By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood
Timeline

_TST Master Timeline

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MASTER TL: All timeline entries. It explores the history of the universe, Earth, science, and human history. You can filter topics too. Enjoy!

Singularity
Singularity
13.8 Billion Years Ago
Higly speculative.

A 30 Philosophers touchstone: Chapter 1, “Origin Story.” The universe began as an infinitely dense, unimaginably hot, and minuscule point known as a singularity. In a breathtaking instant, this singularity expanded and cooled, giving rise to the fabric of space, time, and matter, with all the laws of physics taking shape in that moment. The singularity didn’t exist in time as we understand it, because time itself was created in the following moments. This moment marks not just the birth of the universe but the beginning of time and space itself, setting the stage for the extraordinary event known as the Big Bang.

While the singularity arises naturally from the equations of general relativity when extrapolated back in time, it represents a point where these laws of physics as we currently understand them break down. This theoretical state represented the ultimate limit of physical density and temperature, beyond our understanding of the laws of physics.

Big Bang Expansion
Big Bang Expansion
13.8 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 1 of 80: Big Bang.

Immediately following the state of the singularity, the universe entered a phase of rapid expansion and cooling, known as the Big Bang Expansion. This critical period signifies not an explosion in space but the very expansion of space itself, from an incomprehensibly dense point known as a singularity. For more, check out: The Expanding Universe Explained.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Big Bang: Threshold 1 in Big History is the creation, or beginning, of our universe.

Planck Era
Electrostatic plasma sphere in the dark. Tesla coil - physics experiment
13.8 Billion Years Ago: First Millisecond
Highly Speculative. An irrational idea rationally deduced.

The Plank Era occurred in the first part of the first millisecond after the singularity. Current estimated put it at up to 10−43 seconds after the Big Bang. The term “era” is used for this micro-duration as a sort of tip of the hat to Einstein’s Relativity. It reflects a conceptual approach to time that differs from our everyday experience. This speculative era represents the very beginning of the universe, immediately following the singularity. The physics of this period is still not fully understood, as it requires a theory that unifies general relativity and quantum mechanics (quantum gravity). Temperatures and energies were so high that the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force) are thought to have been unified.

Free Will
Free Will
How predetermined are our choices?

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 2: Free Will.

There are two basic types of Free Will. Determinism says everything that happens is set in stone and can’t be changed; in contrast, indeterminism says people and animals make choices. There are four basic types: scientific determinism, scientific indeterminism, fatalism, and providence.

Grand Unification Era
Science physics formula e=mc2, Theory of relativity composed with colored and carved stones
13.8 Billion Years Ago: First Millisecond
Mostly speculative. Still an irrational idea rationally deduced.

The speculative Grand Unification Era ends around seconds after the Big Bang. During this era, the strong force is believed to have separated from the other three fundamental forces. The universe was still incredibly hot and dense, and it’s during this period that the first subatomic particles, including quarks and leptons, could have begun to form. This era ended with a phase transition to the inflationary epoch.

Evolution
Evolution
Our true origin story.

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 3: Evolution.

In 1859, the naturalist Charles Darwin revolutionized the scientific world with his seminal publication, “On the Origin of Species.” In it he formulated his scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. The process by which new species arise is well-understood. It proposed that changes in species occur gradually over time. With each generation, the offspring produce small variations, which accumulate over generations, resulting in advantages and disadvantages. 

Inflationary Epoch
Person shining a light at the sky and making the stars rapidly move in circles - fantasy concept
13.8 Billion Years Ago: First Millisecond
A bit speculative. Still an irrational idea rationally deduced but with some empirical data.

The Inflationary Epoch was from about 10−36 seconds to or so seconds. Notice the duration label change from “era” to “epoch” and from a narrow time to a range. However, also note that we are still within the first millisecond of the Big Bang. This was a period of extremely rapid expansion driven by a speculative field called inflaton. While the universe did not explode into something, it did increase in size by a huge factor. The very fabric of the universe, space itself, increased in size by a factor of at least 1026, smoothing out any irregularities and leading to the uniformity we observe in the cosmic microwave background. The rapid expansion also drastically cooled the universe.

A bit speculative. Supported by indirect empirical evidence from CMB observations, suggesting a rapid early expansion that explains the universe’s large-scale uniformity and structure distribution.

Cultural Transmission
Cultural Transmission
What separates humans from animals.

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 4: Cultural Transmission.

Cultural transmission, perhaps more than any other trait, sets humans apart from other animals. It’s the ability to pass behaviors, traditions, and knowledge to the next generation. Cultural transmission has likely been a feature of our direct-line hominin mind for millions of years. Returning to what we have in common with chimps, both species possess this ability.

Electroweak Era
big bang, black hole, supermassive star, galaxy, cosmos, physical, science fiction wallpaper.
13.8 Billion Years Ago: First Millisecond
A bit speculative. Still an irrational idea rationally deduced but with some empirical data.

