How far back can we peer into human history? Like astrophysicists gazing at the edge of the universe to detect evidence of the Big Bang, archaeologists and paleontologists search back before “history” to trace out human origins.
Prehistory (1,000,000 to 3150 B.C.)
Our knowledge of times so distant is spotty, to say the least. We call these earliest periods of human activity the Paleolithic (1,000,000–8300 B.C.) and Neolithic (8300–4500 B.C.) ages; the first is characterized by chipped stone tools and the second by polished stone implements. With the Chalcolithic period (4500–3150 B.C.), however, our knowledge of human civilization comes into sharper focus.a The age gets its name from two Greek words, chalcos, copper, and lithos, stone. Copper, the first metal used by man, makes its appearance during this time, though stone tools continued in use.