Note: Dates are be expressed in Mya (millions years ago ) or Kya ( thousands of years ago )
    - But closer to our time, we revert to BCE (Before the Common Era )

15,000 Mya: Big Bang !


Solar system

15,000 Mya: Beginning of our Universe 
- 14,500,000,000 years ago !
  4,000 Mya: Our Sun and planets coalesce
  2,000 Mya: Land solidifies and water condenses from the atmosphere

1,000 Mya: Start of life

1,000 Mya: Life starts in the sea as single cell bacteria
then algae
500 Mya:  Complex marine life like the trilobite =>
440 Mya:  the whole planet freezes over
- a REAL ice age lasting 20 Myears, followed by
4 more major extinctions where >80% species die
400 Mya:  Sharks
250 Mya:  Appearance of first dinosaurs
200 Mya:  The first land mass starts to split up into our modern continents

Click image for better view

150 Mya:  Golden age of dinosaurs... until extinction ~ 65 Mya
- Plants develop FLOWERS

edaphosaurus ichthyosaurs brachiosaurus spinosaurus
- Pictures from G. Rymill -

135 Mya:  First mammal (small mouse)


100 Mya: Mammals take over

- 100 Mya:  Small mammals & birds
- 65 Mya:  Mass extinction of dinosaurs as well as 85% of land and marine species

Current theory is that a massive asteroid impact filled the atmosphere with dust shutting out sunlight. This lead to a nuclear winter and mass extinction. A 110 mile wide crater off the coast of Yucatan is thought to have been the site of impact.

  • Mammals - who have the advantage of being warm-blooded - survive and proliferate
- 60 Mya:  First primates (lemurs)
- 50 Mya:  First horses
- 40 Mya:  First monkeys
- 15 Mya:  Great apes diverge from monkeys

7 MYa: Hominids

All of man's proper ancestors, hominids, start out in Africa and some of them migrate to Asia and Europe. Theories on evolution and migration depend on the discovery, classification and dating of hominid remains found around the world: see map.


Click for MORE !

The earliest hominids skeletons (including Lucy) were found in the Rift Valley which stretches through Ethiopia and Kenya.
- 6 Mya:  Appearance of bipedal apes distinct from the ancestors of chimps and gorillas ( click on images for better view! ).   Morphological changes in going from Ape to Homo Sapiens include:
  • Larger brain and smaller jaw changes the skull shape
  • Prehensile toe disappears and aligns with other toes
  • Arms shorten
Yet, at the gene level, differences are small: chimps and people are 98% the same.

- 2.5 Mya
:   Homo_habilis, first real hominid:

Homo Erectus
More sophisticated than previous apes who just used stones to crack nuts. Habilis developed a technique (Oldowan) to get a cutting edge on stones. These humans likely subsisted on scavenged meat and wild plants, rather than by hunting prey. H. habilis dies out around 1,500 Kya.

- 1.8 Mya:   Homo erectus is the precursor to modern man. A naked ape with a much larger brain than his predecessors, H. erectus survives for about 1.5 million years (the longest of any hominid species). The african branch of the species is known as Homo ergaster.

During his existence, Erectus learned to control fire and developped better stone tools ( Acheulean ). Discovery of spearheads dated 1,5 Mya shows Erectus to have evolved from prey to hunter. However, H. erectus had deficient vocal structures and it is doubtful wether he developed even crude language (Wikipedia). A further indication that Erectus had limited mental abilities is that he did not produce any drawings or decoration ... indicators of abstract thought.

Thus equiped, H. erectus migrated out of Africa (~ 1Mya) to populate Europe and South Asia. Being naked without fur or clothes, Erectus sticks to sub-tropical areas below the 40th parallel. Erectus constructed the first "boats" (bamboo rafts) which allowed him to spread through Indonesian islands about 850,000 years ago. H. Erectus remains were first discovered on Java in 1891. More recent digs suggest that some descendants survived as pygmies on Flores as late as 13,000 years ago. Elsewhere, H. Erectus disappears around 200 Kya, replaced by more advanced hominids from Africa;

Meet the folks (I. Allan, from The Age)

1 Mya: Erectus to Neanderthals

Homo erectus leaves Africa to occupy southern Europe and Asia around 1Mya.
- Disappears from the fossil record around 200 Kya.

