 330 bce; the image of Isis suckling her son Horus was a
2 Gilded sunshade with a handle decorated with powerful symbol of rebirth. 12 Ivory spoon with the head
lotus flowers, which was one of many objects found of the goddess Hathor carved on it. 13 Painted glass flask
by Howard Carter in the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. in the shape of a fish. 14 Bronze cat statue, dating from
It is inscribed with cartouches bearing the pharaoh’s after 600 bce and discovered in Saqqara. The domestic cat
name. 3 Wooden case used for storing writing was associated with the cult of the goddess Bastet. 15 Outer
equipment, with reed pens. 4 Painted ball made coffin of Henettaway, a noblewoman who died c. 992 bce.
of clay and filled with seeds. 5 Rings fashioned The coffin is richly decorated with religious symbols and
from gold and silver, and bearing stamps featuring hieroglyphs. 16 Pectoral (chest jewelry) bearing the name
images of animals such as scarab beetles and hawks. Senwosret II (c. 1897–1878 bce), and made of gold, carnelian,
6 Bronze ankh, the symbol of eternal life, which feldspar, garnet, and turquoise. 17 Belt made of electrum
only kings, queens, and gods were allowed to carry. (gold mixed with silver), carnelian, amethyst, lapis lazuli,
7 Eye of Horus amulet, which was placed in tombs and turquoise beads. 18 Figurine of Duamutef, the jackal-
to grant protection in the afterlife. 8 Statue of the headed son of Horus. 19 Qebehsenuef, the falcon-headed
god Amun, dating from c. 945–715 bce. 9 Gold dagger son of Horus. 20 Imsety, the human-headed son of Horus.
and sheath, discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, 21 Scarab seal with hieroglyphs revealing that Amenhotep
and dating to c. 1337 bce. 10 Fly whisk made from ebony III killed 102 lions during his reign. 22 Gold bracelet
and ivory and originating in Nubia (modern Sudan). belonging to Prince Nemareth, depicting Horus as a child,
11 Statue of the gods Isis and Horus, dating from sitting on a lotus leaf and protected by cobras.



30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

the outer surface was

B E F O R E originally clad in limestone the Great Gallery is a high but
lmost every form of ancient steep and narrow passage
A Egyptian monumental
the Upper Chamber, also known
as the King’s Chamber, contained
leading to the King’s chamber
Large-scale architecture was one of the architecture can be interpreted the royal sarcophagus
earliest features of civilization. as part of a temple. The pyramids were
not isolated structures, but parts of
NEOLITHIC mortuary (memorial) temple complexes.
BUILDING Egyptians believed that their kings
Early Neolithic- became gods when they died, so the
period ¿¿36 stone tombs were dedicated to their worship.
structures include The first pyramid, the Step Pyramid,
walls in Jericho, was built c. 2667–2648 BCE (see the subterranean Lower
the Middle Chamber,
now in Palestine Imhotep, p.56) for pharaoh Djoser of Chamber was neither
also misnamed
(c. 8500 BCE), and the 3rd dynasty. The design probably finished nor used
Queen’s chamber,
a possible stone evolved from the earlier sand mounds was never finished
temple at Gobekli that covered tombs (see BEFORE). True Structure of the Great Pyramid
The largest ever built, the Great Pyramid was made for workers used this escape
Tepe in Anatolia, now pyramids appeared in the 4th dynasty, Khufu, of the 4th dynasty. The pyramid was looted long tunnel to leave after sealing
GOBEKLI TEPE, TURKEY Turkey (c. 9000 BCE). the first being built for pharaoh Snefru ago. The limestone coating was plundered in 1356 CE the upper chambers
in c. 2580 BCE. It reveals a move toward to rebuild Cairo after an earthquake.
TEMPLES IN MESOPOTAMIA the use of solar imagery in its imitation
The oldest known structures in Mesopotamia of the rays of the sun. The “Pyramid outer walls, the cliffs at the edge of the gained such prestige from their
are temples dating from the Ubaid Period Texts,” which were religious inscriptions Nile Valley, held back the chaos that lay building programs that some even
(5900–4300 BCE). On sites long held sacred, on the walls of later pyramids, refer to beyond. Colonnades (rows of columns) appropriated the projects of their
the temples were rebuilt many times. the pharaoh ascending to join the god and hypostyle halls (halls with pillars predecessors, erasing their names
Ra (see p.68) on a solar barque—a holding up the roof) represented the and claiming them as their own.
PITS AND MOUNDS IN EGYPT mythical boat in which the sun rides. riverbanks, with the columns denoting
Tombs in predynastic Egypt (before 3100 BCE) Egyptian temples were carefully reeds, while the ceilings symbolized the The step towers of Mesopotamia
were simple, sand-covered pits. Early royal constructed models of the universe. The sky, and were decorated with images In Mesopotamia (a region made up
tombs were elaborations of this model, covering inner sanctum represented the ordered of stars and the sun. Palaces too were of what is now Iraq and parts of Syria,
a rock-cut chamber with a mound of sand. heart of creation, and the temple’s built along the same lines. Pharaohs Turkey, and Iran, see pp.54–55), the


Building for Eternity

Mud-brick platforms called huacas appear along
the coast of Peru ¿¿74from 4000 BCE. Used as
ritual sites, they were often built in pairs.

Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut The construction of monuments, such as temples, palaces, and tombs, was one of the key features of
After the Old Kingdom came to an end, fewer pyramids
were built and attention shifted to the mortuary temples. developing civilizations. Most monuments had religious functions and were intended to legitimize
These were often built at the foot of cliffs, which were
possibly viewed as natural pyramids. the position of the rulers who built them by connecting them with the gods.