We are still within the speculative first second. The Electroweak Era ends around 10−12 seconds after the Big Bang. Following inflation, the universe continued to expand and cool, allowing the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces to separate. Particles continued to form and annihilate in a hot, dense environment, but as the universe cooled further, the formation of more stable particles like protons and neutrons became possible. 

A bit speculative. Grounded in well-established physical theories and supported by high-energy particle physics experiments that test conditions analogous to those of the early universe.

Nucleosynthesis Period
Closeup shot of a colorful plasma ball on a black background
13.8 Billion Years Ago: First Hour
A bit speculative. Still an irrational idea rationally deduced but with some empirical data.

Leaving the highly speculative first second, and skipping to a few minutes later, the Nucleosynthesis period accurred about 3 to 20 minutes after the Big Bang. During this period, the universe had cooled enough for protons and neutrons to come together to form simple nuclei, but not yet atoms, as the universe remained too hot for electrons to bind to these nuclei. The nuclei formed during this time were primarily those that would become the core of hydrogen atoms (including its isotope deuterium), helium, and trace amounts of lithium, through a process known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

Supported by empirical data. The observed abundances of light elements in the universe align closely with predictions from Big Bang nucleosynthesis models, providing strong evidence for this period of early cosmic history.

First Atoms
Molecules or atom isolated on blue background
13.7 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

The image of the early universe that we see in the CMB reveals a time shrouded in darkness. During this era, the 17 known particles first started to combine to form the universe’s first atoms. Electrons, protons, and neutrons came together to create neutral hydrogen atoms, a process that allowed photons—or light—to traverse the cosmos freely. That is the glow we see in the CMB. Soon after this, well, cosmically soonish, gravity played its part and brought these atoms together, forming the first stars and galaxies. This “let-there-be-light” event occurred about 100 million years after the Big Bang.

Population III Stars: Heavier Elements
NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva/Spaceengine, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
13.6 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

Legacy: First 26 elements of the periodic table of elements.

After a few hundred million years, gravity continued to play its part, drawing atoms into an intimate collapse, giving birth to the very first stars and galaxies. These first stars, known as Population III stars, were stellar giants: massive, hot, and short-lived; they burned for just a few million years, likely with no planets to keep them company. None of these titans still illuminate the cosmos today. Their legacy is the creation of increasingly heavier elements, starting with carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and continuing up to iron with its 26 protons.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Stars Light Up: The formation of the first stars marked the second threshold. These stars forged the first heavy elements in their cores, which are essential for the creation of everything from planets to human life.

Population II Stars: Heavy Element Synthesis
Cosmos Stars Cluster Structure Stunning Astrophotography Dramatic Celestial Wallpaper. Bright blue n
13.59 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

Legacy: Began enriching the interstellar medium with heavier elements, including carbon, necessary for organic chemistry

From the ashes of Population III stars, celestial giants, rose a new generation of stars, the Population II stars. These stars contained a higher proportion of the heavier elements, granting them a longer lifespan, and likely the company of planets. Since most Population III stars had a lifespan of only about 10 million years, Population II stars started forming shortly after Population III stars.

Galaxies are Born
M31 Andromeda Galaxy
13.4 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

Current observations, such as those of GN-z11, suggest that galaxy formation began as early as 400 million years after the Big Bang. This galaxy, observed at a redshift of z=11.09, stands as a testament to the rapidity with which the universe’s first structures began to coalesce from the primordial gas. While the detection of GN-z11 provides empirical evidence of early galaxy formation, it also opens the door to speculation about even earlier galaxies that may await discovery with future advancements in telescope technology. These first galaxies likely did not have black holes at their centers. From a distant observation, these early galaxies likely lacked the pronounced bright centers associated with supermassive black holes, which are characteristic of many galaxies observed 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang.

Birth of the Milky Way
milky way forest
About 13.39 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

Current scholarship generally places the formation of the Milky Way between 200 and 600 million years after the Big Bang, during the period of early galaxy formation that followed the forging of Population II stars. Some of the oldest stars within the Milky Way belong to this Population II category, with estimates for their formation dating as early as 200 million years after the Big Bang. This places the Milky Way’s birth in the epoch shortly after the earliest galaxies began to coalesce from the primordial gas. As astronomical techniques advance and provide new data, we may need to refine this timeline to more accurately reflect the chronology of the Milky Way’s formation in relation to the dawn of galaxies across the cosmos.

Population I Stars: Like our Sun
Stars in observatory
10 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

Population I stars likely started forming around 8 to 10 billion years ago, with the process continuing to the present day as new star-forming regions develop in galaxies. These third generation stars are composed of the remnants of Population II stars. The majority of the stars adorning the Milky Way today belong to this third generation. To be clear, even these stars are mostly the first two elements of the Periodic Table: Hydrogen and Helium with only about 2% heavier elements. Our Sun is a Population I star.

