Prehistory is the period that begins with the appearance of the human being, about five million years ago, and finishes with the invention of writing, about 6,000 years ago.
It is a long period divided into three stages: the Palaeolithic Age, the NeolithicAge and the Metal Age.
The Palaeolithic Age began with our first ancestors and finished about 10,000 years ago. During that period, human beings used tools made of stone and lived on hunting and gathering.
In the Neolithic Age, which began about 10,000 years ago, human beings lived in villages. Human communities cultivated the land and raised cattle. Agriculture and cattle raising gave rise to a productive economy.
We call the the Metal Age to the period beginning about 7000 years ago, when human beings started to make objects out of metals.
Hominization is the evolutionary process that results in the present human being. It was a very long process.
The first ancestors of the human beings appeared about five million years ago. We call them Australopithecus. They were quite similar to chimpanzees.
Two million years ago a new human species called Homo Habilis appeared. They made tools of stone and lived on hunting and gathering. Homo Habilis and Australopithecus lived in Africa.
Homo erectus appeared a million and a half years ago. They were similar to Homo habilis but they made more perfect tools. They had a greater technological development. This species discovered and learned how to use fire. Home erectus remains have been found out of Africa, in Europe and Asia.
Homo antecessor is an extinct human species discovered in the Atapuerca site ( Spain). He appeared about 800,000 years ago. Most probably he is the oldest European. He is a common ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis andHomo sapiens.
Then, about 100,000 years ago Homo sapiens appeared. This species is divided into two subtypes: Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis or Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens sapiens.
Neanderthal man looked like us but he was more robust and sturdy. This species became extinct.
Homo sapiens sapiens is the species we belong to. Archaeologists have found remains of Homo sapiens in America and Australia.
The continent where human beings first appeared is Africa. Homo erectus were the first human beings to leave Africa. Their remains have been found in Asia, Europe and Africa. In America and Australia, there are no remains of Homo erectus.The only vestiges that archaeologists have found there belong to Homo sapiens.
There are several characteristics that make human beings different from other similar species: they invent tools thanks to the evolution of their intellect; they can walk on two legs (biped walk) so they can work with their hands; they have an opposable thumb, which, for example, allows them to make tools or write; and., finally, the fact that learning is possible because human beings develop a symbolic language and have a long childhood.
The Aphrodite of Willendorf, now in Vienna , has been dated between 28,000 and 25,000 BC is made of limestone and measures about 11 cm in height. In both figurines the anatomical elements have been exaggerated showing that they were probably used as fertility fetishes. Venus Willendorf
They also made figurines of fertility that we call them "aphrodites". The Aphrodite of Laussel, one of the earliest reliefs, measures 44 cm in height and can be seen now at the museum of Bordeaux in France. Venus Lausel
The first human beings survived because they hunted, fished and gathered wild fruits. Mammoths, bears, elephants, deer and bisons were some of the animals they hunted. They obtained food from their meat and from their skins they made clothes.
These groups of human beings were nomadic. Nomadic means that they moved from place to place following the animals that they needed to hunt and looking for plants they could eat. Depending on the areas they lived in caves, outdoors or in cabins. Cabins were houses that they built with tree branches and animal skins. They usually built their houses near rivers.
The groups that they formed are called tribes.The members of a tribe belonged to the same family. They did not live very long. A cold climate and common diseases explain why most of the Palaeolithic men and women lived about thirty five years.
Paleolithic means Old Stone. In the Palaeolithic objects were made of stone, wood and animal bones. Most objects were made of stone and that is why this period was also called Stone Age.
The technique to make tools and objects out of stone was very simple. They knocked two stones together until they got small pieces from one of them. These pieces became cutting objects. They used them to hunt and cut animals’ skins and meat. Examples of objects made of wood and animal bones are: harpoons, needles and lances
Fire was discovered about half a million years ago. For human beings in the Paleolithic Age it was one of the most important discoveries. The climate was extremely cold and with fire they could heat and light their caves, cook their food and frighten wild animals away
Men and women led a very hard life during the Palaeolithic Age. Human beings believed that supernatural forces helped them inhunting, stopped children from dying and women were more fertile, had more children thanks to them.
Palaeolithic tribes decorated their caves walls with paintings and made sculptures to keep these divinities favourable to them. Among the sculptures that they made the Venus*
forms were exceptional.
The most famous prehistorical paintings are in the caves of Altamira, in Spain, and Lascaux, in France. This kind of art is called cave art
Human beings discovered agriculture and cattle raising about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East ( Mesopotamia, Egypt).
Hunting wild animals and gathering fruits and plants were not the only way of getting food. They learnt to cultivate plants and domesticate animals. When human beings knew how to produce their own food their lives changed. This process is so important that we call it revolution.
The first plants they cultivated were cereals: wheat in the Middle East and Europe, rice in Asia and corn in America. The first domesticated animals were horses, dogs: goats, sheep and oxen.
Tribes needed to live near arable land to cultivate cereals. They stopped moving from place to place to find food and became sedentary. They built villages, usually situated next to rivers
When men and women started to live in villages, there was a specialization of work. Some people cultivated fields, other people looked after the animals and others made weapons, fabrics, and other objects.
There were two important technical innovations in the Neolithic Age: fabrics and pottery.
They produced fabrics from animals’ wool using tools like bone spindles, and rudimentary looms.
Pottery was made by hand and baked in a bonfire. New objects were invented such as vessels to hold the grain, bowls for eating and cooking, etc.
Neolithic means New Stone. In the Neolithic Age, people used more specialised tools that which were made of stone such as hoes to till the soil, sicklesto collect the harvest or hand mills to grind the grain
Art is an excellent testimony of the way human beings in the Neolithic Age lived. The human figure becomes more important in the paintings in the caves and artists began to paint scenes: groups of people hunting, harvesting vegetables or dancing. Figures were veryschematic. In the east of Spain amazing examples have been found
Human beings made the first metal objects about 7,000 years ago. First they used copper but it was not very strong. Then bronze and iron were used. With bronze and iron they could make different kinds of objects: weapons, jewels, statutes, etc.
The wheel, the sail and the plough were invented in the Middle East about 5000 years ago. We still use them today.
The wheel had different applications: for transportation being used in carts pulled by bullocks or in pottery wheels to make better ceramic pieces.
The sail was used in ships to make a better use of the force of the wind.
The plough substituted the hoe to cultivate the land. They could work faster and in greater areas.
Human beings needed raw materials to fabricate new tools. The search for these raw materials was the beginning of trade.
Agriculture, cattle raising and the new technical advances, improved people’s lives. Because of this, population increased. Some villages became small cities with hundreds of inhabitants.
Cities were encircled by walls, and inside there were buildings with different functions: houses, stores, shops or workshops. First cities’ houses were small, their walls were made of adobe or stone and their ceilings were made of straw.