architecture, although its structure was tall, stepped towers attached to major end of the 7th century BCE, the temple
different from that of the Egyptians, temples—were also used as stellar of Ashur—the city at Assyria’s ancient
also had a religious purpose and shared observatories. heart—was the richest in the world. Monumental construction has continued
similar functions. Mesopotamian gods In Mesopotamia, the construction to the present day all around the world.
were linked with particular cities, and of temples was seen as both the king’s The demonstration of power
temples in those cities were seen as privilege and his duty. Mud bricks did To build monumental buildings required MESOAMERICAN ARCHITECTURE
their houses. Divination—the practice not endure long, so temples were often enormous resources, organization, and Olmecs 74–75 ½½ built the first monuments
of foretelling the future—was a key renovated or rebuilt. Royal palaces also labor. These buildings acted as a potent in Mesoamerica in 1000–500 BCE. Successive
part of the religion. The people believed became increasingly important there, demonstration of the ruler’s power cultures in the regionbuilt pyramid-shaped
that the gods controlled fate, so especially under the powerful Assyrian over his subjects, and periods of temples. To them, everything possessed a spirit,
divination was used to determine the Empire (see pp.80–81). They were and mountains were particularly powerful
gods’ intentions, and rituals were centers not only for the royal court but CORVÉE Most ancient societies used beings, so places of worship were constructed
performed in an attempt to negotiate a also for the civil service. With a few corvée labor to provide a regular supply in their image. Pyramid building continued until
better future. Astrology was a key part exceptions, Mesopotamian kings were of unskilled laborers. Corvée laborers the Spanish conquest 230–31 ½½.
of this tradition, and ziggurats—the considered earthly governors appointed worked on state building projects for a
to rule on behalf of the gods, rather set amount of time each year instead of
than being gods in their own right. (or in addition to) paying taxes in the
form of money or produce.
Symbolic riches
Ancient temples were not simply places prosperity usually show evidence of
of worship, but also important centers new construction. When a kingdom GREAT PYRAMID, CHICHEN ITZA
of administration. Most were part lacked central authority, or access to
of large tracts of land that provided resources, building stopped. THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD
considerable income and trading The Egyptian pyramids also provide A list of the Seven Wonders of the World—
power. Before it was destroyed at the evidence of ancient methods of the most breathtaking achievements of human
construction. Rather than hundreds construction—was publicized in the Greek world
Great Ziggurat of Ur of thousands of slave laborers or from the 2nd century BCE. Included were the
Ziggurats, such as this conscripts working seasonally, as had Pharos of Alexandria 97, 118 ½½ and the
reconstructed example, been previously thought, the pyramids Pyramids of Giza—the only wonder surviving
were in constant use, with were built by 20–25,000 professional today. Also on the list were the Hanging Gardens
astrologers working all craftsmen and corvée laborers who of Babylon in Mesopotamia, described as
night, every night. They
worked year-round. Snefru’s first constructed in tiers, like a ziggurat. No trace
provided an unbroken
view across the plain of pyramid was finished in only a few of the gardens has yet been uncovered.
Mesopotamia. years, so he had first a new palace and
then two more pyramids built. The LATER MONUMENTS
Choga Zanbil decreasing size of pyramids after the The Greeks 94–95 ½½ and Romans 110–13 ½½
Mud-brick architecture 4th dynasty is probably due to an continued the monumental tradition. In Europe,
does not preserve well.
increase in the number of projects, the building of stone monuments was revived
No one knows exactly
how this ziggurat in rather than evidence that the by the medieval Christian church 196–97 ½½.
Elam (southwest Iran) 4th dynasty’s grand projects had
looked when new. bankrupted the kingdom.



The Biblical story of Babel may have
begun as a reaction of Jewish exiles
in 6th-century BCE Babylon to ziggurats.
The Babylonians saw ziggurats, with their
stepped levels leading progressively
upward, as pathways to the heavens,
providing access for astrology. Jewish
writers were horrified by the thought of
humans climbing to heaven, and wrote
that a displeased God disrupted the
project by diversifying and confusing
the languages of the builders.
30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

he years between about Olmec civilization .
T 1500 and 900 BCE saw The Olmecs’ heartland was quite small, but its
culture spread from the Valley of Mexico in the
0 300 km
Early civilization in the Americas centered the first real stirrings of
northwest into present-day Belize, Guatemala, 0 300 miles
initially on the Andes in South America, and more advanced civilization in
Honduras, and El Salvador in the east.
later on Mesoamerica to the north. Mesoamerica. Agricultural skill and
productivity improved, pottery became
EARLY CITIES more complex (possibly through
One of the first cities in the Americas was contact with Andean cultures in South 'ULFOF
Caral, 125 miles (200 km) north of modern Lima, America), and the temple-pyramid -EXICO 0ENINSULA
Peru. The city, which was well established by emerged. This was also the period 4LATILCO
c. 2500 BCE, included pyramid structures built when Mesoamerica’s first great #HALCATZINGO 4RES:APOTES ,AGUNADELOS#ERROS
around the same time as those at Giza, Egypt. civilization sprang to life—the Olmecs.
Life in the lowlands
The Olmecs established themselves KEY 6ALLEY
in the humid, fertile lowlands of Olmec site
south Mexico, and their culture was Related contemporary site 0!
flourishing by about 1200 BCE. By Olmec heartland # ) &
around 800 BCE their influence had Area of related cultures /# % #HALCHUAPA

By c. 1500 BCE, agricultural settlements
had formed in the area archaeologists call
Mesoamerica (central Honduras and Costa Rica
to northern Mexico). The main crops were corn,
People of the Jaguar
beans, squash, chilis, and cotton. There was not The first great civilizations of Mesoamerica and South America rivalled those of Mesopotamia, Ancient
yet an urban culture to rival that at Caral. Egypt, and China. In Mesoamerica, the Olmecs established a blueprint for later cultures in the region. At
the heart of Olmec belief was jaguar-worship, which they shared with their South American counterparts.

VOTIVE OBJECT An artifact offered spread out over a wider area of experts to suggest that there was a
to a deity as a gift of some kind in order Mesoamerica. It seems that Olmec major uprising or invasion. Others
to thank or appease them, or enhance symbolism was adopted by various think that environmental factors may
the success of prayers. Small “votive other groups in Mesoamerica, possibly have caused San Lorenzo’s decline.
axes” carved out of jade were common as a result of trading links.
in Olmec culture. Olmec farming practices were not La Venta
particularly advanced, perhaps because The other major Olmec center
they did not need to be, since the staple was the city of La Venta, near
crop, corn, grew in ready abundance. the border of modern Tabasco
WERE-JAGUAR MYTHOLOGY The Olmecs were hunters rather than and Veracruz states, which
pastoralists, because there were no had a much larger population
The jaguar, found across Mesoamerica large herd animals in the region that than San Lorenzo. Thriving
and South America, was viewed with could be domesticated. Animals were between about 900 and
reverential fear by the early cultures of not used for transportation and, unlike 400 BCE, La Venta effectively
these regions. It was often depicted as in Eurasia, there were no wheeled took over from San Lorenzo as
a “were-jaguar,” which combined often vehicles—which, in any case, would the principal Mesoamerican
infantlike human and jaguar features, have been of little use in the wet and settlement. As at San Lorenzo,
typically with a downturned mouth, large swampy Olmec heartland. colossal stone heads and jaguar
lips, and oval eyes. The were-jaguar is Giant head sculptures
figures and imagery were found
The Olmecs are famed for their huge stone head
especially associated with the Olmecs. The rise of San Lorenzo at La Venta, as well as temple-
sculptures, which were up to several yards (meters) tall
It appeared as jade figurines and larger The first important Olmec center was and about 20 tons in weight. With distinctive flattened ceremonial complexes, including
sculptures, and was carved into altars and San Lorenzo, on a plateau above the features, they are probably connected with Olmec gods. a giant pyramid. The major
other surfaces. Were-jaguar babies were Coatzacoalcos River in the southern buildings at the site were all
common, usually shown Mexican state of Veracruz. San Lorenzo structures, huge sculptures of seated precisely aligned, perhaps linked
held by a seated male was at its height between 1200 and people, and depictions of a variety of with ideas about astronomy.
figure (right). The were- 900 BCE. It was most likely a chiefdom animals, most notably the jaguar (see Olmec art was accomplished,
jaguar’s exact significance rather than a city-state, with a hierarchy left). Bloodletting and sacrifice may especially its stone carving,
is unclear, but it may be
comprising an elite class, skilled have been part of ritual practice, but including many small jade
a “transformation
workers, and laborers. The population this is purely speculation. figures. Skilled relief carvings
figure” used by
was possibly only around 1,000. Near the San Lorenzo site, 1 mile have been found at La Venta,
shamans to
The buildings at San Lorenzo were (1.6 km) away at Cascajal, a stone along with other Olmec
connect with the
erected on earthen mounds and dating from c. 900 BCE has been found artifacts, including iron-ore
gods or harness
arranged around open plazas. They bearing symbols that may be Olmec mirrors that were worn
the animal’s
included temples and houses made writing. This could suggest the Olmecs around the neck. These may
natural power.
of poles and thatch, and the city developed one of the first writing have been used by Olmec
FIGURINE OF seems to have had an advanced systems in Mesoamerica (see pp.62–63). leaders as evidence of their
drainage system. There were San Lorenzo seems to come to an end “special” powers, as the mirrors
JAGUAR BABY also many stone monuments, such around 900 BCE. Evidence of widespread could have been used to start
as giant carved heads, altarlike destruction of monuments has led some fires or even project images.


