What Does Prehistoric Mean?
The prehistoric period is the era before the appearance of recorded history in the form of written accounts by man. Scientific breakthroughs have made it possible to gain insight into man’s way of life before he kept records of it. The prehistoric period transcends through various aspects such as tools and weapons, art, government and institutions, religion, and social structure.
Definition Of ‘Prehistoric'
The word prehistoric consists of the prefix ‘pre-’ and the word ‘historic.' The prefix pre- denotes before or prior while historically relates to an event from the past. The word prehistoric thus represents the period before history was recorded or before the invention of writing systems. Prehistory describes eras where there was human existence, but no records exist about their way of life. When prehistory is used more broadly, it can refer to the period when life appeared on earth even before the existence of human beings.
How Do We Know About Prehistoric Times?
The study of prehistoric employs a variety of disciplines in social and natural sciences. The principal method used for research is archaeology. Despite the absence of records, the ancient man left behind artifacts such as tools, weapons, and other items invaluable to his day to day life. Archaeologists use excavation to attain such objects and use other tools including geographic surveys, surface surveys, and scientific analysis to determine the ancient way of life. Archaeology is supplemented by other disciplines such as botany, geology, soil science, anthropology, history, linguistics, biology and molecular genetics among others.
The Prehistoric Timeline
The vast span of the prehistoric period is divided into ages by tools and weapons used by man. The different ages are briefly discussed below:
- Old Stone Age or the paleolithic refers to the first use of stone tools by man. The man used tools for hunting and fishing and discovered fire as remnants of charred wood and bone have been excavated in caves.
- Middle Stone Age- also referred to as the Mesolithic, this period represents the use of flint tools, wooden objects and stone adzes. Agriculture began to be adopted by a man and the first instances of deforestation to create space for agriculture occurred.
- New Stone Age- the new Stone Age or the Neolithic represents the use of polished tools for farming and even warfare. Man in this age exhibited advancements through domestication of animals, use of pottery, weaving and house construction.
Age Of Copper (Chalcolithic)
Some civilizations in Africa bypassed the use of copper and bronze straight to iron but other civilizations such as those in Europe gradually transitioned through the three metals. Copper was a soft metal, and it was in no way regarded superior to stone, and thus both of the elements were used together.
Bronze Age was characterized by advancements in metal working, where it was discovered that by mixing copper and tin, a hard metal was formed called bronze. For some civilizations, the Bronze Age marked the end of prehistory due to the development of writing methods. Some large states developed in regions such as Mesopotamia and Egypt following the widespread use of bronze for warfare.
Iron Age marked the development of writing systems across most civilizations alongside the adoption of iron. Man developed sophisticated agricultural practices, artistic preferences, and religious beliefs.
The End Of The Prehistoric And The Beginning Of The Historical Period
The end of the prehistoric period varies with regions, where some civilizations such as those in the Nile and the Euphrates Valleys developed written records earlier than other civilizations. In most civilizations, the historical period began in the Iron Age. The invention of writing was preceded by the invention of language and took necessary forms from ideographic to sound writing to the most sophisticated use of the alphabet.