Prehistory – Concept, periods and stages, history

We explain what prehistory is, the periods and stages into which it is divided. Also, what prehistoric art was like and what history is.

Prehistory organizes the primitive societies that existed before Ancient History.

What is Prehistory?

Traditionally we understand by prehistory to the period of time that goes from the appearance of the first hominids on Earth, that is, the human species ancestors of the Homo sapiens, until the appearance of the first complex societies of the latter and, above all, to the invention of writing, an event that occurred first in the Near East, around 3300 BC

However, from an academic point of view, the concept of prehistory has been much discussed due to its inaccuracies: the human being did not appear at the same time in all places, nor did he discover writing at the same time, so his chronological limits are, at least, arbitrary.

In any case, prehistory can be considered more as a category of work, to organize all those primitive societies whose existence predates Ancient History and that they lack the minimum conditions with which we understand human civilization, which in general are:

  • Complex and hierarchical socialization, with administrative structures and some type of economic exchange.
  • Ability to substantially modify its habitat to make it more conducive.
  • Agglomeration of human life in cities and domestication of animals.

The end of prehistory and the beginning of history is thus a matter of debate., since very ancient civilizations such as the Incas and Mexica in America, or in Africa the Great Zimbabwe or the Empire of Ghana, or the Khmer of Southeast Asia, used to be considered part of prehistory for not having known writing, but their ways eminently urban life and complex societies are more characteristic of ancient history.

Periods and stages of prehistory

In the stone age, humans handled tools made of stone and wood.

Prehistory is understood in various periods, whose chronological inaccuracy rather obliges us to consider as progressive stages in the evolution of human capacities to handle materials and produce tools. Thus, we speak of two great periods:

  • Stone age. It is the period during which the human being handled mostly tools made of stone and wood, or simple materials. This stage in turn comprises three periods, which are:
    • Paleolithic. It is the longest period of the stone age, which begins with the creation of the first stone tools created by hominids. In her existed next to ours species of human beings already extinct, like the Homo habilis or the Homo neardenthalensis, who were mainly hunter-gatherers. At the end of this period the Homo sapiens it spread across the Earth, and began the domestication of the first animals.
    • Mesolithic. It roughly corresponds to the end of the last Ice Age, that is, it witnessed the warming of the earth to more or less current standards. Humanity remained essentially nomadic, although towards the end of the period the first settlements appeared, and with them, the first cemeteries.
    • Neolithic. During this period a true technological revolution took place, starting with the invention of agriculture and livestock. Grazing, cultivation and, therefore, exchange, begin to emerge within the communities that, much later, will be the first human populations.
  • Age of metals. As its name indicates, this is a period in which human beings conquered the knowledge of metallurgy and the handling of metals, thus building more powerful and versatile tools. The first human civilizations and cultures correspond to this period, which is divided into:
    • Copper age. Copper was the first metal to be used by humanity, first raw and then molten, giving birth to metallurgy, to create more cutting and versatile tools.
    • Bronze Age. The knowledge of copper allows its mixture (alloy) with other metals and thus bronze was born, which will mark a milestone in humanity in the manufacture of weapons, shields, ornamental objects, etc. Glass was also discovered in this period, which gives rise to the first ceremonial ceramics, which were used mainly to receive the ashes of cremated bodies.
    • Iron age. Some of the main ancient civilizations had already appeared by the Iron Age, and their mastery of this metal demanded and led to new techniques and new methods of handling materials, although the popularization of iron would not occur until the Roman Empire had entered years. .

Prehistoric art

Prehistoric art
Primitive art consisted of hand shapes, spots, or drawings of animals.

During prehistory there were the first forms of art or subjective expression of humanity, generally consisting of cave paintings on cave walls, using different substances such as paint: blood, animal fat and certain pigments. Most of this primitive art consists of hand shapes, spots or drawings of animals in hunting scenes.

Later in prehistoric times sculpture was created: initially in stone, but later in other more noble materials, such as metals. Ceremonial and religious objects, such as effigies, were common at the time.

At the same time, the first oral stories were being composed and transmitted from generation to generation, probably with mythical or religious content.

The history

History, as opposed to prehistory, refers to the events carried out by humanity since the invention of writing, that is, since these events could somehow be registered and preserved for future generations. It is the field of study of social science of the same name.