The Chavín of South America As in Olmec culture, Chavín art often god, El Lanzon, with a human body, a
To the South, the Peruvian Chavín shows figures combining both human catlike head, and serpentine hair. Such
culture began to develop in the Andes and animal features. At the center of depictions may be “transformation” Different but often closely related cultures
region around 1000 BCE, and then the Old Temple at Chavín de Huántar images associated with religious wove themselves into a complex web—
spread along a great strip of the is a sculpture showing the great Chavín ritual, perhaps signifying that priests rising, fading out, existing simultaneously, or
Peruvian coast. The major could transform themselves persisting in some places more than others.
excavated site associated into deities.
with Chavín culture is that of The buildings and site at FROM OLMECS TO ZAPOTECS
Chavín de Huántar, high in Chavín de Huántar reveal Olmec culture had peaked by 600–400 BCE,
the Andes, almost 185 miles the great engineering and but its influence was strongly felt in various
(300 km) north of Lima. architectural expertise of regional cultures that persisted afterward
Chavín de Huántar may or peoples in this part of the throughout Mesoamerica, specifically the
may not have been the center world, especially in the face Zapotecs at Monte Albán 142–43 ½½, in the
or birthplace of the culture, of difficult terrain. Flat Oaxaca Valley of southeastern Mexico.
but it was certainly of great terracing had to be created
importance. At the heart of to build the Old Temple, just THE BIRTH OF MAYA CIVILIZATION
this sizable settlement, which as the Olmecs had to reshape Maya culture 140–41 ½½ arose from Native
could have been home to the plateau at San Lorenzo, American settlements in Mexico’s Yucatán
Chavín jaguar imagery
around 3,000 people, was a and the later Zapotecs would master Peninsula and Central America. Significant early
Several well-preserved panels depicting jaguars—
monumental ceremonial complex important in Andean culture as well as Mesoamerican— the ultimate challenge of building developments were taking place in the 600s
made of stone blocks and decorated have been found at Chavín de Huántar. They would have Monte Albán (see p.140) on top of or 500s BCE, and the culture had really
with impressive relief carving. surrounded the impressive main plaza of this ancient site. an artificially leveled mountain. established itself by around 200 BCE.


These small jade figures While Chavín culture was declining by c. 200 BCE,
and upright artifacts are other cultures (such as those of the Paracas and
Olmec finds from La Nazca in Peru) were flourishing. Although regional
Venta. The figures have in nature, they often had similar characteristics.
the part-human, part-
feline features of the
were-jaguar. The scene JAGUAR IMAGERY
probably represents The jaguar remained important to the Maya
some kind of sacred culture, and also to the much later Aztecs.
ritual, with the artifacts
being votive objects.

Chavín culture
Stretching from the Andes
to the coastal plains of
present-day Peru, Chavín
culture developed the first

coherent, recognizable
style of Andean art. The

Chavín also improved
corn production and

weaving techniques.

! M A Z O N

" A S I N











0 300 km S

0 300 miles

Chavín heartland
Early Chavín sites, 2000–850bce
Chavín sites, 850–200bce

3000 BCE– 70 0 BCE


Small Neolithic villages on Crete gave way

to large Minoan settlements, as Crete led
Europe into the early Bronze Age.

Dating back to c. 6500 BCE, the Neolithic people
of Crete probably originated in Asia
Minor. Their simple life centered
around rearing livestock, growing
crops, and making basic pottery.


The earliest evidence of the Minoan
civilization is c. 3000 BCE. During the
3rd millennium BCE, trading towns
on the Cretan coast expanded. Early
trading partners included the people of
the Cyclades (islands north of Crete EARLY
in the south-western CYCLADIC
Aegean), whose
culture emerged at the same
time. On the mainland, too,
Europe was entering the Bronze
Age, with bronze reaching most
regions in the 2000s BCE. Bronze ax
heads were common and were
invested with religious significance
AX HEAD in addition to practical uses.



The Phaistos Disk is an archaeological
mystery. Made of clay, both sides of the
disk feature symbols arranged in a spiral,
Europe’s First Civilization
and each symbol has been pressed into The first civilization to make its mark in western Europe was the Bronze Age culture of the Minoans,
the clay with a punch. The script is based on the Mediterranean island of Crete. Frescoes in the grand palaces depict a highly sophisticated
unique and has not yet been deciphered.
Discovered in the early 1900s during way of life, and hint at a society where women played an unusually dominant role for the times.
excavations of the palace at Phaistos on
Crete, it has been dated to the period rchaeologists named the Seafaring traders are Minoan in style and feature typical
1850–1350 BCE. Its meaning and usage
is not fully understood but, as it features
A ancient Cretan civilization An island location meant limited Cretan symbols such as bulls. Minoan-
“Minoan” after Minos, a resources, so trade was crucial. style paintings have also been
reusable stamps, some archaeologists mythical king of Crete (see pp.102–03). As skilled seafarers, the Minoans unearthed at Tel Kabri in Israel.
believe it to be the earliest form of The Minoan civilization flourished employed a range of sophisticated
movable printing type, predating anything between c. 3000–1400 BCE, peaking vessels. They are often Palace culture
comparable by 2,000 years. around 1600 BCE, during the late Bronze credited with having Minoan life was characterized
Age (see p.43). It is famous for its developed the first “navy,” by highly developed urban
extensive trading links across the sea, albeit used for trade rather settlements dominated by
well-planned cities, beautiful palaces than war. The Minoans’ splendid palaces, which
and artifacts, goddess worship, and a impressive trading were home to Crete’s
tradition of “bull-leaping” (see right). network gave them rulers. The major cities
Intriguingly, however, what we influence across the on Crete were Knossos,
know of Minoan culture is scant Aegean Sea in the eastern Phaistos, Mallia, and
and based purely on their ruins as Mediterranean, and far Zakros, of which Knossos
experts are unable to fully decode beyond. Minoan artifacts was the most opulent.
their writing, known simply as have been found in Egypt, The cities, like those of
“Linear A.” The Mycenaeans (see modern Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Mesopotamia (see pp.54–55) and
AFTER) modified Linear A to write and Cyprus. Not only were other civilizations of the time,
the early form of Greek that they Minoan goods widely were political, religious,
spoke. But while this Mycenaean script transported, but the Natural inspiration administrative, cultural,
has been decoded using knowledge Minoans themselves also This jar is from the late Minoan and trading centers. Kings
period (c. 1450–1400 BCE), when
of Greek, the Minoans unknown, pre- settled in their trading played both a political and
Mycenaean influence was
Greek language still remains a mystery, destinations. Murals evident. Natural imagery was a religious role and many
PHAISTOS DISK and most of what they wrote down excavated at Tell el-Dab’a popular, and octopuses would government officials were
appears to be economic records. (ancient Avaris) in Egypt have been a common sight. likely to have been priests.

