Ancient World History

History is an account of events that have happened in the past. It is about the real people and the real things. It does not deal with mere ideas and ideals or what should have been. On the other hand, it is a study of what has been. History does not deal with individuals alone. It is concerned with nations and societies.

Evolution of Human Beings

The first human-like beings are believed to have emerged about two million years ago. They resembled apes. Biologists called them Homo sapiens (wise human beings in Latin). They did not know how to cultivate land and grow food. Nor did they know how to build a house for shelter. They lived in caves or on tree tops.

Human beings had started living on the earth much earlier than they learnt to write. The invention of writing was an important landmark, as written records became the main source of our knowledge of the past. What is not recorded in writing is called Prehistory. To re-construct the life of prehistoric humans, historians and anthropologists study tools, weapons, ornaments, cave dwellings and cave paintings made by our ancestors.

History refers to that period of human evolution for which written records are available. Such writings are found on rocks, pillars, copper plates and more recently paper.

Nomadic Life: Stone Age

The primitive human beings were nomads. They kept moving from one place to another in search of food from the environment. They moved in groups to ensure safety from wild animals, for social security and for companionship. They also started making tools with stones

In each stage human beings used stones as implements which were better than the earlier ones. This helped them to progress to a better and safer life. It had the following main stages:

  1. Old Stone Age - Paleolithic Age
  2. Middle Stone Age - Mesolithic Age
  3. New Stone Age - Neolithic Age

Old Stone Age: Paleolithic Age (5,00,000 B.C. - 10,000 B.C.)

During the old stone ages (Paleolithic Age), human beings lived in the foothills of the mountains preferably near a river. Rivers provided them with drinking water as well as food in the form of animals that came there to quench their thirst. They could find caves for shelter on the foothills. So, their basic needs of food, water and shelter were satisfied easily at such spots.

To cover and protect their bodies from heat and cold, these primitive humans wore bark from the trees and the skin of animals, which they dried under the sun. Early humans lived in caves and made paintings depicting hunting scenes on the walls of these caves. Paintings of animal-chase, especially big animals like bison and reindeer can still be seen in the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh.

The Paleolithic humans also developed certain practices which we think must be their religious beliefs. The Paleolithic humans worshiped their ancestors after their death and buried them with tools and eatables for a comfortable journey to the next world. They were afraid of natural phenomena like lightning and thunder. They could not understand facts like the rising and setting of the sun. But they knew that when the sun rose in the east, it gave heat during the day time, whereas the moon gave peace and coolness at night. To them it was something supernatural, because they could not understand the cause. So they worshiped the Sun, the Moon, Thunder and Lightning.

Moreover, they were wise enough not to destroy nature and its balance. They took from nature only as much as they needed and preferred to live in harmony with it.

The Old Stone Age was followed by the Middle Stone Age or the Mesolithic age. The Mesolithic age was regarded as the transitional age between the Paleolithic age and the Neolithic age.

Middle Stone Age: Mesolithic Age (10,000 B.C. - 8,000 B.C.)

Humans during the Mesolithic age discovered the use of fire. It is quite possible that when two pieces of flint stone were struck together they produced a spark. This spark may have fallen on some dry leaves and caused a fire. This could have frightened or surprised the early humans.

The intelligent humans learnt to use this discovery to their advantage. They found that fire frightened the animals and so could provide them safety if kept burning near the caves. It also provided light during the night. Even the food became softer and tastier when cooked on fire. It also warmed up the cold caves by providing heat.

The use of tools was another important discovery for the early humans. The tools found in this period were called Microliths. They were sharper and more effective. Bones of animals were also used to make tools and weapons like borers, scrapers, arrows, hooks, arrowheads and hammers.

They made hammers, choppers and hand axes with which they cut down small trees. They used it to kill animals for food or build small huts for themselves. They clipped smaller stones to make them as sharp as a knife. By attaching them to bows and spears, they made these tools more effective. Now they were able to hunt animals from a safer distance.

New Stone Age: Neolithic Age (8,000 B.C. - 4,000 B.C.)

In the beginning, human beings were mere hunters and food gatherers. It took them hundreds of thousands of years before they could become food producers. This was the beginning of the Neolithic Age. Humans could grow their own food and they no longer depended on the uncertainty of hunting or searching and gathering more food.

It is quite possible like the discovery of fire this could also have been an accident. Maybe some seeds fell on the ground and plants came out. These plants soon became a regular supply of food. They started sowing these seeds and harvesting them. Now, they had to look after the plants they had sown. This was because there was a gap of at least six months between sowing and harvesting the grains. This was the beginning of agriculture.

It led to a settled life for humans for now they had a regular source of abundant food. They also had a better chance of survival as they no longer had to go hunting for food. Agriculture brought many advantages and changes in the lives of the human beings. They built huts for themselves which were probably protected by a wall. Their fields lay outside the walls. Now they had a regular place to live which soon took the form of a village. This village consisted of many families which provided protection to each other.

