By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood
Timeline

Land: Africa and Middle East

From prehistory to post-medieval.

History by historical land mass is yet another wonderful lens into knowledge. These insights are the backbone to Mike‘s articles and his longer effort books. A part of his lifelong commitment to study. While they are not complete, they are useful.

History of the Lands
Switch To: Africa & Middle East | The Americas | Asia | Europe-Mediterranean | Oceana-Australasia

Split from Chimpanzee
Split from Chimpanzee
7 Million BCE
Hominids (us)
280,000 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

Hominid ancestor: Humans and Chimpanzees had a common ancestor that lived in Africa about 7 million BCE. Humans did not evolve from Chimpanzees, but both are the current evolution of a common ancestor. That common ancestor has yet to be identified and is sometimes referred to as the Chimpanzee–Human Last Common Ancestor (CHLCA). That common ancestor lived sometime between 5 and 25 million BCE with 7 million BCE being a common “best guess”. The living species that evolved from this common ancestor are gathered together in the Hominini family — the scientific taxonomic tribe. The only living species on Earth that are part of the Hominini family today are humans and two types of Chimpanzees: common and bonobo. All the other species that evolved from our common ancestor are now extinct. 

Emergence of the Chimpanzee Family
Bonobo chimpanzees in the wilderness in Democratic Republic of the Congo
2 Million BCE
Hominids

Around 1.5 to 2 million years ago, the evolutionary branches of ancient primates led to the distinct emergence of what we now recognize as the chimpanzee family, under the genus “Pan.” This pivotal event in primate evolution unfolded approximately 5 million years after our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos took separate paths. As with many significant chapters in the story of primates, this one too unfolded on the diverse and vibrant stage of Africa, a continent that has been the cradle for the unfolding drama of human and primate evolution alike. This era marks not just the divergence of chimpanzees and bonobos but a defining moment in the rich tapestry of hominid history.

Fire-Altered Stone Tools
Fire-Altered Stone Tools
790,000 BCE
Genus Homo
31,600 Generations Ago

Burned flint tools dated to circa 790,000 BCE were discovered at Gesher Benot Ya’aquov, Israel. Control of fire is one of the key traits of the genus Homo.

 

Earliest Known Prepared Burial, “Mtoto”
76,000 BCE

Circa 76,000 BCE someone in Africa, perhaps the child’s parents, carefully prepared a human child aged about three years old for burial. They dug a circular pit at the entrance to a cave (likely their cave), placed the child in the hole on his or her right side with knees drawn toward the chest.

After proper analysis of the surrounding soil and the decomposition that has taken place in the pit over the years, the archaeologists believe the child, now nicknamed Mtoto, was intentionally buried shortly after death.

Blombos Cave Engravings
Blombos Cave Engravings
75,000 BCE

Located in South Africa, the cave contains engraved ochre pieces, which are among the earliest known forms of abstract art.

The Invention of Bread
Assortment of baked bread
Before 14,400 BCE
Middle East

Since grain is easy to grow, does this suggest agriculture might have started a few thousand years earlier? Under study, but the discovery of bread-making from around 14,000 years ago indeed suggests that humans were experimenting with grains before the widespread adoption of agriculture, which is traditionally dated to about 12,000 years ago with the Neolithic Revolution. 

In the shadow of history, nestled within the Black Desert of northeastern Jordan, lies the cradle of one of humanity’s most enduring culinary and cultural achievements: the invention of bread. Around 14,000 years ago, long before the dawn of agriculture and the domestication of cereal grains, the Natufian hunter-gatherers embarked on a gastronomic adventure that would forever change the course of human society.

Tell Abu Hureyra
Tell Abu Hureyra
circa 11,500 BCE
Evidence of farming: rye seeds

Located in modern-day Syria, this is an important site because of the evidence demonstrating a likely pattern from hunter-gatherer to farming. It provides evidence of one of the earliest known villages. The leading interpretation is that they were settled in the area and practiced hunting and gathering before about 11,500 BCE. Around 11,500 BCE there is clear evidence of farming. While it’s likely they still hunted and perhaps gathered, it was around this time at least part of their food was from farming. This site provides insights into the transition from nomadic to settled life, showcasing early domestication of plants and permanent structures.

Göbekli Tepe (circa 9600 BCE)
Göbekli Tepe (circa 9600 BCE)
circa 9600 BCE

Located in modern-day Turkey, Göbekli Tepe is one of the world’s oldest known temples. This site features massive carved stones and complex architectural structures that predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The sophistication and scale of Göbekli Tepe suggest that the community was able to coordinate large-scale projects, indicating a high level of social organization and spiritual or communal life. Without evidence of permanent residential structures from this site, these people were more likely hunter-gatherers that stuck to the area, and not farmers.