E U R O P E ’ S F I R S T C I V I L I Z AT I O N

sophisticated, multi-roomed houses.

Those that did not follow a craft
worked the land, providing for the THE LOST CITY
Minoan women cities that powered Cretan society;
This detail taken from one of the stunning, brightly tasks would have included tending the In around 1600 BCE, the Santorini islands,
colored wall paintings at Knossos, shows a trio of vines and olive trees that produced near Crete, experienced a huge volcanic
refined Minoan ladies with attractively dressed large quantities of wine and oil. eruption. Near the modern city of Akrotiri,
hair, wearing fashionable clothes that left them on the island of Thera, archaeologists
exposed to the waist. There is evidence that Minoan Mythology and religion have unearthed a sophisticated, Minoan-
women took a significant lead in many aspects of life. style city of town houses, frescoes, and
Excavated artifacts give us an insight
into Minoan religious practices and fine pottery, frozen in time beneath 200ft
beliefs. People appear to have been (60m) of ash and pumice. The eruption
buried with possessions or offerings, has been linked with the “lost city” of
showing a belief in an afterlife. Cretan Plato’s Atlantis, the Bible story of the ten
vases and frescoes are suffused with plagues visited upon Egypt, and the
imagery featuring bulls, axes, snakes, decline of Minoan civilization.
and goddesses. All Minoan gods were
female and one of the most popular
was the “Snake Goddess,” depictions of
whom have been found in the ruins
of houses and small palace shrines.
The bull image is widespread, being
linked to King Minos. According to
legend, his failure to sacrifice a bull sent
by the sea-god Poseidon caused Minos’
wife to give birth to the Minotaur—a
creature that was half-man, half-bull.
Minos trapped the Minotaur in a
labyrinth, and young people were
sacrificed to the creature every year.
Cretan frescoes also show young men
and women leaping over bulls, which
may have been performed for sport or AF TER
Some scholars think that these main gold jewelry for which the Minoans for religious purposes.
cities resembled small city-states (see were famed. A distinctive feature of
pp.94–95), each ruling a specific part Minoan culture was its “Kamáres Women in Minoan society The rich and highly successful Minoan
of the island and with a focus on trade. ware” pottery—including cups, jugs, Women played an equal role to that of civilization started to wane around
Minoan palaces themselves were vast jars, and enormous urns (pithoi), used men in Minoan society, and participated 1500 BCE , but its complete decline took
sumptuous complexes with well-lit to store food—with stylized designs in all occupations and trades, including hundreds of years.
often painted in black, white, and red. the priesthood. Female “bull-leapers”

1,000 The number of rooms

thought to make up
the famous frescoed palace at Knossos,
Evidence suggests that many ordinary
Minoans worked as craftspeople,
making items for home use and export.
are depicted alongside the men, and
there is even evidence to suggest that
Minoan society might have been
The Thera eruption in 1600 BCE (see above)
may have resulted in the loss of the Cretan fleet,
“capital city” of the Minoan civilization. The wealth that this industry created “matrilineal” (with inheritance passed making Crete more vulnerable to outside powers
meant that they, too, lived in relatively down the female line). and influence. Trade networks may also have
rooms arranged around internal been wiped out, causing “ripple-effect” damage
courtyards. The palaces had advanced Bull-leaping throughout the whole region.
drainage systems, similar to those in A Knossos palace fresco
the Indus Valley (see p.58–59), and reveals the perilous art of ARRIVAL OF THE MYCENAEANS
plumbing that featured interlocking bull-leaping in which By 1500 BCE, the Mycenaeans, a late Bronze
clay pipes and flushing toilets. young men and women Age people from mainland Greece, had arrived
took turns somersaulting
over a bull’s back.
on Crete. The Minoan and Mycenaean cultures
A culture of craftspeople had already influenced each other through
Courtiers and wealthy families living trade. However, by 1400 BCE, the Mycenaeans
in villas surrounding the palace would dominated Crete and the Aegean.
have owned exquisite artifacts and Their takeover may have been aided by an
earthquake on Crete in the 1400s, which
Knossos palace partially destroyed some Minoan cities.
Around 1700 BCE, the
Knossos palace complex JOINT DECLINE
was destroyed by an The Mycenaeans adopted much Minoan culture,
earthquake or an invasion. and a wonderful fusion of Minoan–Mycenaean
When rebuilt, the palace
styles flourished during this period. However, by
was even more splendid,
with stone steps linking 1200 BCE, the Cretan palace-cities were in decline
the different buildings 78–79 ½½, and the Greek Dorian people
on its hilly site. moved in. The increasing use of iron for tools
Dolphin fresco and weapons, and in trade, may also have put
This beautiful fresco was discovered in a the Bronze Age culture at a disadvantage, and
palace throne room. The Minoans moved have been a factor in the civilization’s decline.
from a decorative artistic style in their early
days to the naturalistic style of art seen here.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE


The Late Bronze Age ¿¿43 began with

the rise of several new powers.

The Hittite Old Kingdom
formed in Anatolia (modern
Turkey) in the 17th century
BCE , but declined due to
infighting. The New Kingdom
emerged in the 15th century
and expanded to challenge first
Mittani (see below) and then
Egypt. The state was divided GODDESS
into multiple kingdoms, each
with a governor appointed by the great king,
who ruled from the capital, Hattusa.

In 1595 BCE the Hittite king Mursili II
sacked Babylon, ending the Old
Babylonian period ¿¿55. Babylonia
then rose slowly as a power under the
Kassites—an Indo-Iranian group that
had immigrated centuries before. The
Kassites were known for kudurru
(“boundary stone”) sculptures,
KUDURRU which commemorated land grants.

The civilization that dominated Greece in the
Late Bronze Age (1600–1100 BCE), Mycenae
¿¿77 controlled much of the Aegean Sea and
absorbed the Minoan civilization ¿¿76–77.

The kingdom of Mittani, populated by the
Hurrian people, formed in northwest
Mesopotamia in the 16th century BCE. Mittani
conquered Assyria 80–81½½, holding it as a
dependent state until the 14th century, as well as
fighting Egypt for control of southern Syria. The
Mittanian capital, Washshukanni, has not
yet been excavated or even precisely located.


During its New Kingdom ¿¿64–65 (1550–
1069 BCE), Egypt became the world’s leading
power and the major force in the Middle East.
Expansionist policies created an empire that,
in the 15th century BCE, stretched from modern-
day Lebanon to Sudan (ancient Nubia).