Interstellar Clouds: Organic Molecules
debris of a stellar explosion, 3d illustration
10 Billion Years Ago
Verified: 10 to 7 Billion Years Ago

The synthesis of simple organic molecules such as formaldehyde (H₂CO), methanol (CH₃OH), and simple hydrocarbons in the dense molecular clouds of the interstellar medium occured once sufficient carbon was present. This process has been ongoing for billions of years but became more prevalent as the universe aged and more carbon became available.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

New Chemical Elements: With threshold 3, the Periodic Table expands. While Big History dates this to the expansion of elements about 13.5 billion years ago, I’m showing it in my timelines a bit later at 10 BYA, when those heavier elements started forming molecules. This helps bridge the gap from elements to life.

Birth of the Sun
Epic sun surface flare prominence solar system
4.6 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

4.6 billion years ago, a cloud of gas and dust collapsed under the force of its own gravity to form our solar system.With the Sun at its center, glowing, the planets had not yet formed. The Sun, a G-type Population 1 star, shines brightly with a surface temperature of about 9,400 degrees, 5,500 Kelvin, and a lifespan of about 10 billion years.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Formation of Solar System and Earth: The 4th threshold is the forging of our Solar System.

Earth is Born
Solar system planets set. The Sun and planets in a row on univer
4.5 Billion Years Ago
Verified. Empirically supported and rationally deduced.

The Earth and the other planets formed 4.5 billion years ago from the same cosmic cloud—the primordial material which gave birth to the Sun. The dust and comets—the rocks—were composed largely of hydrogen, ice, carbon, and nitrogen.

First Atmosphere: Hydrogen & Helium
First Atmosphere: Hydrogen & Helium
4.48 Billion Years Ago
4.49 to 4.6 Billion Years Ago

Likely white or grayish atmosphere: The first atmosphere developed first but was not directly involved in the development of life. The first atmosphere formed shortly after Earth’s formation around 4.5 billion years ago. This initial atmosphere was primarily composed of hydrogen and helium, the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, which were captured from the solar nebula.

This first atmosphere was very thin and likely dissipated into space due to Earth’s weak gravitational pull at the time and the intense solar winds from the young Sun.

Inorganic Precursors to Organic Molecules
Inorganic Precursors to Organic Molecules
4.45 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 4.2 to 4.4 Billion Years Ago

The chemical evolution from inorganic precursors to organic molecules is a fascinating story of transformation driven by Earth’s dynamic early conditions and possibly assisted by the input from space in the form of meteorites rich in organic compounds. During this period, the Earth witnessed a series of complex chemical reactions facilitated by its primordial atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and irradiation from the Sun. These conditions led to the synthesis of simple organic compounds from inorganic substances—a foundational step towards life.

  • Domain: none (clearly pre-life)

This phase of chemical evolution is characterized by:

  • Energy Sources: UV radiation from the Sun, electrical discharges from lightning, and heat from hydrothermal vents provided the energy needed for the synthesis of organic molecules.
  • Catalysts: Mineral surfaces, such as those of clay and pyrite, might have acted as catalysts, facilitating the formation of more complex organic molecules.
  • Environmental “Labs”: Varied environmental settings, including tidal pools, volcanic islands, and ice, offered unique conditions that could concentrate and protect these nascent organic compounds, allowing for further complexity.
Moon Formation
Moon Formation
4.44 Billion Years Ago
About 60 million years after Earth forms.
In a cataclysmic event, a Mars-sized object named Theia collided with the early Earth, sending massive amounts of debris into orbit. This debris coalesced over time to form the Moon, which eventually became tidally locked to the Earth, stabilizing the planet’s axis and paving the way for the development of life. The Moon is comprised of lighter elements because the heavier elements of Earth had already sunk to the center.
Second Atmosphere: Carbon Dioxide & Nitrogen
Second Atmosphere: Carbon Dioxide & Nitrogen
4.3 Billion Years Ago
4.5 to 4 Billion Years Ago

Deep orange or reddish-brown atmosphere: The second atmosphere’s formation was crucial and occurred just before or alongside the formation of Earth’s oceans, which directly supported the evolution of organic molecules and prebiotic microenvironments. The second atmosphere began to develop around 4.5 to 4 billion years ago, as volcanic outgassing released gases trapped in the Earth’s interior. This process was part of Earth’s differentiation and cooling phase.

Unlike the first atmosphere, the second was rich in water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and other volcanic gases such as sulfur compounds and small amounts of ammonia and methane. Notably, it lacked free oxygen.

The cooling of Earth and the condensation of water vapor from volcanic outgassing led to the formation of Earth’s oceans. This means the second atmosphere’s development was critical for creating the conditions necessary for ocean formation.

First Oceans: Fresh Water
sunset north sea sea 2191645
4.2 Billion Years Ago
4 to 4.4 Billion Years Ago

As the Earth cooled following its formation, outgassing from volcanic activity released water vapor and other gases into the atmosphere. When the Earth’s surface cooled sufficiently, this water vapor condensed and fell as rain, filling the basins that would become oceans.

Chemical Evolution of Organic Molecules
3d illustration. Model of serotonin molecule, Hormone of Happiness
4.1 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 4 to 4.4 Billion Years Ago

While the 4.4 billion years ago is a guess as to when these processes might have started, the 4.1 billion years ago guess is a better representatoin of current understanding on when the needed building blocks of life evolved.