Around the same time the early humans realized that they could keep some animals with them. This was possible because of agriculture. Now they kept grain for themselves and the husk was kept for animals. They had learnt to domesticate animals. They used wool and skin from animals for clothing. This was the beginning of mixed farming. Agriculture provided plant-food while domesticated animals gave meat, milk and also wool.

The early humans had seen plants coming out of seeds and giving food like the mother who feeds and sustains the life of her children. They started worshipping Earth as a symbol of mother. The Neolithic Age human beings continued to remain in awe of the forces of nature like the Paleolithic Age people.

Gradually as the knowledge of their environment increased, a desire for a comfortable life also developed. The early humans realised that it was important to have better tools and implements. So they made them sharper. The axe was used for cutting and felling trees. It was made of hard stone, chipped and ground to an edge, after which it was nailed to a wooden stick. Similarly, a sickle was used for harvesting the grain. These tools were also polished to make them last longer. These polished tools helped them to clear the land for agriculture and for cutting and gathering crops.

Another important discovery of this period was the wheel. Wheel was used for drawing water from the well in the form of pulley, for spinning of thread and making clothes in the form of spinning wheel or the charkha, to make pottery in the form of the potter’s wheel. The invention of the potter’s wheel helped them to make cooked food. The pots were made with twig baskets, which were plastered with clay. These pots were of different sizes and had beautiful patterns on the outside.

The greatest use of the wheel was in the cart for transportation. This enabled human beings to carry themselves and their goods from one place to another.

Chalcolithic Age: Use of Metals

Humans had come a long way from their food gathering and stone implement days. Yet they were not satisfied. Soon they discovered a metal called copper. In this age people began to use copper for making implements. Copper was the first metal to be melted by heat in order to make implements.

As the early humans started discovering new materials they started experimenting with them. Copper was mixed with other metals like zinc, tin and lead to produce bronze. The age in which people started using bronze came to be called the Bronze Age.

The tools made of metal proved to be much more effective than the earlier stone implements. Metallic knives and axes were helpful in cutting down trees and more land was cleared for agriculture. The period when humans used both metals and small pieces of stone, is called the Chalcolithic age. Implements of this age have been found at Brahmagiri in Mysore, Nawab Toli near Narmada River as well as in the Chhota Nagpur Plateau.

Beginning of Community Life

Agriculture, mixed farming, development of tools and discovery of wheel all led to a settled life which is called the beginning of a village life. By now, the groups of human beings that had settled together had become larger. And a large group needed someone who could maintain law, order and some discipline. So, it was natural that they those one such person among themselves who could lead them.

Various groups decided their own method of choosing a leader. The leader was more often the oldest person in the group and sometimes it could be the strongest person in the community. The leader looked after the law and order of the settlement. 

Gradually, these settlements became even larger. Towns and cities started coming up. The area around the rivers Saraswati and Indus were the places where the first Indian cities came up around 2500 BC.

Religion

Human beings all over the world have fear of the unknown. Any event, which was not understood by them, was held in awe and soon became sacred. The same happened with the early humans.

The earth assumed the status of a mother figure, which provided food for all living beings - her children. The sun gave life and warmth. It was also reassuring after the dark night. It was the same for the moon, stars, rains, etc. People started worshipping them.

They started sacrificial rites and sang songs in praise of these natural objects. There were magic practitioners, who claimed they could prevent people from coming to harm by them. Some individuals decided to perform sacrificial rites and pray for the community. Such persons came to be known as priests.

People had realized that death was a journey from which people never returned. So, they began to follow the practice of making graves for burying their dead. They covered the graves with large stones called megaliths. Sometimes, various articles of everyday use were also placed, keeping in mind the requirement of the dead on their last journey.

During the Bronze Age, advanced civilisations came up in Mesopotamia, China, Egypt and India.

Iron Age and Beyond

Human culture and civilisation has undergone several phases of development. The earliest human beings started making tools with stone. Later, human beings discovered metals, which proved to be more useful for making tools. Copper, Bronze and Iron were discovered in that very chronological order.

The discovery of iron was a very important landmark in human civilisation. It helped in making tools that were more lasting and durable. Later, other materials came to be used.

People learned to make alloys, which are made up of two or more metals in fixed ratios. Brass is an example of an alloy. Then, people learnt how to make steel by adding carbon to Iron.

Much later, modern science gave a very useful material called plastic. Plastic is still used for making all kinds of tools and objects of everyday use. It has many advantages over other materials. However, lately, it has been found to have a negative impact on our environment. Therefore, its use is being restricted.

Every age of human development presents its own set of challenges. These have to be addressed as humans evolve to the next stage.