Rameses III battles the Sea Peoples

Pharaoh Rameses III smites his enemies in his battles
against the “Sea Peoples” during the 12th century bce.
Long blamed for the Bronze Age collapse, the Sea Peoples
may have been opportunists attacking weakened states.


T he kingdoms of the Late Bronze
Age—Babylonia, Mittani, Elam,
" L ACK3 E A
The “Club of Great Powers”
This map shows the approximate
Egypt, Mycenae, Alashiya, boundaries of the great New kingdoms, including the Hebrew states
and the Hittite Empire—were potent 4ROY powers of the Middle East of Israel and Judah, were founded in the
powers, whose might was based on the 7ILUSA c. 1350 BCE. The core former territory of the Bronze Age powers.
-9#%.!%!. -)4!..) territories were usually

war chariot. Where their frontiers met, '2%%#% ()44)4%%-0)2% secure, but the borders

they fought, but they made no attempt T O L I A were fluid and in ARAMAEAN KINGDOMS

to conquer each other’s core territories, constant dispute. Migrations were a key feature of the collapse,
5GARIT (ARRAN !3392)!
so relative stability was maintained for #RET E
!SHUR and the most significant migrants were the
four centuries from c. 1600 to 1200 BCE. -E !,!3()9! OTAMIA
Aramaeans. By the 10th century BCE, a patchwork



KEY EAN3 "ABYLON 4IGRIS 3USA of small Aramaean kingdoms covered the

EA %,!-
The flow of bronze Mycenaean Greece .IPPUR Levant and northern Mesopotamia, and the

"!"9,/.)! 5R !NSHAN
The key to this stability was the need Hittite Empire Aramaic language was on its way to replacing
for supplies of copper and tin to make Akkadian ¿¿54–55 as the Middle East’s lingua

Mitanni SI
bronze for weapons and tools. Copper Assyria %'904 '
ULF franca. Aramaic was used in the Assyrian

was abundant, but the source of tin at Babylonia 80–81½½and Persian 92–93½½empires.

the time was in distant Afghanistan. Elam .
Long-distance trade in metals therefore Egypt PHILISTINES
0 600 km
needed to be maintained, and the states Present-day river course These people settled on the coast
rapidly formed a diplomatic community, Present-day coastline 0 600 miles of the Levant at the end of the 2nd
millennium BCE. They may equate
to the Peleset—one of the “Sea

Bronze Age Collapse

Peoples” mentioned by the
Egyptians—and are the origin
of the name Palestine. Their
architecture and culture appear
Greek, suggesting that they began FUNERARY
as displaced Mycenaeans ¿¿77. MASK
In the Late Bronze Age of the Middle East, a diplomatic community of empires maintained a thriving
international system based on bronze. Between 1200 and 1050 BCE, the records of these powers hint at IRON-AGE ECONOMY
Iron ore was more readily accessible than the
tumult and upheaval—then most simply fall eerily silent, signifying a dark age of history. ingredients for bronze, but the transition to an
iron economy was highly disruptive, so the great
based on intensive correspondence, Most likely, marauding Mycenaeans records a few decades later, when its powers stuck with bronze. After they fell, iron
dynastic intermarriage, and exchange drew Hittite forces away from Hattusa, capital, Susa, was sacked. Assyria also came into common use. By the 10th century
of gifts. Whatever the current political the capital, which was then destroyed fell silent by 1050 BCE for over a BCE , Assyria was making the change, and the
balance and regardless of who was by tribes of northern Anatolia, leaving century. The last few records speak of emerging new states were already using iron.
fighting whom, bronze was delivered. the rest of the empire to fragment. endless border skirmishes, as the kings
Diplomacy also allowed the empires The Egyptians fought off invasions attempted to hold back mass migrations
to make peace when strategically by groups they called the “Sea Peoples,” of “Aramaeans” and “Mushki.”
necessary. For instance, Egypt and whom they blamed for the fall of the
Mittani initially fought over What happened?
southern Syria, but Mittani This period is one of the most THE UGARIT LETTERS
made peace with Egypt to hotly debated subjects in ancient
concentrate on the Hittite threat history. The events are known Correspondence survives between the
from the north. The Hittites later from only a handful of sources, king of Ugarit, a regional ruler of the Hittite
came into conflict with the such as the Ugarit letters (see Empire, and the king of Alashiya, on
Egyptians, but formed an alliance right) and the Egyptian accounts Cyprus. The letters talk of hostile
with them to repel the Assyrians. of the Sea Peoples. After 1050, marauders plaguing the Ugarit area and
The Assyrians, formerly vassals there are simply no records at are brought to a sudden stop soon after
of Mittani, were newcomers to all and the period 1050–934 BCE 1200 BCE by the city’s destruction. They
the “Club of Great Powers,” and is termed a “dark age.” The mention that the Hittites had called the
it was some time before these collapse represented only the bulk of Ugarit’s forces away to fight
upstarts were fully accepted. removal of the top layer of elsewhere, leaving it defenseless. The
culture, however—a dark age is marauders are never named but, as many
Disintegration of kingdoms simply a period in which the cities around Ugarit were left unscathed,
Hittite capital it is possible that they were displaced
The collapse began c. 1200 BCE. The ruins of Hattusa, destroyed around 1180 BCE, were elite stop producing monuments
The first sign was that Mycenaean and written records. The political map Mycenaean Greeks looking for a rich port
unearthed at Bogazkoy in central Turkey. The palace
citadels in Greece were destroyed (see was burned and the whole city abandoned. was redrawn, but the lives of most to loot, as with the suspected fate of Troy.
p.77), most likely by northern invaders. people would not have changed.
It seems that dispossessed Mycenaeans Hittite Empire, although many of these Although many kingdoms fell, only
flooded outward looking for new lands. groups seem to have had connections a few cities were utterly destroyed.
This is probably the origin of the story to former Hittite territories, meaning Assyria and Elam were the only
of Troy (see pp.102–03), which equates they were probably displaced by the Bronze Age powers to return, but
to a kingdom in Anatolia known to the empire’s fall, rather than the cause new kingdoms soon arose. The patterns
Hittites as Wilusa. of it. Egypt‘s New Kingdom declined of the Bronze Age were still deeply
What follows in the scant records and eventually fragmented in 1069 BCE. ingrained, but the new technology of
available seems to be a cascade of mass Meanwhile, Babylonia’s wars with iron would soon allow states such as
migration, disruption, and destruction. Assyria and Elam resulted in Babylon’s Assyria (see pp.80–81) to break free of ENVELOPE
Around 1180 BCE the Hittite Empire Kassite dynasty dissolving in 1154 BCE the old system of diplomacy and bid for
abruptly disappeared from history. and Elam again disappearing from the world domination on their own.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

Food, probably a meat

stew (perhaps from the
B E F O R E butchered sheep), is being
he Assyrians were Semitic Life in an Assyrian military camp
T people living in northern This 9th-century relief from Ashurnasirpal II’s palace at
Nimrud shows a priest, bottom left, preparing to predict the
prepared on a stove.

