Human history

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The history of humanity encompasses the period from around 300,000 BCE (when the earliest-known anatomically modern humans began roaming the Earth) to the present day.

The first humans lived communally in classless groups of 30 to 40 members, adopting primitive cultures and a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They initially inhabited Sub-Saharan Africa, but eventually began spreading to other regions around 85,000 years ago, mainly due to changing climate conditions. Not only is the entire human population outside of Africa descended from a single group of hunter-gatherers who left Africa around that time,[1] but all humans are descendants of a single mother who lived as far as 120,000 to 197,000 years ago.[2]

Humans throughout this period developed many distinct cultures, languages, modes of production (such as primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism), and ways of life.

Pre-literary history

See also: Primitive communism

Early hominins

Before the speciation process that led to the evolution of humans, the primate species Australopithecus afarensis that lived 3.2 million years ago was distinct from other apes because it walked upright. This had revolutionary implications because bipedalism meant the hands and arms were free to develop tools. The tool-making behavior would flourish in the descendant human species Homo habilis, who lived around 1.6 million to 2.3 million years ago.[1]

Primitive communist societies

Around 200,000 years ago, a group of hominins evolved into modern humans (Homo sapiens) with the capacity for collective labour, social organization, and adapting to different environments.[1] For up to 99% of their history, humans lived cooperatively in small-scale classless groups, similar to currently existing hunter-gatherer societies. Selflessness, reciprocity and cooperation are common behaviors of hunter-gatherers on every continent, regardless of their environment.[3] Patriarchy did not exist during the primitive communal period, and lineage was traced through the female bloodline.[1]

A group of humans first left Africa around 85,000 years ago, and all non-Africans are descended from this group of hunter-gatherers. Their descendants populated South Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago and Siberia and Europe by 40,000 years ago. In Europe, Homo sapiens coexisted with Neanderthals and interbred with them before their extinction around 30,000 years ago.[1]

Settlement in the Americas

Human settlement in the Americas began between 12,500 to 27,000 years ago through different possible routes recognized by researchers. The most common and accepted theory is that humans crossed through land between Siberia and Alaska in the Beringia region at least 30,000 years ago,[4][5] when the sea levels were at a minimum, revealing a pathway which made possible to cross between the lands, and stayed there until at least 12,500 years ago,[6] when they went deep into American land.

Genetic evidence based on mitochondrial DNA suggests that the last common ancestor between central Asian and North American indigenous peoples was estimated to have diverged between 25,000 to 20,000 years ago,[7] during the time humans were located at the Beringian region, and subhaplogroup analysis suggest that dispersion from Beringia may have occurred as early as 16,000 years ago.[8]

Agricultural Revolution

The glaciers of the last Ice Age began to melt around 20,000 years ago as the climate warmed. Rising sea levels flooded land bridges, and the biomass available to hunters in northern regions dropped by 75% as forests replaced tundra.

Some humans began farming around 10,000 years ago due to food shortages and the warmer climate. The first farmers in Europe arrived from what is now Turkey around 7500 BCE. Farming spread through the Balkans to Northern and Western Europe by 5500 BCE but did not become popular in the British Isles and the Baltic coast until between 4300 and 3800 BCE. Other societies, such as China, developed farming independently. Many people resisted farming and continued a hunter-gatherer economy into the 20th century CE.[1]

Beginning of class society

The switch to a farming economy could not be reversed because it supported much higher populations than hunting and gathering. Early farming was not very productive, and bad weather or crop disease could cause mass starvation. By 4000 BCE, new farming techniques allowed some villages to replace hoes with plows, increasing agricultural production. Humans also began making tools, first out of copper and then out of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.

Although the earliest farming communities were still communist, by 3000 BCE, there was enough surplus to fuel war and class society. The use of metal tools caused specialization of labor and created carpenters, potters, and metalworkers. Patriarchy began in the late Neolithic when men subjugated women and forced them to care for children while men worked.[1]

Slave era

Bronze Age

The first full class societies developed around 3000 BCE in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Indus valley. Priests, war leaders, and officials took control of the surplus and began exploiting the rest of society. People made weapons and ornaments out of bronze, but most tools were still made of bone, wood, or stone. Productivity was low, preventing civilizations from spreading far, and conservative elites prevented technological innovation.[9]