Before the appearance of self-replicating molecules, there was a crucial phase of chemical evolution where simple organic molecules formed from inorganic precursors. This process, possibly facilitated by conditions on early Earth or through extraterrestrial contributions (like meteorites), led to the accumulation of organic compounds, such as amino acids and nucleotides, setting the stage for the complexity of life.

  • Domain: none (clearly pre-life)
Formation of Prebiotic Microenvironments
Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
4 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.9 to 4.1 Billion Years Ago

Alongside or following the chemical evolution of organic molecules, the formation of prebiotic microenvironments, such as hydrothermal vents or warm little ponds, provided niches where concentrations of organic molecules could interact. These environments could have been crucial for the assembly of complex organic molecules and the initiation of catalytic cycles.

First Life: Self-Replicating Molecules
a group of orange and red objects floating in the air
3.95 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.85 to 4.15 Billion Years Ago

The appearance of self-replicating molecules, such as RNA or similar nucleic acid analogues, signified a monumental leap towards life. These molecules had the ability to store genetic information and catalyze their own replication, laying the foundational mechanism for heredity and evolution by natural selection, driving the complexity forward towards the emergence of life as we understand it. While none survive today, viruses are an interesting related non-life thing. Another interesting and related thing in modern life are plasmids and transposons. In bacteria and some other organisms, these DNA molecules replicate independently of the host’s chromosomal DNA. While they are part of complex cellular life and rely on the cell’s machinery for replication, their ability to replicate independently echoes the autonomy of early self-replicating molecules.

  • Domain: Pre-domain or none > Kingdom: Not applicable

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Life on Earth: The 5th threshold is life on Earth.

Cellular Membranes
Cellular Membranes
3.9 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.8 to 4.1 Billion Years Ago

The formation of cellular membranes represents a pivotal development in the pre-life world, enabling the creation of defined boundaries for primitive cells. These membranes, likely formed from simple lipid bilayers, provided a controlled environment for chemical reactions and played a critical role in the emergence of the first cell-like structures, distinguishing them from their surrounding environment.

RNA World
RNA World
3.85 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.75 to 4.05 Billion Years Ago

Following the appearance of self-replicating molecules, the RNA world hypothesis suggests a period where RNA served both as genetic material and as a catalyst for chemical reactions. This phase emphasizes the central role of RNA in early life forms, prior to the evolution of DNA and proteins. The RNA world could be considered both a precursor and a part of the early stages of life, highlighting RNA’s versatility and its significance in the origin of life.

Survivors: None survive today, but ribozymes are insterestingly related. Within the cells of all modern organisms, there are molecules called ribozymes, which are RNA molecules capable of catalyzing specific biochemical reactions, including the replication of RNA in some cases. Ribozymes are considered molecular fossils of the RNA world, providing a direct link to the era when self-replicating RNA molecules could have been the basis of life.

Assembly of Protocells
Assembly of Protocells
3.8 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.7 to 4 Billion Years Ago

Between the development of metabolic pathways and the formation of cellular membranes, there might have been a phase involving the assembly of protocells. These protocells, formed from self-assembled lipid molecules creating vesicles, could encapsulate nucleic acids and metabolic molecules, offering a primitive model for cell-like structures. Protocells represent a bridge between non-living chemical systems and the first living cells, showcasing the potential for life-like behaviors without full biological complexity.

Late Heavy Bombardment
Late Heavy Bombardment
3.8 Billion Yeas Ago
From 4.6 to 3.8 bya.
Visual Craters of the Moon! In a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, the solar system experienced a intense barrage of asteroid and comet impacts, with many large objects striking the Earth and Moon. This event likely occurred as the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn migrated to their current orbits, sending smaller bodies into chaotic trajectories. The Late Heavy Bombardment had a profound impact on the Earth’s surface, potentially leading to the extinction of early life forms and resetting the planet’s geological clock.
Metabolic Pathways
Metabolic Pathways
3.75 Billion Years Ago
Spedulative guess: 3.65 to 3.95 Billion Years Ago

Before the diversification of life, the establishment of basic metabolic pathways marked a crucial step towards biochemistry that supports life. These pathways allowed the conversion of inorganic and simple organic molecules into more complex compounds, setting the stage for energy transfer and the synthesis of key biomolecules necessary for cellular processes.

Prokaryotic Life
Prokaryotic Life
3.7 Billion Years Ago; Before LUCA
Spedulative guess: 3.6 to 3.9 Billion Years Ago

First Prokaryotes: They evolved from replicating molecules and before LUCA (also a prokaryote). Prokaryotes lack a nucleus and organelles. Although research continues identifying when the first true prokaryotes evolved, it is believed they evolved sometime between 3.8 to 4 billion years ago. While the earliest prokaryotes are part of our direct-line ancestors, today we know their descendants as bacteria and archaea. Bacteria is part of our common knowledge, but archaea are mostly known to microbiologists because they mainly live in extreme temperatures. Interestingly, viruses are neither these prokaryotes nor later eukaryotes. They are a holdover from before prokaryotes and are not considered life.