Assyria rose to prominence in northern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq)

future by studying a sheep’s entrails. Foretelling the future
Mesopotamia ¿¿54–55 in the 14th century and they reached the height of their
was a prominent aspect of Assyrian life.
BCE, but its foundations were laid by rulers empire—during the “Neo-Assyrian”
up to 600 years earlier. era—in the 800s and 700s BCE. The
Neo-Assyrian Empire built on the population movements were more
OLD ASSYRIAN PERIOD foundations of the Middle Assyrian like resettlements than deportations,
The Assyrian Empire’s roots can be traced to the period (1350–1000 BCE, see BEFORE), because the people were given
period c. 2000–1800 BCE when Shamshi-Adad I during which Assyria commanded land and state assistance. This
created a kingdom including the great trading much wealth and resources, improving resettlement was the fate of the
city of Ashur, once an independent city-state. agriculture and irrigation, erecting people known in Biblical
impressive buildings, and establishing tradition as the “Ten Lost
MIDDLE ASSYRIAN PERIOD key administrative centres. Tribes” of the conquered
By 1400 BCE, the Assyrians were vassals of their Hebrew kingdom of Israel.
powerful neighbor, the kingdom of Mittani Legendary warriors They were moved to the
¿¿78–79. As Mittani crumbled, Ashur broke The Neo-Assyrians were famed as Upper Habur area of
free, its rulers proclaiming themselves “kings of fierce warriors and they showed northern Mesopotamia
Assyria.” Under Ashur-uballit I (1365–1330 BCE), innovative military prowess, which and the Zagros mountains
Assyrian lands expanded over helped them to expand their territories. of southwest Iran.
all of modern north Iraq, and Chariot warfare had already become
Assyria came into conflict established during the Middle Assyrian SEMITIC A language
with Babylonia and the period, when the Middle East was still group that includes
Hittites. Like other in the Bronze Age (see pp.78–79). Hebrew and Arabic, and a
Bronze Age powers ¿¿78– However, military success in the description of people from
79, Assyria declined in Neo-Assyrian period was aided by the the Middle East who trace
the 11th century BCE, Assyrians’ effective adoption of new their ancestry to the
ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS but the state survived. Iron Age warfare techniques. Their biblical Noah and his son,
highly disciplined army featured a Shem. The group includes
mix of chariots, infantry, and horseback both Jews and Arabs.

Rulers of the Iron Age

By the 9th century BCE, a great Assyrian empire dominated the Middle East and stayed in control
for two centuries. It is often seen as the first real “world empire,” and much of its success can be
traced to a stable political system and skillful exploitation of new Iron Age warfare techniques.
An Assyrian priest,
riders. This was the first army to use Resettlement was recognizable by his hat,
A S S Y R I A N K I N G , R U L E D 7 21 – 7 0 5 B C E
cavalry units, which, along with the designed to create a joins another man in
butchering a sheep so that
SARGON II Assyrians’ use of iron weapons, gave uniform population,
he can “read” its entrails.
them a great advantage over less although it created some
Coming to the throne in suspicious advanced enemies. The fighting hotbeds of dissent. The
circumstances, Sargon II probably had forces mixed a standing army of policy also made central Assyria a Coded signs written by the
a hand in the disposal of his brother professional soldiers (including cultural melting pot. By the 7th century gods were believed to be
hidden in sheep’s entrails.
and predecessor, foreign mercenaries) under the BCE, the royal entourage included
Shalmaneser V. Sargon control of the king with provincial scholars, craftsmen, and singers from
consolidated the gains contingents mustered as part of Babylonia, Anatolia, Egypt, and Iran.
of his father, Tiglath- regional tax obligations.
pileser III, in Babylonia Stable foundations
and the Mediterranean, Creating an empire Military effectiveness was crucially
and further enlarged the Famed too for the barbaric backed up by a relatively stable political
empire to Iran and far subjugation of their enemies, system. Various factors contributed to
into Anatolia. With a vast the Assyrians used impalement, this. The first was the royal bloodline,
workforce from all over mass execution, and the which was considered all-important, so
the Middle East at his ruthless mass “deportation” that outsiders could not become king.
command and heavy of those who opposed them. But A crown prince and heir apparent was
tribute and taxes filling such methods were also used by selected as soon as a new king took the
his coffers, Sargon built other powers throughout the throne. There was always a successor,
a new residence city
Middle East. The Assyrians and he played an important role in
called Sargon’s Fortress
certainly invented a new way of running the empire. If the king died
(modern Khorsabad) in
dealing with conquered people by unexpectedly, the succession
the Assyrian heartland—
moving them en masse to other arrangement was already in place.
its palaces and temples Regional power
parts of the empire and replacing Second was the way in which power Assyrian governors often enjoyed great wealth. This
bearing lavish stonework.
them with other people from was delegated from the king to local mural detail is from a governor’s residence at Til Barsip,
within the empire. However, the officials. Assyria was organized into during the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 BCE).


A servant sets
out a bowl of soup, A fan is used by #A
roasted animal SPIA
the servant to N3EA
ribs, and flat bread. protect the meal 0 ( 2 9' ) !
from flies. 52!245


!3392 )! !SHUR

0 200 km #YPRUS ES


0 200 miles GR
0(/%.)#)! 4IG
The Assyrian Empire )32!%, 0E
The empire is shown here 5RUK RS
at its height in 705 BCE, but !--/. '
before the incursions into

Egypt. Assyria was for 200 %'904 -/!"
years the principal power in KEY
the Middle East, before it Assyrian Empire at the death of Sargon II, 705 BCE
was crushed by the Medes -EMPHIS Present-day river course

and Babylonians. Present-day coastline

provinces, and newly the population were peasants, paying Parts of the empire were linked with
conquered kingdoms their local lord with goods or services a system of roads. “Royal roads” had
were incorporated as in return for protection. Village life stations for the express delivery of state
provinces (with each changed little through successive kings. correspondence using dispatch riders.
one usually split up This ambitious road network formed
into two or more). Managing the empire the basis of the later Persian system
The governors in Assyrian rule had all the hallmarks of (see pp.90–91, 92–93). The roads were
charge of the provinces a strong empire: clever control tactics, useful for overland trade, too. Strong
were directly appointed good communication links, and varied trading links were developed with the
by the king. However, trading connections. The Assyrians Phoenician city-state of Tyre (see
instead of governors being shrewdly sought to dominate areas that pp.82–83, 132), and Assyria built an
drawn from the local they had previously conquered in the impressive trading network across the
dynasty who had ruled before Middle Assyrian period, which made it Mediterranean as well as connections
Assyria took over, or from the appear that they were reasserting their with the Arabs, and an ancient Iranian
ruling family, the Assyrian king natural rights to those territories. people called the Medes.
relied on eunuchs to represent his
interests. As the eunuch governors Tribute from Israel
could not have children, there was no Jehu, king of Israel,
danger that they would try to start prostrates himself
their own dynasty. before the 9th-century-
BCE Assyrian king
The strong administration kept close
Shalmaneser III. The
control over the regions. It ensured scene is one of several
that the provinces raised taxes and sent such reliefs on a public
troops directly to wherever they were monument erected at
needed. At the top of the hierarchy, the Nimrud in 825 BCE.
The oven would king, the ultimate lawgiver, was aided
have been used by a powerful aristocracy from whom
An Assyrian man is to bake bread or
sliding food into or out
leading officials and army commanders
roast meat. were drawn. At the bottom, most of
of an oven.

