World History to 1500

According to Bentley-Ziegler (2007), archeological discoveries of the bones and tools of the human ancestors dated five (5) million years ago gave light on the evolution of human species. The first group of specie is the hominid: includes Australopithecus, Australopithecines and Homo erectus. Then, it was followed by the Homo sapiens. (p. 14-15)

The first was the Australopithecus, which means southern ape but they were not ape but a hominid belonging to the family of Hominidae – human and humanlike species. Archaeologist described them as short, hairy, and had limited intelligence. They were approximately three (3) feet tall, about 25 to 55 kilograms, and of about 500 cubic centimeters brain size. Famous of this group was Lucy, a woman who died 3.5 million years ago and was excavated 40% of her body last 1974. (Bentley-Ziegler, 2007, p. 15)

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The second was the Australopithecines, described as sophisticated species, walked upright on two legs, with strong hands used to handle tools and perform tasks, and had learned limitedly to express their self verbally. They traveled a lot in search of stones that they could style and use for food preparation: choppers and scrapers. About one (1) million years ago, this group disappeared and was replaced by new hominid specie – the Homo erectus. (p.15)

The Homo erectus, upright walking man, had a more developed brain which measured of about 1,000 cc average capacity. This group lasted from about two (2) million to 200,000 years ago. Aside from the Australopithecines tools, Homo erectus also used cleavers and hand axes which were also useful against predators. The invention of fire could also be regarded to this group which enabled them to eat cooked foods and defend their selves. Dangerous animals’ bones found within their sites showed their team work, cooperation and skills in hunting these animals, made possible by their intelligence and language skills. (pp. 16-17)

Then, the Homo sapiens, consciously thinking human, replaced the previous group of specie. This group possessed the largest brain size compared to the previous groups and was nearly the size of the modern human brains. This could be the reason of their remarkable intelligence that helped them to adapt in the changing environment. They made clothes out of animal skin and build shelters to protect them from the cold climate. By one hundred thousand years ago, they disseminated throughout Africa, Europe and Asia where they also met the other Homo erectus. By about, fifteen thousand years ago, they were already scattered in all regions of the world. Archeologist excavated new tolls used by the Homo sapiens: knives, spears, bows and arrow. Like the Homo erectus, Homo sapiens protected themselves with animal skins and fire against the cold climate. They also learned languages to express their selves to others. Because of language, tools and superior intelligence, they were united to exploit the natural resources in order to survive. As a result, large mammals became extinct: mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, giant kangaroos, mastodons, and horses. (p. 18)

Paleolithic era, old stone age, is the longest human experience on earth ranging from the beginning of the first hominid until Homo sapiens started to rely on agriculture – about four million years ago up to twelve thousand years ago. During this age, people lived through hunting and gathering, an economy that prevents individual accumulation of wealth. Individuals those days only own their weapons and tools that will be used in stalking a particular large animal. When it comes to social distinctions, some people stand out because of their age, strength, courage, intelligence, fertility, or some other trait. Not only were they equal in the community but also between sexes. Men grouped themselves in search of a large animal to hunt while women and children gathered plants, roots, nuts, fruits and other possible foods. It was also recommended to maintain little number of children in the family so that as a community they would have enough food and so that they could move from one place to another easily. The Natulian society in the eastern Mediterranean, now Israel and Lebanon; Jomon society in central Japan; and Chinook society in Pacific northwest region of North America, including the modern states of Oregon, Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia; are the prominent Paleolithic settlements and societies. (Pp.20-22)

Next is the Neolithic era, lasted for about twelve thousand to six thousand years ago, and called new Stone Age, since archaeologist excavated polished stones in the agricultural Neolithic sites. One of the significant discoveries in this era is agriculture, wherein people learned to cultivate plants and not just gather them and also learned to domesticate animals. First of the prominent Neolithic sites that showed early agricultural activities during 9000 BCE is southwest Asia, nowadays Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They planted wheat and barley, while domesticating animals: sheep, goats, pigs and cattle. Then about 9000 to 7000, Africans in southeastern portion of Sahara desert, nowadays Sudan, also domesticated cattle, sheep and goats while planting sorghum. Then around 8000 to 6000 BCE, sub-Saharan West Africa, in nowadays Nigeria, also cultivated yam, okra, and black-eyed peas. Then in 6500 BCE East Asian residents in Yangzi River started planting rice and in 5500 BCE nearby community in Yellow River Valley also started cultivating millet and soybeans. These East Asian communities also domesticated pigs, chickens and later on added water buffalos. Southeast Asians in 3000 BCE also cultivated taro, yams, coconut, breadfruit, bananas and citrus fruits: oranges, lime, lemons and tangerine. Residents in Mesoamerica, now Central Mexico, also planted maize (corn), beans, pepper, squash and tomatoes at around 4000 BCE. Lastly, resident in central Andean region in South America, now modern Peru, also cultivated potatoes and later included maize and beans to their diets. Certain possibilities were also seen by archaeologists that early residents in the Amazon River Valley also planted manioc, potatoes and peanuts.  (pp. 26-27)