Iron Age

Although Bronze Age societies sometimes used crude iron tools, they could not afford to widely use iron because of its high melting point. Ironworking began around 1200 BCE in the Caucasus and then spread to the Hittite Empire of Anatolia. Iron tools were much stronger and led to the overthrow of Bronze Age empires, breaking them into small city-states. It also gave commoners access to metal tools for the first time.[9] Iron smelting also developed independently in West Africa during the second millennium BCE.[10]

Classical antiquity

Collapse of slavery

Feudal era

Early feudalism

Primitive accumulation

Capitalist era

Pre-imperialist capitalism




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Neil Faulkner (2013). A Marxist History of the World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals: 'The First Class Societies' (pp. 2–13). [PDF] Pluto Press. ISBN 9781849648639 [LG]
  2. Qiaomei Fu, Alissa Mittnik, et al. (2013). A revised timescale for human evolution based on ancient mitochondrial genomes. Current Biology, vol. 23.
  3. Chris Harman (1999). 'The rise of class societies' in A people's history of the worldISBN 9781898876557 [LG]
  4. “The port of entry for America’s first peoples was the Bering Sea region. They could, and likely did, walk across from Siberia to Alaska when expanding continental ice sheets dropped sea levels worldwide and Beringia surfaced. Crossing its Mammoth Steppe, blanketed by parkland and grazed by mammoth, horse, and bison, was possible anytime between 27,000 and 10,000 years ago. The recent genetic evidence of a possible Beringian standstill suggests the first peoples may have been relatively isolated in this region for much of that time.”

    David J. Meltzer (2009). First peoples in a New World: colonizing Ice Age America (p. 329). University of California Press.
  5. “The new data suggest that the initial founders of the Americas emerged from a single source ancestral population that evolved in isolation, likely in Beringia. This scenario is consistent with the unique pattern of diversity from autosomal locus D9S1120 of a private allele in high frequency and ubiquitous in the Americas. The finding that humans were present at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site dated to 30,000 ybp suggests that the isolation in Beringia might have lasted up to 15,000 years. Following this isolation, the initial founders of the Americas began rapidly populating the New World from North to South America.”

    Erika Tamm, et al (2007). Beringian Standstill and spread of Native American founders. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000829 [HUB]
  6. “In any case, it appears from the evidence at Monte Verde that the first Americans were here by at least 12,500 BP and possibly earlier still. Certainly by 11,500 BP, Clovis Paleoindians were widespread, possibly representing a second migratory pulse to the New World, one that may have spread across the continent in less than a thousand years.”

    David J. Meltzer (2009). First peoples in a New World: colonizing Ice Age America (p. 329). University of California Press.
  7. “Establishing when central Asian and Native American haplogroup lineages last shared a common ancestor has proven to be difficult. Current coalescent estimates based on variation in extant mtDNA lineages set the event at 25 to 20 ka or less than 20 ka, after the last glacial maximum (LGM), and estimates based on Y- chromosome variability suggest that divergence occurred after 22.5 ka, possibly as late as 20 to 15 ka.”

    Goebel, Waters & O’Rourke (2008). The Late Pleistocene dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas. doi: 10.1126/science.1153569 [HUB]
  8. “New analyses of haplogroup subclades help to resolve when modern humans subsequently spread from Beringia to the rest of the Americas. Three subclades of mtDNA subhaplogroup C1 are widely distributed among North, Central, and South Americans but absent in Asian populations, which suggests that they evolved after the central Asian–Native American split, as the first Americans were dispersing from Beringia. The estimated date of coalescence for these subclades is 16.6 to 11.2 ka, which suggests that the colonization of the Americas south of the continental ice sheets may have occurred some time during the late-glacial period, thousands of years after the initial splitting of Asian and Native American lineages.”

    Goebel, Waters & O’Rourke (2008). The Late Pleistocene dispersal of Modern Humans in the Americas.. doi: 10.1126/science.1153569 [HUB]
  9. 9.0 9.1 Neil Faulkner (2013). A Marxist History of the World: From Neanderthals to Neoliberals: 'The First Class Societies' (pp. 16–27). [PDF] Pluto Press. ISBN 9781849648639 [LG]
  10. Chris Harman (1999). A People's History of the World: 'Iron and empires' (p. 46). [PDF] London: Bookmarks Publications Ltd. ISBN 9781898876557 [LG]