The Assyrian Empire, so aggressively built, Babylonia by destroying its capital, Babylon— dynasty into power as puppet rulers, but Egypt
could not withstand internal division. although the city was later rebuilt by Sennacherib’s then regained independence 118–19½½under the
son, Esarhaddon. Babylonia had once been a major Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus I (664–610 BCE).
“ The Assyrian came KING SENNACHERIB
The Assyrian king
Mesopotamian kingdom in the 2nd millennium BCE
¿¿55, 78–79 and emerged again BROTHER WAR
down like the Sennacherib (704–
681 BCE), based at his
from Assyria’s shadow at the end
of the 7th century BCE. 90, 92½½.
The empire was weakened in 652–648 BCE by a war
between Esarhaddon’s sons: Shamash-shumu-

wolf on the fold, spectacular capital,

Nineveh, aggressively CONQUEST OF EGYPT
ukin, whom he had installed as ruler of Babylon,
and Assurbanipal, the eventual victor.

And his cohorts defended the empire’s

borders. His campaigns
Assyria conquered Egypt ¿¿65 in
the 7th century BCE and ended the BABYLONIANS AND MEDES

were gleaming in included sacking

the city of Lachish
rule of the Nubian dynasty. They
put the native Egyptian Saite
On Assurbanipal’s death, the empire endured a
succession crisis, and when the Babylonians and
in Judah (south of Medes attacked and captured the city of Ashur in
purple and gold.” Israel), and crushing
OF LACHISH 614 BCE, the empire quickly disintegrated.

30 0 0 – 70 0 BCE

yre, Byblos, and Sidon formed The earliest
T the core of a great maritime archaeological evidence
for the Phoenician colony at
By around 3000 BCE trading centers were trading network. These city-
Carthage dates to the second
developing in the eastern Mediterranean, states on the east Mediterranean coast,
half of the 8th century BCE.
the Arab peninsula, and Nubia. a region known as Canaan in the 2nd Traditionally, the date of this
millennium BCE and as Phoenicia to the trading post is given as 814 BCE.
MEDITERRANEAN MARITIME CITIES Greeks, prospered between 1200–600 BCE.
By c. 3000 BCE, the maritime cities that would The Phoenicians used maritime trade
become the heartland of “Phoenician” (a later to expand a relatively small land
Greek label) civilization were developing or well base and keep at bay powers looking O C E A N
established along the eastern Mediterranean to control them. These included
coast. These included the cities of Tyre, Byblos, Egypt and the Hittites, from whose
and Sidon (all in modern Lebanon). dominance Phoenicia emerged around
1200 BCE, and the ancient Greeks. IBERIA
THE ARABS The Phoenicians’ extraordinary
During the 3rd millennium BCE, states were seafaring prowess made them the control Gades
Mainaca Balearic Islands
flourishing in the better-watered parts of the center for routes crossing the Corsica
Arabian peninsula. The “Magan” area (modern Mediterranean. Their trading links Lixus Sardinia ITALY
Oman) was an important trade partner for extended to Mesopotamia and, through Rome
Mesopotamia ¿¿54–55. the Red Sea, to Arabia and Africa. Nora Pithecusa
Hippo Regius
Magan was valued for its They were also successful merchants NUMIDIA Utica
Carthage Panormus
copper and diorite, Hadrumetum Sicily
while it received goods Thenae Lilybaeum

such as textiles and wool.
Also during the 3rd
millennium BCE, Nubia Sahara
(modern Sudan) was

Sea and Desert

forging links with Egypt
by trading goods,
providing a corridor to
Africa through which
Egypt obtained ebony,
IVORY COMB, During the 2nd millennium BCE, a variety of peoples in coastal This stone slab
ivory, gold, incense, (stela) from the Amun
KINGDOM and exotic animals. and desert areas fringing more populated regions established temple at Kawa shows a
Nubian king called Ary,
vital trading networks that linked a cross-section of cultures. who may be the 8th-
century BCE founder of
the “kingdom of Kush”
HOW WE KNOW and manufacturers, supplying a range the camel, around the 12th century
(in Egypt and Sudan),
of goods—from rich, exotic fabrics and BCE. This made it easier to create
worshipping the gods
THE INCENSE TRADE glass to cedar wood—that found a settlements in the desert, based around Amun, Mut, and Khonsu.
lucrative market in Assyria. large oases, and to travel across arid
Since ancient times, tales circulated A vast network of trading posts regions in search of new resources.
about a “lost city” on the Arabian Ni
included Carthage in North Africa and Kawa
peninsula. Archaeological discoveries in Gades (Cadiz) in Iberia (Spain), close Secrets of the desert
the 1980s and 1990s, using images to the centers of tin production. Trade Camel trails marked out routes that Trade across the desert and sea
taken from space, appear to have found made Phoenicia an important force in became part of an “Incense Road,” All manner of goods, from many different
this city and identified it as Ubar international cultural exchange and carrying incense and spices. Only the sources, were transported across huge distances
(a region, not a city), in modern Oman. by networks that meshed Phoenician-controlled
spread the influential writing system Arabs knew the secrets of traversing
Items unearthed there include frankincense routes with the trade routes of Mediterranean,
that they developed (see pp.62–63). their dangerous desert routes. This Middle Eastern, African, and Arabian peoples.
burners, and it is thought that this was The “Phoenicians,” as the Greeks knowledge made them powerful and For example, the 14th-century-BCE ship
a major Arabian trading post on the called them, are the same as the wealthy, and they did their best to found wrecked off Uluburun (modern Sennar
incense route, probably thriving by 900 BCE. Turkey) was carrying goods from
“Canaanites”; while the port of Ugarit shroud their trails and sources in
Incense was so precious, and its Mycenae, Canaan, Egypt, and
(see p.79) was abandoned in the course fabulous myth.
trade so important, because it masked Assyria. Its “nationality”
of the collapse of the Late Bronze Age
unpleasant smells and was is uncertain.
system, most other Canaanite cities The Kingdom of Kush
used in religious ceremonies.
survived intact and formed close A valuable nexus of trade routes was
The trees from which
trading links with the Philistines and also thriving farther west, around the
aromatic resins are obtained
other new arrivals. kingdom of Kush, in southern Nubia,
grow only in Oman. This is
bringing precious materials such as
why the incense, gold, and KEY
myrrh brought to
Arab trade ivory and gold to the ancient world.
Important trading networks were By the 8th century BCE, Kush and its Phoenicia
Jesus by the
three kings also established in the Arab world capital, Napata, were enjoying a glorious Cities
were such at this time. By the late 9th century period as a major trade center freed
Phoenician trade centers
special gifts. BCE, there were major centers in from Egyptian domination. The value
and routes
southern Arabia (modern Yemen), of Nubia’s trade routes was one of the
including the Minaean and Sabaean main reasons why Egypt had worked Incense trade centers
kingdoms, and in the north. The so hard, from about 2000 BCE, to exert and routes
BURNER lives of the seminomadic Arabs were control here, and the two cultures had Gold and ivory trade
transformed by the domestication of a lasting impact on each other. centers and routes



Further development of Phoenician and

Arabian trading empires saw an even
greater emphasis on travel by sea.