Jericho Founded
St Geaorge Monastery Desert
9000 BCE
360 Generations Ago

How old is Jericho? Jericho has been continuously inhabited since at least the 90th century BCE. That makes it at least 50 centuries older than 4000 BCE which is about the time the Bible indicates God created the Earth.

Plaster Invented
wall, decay, plaster
before 9000 BCE

The earliest known use of plaster dates back to around 9000 BCE, with evidence from the ancient site of Çatalhöyük in modern-day Turkey. Here, Neolithic inhabitants utilized plaster made from lime to coat the floors, walls, and even ceilings of their mud-brick houses. This early application of plaster represents a significant technological innovation, indicating a sophisticated understanding of construction materials and their protective and aesthetic properties. The use of plaster enhanced the durability and appearance of architectural structures and had practical health benefits, such as preventing infestations and regulating indoor climates.

Ain Ghazal Statues: Early Plaster Art
Ain Ghazal Statues: Early Plaster Art
circa 7200 BCE
Jordan

The Ain Ghazal statues, dating back to around 7200 BCE, are among the earliest known examples of human figures crafted from plaster, highlighting an advanced use of materials in the Neolithic period. This technique involved applying plaster, made from lime and powdered limestone, over a core of reeds and twine to create lifelike statues with detailed facial features and expressive eyes made from bitumen. The use of plaster for such artistic and possibly ritualistic purposes at Ain Ghazal predates many other known uses of the material in sculpture. While plaster had been used in simple construction and repair tasks even earlier, the sophisticated application at Ain Ghazal marks a significant development in the artistic capabilities of Neolithic societies.

City of Catalhoyuk
City of Catalhoyuk
7,100 BCE
7,100 to 5,700 BCE

The city of Çatalhöyük was a very large Neolithic city in the southern Anatolia peninsula in modern day Turkey. The population of 5,000 to 10,000 lived in mudbrick buildings. Some of the larger buildings have ornate murals. A painting of the village, with the twin mountain peaks in the background is frequently cited as the world’s oldest map, and the first landscape painting.

No sidewalks nor streets were used between the dwellings. The clustered honeycomb-like maze of dwellings were accessed by holes in the ceiling and by doors on the side of houses. The doors were accessed by ladders and stairs. The rooftops were effectively streets. I can imagine on good whether days the rooftop of the massive honeycomb building was similar to a Roman forum some 5,000 years in the future–a place to meet, socialize, and perform business.

 

 

Early Sumer Civilization
Early Sumer Civilization
6500 BCE
6500 through 1900 BCE

From 6500 to 4000 BCE, the Sumer civilization increased in social polarization. For example, central houses in the settlements became bigger. This early Sumer culture is characterized by large unwalled villages with multi-roomed rectangular mud-brick houses. The village featured public buildings including temples and centralized government. They had fine quality greenish colored pottery decorated with geometric designs in brown or black paint. Their known tools that survived the test of time included sickles made of hard fired clay, stone, and metal and the use of ploughs. Villages included craftspeople, potters, weavers and metalworkers, but the bulk of the population were farm workers.

The known Sumerian city-states written history goes back to before 2700 BCE, and starting about 2300 BCE the records are fairly complete.

Sumerian Civilization
Sumerian Civilization
6500 BCE
2,000 Generations Ago

Human DNA today is the same as 50,000 BCE. There is no doubt there were many dozens and perhaps thousands of civilizations prior to the Sumer civilization, but Sumer is the earliest known, or at least the earliest well known. The Sumer civilization first established between 6500 and 4100 BCE. We know quite a bit about the Sumerians because they immortalized their writing in clay tablets which will be around long after all the paper books on Earth right now have deteriorated. Sadly, we know almost nothing about prior civilizations because very little evidence survived the test of time. The Sumerians spoke and wrote Sumer and starting several millennia into their civilization they started immortalizing their culture on clay. They had an advanced democracy with elected officials, religion, art, wheel, math, philosophy, and language. The Cuneiform script was in use until 100 CE.

4004 BCE, The Bible’s Earth Creation Date
4,004 BCE
Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE
240 Generations Ago

Interpreting the date God created the Earth by reading and interpreting the Bible is very difficult. You can put dates on events, time between events, etc. then convert it to the modern Julian calendar. One popular interpretation is Sunday, October 23, 4004 BCE. Generating this date, and similar, rely on the Ussher chronology technique. The Ussher chronology technique comes from the 17th-century Archbishop James Ussher. Ussher created a chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Old Testament. Updates and various interpretations along the same lines are frequently lumped under Ussher chronology.

Man Made Glass
blue green and red heart shaped stone
3500 BCE

The earliest known man made glass dates back to circa 3500 BCE and to Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia. Discovery of glassblowing around 1st century BC was a major breakthrough in glass making.