This is the Ice Age and Erectus, still naked, stays in warm areas (shown in green).

The Pleistocene: Ice Age from 2 Mya to 10 Kya

For over 100 million years, after the continents formed and life appeared, the earth had remained relatively warm and ice free, though slowly cooling. However, just about the time when smart hominids appeared (2Mya), the earth entered the Ice Age: a period of repeated 100kyr cycles with glacial periods lasting 10,000 years or more separated by warm spells. Variations in average temperatures are shown in the charts below.

At the extreme, some continental glaciers reached the 40th parallel and covered up to 30% of the world's land mass. Typically, England is covered in ice for periods of 10,000 years. (see Wikipedia)
Each glacial advance ties up huge volumes of water in continental ice sheets 1500–3000 m thick, resulting in sea level drops of 100 m or more. During glaciations, England is connected to Europe, Ethiopia to Arabia, Sumatra to Malaysia and Siberia to Alaska. World map (20,000 BC).

- Erectus is contemporary to other advanced hominids in Europe (Neanderthals et al.).


1000 Kya, Homo heidelbergensis :
Intermediate species bridging the gap between H. Erectus and the
next waves out of Africa: the Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. [ Wikipedia ]

  800 Kya: First use of rafts by eastern H. Erectus to spread throughout Indonesia. On the other hand, the asian hominids never progress beyond basic Oldowan tools.


Generalized use of FIRE
(700 Kya - 400 Kya )

   300 Kya: Neanderthals Almost humans. Found in Europe and Asia Minor [Map]. Developed better (Mousterian) stone blades and started attaching them to wood handles to obtain axes, adzes (useful to hollow out logs) and spears.

- Probably the first to wear clothes: skins and furs, and start migrating towards the frozen north. [ Wikipedia ]


200 Kya: Rise of H. Sapiens

200 Kya:  Homo sapiens

  • Appears around 200 Kya and evolves along side other humanoids around Ethiopia.
  • Around 100 Kya, H. Sapiens leaves Africa and spreads accross the planet.
  • Migration proceeds in fits and starts, dependent on the glacial cycles which provide land bridges and ice barriers.

The H. Sapiens migration across the planet is detailed in the Bradshaw's Journey of Mankind video.
[ Download to watch off-line ]

74 Kya: Toba Catastrophe - The largest volcanic explosion in 25 million years deposits an ash layer about 15 centimetres thick over the whole of South Asia. Many species become extinct but humans survive.

The big change

Although early Homo Sapiens appeared identical to modern man, for 150_000 years, his mental abilities were limited - on a par to those of contemporary hominids. He used the same stone tools; had no jewelry and hunting was limited to small animals.

But after 50 Kya, there is evidence of a HUGE change: artefacts found around burial sites become much more sophisticated, including: art (jewelry and drawings), bone tools such as needles and fish hooks, better weapons like harpoons and bows and arrows. This progress is attributed to mutations ( better brain and better voice box ) which allowed the use of language LANGUAGE. This improved creature is often called Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

Armed with these advantages, Homo Sapiens spreads over the globe.

  • 40 Kya: Europe where they are know as Cro Magnon. Within 20,000 years, they wipe out the Neanderthals.
  • 40 Kya: Australia

  • 15 Kya: America via the Bering land bridge and reaches the southern tip by 10 Kya.
      [ Note: the Innu are thought to have come accross in a second wave 2Kya ]

  • Note: Further migration into the Pacific by Austronesians from Taiwan occurs later after the rise of Civilizations

Homo Sapiens Art

30 Kya

25 Kya

16 Kya

9 Kya

Cave Paintings and figurine from 3 continents ( 30 Kya - 9 Kya )
Click images to see bigger.