The Phoenicians first This beautiful gold band was found at Skilled seafarers and navigators, the WARSHIP TECHNOLOGY
introduced this distinctive “black- Enkomi on Cyprus, ancient Alashiya, and once Phoenicians built sophisticated multi-oared Warships were powered by a combination of
on-red” pottery to Cyprus. This decorated a luxurious garment. It dates to the galleys (as on this coin from Sidon) designed sails and rowers, and by the 600s BCE, when the
ox-shaped flask dates from 13th century BCE, when Enkomi was a major to speed over vast distances, and made great
Phoenicians supplied vessels to the Persians for
c. 700 BCE, by which time the port on the world’s trade routes—clear from the contributions to shipbuilding technology. They
Cypriots had evolved their own band’s mix of Middle Eastern and Mycenaean probably developed a bireme with two banks their battles with the Greeks 93 ½½, biremes
version of the style. Greek motifs. of oars, the main warship in the 700s BCE. (ships with two banks of oars) had been replaced
by triremes (ships with three banks of oars).

There are many tales of the Phoenicians’
incredible long-distance voyages. Herodotus, the
ancient Greek historian ¿¿102–03, wrote that
in around 600 BCE, a Phoenician expedition sent
down the Red Sea by Egyptian pharaoh Necho II
sailed around Africa and returned through the
n ub e “Pillars of Hercules” (the Straits of
Gibraltar) in three years.
Aegean Byzantium k
Athens Sea In the southwest of the
a This relief from the palace of the Arabian peninsula, the
Knossos PHRYGIA Assyrian king Sargon II (721–704 BCE) kingdom of the Himyarites
Itanos Anatolia in Khorsabad (North Iraq) shows a
wood shipment being unloaded. Assyria
eclipsed that of the Sabaeans
Me by the 3rd century CE and
di imported top-quality cedar for its palace
ter building from Lebanon. remained the dominant
ran Cyprus
ean Arabian state until the 500s.
Sea Citium Byblos
Its trading ships plied regular
Sidon Palmyra
EGYPT routes along the East African
Tyre Damascus Khorsabad
coast, creating strong links
Jerusalem PHOENICIA between Africa and the

Petra Mediterranean. It exported RELIEF
African ivory to the Roman CARVING

Thebes Empire and maintained a brisk trade in precious

Medain resins such as frankincense and myrrh.
Elephantine Saleh Telmah
Leucecome Eu
Berenice s
From the 1st millennium BCE onward, the Arabs’
Charax spice and incense routes started bypassing
the desert in favor of travel by sea.
Red Sea


Meroë Gerrha



The kingdom of Saba (biblical Sheba,

Adulis Sana as in the queen of Sheba) held considerable
sway in the Arabian Peninsula by the 8th
Qataban century BCE. Ma’rib city was its center—a
Ma’rib major post along the Arabian incense road. Arabian
Muza Peninsula


700 BCE –600 CE
The age of the great classical civilizations, including Greece, Rome, China,
and Persia, was a period of remarkable innovation in science, philosophy,
art, and politics. Vast empires rose and fell, systems of government that
still influence society today were born, and great religions emerged. It is
also the period when history was first written down.
70 0 BCE–600 CE


700 BCE –600 CE
700 BCE 600 BCE 550 BCE 500 BCE
c. 600 587 c. 500
Ironworking in Nok, Neo-Babylonian Rice farming reaches
Nigeria. Greece Empire under Japan from China.
continues colonization Nebuchadnezzar II Ironworking spreads
of Mediterranean with destroys Jerusalem’s to Southeast Asia and
colony of Massalia, temple and exiles East Africa. Bronze
founded in southern the Israelites. coins used in China.
France. First Greek Zapotecs develop
coins. Paracas culture hieroglyphic writing in
begins in Peru. Central America. Indian
Cyrus Cylinder, caste system in place.
proclaiming Persian
sovereignty in Babylon

Hallstatt bird chariot, c. 550

Celtic bronze, Europe Cyrus the Great of
c. 700 Persia defeats Medes
Scythians from Central and founds Persian
Asia settle in Eastern (Achaemenid) Empire.
Europe. Rise of Greek Rise of Sabaean and
city-states. Early Celtic other states around
Hallstatt culture in Red Sea. Cast iron
Europe. Agricultural produced in China.
villages in southeast 539
North America. Babylonian Empire
absorbed by Persia.

c. 650 Gate of Babylon 510 Persepolis relief

First coins minted, Romans expel
Lydia, Asia Minor. Rise c. 563 Etruscan royal family 496
of “tyrants” in many Possible birth date of and establish republic. Rome defeats Latins
Greek cities. Start of Siddhartha Gautama, 505 at Lake Regillus.
ironworking in China. the Buddha. Cleisthenes 490
616 c. 551 establishes democratic Athenian Greeks
Traditional date for Zoroastrianism official government in Athens. defeat Persians at
accession of Tarquin, religion of Persia. Battle of Marathon.
Etruscan king Birth of Confucius.
of Rome.
Brick frieze of Darius’s
 Hesiod  palace in Susa
689 612  Confucius 530
Babylon destroyed by Assyrian Empire Etruscan influence at
Sennacherib of Assyria. ended with sacking its height in Italy.
663 of Nineveh and 525
Assyrians sack Thebes Nimrud by Medes Persian Cambyses II
in Egypt; their empire and Babylonians. annexes Egypt.
reaches its greatest 605 521
extent. Birth of Lao-tzu, Persian empire
660 founder of Taoism. reaches greatest
Birth of Jimmu, extent under Darius I.
legendary first
emperor of Japan.  Homer’s Odyssey Classical Greek vase 
Early 500s c. 520–460 481 480
Much of Middle Indian scholar Panini End of “Spring and End of Archaic Period
East controlled by assembles Sanskrit Autumn” annals, first of Greek art; start of
short-lived empire grammar. chronological history Classical Period.
of the Medes; c. 515 of China. 478
Mesopotamian region Darius builds royal 480–479 Confederacy of Delos,
dominated by Neo- residence at Susa, Xerxes’ Persian later the Athenian
Babylonian Empire. former capital of Elam. invasion of Greece Empire, founded.
is defeated at Salamis, c. 460
Plataea, and Mycale. Persian administration
Archaic Period
adopts parchment.
Paracas textile, Peru  Greek figure 


It has been estimated that in 1 ce, the great classical civilizations of alike, and originators of great political systems—democracy in Greece,
Eurasia—Greece, Rome, Persia, India, and China—contained half the Confucianism in China—that have reverberated across the centuries.
world’s population of 250 million. These were more than formidably well- They also gave rise to a series of global religions—Buddhism, Judaism,
organized states and empires, with expansive, military, and materialistic and Christianity. Elsewhere, in Central and South America, Africa, and
ambitions. They were repositories of learning in the sciences and arts Japan, new civilizations were also emerging.

450 BCE 400 BCE 300 BCE 200 BCE

c. 400