Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • In this video, I'm going to use words like eras, periods,

  • and ages to refer to segments of time in the human

  • or in the pre-human past.

  • And what I want to clarify right from the get-go--

  • because frankly, this is something

  • that's confused me in the past-- is that archaeologists will

  • refer to eras, periods, and ages in the human past

  • and they're usually referring to periods of tens of thousands

  • of years, or thousands of years.

  • But these are different eras, periods, and ages than the ones

  • that geologists would refer to when they're

  • talking about geological time.

  • In geological time, era means several hundred millions

  • of years.

  • Periods and ages mean millions of years.

  • When an archaeologist, when we're

  • studying the human past, this is just talking--

  • they're just generally talking about long segments

  • of human time, but not in the millions of years,

  • usually in the thousands or the ten thousands of years.

  • So what I want to do with that out of the way

  • is talk about what has happened in the distant human past,

  • or the distant pre-human past, and also

  • touch on some of the classifications

  • for these segments of time-- because they actually tell us

  • what were the interesting developments that happened

  • to humanity over the 200,000 years

  • that Homo sapiens have been on this planet,

  • or that we believe that Homo sapiens have

  • been on this planet.

  • So the longest period of time in human past,

  • or the category of human time-- and there

  • are different ways you can categorize

  • it-- is the Paleolithic Era right over here.

  • And what really makes that period of time--

  • so this begins even in prehistory or pre-human

  • history, so before Homo sapiens even

  • existed-- you have the beginning of the Paleolithic Era

  • that really began with the development of stone tools.

  • And as we learned in the video on human evolution,

  • there were pre Homo sapiens species

  • that were using stone tools.

  • And so the Paleolithic Era, it's really

  • kind of signified by one, the stone tools, but even more--

  • that either the pre-humans-- or once

  • you go about 200,000 years ago-- the humans show up.

  • It's kind of distinguished by humans

  • being hunter-gatherers, which essentially means to survive,

  • we used to walk around a lot.

  • If we couldn't see something obvious to hunt, maybe

  • a woolly mammoth or something, if we didn't see something

  • obvious to hunt, we would look around

  • for snails, or mushrooms, or whatever else.

  • And that's how we would survive.

  • That's how we would live.

  • And because we were constantly adapting to our environment

  • based on the seasons, we were maybe following animals

  • as they migrated, hunter-gatherers

  • were fundamentally nomadic, which means that they never

  • settled in one place for a long time.

  • They were always ready to pick up-- probably their tents--

  • and follow the herd, or follow whatever animals they were

  • hunting, or follow the season, so they

  • could go to warmer climates, maybe,

  • where they're more likely to find something on the ground

  • to eat, maybe, during the winter.

  • Or who knows.

  • So the Paleolithic Era is really distinguished by that.

  • It's a huge swath of time in human history.

  • And it doesn't come to an end until you

  • get to the advent of farming.

  • So the Paleolithic Era, I mean, we're literally

  • talking about over two million years ago

  • was when it starts-- before Homo sapiens even

  • existed as a species.

  • And it goes all the way to the advent of farming,

  • that we believe first came about around 11,000

  • to 7,000 years ago.

  • And this abbreviation right here, this BP,

  • this does not stand for British Petroleum.

  • It stands for Before Present, or before the present time.

  • So one more acronym to have in your tool

  • kit when you see things.

  • And obviously, if we're 11,000 years before the present,

  • that's the same thing as 9,000 years Before Christ,

  • or Before the Common Era.

  • Because Christ was, we believe, born 2,000 years ago.

  • Now, it may or may not be obvious to you,

  • but the advent of agriculture is a super big deal, arguably

  • the biggest deal in the development

  • of human civilization, or in all of human history.

  • And you might say, hey, you know,

  • what's the big deal about agriculture?

  • These characters over here look pretty happy.

  • They're able to walk around a lot.

  • They're able to hunt.

  • What's the big deal of all of a sudden people

  • plowing fields, and domesticating cattle,

  • and having chickens to lay eggs, and whatever else?

  • And the big deal about that-- besides the fact that it would

  • change people's diet-- is that for the first time,

  • it allowed them to not be nomadic.

  • It allowed them to-- and you could have probably

  • had some hunters who were somewhat settled, maybe living

  • near the ocean.

  • Maybe they did some fishing, and all the rest.

  • But for the most part, with the development of agriculture,

  • it forced people to stay in one place.

  • So you have the Paleolithic Era all the way to the advent

  • of agriculture, which was about 11,000 to 7,000 years ago.

  • And besides the fact that it changed people's diet,

  • it allowed them to settle.

  • So agriculture allowed human beings

  • to settle down in one area.

  • And it wasn't just that they were settling in one area,

  • but because they were able to control their environment, they

  • were able to increase the density of things,

  • of crops that humans could consume,

  • and animals that humans could consume-- and lower

  • the density of crops that humans can't consume,

  • and animals that they can't consume,

  • or that they don't want around, like pests of some type.

  • What it allowed them to do is also

  • settle in more dense environments.

  • You can imagine when you just have people walking around,

  • you need a lot of land to support

  • even the calorie requirements of one human being.

  • But all of a sudden, if you are able to develop agriculture,

  • you're able to domesticate animals.