  • Domain: Pre-Domain or none > Kingdom: not applicable
LUCA – Last Universal Common Ancestor
LUCA – Last Universal Common Ancestor
3.6 Billion BCE
Spedulative guess: 3.5 to 3.8 Billion Years Ago

First DNA Life: From chemical reactions before 4 billion years ago to replicating molecules about 4 billion years ago to DNA based life then to LUCA, the only DNA based branch to survive. Meaning, DNA based life likely started before LUCA, and LUCA is the only branch to survive the test of time. From LUCA to humans, RNA and DNA are essentially the same as today. They serve as the tools for genetic information storage, transmission, and expression through prokaryotes to eukaryotes, underpinning the diversity and complexity of life on Earth. The last universal common ancestor (LUCA) is estimated to have lived approximately 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. It is the organism from which all current life on Earth descended from. Your greatest grandparents.

Imagined image: LUCA in a variety of shapes that they might have resembled, set in an ancient, deep-sea hydrothermal vent environment.

  • Domain: Pre-Domain > Kingdom: Not applicable
    (Common ancestor to the Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota kingdoms)
Second Oceans: From Fresh to Salty
Second Oceans: From Fresh to Salty
3.5 Billion Years Ago
3.5 to 2.5 Billion Years Ago

The process of salination likely began soon after the oceans formed but took hundreds of millions of years to reach the salinity levels similar to what we see today. The oceans were likely significantly salty by about 3.5 billion years ago.

Salinity increased primarily through the weathering of rocks and the leaching of minerals (including salts) into the water. Rivers and streams carried these salts into the oceans. Volcanic activity also contributed ions to the seawater. Over time, as water cycled through evaporation and precipitation, salts became more concentrated in the oceans.

By about 2.5 Billion years ago, the oceans were likely had salinity levels similar to modern oceans.

Oldest Known Fossil-Microorganisms
micro organisms cells background
3.42 Billion BCE
3.42 to 3.7 Billion BCE

The earliest known life on Earth are fossilized microorganisms found in hydrothermal vent precipitates. Currently dated to about 3.42 billion BCE. These microorganisms were prokaryote cells. Single celled organisms with no nucleus and had early simple DNA. More complex DNA in a nucleus evolved about 1.5 billion years later in Eukaryotic cells, circa 2 billion BCE.

  • Domain: Bacteria or Archaea > Kingdom: Various
Cyanobacteria: Sun Energy as Food!
top view of woman holding paper cut sun and planet with renewable energy sources on turquoise
2.7 Billion Years Ago
2.7 to 2.6 BYA

The Dawn of Photosynthesis and the Oxygenation of Earth: Around 2.4 billion years ago cyanobacteria emerged, the architects of the planet’s first photosynthetic processes. These microscopic prokaryotes harnessed the Sun’s energy, transforming it along with water and carbon dioxide into glucose and, crucially, oxygen. This period, known as the Great Oxidation Event, marked a dramatic increase in atmospheric oxygen levels, fundamentally altering the course of life’s evolution. Before this event, Earth’s atmosphere was largely devoid of oxygen, dominated instead by methane, ammonia, and other gases. 

Most life on Earth today consumes the Sun’s energy directly or indirectly, but not all life. Plants consume the Sun’s energy directly, plant eaters indirectly, and meat eaters one more step away. In addition to this chain of food, some life on Earth do not consume the Sun’s energy at all. Instead they consume nutrients found in extreme environments. Food to them like hydrogen sulfide.

 

The First True Eukaryotes
The First True Eukaryotes
2.4 Billion Years Ago (+/- 300 million years)
Mitochondrion
Mitochondrion

All life today are either Prokaryote or Eukaryote. Around 2 billion years ago, Eukaryotes evolved from Prokaryotes. The evolutionary leap to eukaryotes introduced cells with a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles, a complex architecture derived from prokaryotic predecessors through endosymbiosis. This process, crucial for eukaryotic evolution, involved the incorporation of prokaryotic cells into the cytoplasm of early eukaryotes, giving rise to essential organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts.

Mitochondria are a key component of eukaryotic cells, contributing to their ability to generate energy more efficiently than prokaryotic cells

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Protista (or ancestral eukaryotes)
Third Atmosphere: Oxygen Atmosphere
planet-blue-atmosphere
2.4 Billion Years Ago
2.4 BYA to about 540 MYA

GOE: The Great Oxidation Event started enriching the atmosphere with oxygen beginning around 2.4 billion years ago. It marked one of Earth’s most dramatic transformations. Initiated by the widespread activity of photosynthetic cyanobacteria, this period, known as the Great Oxidation Event, gradually saw the accumulation of oxygen that was initially absorbed by oceanic iron. As these iron sinks saturated, oxygen spilled into the atmosphere, paving the way for profound environmental and biological changes. The creation of an ozone layer, the oxygenation of the oceans, and the consequent rise of aerobic life forms set the stage for the later explosion of complex life on Earth, fundamentally altering the course of our planet’s history.