Specialization in labor during Neolithic times was also observed and the three early craft industries were proof: pottery, metallurgy and textile production. Neolithic societies improved the early inventions of the previous group of people. For example, at about 10,000 BCE the Jomon society in Japan produced the first pottery in the world and also the first of the craft industries. Later on, Neolithic craftsmen learned the techniques on improving pottery and as a result this became their mode of expression and utensils for cooking and storage. Another craft industry that boomed during this era is the metallurgy, wherein copper was the first metal that they experimented on. By hammering metal, the villagers were able to make jewelries and simple tools. By about 5000 BCE, craftsmen had learned that high temperature will help them mold the copper easily. They also discovered technologies such as smelting and casting copper and as result they had made decorative and jewelry items; and tools like knives, axes, hoes and weapons.  In the long run, they also specialized in other forms of metals: gold, bronze, iron, and other metals. The third craft industry in Neolithic era was textile production. The invention of textile might be regarded to the efforts of women who spun thread and wove fabrics while taking care of their children. These crafts were later on trade for other significant items. (pp.31 – 32)

After the discovery of agriculture, people stop being nomads and inhabit permanent residences – resulted in population increase. The development of labor specialization generated jobs to the society and enabled them to acquire wealth and private property. (p. 32)

Of all these Neolithic societies, the most prominent is Jericho, a place with freshwater oasis located in present day Israel. Jericho had a large population of around two thousand residents. The walls that surrounded Jericho showed that they protected their village from invaders that were interested to their wealth. (p. 30)

When it comes to urban societies, the earliest is Mesopotamia, located in southwest Asia, which flourished during early fourth millennium BCE. The word Mesopotamia comes from the Greek word which means the land between the rivers – referring to the Tigris and Euphrates River that brought fertility to the land. Mesopotamia also had organized states and political authorities that maintained the peace and order in the whole settlement. It encouraged specialization in labor which also resulted in high quality goods that fueled the trade. (pp. 39-40)

Sumerians are the most numbered in Mesopotamia. Sumerians constructed artificial irrigation that gave them abundant harvest. This also led to the increase of their population. By, around 3000 BCE, their population was already one hundred thousand. The increasing wealth of Sumer also attracted other groups of people that intermarry with them: Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew and Phoenician. The Sumerians also built the first cities in the world. These cities became the hub for political, military, economic and cultural activities. Some of the Sumerian cities were Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Legash, Nippur, Kish and the others. Later on these cities were called city-states wherein they extended their influence and authority to the outside of their territories. Because of becoming economically stable, Sumer became prone to invasions and so they established military forces and built walls – amazing walls were mentioned in the epic of Gilgamesh. Sumerians also invented cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, which was a combination of pictographs and symbols.

The epic of Gilgamesh is one of Mesopotamian legends and myths but is also historically based. According to historical accounts, Gilgamesh became the fifth king of the City of Ur for about 126 years. He was also known as the legendary Mesopotamian hero. According to the legend, he was the son of a goddess and a king; he was two thirds divine and one third human. He was favored by the gods with a perfect body and superhuman strengths. It also accounted that Gilgamesh ordered construction of Ur’s huge walls and temples for the city’s deities. Gilgamesh lived with heroic deeds but his friend Endiku, who was always with him in almost all the adventures, had offended the gods and this affected Gilgamesh, who also cheated in having eternal life but the gods did not allow it teaching him that all human beings are fated to die. The overall theme of the epic is friendship, loyalty, ambition and fear of death. (pp. 39 and 49)

