History of the world

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See main article about the Paleolithic.

Homo sapiens first arose in the Earth between 400 and 250 thousand years ago during the Palaeolithic period. This occurred after a long period of evolution. Ancestors of humans, such as Homo erectus, had been using simple tools for many millennia, but as time progressed, tools became far more refined and complex. At some point, humans had begun using fire for heat and for cooking. Humans also developed language sometime during the Paleolithic, as well as a conceptual repertoire that included systematic burial of the dead and adornment of the living. During this period, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, who were generally nomadic.

Modern humans spread rapidly over the globe from Africa and the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia. The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent Ice Age, when temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, humans had colonized nearly all the ice-free parts of the globe by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago.

Neolithic Revolution

See main article about the Neolithic Period.

A major change, described by the great prehistorian Vere Gordon Childe as a "revolution", occurred around the 9th millennium BCE with the adoption of agriculture. Although research has tended to concentrate on the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East, archaeology in the Americas, East Asia and Southeast Asia indicates that agricultural systems using different crops and animals may well have developed at similarly early dates. As might be expected, agriculture was particularly important in areas which became the cradles of early civilizations, such as the Yellow River valley in China, the Nile in Egypt, and the Indus Valley. Some peoples, such as Aborigines of Australia and the Bushmen of southern Africa, did not use agriculture until relatively modern times. Recent findings of considerable quantities of grains in the Ohalo II paleolithic site in modern Israel seem to suggest that cereals had been intentionally sown (without the agriculture-associated additional caretaking activities like fertilization, land clearance, etc) since 21000BC (PNAS 101 p9551-9555).

Agriculture led to several major changes. It allowed far larger population densities. It also created, and allowed for, the storage of food surpluses that could support people not directly involved in food production. The development of agriculture allowed the creation of the first cities. The development of cities has led to what has been called civilization; first in the Sumerian civilization of lower Mesopotamia (3500 BCE), then in Egypt along the Nile (3000 BCE) and Harappa in the Indus Valley (2500 BCE). There is evidence of elaborate cities with high levels of social and economic complexity. However, these civilisations were so different from one another that they almost certainly must have been independent in origin. At this time developments such as writing and extensive trade were introduced.

The 2nd millennium BCE saw the emergence of complex state societies in Crete, mainland Greece and central Turkey. In China, proto-urban societies may have developed by 2500 BCE, but the first dynasty to be identified by archaeology is that of the Shang. In the Americas, civilizations such as the Maya, the Moche and Nazca emerged in Mesoamerica and Peru at the end of the 1st millennium BCE.

Bronze and Iron Ages

See main articles on Bronze and Iron Ages.

The agricultural settlements had until this time been almost completely dependent on stone tools. In Eurasia, copper and bronze tools, decorations, and weapons began to become commonplace around 3000 BCE. After bronze the Eastern Mediterranean region, Middle East and China saw the introduction of iron tools and weapons. The Americas may not have had metal tools until the Chavin horizon in 900 BCE, we also know the Moche had metal armor and knives and tableware, and even the metal poor Inca had metal tipped plows, at least after the conquest of Chimor. However, very little archaeological research has been done in Peru so far and almost all the books were burned in the Spanish conquest of Peru. Whole cities were still being discovered in 2004. Some digs suggest steel may have been discovered there before western civilization.

The diffusion of ironworking technology was at least partially responsible for the collapse of the Minoan, Mycenaean and Hittite civilisations around 1200 BCE, as these advanced peoples lost their technological lead to their barbarian neighbours. These collapses inaugurated a period of confusion, after which two competing civilisations emerged in the west, the Greeks and Persians. Sometime during the transition in the early Iron Age, coinage was introduced in Lydia. Chinese civilisation too began to assume its familiar aspect during the 1st millennium BCE. The Zhou Dynasty produced a vast peasant workforce as well as a nobility in charge of organising government and conducting the worship of its ancestors.

New philosophies and religions arose in both east and west, particularly around the 6th century BCE. Over time a great variety of religions developed around the world with Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia being some of the earliest major faiths. In the east, three schools of thoughts were to dominate Chinese thinking until the modern day. These were Taoism, Legalism and Confucianism. The Confucian tradition, which would attain predominance, looked not to the force of law, but to the power and example of tradition for political morality. In the west, the Greek philosophical tradition, represented by the works of Plato and Aristotle, were diffused throughout Europe and the Middle East by the conquests of Alexander of Macedon in the 4th century BCE.

The classical empires

By the last centuries BCE the Mediterranean, the Ganges and the Yellow River became the seats of empires which future rulers would strive to imitate. In China the Qin and Han dynasties extended the rule of imperial government through political unity, improving communications and also notably the establishment of state monopolies by Emperor Wu. In India, the influence of the Mauryas spread over much of the north subcontinent and Pandyas at the south of the subcontinent. In the west, the Romans began expanding their territory through conquest and colonisation from the beginning of the 5th century BCE. By the reign of Augustus around the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Rome controlled all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean.

