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This timeline of prehistory covers the time from the appearance of Homo sapiens approximately 315,000 years ago in Africa to the invention of writing, over 5,000 years ago, with the earliest records going back to 3,200 BC. Prehistory covers the time from the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) to the beginning of ancient history.

All dates are approximate and subject to revision based on new discoveries or analyses.

Middle Paleolithic

Main article: Middle Paleolithic

Further information: Timeline of human evolution § Homo sapiens, List of human evolution fossils § Middle Paleolithic, and List of first human settlements § Middle Paleolithic

For earlier evolutionary history, see Timeline of human evolution and Timeline of natural history.

Postulated reconstruction of a Terra Amata hut[1])
Speculative reconstruction of 130,000 year old white-tailed eagle talon jewellery from the Krapina Neanderthal site, Croatia (arrows indicate cut marks)

Upper Paleolithic

Main articles: Upper Paleolithic and Late Stone Age

Further information: List of human evolution fossils § Upper Paleolithic, and List of first human settlements § Upper Paleolithic

"Epipaleolithic" or "Mesolithic" are terms for a transitional period between the Last Glacial Maximum and the Neolithic Revolution in Old World (Eurasian) cultures.

Painted king scallop ornament (likely Neanderthal) from Cueva Antón, 43,000 years ago.
Lion-man sculpture (Aurignacian, 40,000–35,000 years old)
Gwion Gwion rock paintings found in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia
Magdalenian cave paintings of a woolly mammoth and ibex from Rouffignac Cave, France


Further information: Epipalaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Neolithic Revolution, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, List of first human settlements § Holocene, Pre-modern human migration § Prehistory, and Urheimat

The terms "Neolithic" and "Bronze Age" are culture-specific and are mostly limited to cultures of select parts of the Old World, namely Europe, Western and South Asia. Chronological periodizations typically base their periods on one or more identifiable and unique markers associated with a culturally distinct era (within a given interaction sphere), but these markers are not necessarily intrinsic to the cultural evolution of the era's people.

As such, the terms become less applicable when their markers correlate less with cultural evolution. Therefore, the Neolithic and the Neolithic Revolution have little to do with the Americas, where several different chronologies are used instead depending on the area (e.g. the Andean Preceramic, the North American Archaic and Formative periods). Similarly, since there is no appreciable cultural shift between the use of stone, bronze, and iron in East and Southeast Asia, the term "Bronze Age" is not considered to apply to this region the same as western Eurasia, and "Iron Age" is essentially never used.[86][87] In sub-Saharan Africa, iron metallurgy was developed prior to any knowledge of bronze and possibly before iron's adoption in Eurasia[88] and despite Postclassic Mesoamerica developing and using bronze,[89][90][91] it did not have a significant bearing on its continued cultural evolution in the same way as western Eurasia.

Cave painting of a battle between archers, Morella la Vella, Spain, the oldest known depiction of combat. These paintings date from 7200 to 7400 years ago.[92]

4th millennium BC

Further information: 4th millennium BC

For later events, see Timeline of ancient history and Timelines of world history.


Researchers deduced in a scientific review that "no specific point in time can currently be identified at which modern human ancestry was confined to a limited birthplace" and that current knowledge about long, continuous and complex – e.g. often non-singular, parallel, nonsimultaneous and/or gradual – emergences of characteristics is consistent with a range of evolutionary histories.[151][152] A timeline dating first occurrences and earliest evidence may therefore be an often inadequate approach for describing humanity's (pre-)history.

Post-historical prehistories

For the prehistoric period in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the New World, see Sub-Saharan_Africa § Prehistory, pre-Columbian Americas, and prehistoric Australia.

See also


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