Beer, Ale
glass of beer, sausages and bread on the table
circa 3000 BCE
Sumerians; 3400–2900 BCE

The Ale of Progress: On the riverbanks of ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerians fermented grains into beer, a beverage derived from bread. It became a cornerstone of their civilization. It’s a drink for the gods, a nutritious staple, and perhaps the world’s first social lubricant.

King Shuruppak (circa 2600 BCE)
King Shuruppak (circa 2600 BCE)
2600 BCE
Sumerian Tradition
185 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

30 Phil, Chapter 2: Shuruppak and Paternal Wisdom
Touchstones: Knowledge Frameworks & Philosophy

King Shuruppak, circa 2625 BCE to 2550 BCE. Author of the “Instructions of Shuruppak.” It comes to us from around 2600 BCE, perhaps a century or so after the time of Gilgamesh. It is one of the oldest surviving works of literature in the world. This fatherly advice provides valuable insights into his views, and a glimpse into Sumerian philosophy, which is why he’s the first philosopher, the first chapter anchor, of “30 Philosophers.”

We know about King Shuruppak from the Sumerian King List, an ancient text where he appears as the last king before a great flood. Although the list mixes historical kings with mythical figures, it places him at about 2600 BCE. 

Pictured is the Ziggurat of Ur, about 70 miles from Shuruppak. The city of Shuruppak had a similar ziggurat. The Sumerian civilization consisted of over 30 city-states, among which Ur and Shuruppak were among the more prominent.

My favorite sayings:

  • Be loyal and faithful to your friends, they are a source of support.
  • Do not cheat or deceive others, for it is a breach of trust.
  • Do not be envious of others, for it leads to bitterness.
  • Be diligent in your work, for it brings success.
  • You should not pass judgment when you drink beer.
Oldest Known Library: Ebla
Oldest Known Library: Ebla
2350 BCE
2500 BCE to 2250 BCE

17,000 fragments totally maybe 2,500 tablets, discoved in the 1970s, only a few hundred have been translated.

The library of Ebla, located in the ancient city of the same name was located in modern-day Syria. This library dates back to the 24th century BCE and contained thousands of clay tablets written in Sumerian and Eblaite, providing a wealth of information about the culture, economy, and administration of Ebla. These tablets were discovered in the 1970s and offered significant insights into the early periods of human writing and civilization. The Ebla library predates other famous ancient libraries, such as the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh and the Library of Alexandria, showcasing the deep historical roots of library institutions as centers of knowledge and record-keeping.

Noah’s Flood Myth
Noah’s Flood Myth
2348 BCE

The legendary story of Noah’s flood occurred in the year 2348 BCE if you believe Ussher’s biblical timeline he made up in 1654. However, this flood myth is clearly based on the Sumerian flood story documented in the Epoch of Gilgamesh circa 2100 BCE.

The Epoch of Gilgamesh is regarded as one of the earliest surviving notable literature. I think it is interesting to note that the first section of the Epoch of Gilgamesh refers to a time span of 241,200 years prior to the great flood. To me, it is interesting that around the proposed date of the great flood, the people authoring it thought the Earth was at least 241,200 years old. The first section of the Epoch of Gilgamesh lists eight kings who ruled over the five cities of Eridu, Bad-tibiru, Larag, Zimbir and Shuruppag. The section ends with the line “Then the flood swept over.”

Proto-Sinaitic script
Proto-Sinaitic script
1900 BCE
1900-1500 BCE
155 Generations Ago

The Proto-Sinaitic alphabet is considered the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet. The ancient South Arabian script evolved about 900 BCE which continued to evolve into today’s Modern South Arabian languages. The Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Greek alphabet and all of today’s Western alphabets.

Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
1755 BCE

A set of about 300 legal laws written in stone from ancient Near East that withstood the test of time. Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylonian, wrote it in cuneiform in the Old Babylonion dialect of Akkadian. The text itself was copied and studied by Mesopotamian scribes for over a millennium.

Translated examples:

  • If a man should blind the eye of another man, they shall blind his eye.
  • If a man bears false witness in a case, or does not establish the testimony that he has given, if that case is case involving life, that man shall be put to death.
  • If a man bears false witness concerning grain or money, he shall himself bear the penalty imposed in the case.
Frescoes of the Tomb of Nebamun
Frescoes of the Tomb of Nebamun
circa 1350 BCE

The Tomb of Nebamun, located in Thebes, Egypt, contains some of the most famous and vibrant frescoes from the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period. The paintings depict Nebamun, an Egyptian official, engaging in various activities, including hunting in the marshes and enjoying banquets with his family. The frescoes are celebrated for their dynamic compositions, detailed portrayal of figures and animals, and the use of color, which brings the scenes to life with remarkable vitality. These works not only exemplify the artistic skills of ancient Egyptian painters but also offer a glimpse into the values, leisure activities, and beliefs of the period.