The great empires rested on the ability to exploit the process of military annexation and the formation of settlements to become agricultural centres. The relative peace they brought encouraged international trade and notably the growth of the Silk Road. They also faced common problems such as those associated with maintaining huge armies and the support of the bureaucracy. These costs fell most heavily on the peasantry, whilst land-owning magnates were increasingly able to evade centralised control. The pressure of barbarians on the frontiers hastened the process of internal dissolution. The Han empire fell into civil war in 220 whilst its Roman counterpart became increasingly decentralised and divided around the same time.

Age of kingdoms

Throughout the temperate zones of Eurasia, America, and North Africa, large empires continued to rise and fall.

The breakup of the Roman Empire around the 5th century CE coincided with the spread of Christianity westward from the Middle East. The western part of the Roman Empire fell under the domination of various Germanic tribes in the 5th century, and these polities gradually developed into a number of warring Catholic states. The remaining part of the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean was henceforth known as the Byzantine Empire. Centuries later a large part of western Europe became the Holy Roman Empire comprising a number of states in what is now Germany and Italy.

In China dynasties would similarly rise and fall. Nomads from the north began to invade in the 4th century, eventually conquering nearly all of northern China and setting up many small kingdoms. The Sui Dynasty reunified China in 581, and under the Tang Dynasty (618-907) China entered into a second golden age. However, the Tang Dynasty also splintered, and after about half a century of turmoil, the Northern Song Dynasty reunified China in 982. However, pressure from nomadic empires to the north became increasingly urgent. All of North China was lost to the Jurchen in 1141, and the Mongol Empire conquered all of China in 1279, as well as almost all of Eurasia's landmass, missing only western Europe and Japan.

Northern India was ruled by the Guptas in these times. In southern India, three prominent Tamil kingdoms emerged, Cheras, Cholas, and Pallavas. The ensuing stability contributed to herald the golden age of Hindu culture in the 4th and 5th centuries CE.

The ruins of , "the Lost City of the Incas," has become the most recognizable symbol of the  civilization.
The ruins of Machu Picchu, "the Lost City of the Incas," has become the most recognizable symbol of the Inca civilization.

Vast societies also began to be built up in Central America at this time with the Maya and the Aztecs in Mesoamerica being the most notable. As the mother culture of the Olmecs gradually declined, the great Mayan city-states slowly rose in number and prominence, and Maya culture spread throughout the [[Yucatᮝ] and surrounding areas. The later empire of the Aztec was built on neighboring cultures and was influenced by conquered peoples, such as the Toltec.

South America saw the rise of the Inca in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Inca Empire of Tawantinsuyu spanned the entire range of the Andes and held its capital at Cusco. The Inca were prosperous and advanced, known for an excellent road system and unrivaled masonry.

Islam, which began in Arabia in the 7th century CE, was also one of the most remarkable forces growing from only a few followers to become the basis of a series of large Empires in India, the Middle East, and North Africa.

In North Africa Nubia and Ethiopia, which both had long been linked to the Mediterranean world, remained as Christian enclaves as the rest of Africa north of the equator converted to Islam. With Islam came new technologies that for the first time allowed substantial trade to cross the Sahara. Taxes on this trade led to prosperity in North Africa and the rise of a series of kingdoms in the Sahel.

This period was marked by slow, but steady, technological improvements with developments of influential importance such as the stirrup and the mouldboard plough arriving every few centuries.

Rise of Europe

Missing image
The invention of the movable type printing press in 1450s Germany was awarded #1 of the Top 100 Greatest Events of the Millennium by LIFE Magazine. By some estimates, less than 50 years after the first Bible was printed in 1455, more than nine million books were in print.

From the 11th to the 15th centuries CE the Holy Roman Empire in western Europe launched a series of crusades against Byzantine and Islamic lands in the eastern Mediterranean, most notably the Holy Lands in the area around Jerusalem. By the late 13th century the last of the crusader strongholds in the Middle East had fallen to the Muslims. After the final fall of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) to the Ottoman Turks, its scholars fled west to Rome, bringing renewed energy and interest in classical knowledge. Scholars consider the fall of the Byzantine Empire as a key event in ending the Middle Ages and starting the Renaissance because it marks the end of the old religious order in Europe and the beginning of the use of cannon and gunpowder, as used in the taking of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Through the renaissance, Europe began to have a technological edge on the rest of the world by 1500, and over the next few centuries, this trend began to accelerate. Advancing seafaring technology allowed Christopher Columbus in 1492 to penetrate across the Atlantic Ocean and bridge the gap from Africa-Eurasia to the Americas. This had dramatic effects on both continents. The Europeans brought with them diseases the Americans had never before encountered, and over 90% of them were killed in a series of devastating epidemics. The Europeans also had the technological advantage of horses, steel, and guns that allowed them to overpower the Aztec and Incan empires, along with the great cultures of North America.