12 Kya: Mesolithic period


This period starts with the improved climate after the ice age. It is marked by rapid advances in tools and changes in food gathering: where hunting is supplemented by fishing and vegetal sources. Mesolithic technology is characterized by microliths, small sharp points, and composite tools. Flint flakes were shaped into spear and javelin heads, scrapers, knives, harpoons and arrowheads. Scrapers were used to clean animal skins for clothing or covering a hut. Flint or bone points were made to bore holes in skins so that they could be sewn together. Other materials for tools included bones, antlers, teeth, and ivory.

This period saw the development of the axe, the bow and arrow, fishing with spears, hooks, nets and canoes. Probably also domestication of the dog, building of shelters and pottery. The Mesolithic ends with the development of agriculture and the end of nomadic life: the Neolithic period. Dating of these periods is relative because progress occurred at different times in different areas of the world.

Homo Sapiens in the Sahara

Some time after the end of the ice age (~ 10,500 ya), monsoon rains come to the Sahara turning it into a savannah-type environment extending from Mali to Ethiopia. Humans move in, first as hunters, then as herders. They occupy the Sahara for 4,000 years until the rains stop and desert returns. Rock Art throughout the area testifies to the human presence. [Ref1, Ref2. ]

~ 8 Kya

7 Kya

10,000 ya: Start of Civilization

Civilization starts with the Neolithic period during which hunter/gatherers gradually settle into agrarian life. The Neolithic is characterized by:

  • farming based on various cereals
  • herding: domestication of cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and fowl
  • pottery: essential for the storage of grain
  • farming tools : sickles, hoes, mortars & pestles
But the Neolithic transition takes time, roughly 4,000 years. Suitable plants must be domesticated - identified and nurtured to obtain nourishing varieties. Suitable animals must be bred and specialized farming tools developped like sickles, hoes, mortar & pestles.

Wheat is the first cereal to be cultivated, followed by barley. Rice comes much later. In the Americas, the crops will be squash, corn and beans. [ Reference ] These plants are developped in main 3 areas: the fertile crescent, China and Mexico. Then, the seeds spread rapidly to other areas, like Egypt. This occurs around:

    - 10,000 BCE in Mid East (Jericho) and China
    - 7,000 BCE in India and Mexico
    - 5,000 BCE in Europe

Farming leads to the creation of villages and cities. Increased food production frees people to become craftsmen and priests. Land ownership creates class hierarchies with chiefs, kings and armies.
Then, industry, commerce and conquest spur invention.

Metals in the Stone Age
Gold and copper are two metals that occur in a relatively pure state as nuggets in nature - think of panning during the California gold rush. Although these metals cannot yet be melted they can be beaten into various shapes. Thus copper scrapers and gold leaf jewelry appear.

5,000 BC: Invention of the WHEEL
4,000 BC: High temperature kilns lead to ceramics and extraction of copper from ore by smelting [ Video ].

3,500 BC: WRITING systems
  • Cuneiform on clay tablets in Mesopotamia
  • Hieroglyphs on monuments in Egypt
        - The Phoenecian alphabet (phonetic writing) comes later (~1,000 BCE)

3,100 BC: The first Paraoh, Narmer, unifes Upper and Lower Egypt

3,000 BC: Start of Bronze Age;
- Discovery that adding 12% tin to copper
- gives a harder metal... which can be molded


2,500 BC:
Cheops builds the great Pyramids at Giza
- Minoan civilization on Crete

2,100 BC: Xia, first dynasty of China
1,800 BC: Shang dynasty & writing system ( pictograms on shells)

1,500 BC: Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica
      - The Maya (600 BCE), Aztec & Inca empires occur much later (~ 1,400 CE)

1,200 BC: Iron Age
- Phoenicians emerge as ship builders using cedars of Lebanon
- Master traders for the next 900 years
- Trojan Wars

   750 BC: Founding of Rome
   - Homer writes the Illiad & Odyssey
   500 BC: Classical period of Greece

  250-150 BC:
Punic wars (Rome versus Carthage)

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