Oldest Known Monotheistic Religion: Atenism
Oldest Known Monotheistic Religion: Atenism
1344 BCE
circa 1340 to 1320 BCE

In the ninth year of the reign of Akhenaten, he declared the traditional supreme God Aten to be the only God of Egypt with himself as the sole communicator to Aten, kind of like an early Pope. This early attempt at monotheism failed after about 20 years and Egypt returned to their traditional polytheistic religion.

About the image: Akhenaton and Nefertiti seated, holding 3 of their daughters, under the rays of the sun god Aten giving Ankh-symbols to them (Picture provided by ArchaiOptix).

Phoenician Alphabet
Phoenician Alphabet
1300 BCE
1500-1100 BCE
133 Generations Ago

The Phoenician alphabet is a direct continuation of the Proto-Canaanite script circa 1300 BCE. Starting about 900 BCE, the Phoenician alphabet thrived and was adapted by others. It evolved into use by many languages including Greek, Old Italic and Anatolian scripts. These early uses of the alphabet evolved into the alphanumeric alphabet. 

Thales of Miletus (624 – 546 BCE)
Thales of Miletus (624 – 546 BCE)
624 BCE
105 Generations Ago

Thales of Miletus was a Greek philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. Considered by many including Aristotle to be the first philosopher in the Greek tradition. He is also considered the father of science by many.

Some of my favorite translated sayings are:

  • Know thyself.
  • A multitude of words is no proof of a prudent mind.
Philo of Alexandria (circa 20 BCE to circa 55 CE)
Philo of Alexandria (circa 20 BCE to circa 55 CE)
circa 20 BCE
Judaism
94 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 12: Philo and Abrahamic Philosophy
Touchstones: Allegorical interpretation

Pictured: Portrait from 1500s. He likely did not look like this.

Philo of Alexandria, was born in the dynamic environment before the split of Judaism and Christianity. He was born around the year 20 BCE and became an important Jewish leader delving into the enigmatic world of Hellenistic Jewish religion.

 

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE)
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE)
354 CE
Christian Neoplatonism
67 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 15: Augustine, Time, and War
Touchstones: Chronoception and Eternity

Augustine is known as the father of Western religious scholarship. He reconciled the science and philosophy of Aristotle with church beliefs.

My favorite quotes: 
  • The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
  • Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.
  • There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.
 
Al-Farabi (872-950)
Al-Farabi (872-950)
872 CE
Islamic Neoplatonist
46 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 16: Al-Farabi and Intellect
Touchstones: Intellect and Existence

Pictured: Artist impression.

Al-Farabi was born along the Silk Road circa 872 CE in the city of Farab, in present-day Kazakhstan. Al-Farabi’ thought was rooted in Platonic and Aristotelian frameworks, yet it seamlessly wove in elements of Islamic thinking. He imagined an ideal society, steered by virtuous leaders akin to Plato’s philosopher-kings, guiding them towards a virtuous existence. In his vision, true wisdom was the foundation of an intellectual civilization.

Alhazen (965-1040)
Alhazen (965-1040)
965 CE
Islamic Polymath
42 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 17: Alhazen and the Senses
Touchstones: Senses and Perceptions

Pictured: Artist impression.

Alhazen was born in Basra around 965 CE, a city located in present-day Iraq. In his 30s, Alhazen faced the challenge of his life. He was “commissioned” to produce a solution for regulating the unpredictable and deadly flooding of the Nile. As he delved into the problem, it became clear the task was impossible. The “emission theory,” the prevalent theory before Alhazen, asserted that light originates from your eyes, hits objects, and is then reflected back. In “Book of Optics,” he explored aspects of vision and light, including reflection and refraction. He disproved the emission theory and proved the intromission theory. 

Rediscovery of the Library of Ebla: circa 2350 BCE
Rediscovery of the Library of Ebla: circa 2350 BCE

In 1975, Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae and his team unearthed the remarkable Library of Ebla at Tell Mardikh, Syria, revealing a trove of around 20,000 clay tablets and fragments. This discovery dramatically expanded our understanding of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, introducing Eblaite as a previously unknown Semitic language and providing unprecedented insights into the culture, economy, politics, and diplomatic relations of Ebla. The tablets’ contents, ranging from administrative records to diplomatic correspondence and literary texts, have offered scholars a unique window into the early Bronze Age, highlighting the sophistication and interconnectedness of ancient societies. The rediscovery of the Ebla library stands as a milestone in archaeological and historical scholarship, underscoring the complexity of human civilization in the third millennium BCE.

Switch To: Africa & Middle East | The Americas | Asia | Europe-Mediterranean | Oceana-Australasia

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