Gold and resources from the Americas began to be shipped to Europe, while at the same time large numbers of European colonists began to emigrate to the west. To meet the great demand for labour in the new colonies the mass export of Africans as slaves began. Soon much of the Americas had a large racial underclass of slaves. In West Africa, a series of thriving states developed along the coast, becoming prosperous from the exploitation of suffering central African peoples.

The Portuguese and Spanish Empires were at first the predominant conquerors and source of influence, but soon the more northern English, French, and Dutch began to dominate the Atlantic. In a series of wars fought in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars, Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. It controlled an empire that spanned the globe, controlling, at its peak, approximately one-quarter of the world's land surface.

Meanwhile, the voyages of the admiral Zheng He were halted by China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), established after the expulsion of the Mongols. A commercial revolution, sometimes described as "incipient capitalism", was also abortive. The Ming Dynasty would eventually fall to the Manchus, whose Qing Dynasty oversaw, at first, a period of calm and prosperity, but would increasingly fall prey to Western encroachment.

Soon after the invasion of the Americas, Europeans had exerted their technological advantage over the people of Asia as well. In the 19th century Britain gained control of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and Malaya, the French took Indochina while the Dutch occupied Indonesia. The British also occupied several of the areas still populated by neolithic peoples including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and as in the Americas large numbers of British colonists began to emigrate to these areas. In the late nineteenth century the last unclaimed areas of Africa were divided among the European powers.

This era also saw the renaissance and subsequent Age of Reason lead to the Scientific Revolution, which changed our understanding of the world and made possible the Industrial Revolution, a major transformation of the world’s economies. It began in Britain and used new modes of production such as the factory, mass production, and mechanisation to produce a wide array of materials faster and for less labour than previous methods. The Age of Reason also lead to the beginnings of democracy as we know it today, in the American and French revolutions in the late 18th century. Democracy would grow to have a profound effect on world events and quality of life. During the industrial revolution, the world economy was soon based on coal, as new methods of transport such as railways and steam ships made the world a smaller place. Meanwhile, Industrial pollution and damage to the environment, present since the discovery of fire and the beginning of civilization, accelerated tenfold.

Twentieth century

The advent of , exploding here over  in , ended  and marked the beginning of the .
The advent of nuclear weapons, exploding here over Nagasaki in 1945, ended World War II and marked the beginning of the Cold War.

Main article: The 20th century in review

The twentieth century saw the domination of the world by Europe wane, as least partially from the internal destruction of World War II, and the United States and the Soviet Union rise as superpowers. Following World war II, the United Nations was founded in the hopes that it could prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible. After 1990 the Soviet Union collapsed and the United States became the sole superpower, termed by some a hyperpower. See Pax Americana

The century saw the rise of powerful ideologies. First with communism in the Soviet Union after 1917, which spread to Eastern Europe after 1945, and China in 1949, and scattered other nations in the Third World during the 1950s and 1960s. The 1920s saw militaristic fascist dictatorships gain control of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

These transitions were evinced through wars of unparalleled scope and devastation. The First World War destroyed many of Europe's old monarchies, and weakened France and Britain. The Second World War saw most of the militaristic dictatorships in Europe destroyed and saw communism advance into Eastern Europe and Asia. This led to the Cold War, a forty-year stand-off between the United States, the Soviet Union and their respective allies. All of humanity and complex forms of life were put into jeopardy by the development of nuclear weapons. After out-spending the Soviet Union on weaponry, the US saw a collapse in the Soviet state, with fragmentation of the former republics, some re-joining Russia in a commonwealth, others reaching out toward Western Europe.

The first exploration of the moon, , .
The first exploration of the moon, Apollo 17, 1972.

The same century saw vast progress in technology, and a large increase in life expectancy and standard of living for the majority of humanity. As the world economy switched from one based upon coal to one based on oil, new communications and transportation technologies continued to make the world more united. The technological developments of the century also contributed to problems with the environment, though city pollution is lower today than in the days of coal.

The latter half of the century saw the rise of the information age and globalization: dramatically increased trade and cultural exchange. Space exploration reached throughout the solar system. DNA, the very building block of life, was discovered, and the human genome was sequenced, promising to eventually change the face of human disease. The number of scientific papers published each year today far surpasses the number published prior to 1900,[1] (http://www.ifi.unicamp.br/~ghtc/sources/articles.htm) and doubles approximately every 15 years.[2] (http://print.google.com/print?id=TbiVDVY6mRYC&pg=83&lpg=83&prev=http://print.google.com/print%3Fid%3DTbiVDVY6mRYC%26q%3D%2522number%2Bof%2Bscientific%2Bpapers%2Bpublished%2Beach%2Byear%2522&sig=jZLZNf0mWtAqSMUiXyVaBBlSJDA) Global literacy rates continue to increase, and the percentage of the global society's labour pool needed to produce the society's food has continued to decrease substantially over the century.[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Spiritual_Machines)

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