One successful invader of Sumer was the Akkadians through the leadership of Sargon (2370 – 2315 BCE). Sargon was described as a talented administrator and a brilliant warrior. He was even equated to more than five (5) Akkadians. He established an army and arrange coup against the king of the city-states of Sumer, with great intention to accumulate Mesopotamia’s wealth. He later on took control on the trade routes and supply of natural resources: silver, tin and cedar wood. He was able to transform his land Akkad into wealthiest and most powerful city in the world. However at around 2150 BCE his empire was put to end but his leadership and style remained an example to the next invaders.  (pp. 43-44)

One of the successful invaders after Sargon of Akkad was Hammurabi of Babylonia. Babylonian Empire occupied and invaded Mesopotamia until 1600 BCE. He focused his leadership to bureaucracy and taxation. He had efficient and predictable form of government – distributing the accumulated funds from taxes evenly to the people.  He was well known for his law code – Hammurabi’s Code that evolved from the complete and general Mesopotamian law code. This code relied on Lex tallionis, the law of retaliation, wherein a criminal was judged similar to the violation – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Though, the law code also recognized social standing. For example, if a noble person broke a bone of a fellow noble person; his bone will also be broke. But if a noble person broke a commoner’s bone he will just pay fine. Some of the unforgiving violations were punished with death sentence: murder, theft, fraud, and false accusations, sheltering of runaway slaves, failure to obey royal orders, adultery and incest. Moreover, Hammurabi even added that he was god-chosen to uphold the wellbeing of the people. (p. 45)

Because of the stabilized economy of the Babylonian Empire, this once again attracted invaders. The Hittites, established empire from Anatolia, collapsed the Babylonian Empire. But southwest Asia remained in chaos because different empire competed to have Mesopotamia. (p. 46)

At around nineteenth century BCE, the Assyrian empire succeeded on establishing their empire in the Tigris River Valley. Assyrians were known as strong individuals and powerful army. They also had prosperous cities at Assur and Nineveh. Assyrians are also known for their horse-drawn chariots that they borrowed from the Hittites. These chariots allowed their feet on a platform and enabled them to move while attacking their enemies with iron weapons. They had a large number of troops that even reached up to fifty thousand persons. Their form of government was patterned to the administrative techniques from the Babylonians. (pp.46 – 47)

Then in 600 BCE, the Chaldean empire, popularly known as the new Babylonian Empire, overthrew the Assyrian empire. King Nebuchadnezzar led the new empire bountifully. They had very thick walls – even four horse chariots can turn around – and had occupied 850 hectares of land. One of his popular works is the hanging gardens of Babylon, dedicated to one of his wives, which showed the city’s extravagance wherein Nebuchadnezzar planted in the terraces above the city walls. (p. 47)

On the other hand, Mesopotamia also had early influences like to the Hebrews. Hebrews, ancient speakers of Hebrew language and settlers of Palestine were pastoral nomads who also settled in Mesopotamia during its prosperous years. According to the Old Testament of the Bible, Hebrew Scriptures, Abraham was from the Sumerian City of Ur. The Bible also told about the story of a great flood that destroyed the early human society. This had similarities with the flood stories in the Sumerian society; one was even mentioned in the epic of Gilgamesh. These Hebrews were organized into 12 tribes and were known as the Israelites. Early Hebrews worshipped the Mesopotamian gods but Moses taught them of a one God known as Yahweh. Colorful preserved stories of the Hebrews could be read in the Old Testament of the Bible. (pp. 54-55)

Another group of people are the Phoenicians, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountain of Lebanon. There are major cities of Phoenicia that were considered to be influential in other societies: Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos. Phoenicians were known for their best ships of their time and for their invention of alphabet – twenty two (22) consonants which was later on modified by the Greeks by adding five (5) vowels. Phoenicians also excelled in commerce and trade. (pp. 57 – 58)

Other group of people that became influential to the Mesopotamians and other societies were the speakers of Indo-European languages: Sanskrit, Old Persian, Greek, Latin, Hindi, and Farsi. Scholars and linguists noticed that these languages had almost similar vocabularies and grammatical structure. The only explanation the scholars gave was that ancestors of these speakers came from a similar region. It was identified that they came from modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia, a region near Black Sea and Caspian Sea. During 3000 BCE, Indo-European started to scatter to different places with their horses and other animals. (pp. 60 – 62)


Bentley-Ziegler. Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 4th Edition, Volume 1.Hightstown, NJ USA: McGraw-Hill Primis Custom Publishing, 2007. pp. 13 – 63



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