Breathable air to animals, including humans, started about 540 million years ago.

Protozoa Evolve
Protozoa Evolve
2 Billion Years Ago (+/- 100 million years)

Protozoa emerge from a branch of eukaryotes and both branches survive today.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Protista
Animals, Plants, and Fungi Split
Animals, Plants, and Fungi Split
1.7 Billion BCE

Around 1.7 billion years ago, a branch of protozoa, an advanced branch of the eukaryote cells, split into animals, plants, and fungi. These three separate lineages are the ancestors of modern plants, fungi and animals. 

  • 1.7 billion years ago: Plants diverge from the common protozoa ancestor.
  • 1.5 billion years ago: Fungi and animal branch emerges.
  • 1.3 billion years ago: Fungi diverge from the common fungi-animal ancestor.

Later animals evolve into the animal kingdom which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, crustaceans, arachnids, echiniderms, worms, mollusks, and sponges.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Protista (or ancestral eukaryotes)
    (New Kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi)
Sexual Reproduction
Sperm and egg cell on microscope. Scientific background.
Before 1 Billion BCE
Precambrian era

Sexual reproduction, genetic material from two parents, emerged as a fundamental evolutionary innovation of eukaryotes. The emergence of sexual reproduction in the Domain Eukaryota highlights the unique properties of eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotes have Complex Cell Structure, chromosomes within a nucleus, meiosis, a special type of cell division that reduces the chromosome number by half and creates genetic diversity, etc. This critical development enabled the mixing of genetic material, leading to increased genetic diversity and adaptability among early eukaryotic organisms, setting the stage for the complex tapestry of life that would eventually populate Earth.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Protista (protozoans and some algae)
    (Later it evolved in the plantae and fungi kingdoms.)
Touch Emerges: Proto-Sensing.
Touch Emerges: Proto-Sensing.
800 Mya
Proto-Sensing.

Long before the complexity of full-fledged nervous systems, elaborate senses, and brains, life on Earth developed the basic ability to perceive and react to mechanical stimuli—a process known as cellular mechanosensitivity. A contemporary manifestation of this can be observed in the movement of some plants today, such as the Venus flytrap, which responds to touch by snapping shut to capture prey. This early form of proto-sensing, relying on signal transduction pathways within single-celled organisms, represents the precursor to the sophisticated sensory and nervous systems found in later multicellular life. Through mechanisms like ion channel activation and signal transduction cascades, these primitive organisms could respond to touch and pressure, paving the way for the evolutionary journey towards more advanced forms of perception. This foundational stage of sensory evolution, occurring as early as 800 million years ago, underscores the deep biological roots of our ability to sense and interact with the world around us.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Porifera (sponges) 
First Multicellular Animals
green and black abstract painting
640 Million Years Ago
640 to 600 Million Years Ago

Organisms that consist of more than one cell took several billion years to evolve from unicellular organisms. All species of animals, land plants and most fungi are multicellular, as well as many algae. A few organisms are partially both such as slime molds and social amoebae.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Porifera (sponges)
First Egg Layers
First Egg Layers
638 Million Years Ago
640 to 600 Million Years Ago

The evolution of egg-laying evolved before fish. It is thought to have developed with or shortly after the emergence of the first multicellular animals, around 640 million years ago.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Porifera (sponges) and Cnidaria (jellyfish, corals, etc.)
Presentient Animals Emerge: The Ediacaran Prelude
Presentient Animals Emerge: The Ediacaran Prelude
635-600 Million Years Ago
Proto-brain; Pre-brain memory; Presentient.

Creatures of this time evolved into fish (us), jellyfish, cephlapods, and arthropods. In the deep waters of the late Precambrian era, the seeds of sentience were sown with the evolution of the earliest common ancestors to later cephalopods and fish. These primordial creatures, equipped with the most basic nervous systems, embarked on the path toward sensing and interacting with their surroundings in novel ways. Some of these species might have evolved some pre-brained memory, setting the foundational capabilities for interaction and adaptation within their environments. While far removed from the complex behaviors of their future descendants, these early organisms’ ability to respond to environmental cues marked the dawn of simple sentience in the animal kingdom. This pivotal moment laid the foundation for the intricate tapestry of life that would evolve, branching into the diverse forms of sentience observed in the animal world today.

Ediacaran biota (about 635 to 541 million years ago): By about 635 million years ago, clearly identified plant eaters evolved. Thriving in the oceans. Characterized by their unusual and diverse shapes, ranging from frond-like patterns to disk and tubular structures, the Ediacaran biota’s body plans defy easy comparison with modern life forms. The significance of the Ediacaran biota lies not just in their ancientness but in their representation of life’s experimental forays into multicellularity, offering clues to the evolutionary transition from simple microbial life to the complex organisms that would come to dominate the Earth. While we don’t know if this creature had a proto-nervous system, their existence set the stage for the Cambrian Explosion.