  • All of a sudden you could have-- in the same amount of land,

  • you could have more calories being generated.

  • And because you have more calories being generated

  • in a smaller amount of land, people can settle.

  • And they can settle in a denser environment.

  • And so agriculture was really this necessary requirement

  • for people to develop civilization,

  • or to develop villages and cities.

  • And maybe also giving them the free time

  • to start thinking about hey, maybe we

  • want to think about how we can record what we know,

  • how we can develop even more technologies.

  • And so just to give us a sense of the categorization

  • that an archaeologist would use for these different periods

  • of time-- I told you we start with the Paleolithic

  • Era, with the advent of stone tools,

  • pre-humans-- most of human time on this planet.

  • And then about 11,000 years ago, the development of agriculture.

  • And it developed independently at different places

  • around the world, which is by itself

  • an interesting phenomenon.

  • And people think that it might just be that be the climate

  • might have warmed up a little bit,

  • so that people-- maybe naturally there

  • were some human edible crops that

  • existed in a little bit of a denser environment,

  • and humans learned to optimize that slowly,

  • and they did that independently.

  • But it's an interesting question of why

  • did it develop just then after 180,000, 190,000 years,

  • why did agriculture all of a sudden happen?

  • But just to get the terminology--

  • the Paleolithic Era is that period before agriculture.

  • And then once agriculture starts developing,

  • we are now in the Neolithic Era.

  • And some archaeologists will describe a transition period

  • between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic Era

  • called the Mesolithic.

  • And just so you know what these words mean-- because they

  • actually make sense when you know what they mean,

  • paleo means old and lithic means stone, or of stone.

  • So they're really talking about the Old Stone Age.

  • Neolithic, as you could imagine, means new stone.

  • So it's kind of the New Stone Age.

  • And meso means middle.

  • So it is the Middle Stone Age.

  • So another way of thinking about this whole period

  • from when people were hunter-gatherers

  • all the way to about 11,000 to 7,000 years ago

  • when they developed agriculture-- this whole period

  • is called the Stone Age.

  • And the Stone Age is this biggest age.

  • And there's just different ways of describing it,

  • because if you just call it the Stone Age

  • you're really making importance out of the actual tools

  • that people could shape.

  • They weren't able to use metal at this point.

  • When you refer to Paleolithic and Neolithic,

  • you're maybe referring a little bit more--

  • and there's other ways to think about it--

  • but you're referring a little bit more

  • to the lifestyles of the human beings--

  • Paleolithic being hunter-gatherers,

  • Neolithic having actually settled, having actually

  • started to develop primitive villages, and even cities.

  • And then of course Mesolithic is in between.

  • And just for a pop culture reference,

  • you might have heard of the Paleolithic diet

  • that some people are going on now.

  • And those are people who try to live like hunter-gatherers.

  • Their belief is that most of human evolution

  • occurred while we were hunter-gatherers,

  • and so that's what our bodies are most accustomed to.

  • So they like to eat meat.

  • And they like to eat a lot of nuts.

  • And I even met, I had a coworker once

  • who used to only eat raw meat.

  • And I don't know if that is even justified,

  • or that's even somehow validated by the archaeological record.

  • These people probably did cook their meat.

  • Now, at the end of the Stone Age,

  • we would have, I would say, the number two most significant

  • development in human history.

  • And now we're talking about 3,000 BC,

  • which is about 5,000 years ago.

  • And this is the development of writing.

  • So we were hunter-gatherers about 9,000 to 10,000,

  • 11,000 years ago.

  • People started developing agriculture.

  • It allows them to settle in more dense environments.

  • It also gives them a little bit more free time,

  • because they don't have to hunt and gather all the time.

  • And then you go and once again, we'll probably discover things

  • as we go forward in time that maybe these dates need

  • to be pushed back, or whatever else,

  • or we discover new civilizations, or who knows.

  • But our best sense is you have these villages.

  • You have these civilizations developing.

  • And by about 5,000 years ago-- so this would be 5,000

  • before the present, or 3,000 BC-- Before Christ-- you

  • have people saying, hey, why don't we

  • start trying to write down what we know so that when I tell

  • someone orally, it doesn't actually lose information

  • there?

  • And then so our descendants can slowly

  • collect all of the knowledge we have,

  • and maybe accelerate-- I don't know if they did it explicitly

  • thinking of these, but let's just write down what we know.

  • And so at about that period of time,

  • you have-- as far as we can tell-- the first development

  • of a pictogram-based system of writing.

  • And the earliest system of writing we know

  • is cuneiform, which is from the Sumerian civilization, which

  • is now in present-day Iraq.

  • And what's the really big deal about this

  • is that this is, on some level, the beginning

  • of recorded history.

  • We could talk about the word history.

  • You could say that history is all of the past,

  • and we could use the archaeological record

  • to figure out stuff before people

  • started to write things down.

  • But when they started to write things down,

  • now it was recorded.

  • Now we're actually getting actual accounts

  • of what people know, of actual people's knowledge.

  • And the reason why this is a big deal-- I mean agriculture,

  • hopefully you now appreciate that it was a pretty big deal--

  • but the reason why writing was a big deal,