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The Study of Prehistory and How It Began

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


DW | Ancient Egypt

2.1 - The Study of Prehistory and How It Began


Prehistory is divided into three main ages: the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), when humans lived as hunter-gatherers; the Mesolithic (a transitional stage); and the Neolithic (New Stone Age), when the domestication of plants and animals began.

The scientific study of prehistory is relatively recent. Prior to its emergence, people relied on the Bible to estimate the passage of time. In the seventeenth century, Bishop Ussher used the Bible and genealogies to determine that the world began in 4004 B.C. Bibles during that time included this chronological background in the margins, allowing readers to follow the timeline while reading the Book of Genesis.

Bishop Ussher's colleague later refined the calculations and pinpointed a specific date of October 23, 4004 B.C., at 9:00 in the morning. Even Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus, believed in this date. Newton also criticized the Egyptians for extending their history far beyond.


The scientific study of prehistory began in 1859 with two specific events that challenged the creationist perspective. Excavations in England revealed Stone Age tools alongside the remains of extinct animals, suggesting that prehistory extended far beyond Ussher's calculations. Additionally, Charles Darwin's publication of "The Origin of Species" proposed the concept of evolution, which had a profound impact on the scientific community and laid the foundation for the study of prehistory. The estimated age of humans, known as hominids, is approximately 2 million years, but this is considerably shorter compared to the estimated age of the Earth, around 4.5 billion years.

To comprehend 2 million years of human history, it is divided into distinct historical ages: the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic), the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic), and the New Stone Age (Neolithic). In Greek, "paleo" means old, "lithos" means stone, "meso" means middle, and "neo" means new. Exploring these ages in greater detail provides a deeper understanding.


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