Chemorecption: Taste and Smell Emerge
Chemorecption: Taste and Smell Emerge
600 Mya

Chemoreception, the ability to detect chemical stimuli, likely emerged around 600 million years ago among some of the earliest soft-bodied multicellular organisms. This evolutionary leap did not necessarily require a proto- or pre-brain in the complex sense associated with later animals but rather relied on cellular mechanisms capable of processing chemical information. These early forms of chemoreception enabled organisms to make rudimentary distinctions necessary for survival, such as identifying nutritive substances versus harmful ones. They could “taste” potential food sources upon direct contact and “smell” chemicals dissolved in the water, guiding them towards nourishment or away from danger. These primitive sensory mechanisms laid the groundwork for the sophisticated development of taste and smell in more complex animals.

Kimberella (circa 560 Mya): The Kimberella, while not an ancestor of vertebrates, is a likely early example of a creature with chemoreception. It is potentially an early mollusk, and exemplifies the importance of chemoreception in early animal life. Its grazing on microbial mats would have necessitated a basic form of chemoreception to discern between nutritious and non-nutritious substances. The distinction between food sources implies an elementary ability to ‘taste’ and ‘smell,’ integral for selecting suitable food. This behavior marks a significant step in the evolutionary sophistication of sensory systems, foreshadowing the complex senses of taste and smell found in later species.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Bilateria or Mollusca
First True Animals – Comb Jellyfish
Jellyfish moving through water
560 Million BCE
560 to 550 Million Years Ago

Through genetic analyses, scientists now believe the Comb Jellyfish is the earliest known true animal to evolve on Earth. Prior to this genetic analyses, simple sponges were thought to have evolved first.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Ctenophora > Class: Tentaculata
Vision Emerges: The Pre-fish Chordates
Vision Emerges: The Pre-fish Chordates
540 Mya
Vision Emerges; Proto-Simple Brains; Pre-vertebrate Cord.

Vision evolved as early as 540 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion. The ability to see, alongside the development of hearing, provided organisms with the evolutionary advantage of sensing their environment from a distance. This sensory evolution necessitated the development of larger brains for the complex processing of visual data, marking a pivotal moment in the cognitive evolution of life.

Pikaia Gracilens (520 to 505 Mya): In the ancient seas of the Middle Cambrian, starting around 520 million years ago, Pikaia gracilens swam into the annals of evolutionary history as one of the earliest known chordates, a group that would eventually give rise to vertebrates, including fish and, much later, humans. Measuring up to 6 centimeters in length, Pikaia boasted a series of notable features for its time, including a notochord—a flexible rod running along its back, which would become the backbone in its vertebrate descendants—and rudimentary structures suggesting the early development of a circulatory and nervous system. While Pikaia itself lacked well-defined eyes, its place in the evolutionary lineage hints at the beginnings of the complex sensory organs that would become eyes in later vertebrates.

First Vertebrates
First Vertebrates
530 Million BCE
530 to 520 Million Years Ago

The earliest known vertebrates originated about 530 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion. 

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Chordata
Earliest Known Hunter
Earliest Known Hunter
520 Million Years Ago
First Simple Brains; Proto-Short-Term Memory; Simple Sentience.

First Brains: By about 520 million years ago, hunters roamed the seas. In the Cambrian explosion, a period of rapid evolutionary development that began around 541 million years ago, the earliest known animals with structures recognizable as brains made their debut in the Earth’s oceans. They possessed rudimentary beginnings central nervous systems, including a brain. This allowed for advanced sensory processing, decision-making, and coordinated movement.

Anomalocaris (518 to 500 Million Years Ago): Among these early pioneers, creatures like Anomalocaris canadensis stand out. During the Cambrian Period, the Anomalocaris was a formidable predator of the seas. It reached lengths of up to three feet. With its large, compound eyes, flexible, segmented body, and a pair of grasping appendages in front of its mouth, it was perfectly adapted to detect and capture prey. Anomalocaris swam the ancient oceans with undulating movements, using its circular mouth lined with serrated plates to consume trilobites and other early marine animals.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Arthropoda > Class: Dinocaridida
Simple Sentience Settles: Haikouichthys
Simple Sentience Settles: Haikouichthys
520 Million BCE
Simple Brains; Proto-Short-Term Memory; Simple Sentience.

From no sentience or presentience to solidly “Simple Sentience,” early fish during this time represent our ancestral beings that started to suffer and feel the dichotomy of pleasure and pain.

Haikouichthys (circa 520 Million Years Ago): Dwelling in the ancient seas of the Cambrian period, Haikouichthys is among the earliest forms of vertebrate life, showcasing fundamental advancements in the complexity of the nervous system. Unlike its precursors in the Ediacaran period, which exhibited only the most rudimentary forms of interaction with their environment, Haikouichthys possessed a more developed nervous system, allowing for more nuanced responses to stimuli. This development marks a significant evolutionary leap towards the ability to experience basic forms of what we might consider suffering and pleasure. Its existence underscores a pivotal transition in the evolution of life, bridging the gap between the simplicity of early multicellular organisms and the complexity required for the nuanced experiences of sentience.

