This timeline of prehistory comprises the time from the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa 315,000 years ago to the invention of writing and the beginning of history, 5,000 years ago.
It thus covers the time from the Middle Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) to the very beginnings of world history.
All dates are approximate subject to revision based on new discoveries or analyses.
42,000 years ago: earliest evidence of advanced deep sea fishing technology at the Jerimalai cave site in East Timor—demonstrates high-level maritime skills and by implication the technology needed to make ocean crossings to reach Australia and other islands, as they were catching and consuming large numbers of big deep sea fish such as tuna.
30,000 years ago: rock paintings tradition begins in Bhimbetka rock shelters in India, which presently as a collection is the densest known concentration of rock art. In an area about 10 km2, there are about 800 rock shelters of which 500 contain paintings.
28,000–24,000 years ago: oldest known pottery—used to make figurines rather than cooking or storage vessels (Venus of Dolní Věstonice).
28,000–20,000 years ago: Gravettian period in Europe. Harpoons and saws invented.
26,000 years ago: people around the world use fibers to make baby carriers, clothes, bags, baskets, and nets.
25,000 years ago: a hamlet consisting of huts built of rocks and of mammoth bones is founded in what is now Dolní Věstonice in Moravia in the Czech Republic. This is the oldest human permanent settlement that has yet been found by archaeologists.
24,000 years ago: Evidence suggests humans living in Alaska and Yukon North America.
21,000 years ago: artifacts suggest early human activity occurred in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.
13,000 years ago: A major water outbreak occurs on Lake Agassiz, which at the time could have been the size of the current Black Sea and the largest lake on Earth. Much of the lake is drained in the Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River.
The terms "Neolithic" and "Bronze Age" are culture-specific and are mostly limited to cultures of the Old World. Many populations of the New World remain in the Mesolithic cultural stage until European contact in the modern period.
Cave painting of a battle between archers, Morella la Vella, Spain, the oldest known depiction of combat. These paintings date from 7200 to 7400 years ago.
11,600 years ago: Jericho has evidence of settlement dating back to 9,600 BC. Jericho was a popular camping ground for Natufian hunter-gatherer groups, who left a scattering of crescent microlith tools behind them.
11,000 years ago (9,000 BC): Earliest date recorded for construction of temenoi ceremonial structures at Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, as possibly the oldest surviving proto-religious site on Earth.
10,000–5,000 years ago (8,000–3,000 BC) Identical ancestors point: sometime in this period lived the latest subgroup of human population consisting of those that were all common ancestors of all present day humans, the rest having no present day descendants.
9,000 years ago: large first fish fermentation in southern Sweden.
9,000 years ago: Mehrgarh was Founded which is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia. In April 2006, scientific journal Nature note that the oldest (and first early Neolithic) evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e. in a living person) was found in Mehrgarh.
8,200–7,600 years ago (6200–5600 BC): sudden rise in sea level (Meltwater pulse 1C) by 6.5 m (21 ft) in less than 140 years; this concludes the early Holocene sea level rise and sea level remains largely stable throughout the Neolithic.
8,000 years ago: Evidence of habitation at the current site of Aleppo dates to about c. 8,000 years ago, although excavations at Tell Qaramel, 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of the city show the area was inhabited about 13,000 years ago,Carbon-14 dating at Tell Ramad, on the outskirts of Damascus, suggests that the site may have been occupied since the second half of the seventh millennium BC, possibly around 6300 BC. However, evidence of settlement in the wider Barada basin dating back to 9000 BC exists.
Researchers deduced in a scientific review that "no specific point in time can currently be identified at which modern human ancestry was confined to a limited birthplace" and that current knowledge about long, continuous and complex – e.g. often non-singular, parallel, nonsimultaneous and/or gradual – emergences of characteristics is consistent with a range of evolutionary histories. A timeline dating first occurrences and earliest evidence may therefore be an often inadequate approach for describing humanity's (pre-)history.
^Brooks AS, Yellen JE, Potts R, Behrensmeyer AK, Deino AL, Leslie DE, Ambrose SH, Ferguson JR, d'Errico F, Zipkin AM, Whittaker S, Post J, Veatch EG, Foecke K, Clark JB (2018). "Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age". Science. doi:10.1126/science.aao2646.
^Harvati, K., Röding, C., Bosman, A. M., Karakostis, F. A., Grün, R., Stringer, C., ... & Gorgoulis, V. G. (2019). Apidima Cave fossils provide the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia. Nature, 571(7766), 500–504.
^ abRito T, Richards MB, Fernandes V, Alshamali F, Cerny V, Pereira L, Soares P., "The first modern human dispersals across Africa", PLoS One 2013 Nov 13; 8(11):e80031. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080031. "By ~130 ka two distinct groups of anatomically modern humans co-existed in Africa: broadly, the ancestors of many modern-day Khoe and San populations in the south and a second central/eastern African group that includes the ancestors of most extant worldwide populations. Early modern human dispersals correlate with climate changes, particularly the tropical African “megadroughts” of MIS 5 (marine isotope stage 5, 135–75 ka) which paradoxically may have facilitated expansions in central and eastern Africa, ultimately triggering the dispersal out of Africa of people carrying haplogroup L3 – 60 ka. Two south to east migrations are discernible within haplogroup L0. One, between 120 and 75 ka, represents the first unambiguous long-range modern human dispersal detected by mtDNA and might have allowed the dispersal of several markers of modernity. A second one, within the last 20 ka signalled by L0d, may have been responsible for the spread of southern click-consonant languages to eastern Africa, contrary to the view that these eastern examples constitute relics of an ancient, much wider distribution."
^ abTom Higham; Katerina Douka; Rachel Wood; Christopher Bronk Ramsey; Fiona Brock; Laura Basell; Marta Camps; Alvaro Arrizabalaga; Javier Baena; Cecillio Barroso-Ruíz; Christopher Bergman; Coralie Boitard; Paolo Boscato; Miguel Caparrós; Nicholas J. Conard; Christelle Draily; Alain Froment; Bertila Galván; Paolo Gambassini; Alejandro Garcia-Moreno; Stefano Grimaldi; Paul Haesaerts; Brigitte Holt; Maria-Jose Iriarte-Chiapusso; Arthur Jelinek; et al. (21 August 2014). "The timing and spatiotemporal patterning of Neanderthal disappearance". Nature. 512 (7514): 306–09. Bibcode:2014Natur.512..306H. doi:10.1038/nature13621. PMID25143113. S2CID205239973.
^Sandra Bowdler. "Human settlement". In D. Denoon (ed.). The Pleistocene Pacific. The Cambridge History of the Pacific Islanders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 41–50. Archived from the original on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2008 – via University of Western Australia.
^Gary Presland, The First Residents of Melbourne's Western Region, (revised ion), Harriland Press, 1997. ISBN0-646-33150-7. Presland says on page 1: "There is some evidence to show that people were living in the Maribyrnong River valley, near present day Keilor, about 40,000 years ago."
^Blanchon, P. (2011b) Backstepping. In: Hopley, D. (Ed), Encyclopedia of Modern Coral Reefs: Structure, form and process. Springer-Verlag Earth Science Series, pp. 77–84. ISBN978-90-481-2638-5. Blanchon, P., and Shaw, J. (1995) Reef drowning during the last deglaciation: evidence for catastrophic sea-level rise and icesheet collapse. Geology, 23:4–8.