The most fascinating thing I’ve learned in the past few months started with an image, a rough timeline of the history of the world. I’d never paused to consider a comprehensive history of the world, when it started, how it developed. It’s hard to get an overview over a massive, sprawling, worldwide phenomenon, that takes as its subject all of human culture.
This picture was a nice entry into it. It was not totally inclusive (none of the earliest Mesopotamian cultures, formerly called ‘Sumerian’) and surely missed spots I didn’t know were there. Nevertheless, it’s a start. A start, in an overview, is what you want.
Based on that, here follows my potted history of humanity.
Humans evolved around 100,000 t0 50,000 years ago, according to our current best estimates.
The very first human artifacts date from about 35K years ago. A bone flute from Germany is the first one I know. Next, you have cave paintings, like Lascaux – maybe 20K years ago.
After that, thanks to recent discoveries, we have a new landmark for the oldest ruins of a civilization: Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey. We’re now at 10,000 BC. It’s a hilltop sanctuary on a mountain ridge, the title-holder for the oldest man-made structure on record.
A Gobekli Tepi pillar.
While the area is desert today, due to human fault, at the time it was lush and verdant. Its distinctive T-shaped stone pillars excavated from there are full of images of animal life – lions, snakes, bulls, vultures. The T-shaped structures may have represented people, or gods. Their stone handiwork is all that survived.
Around 7-5K BCE we have Çatal Hüyük, in Turkey, again. Notice Turkey’s recurrence.
Next up, ‘Sumerian’ culture, or basically the area of Iraq today. We’re at 4K BCE.
This is The Future, from this perspective. The first real cities have arrived. Think of what that means, what a wonder it would be: humans, concentrated together in number never seen before. Innovations like actual buildings, markets, roads. Human capital, naturally arising from this.
Now you have the beginnings of agriculture entering into the historical record. You have gods and goddesses that sound familiar – Innanna (later Ishter, later Isis), Ereshkigal, gods of the planets. We have an epic that we can read as a book, the first truly familiar literary name – Gilgamesh.
In the fertile crescent (no surprise there), we soon have the Akkadians, with their cuneiform writing. Egypt. New to me were the Indus Valley civilization, and in China, the Longshan civilization.
If your education on these topics came entirely from a Western Civ class, add these to your plate. Keep in mind that the area of China will be building up and tearing down empires from now on.
Move on to 2K BCE. We have the Minoan culture here. Babylonians, Hittites. In China, the Shang.
1K BCE. We have the Phoenicians and the Greeks; this is ancient history that feels familiar. Israel, as an entity. Egypt at its height. The Celts are leaving traces now. The Zhou culture in China. In the Americas, we’re also seeing activity, early civilizations.
500 years pass. The Persian empire. Xerxes.
300 years BCE. The Romans begin, and level up to the Roman empire.
A lot of things are happening, too many to mention. So we’ll zoom out, and paint with broad strokes. You know what happens around 1 CE and the next few centuries from common knowledge.
By 500 CE, we have the fall of the Roman empire in the West and the Byzantine empire, extending the Roman empire in the East. A century later, the Islamic empires start with the first caliphates, such as the Abbasids.
Around 1000 CE, we have the Holy Roman Empire. Fully developed cultures in the Americas. A couple hundred years later, the Ottoman Empire starts. Crusades, warfare, small city-states.
By 1500 CE, we have Europeans in the Americas, and, from my New World centered perspective, all of ‘this’ starts.
And here we are, today.