  • Phylum: Chordata > Class: Agnatha (jawless fish)

"<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19461018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Haikouichthys NT</a>" by <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:ArthurWeasley&amp;action=edit&amp;redlink=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobu Tamura email:nobu.tamura@yahoo.com www.palaeocritti.com</a> is licensed under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>

Simple Cephalopod Sentience Evolves
Simple Cephalopod Sentience Evolves
510 Million BCE
Not a fish ancestor, not our ancestor.

Nectocaris pteryx lived during the Middle Cambrian period, approximately 508 to 505 million years ago. From presentient animals branched cephalopods and fish. Both later evolved Simple Sentience. An example of convergent evolution that might suggest sentience is one of the natural stepping stones of life.

The Cambrian and subsequent periods saw the emergence of early cephalopods, ancestors to modern octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish. These ancient cephalopods, navigating the Cambrian seas, possessed a more developed nervous system compared to many contemporaneous organisms, capable of processing information from their environment in sophisticated ways. This evolutionary development marked a significant leap towards simple sentience, with early cephalopods able to exhibit behaviors such as hunting strategies, escaping predators, and possibly even social interactions. The evolution of these early cephalopods highlights a pivotal moment in the history of life, demonstrating the beginnings of nervous system sophistication that would eventually lead to the complex forms of sentience observed in higher animals, including humans.

First Land Plants
yellow and red flowers on gray rock
470 Million BCE

The first land plants appeared during the Ordovician period. Life was diversifying rapidly during the Ordovician period.

Keratin Genes & the Rise of Scales in Fish
Keratin Genes & the Rise of Scales in Fish
425 Million Years Ago
425 MYA (+/- 15 Million Years)

These early scales provided a vital protective layer, acting like underwater armor against predators, abrasions, and environmental threats. The keratin genes that led to scales are an interesting part of our story. When amphibians evolved onto land, scales near the tips of their evolving toes transformed into thicker protection and traction, eventually giving rise to claws, nails, and hooves. Meanwhile, cold temperatures and sun exposure led to the development of warming and protective traits like feathers, fur, and hair. Specialized “scales” evolved into horns in various species, such as triceratops and rhinos, despite their unrelated lineage. Additionally, keratin genes influenced the formation of beaks in birds. All these diverse traits originated from the same keratin genes.

Oldest Known Air Breather
Oldest Known Air Breather
414 Million BCE

The millipede Pneumodesmus newmani is the oldest air-breathing animal known to date. This ancient denizen of the Scottish waters once roamed the Earth during the early Silurian era. The millipede likely supplemented its oxygen intake through air as well as using its gills while in water.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Arthropoda > Class: Diplopoda (millipedes)
     
     

 

Lungs Evolve: Lobe-Finned Fish and the Lungfish Ancestor
Living fossil fish, Coelacanth.
400 Million BCE

The Dawn of Lungs: In the oxygen-poor waters of the Devonian period, roughly 400 million years ago, or a bit earlier. It was a significant evolutionary leap. A group known as Sarcopterygii were presentd with a formidable challenge in ancient waters that were shallow and variable. It was here that the first lungs emerged. Evolving from structures akin to modern fish’s swim bladders, these early lungs enabled them to extract oxygen directly from the air. This innovation marked a pivotal moment , setting the stage for land vertebrates.

Lung Fish” by Nagyman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Legacy of the Lungfish: Descended from them, the lungfish epitomize the resilience and adaptability of life. Presently represented by six species across Africa, South America, and Australia, lungfish possess both gills and well-developed lungs, enabling them to survive in environments that would be inhospitable to other fish. During dry seasons, some lungfish can aestivate in mud, breathing air through their lungs until water returns. 

First True Trees
First True Trees
385 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

Trees actually breath. Well, technically they grow a bit more at night and tend to shrink a tiny bit during the day in a process called “diurnal stem extension,” which I like to think is analogous to breathing or a heartbeat.

  • Domain: Eukaryota > Kingdom: Plantae > Phylum: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
Long-Term Memory Evolves: Tiktaalik
Long-Term Memory Evolves: Tiktaalik
375 Mya
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Simple Sentience.

Long-Term Memory: By about 375 million years ago, the foundations for long-term memory were likely established among the more complex vertebrates, facilitating survival in increasingly varied and challenging environments.

Tiktaalik is a prime example of this evolutionary milestone. It is an extraordinary creature that bridged the gap between aquatic fish and amphibians. With its forward-facing eyes—an adaptation indicative of its predatory lifestyle, it  navigated both the waters and the emerging land habitats. This semi-aquatic way of life, combining elements of both aquatic and terrestrial existence, would have necessitated the use of long-term memory for tasks such as remembering the locations of feeding sites, water bodies, and safe paths between them. Its adaptations, including limbs capable of supporting its weight on land, suggest a complex lifestyle that likely benefited from the development of long-term memory, enabling it to exploit the resources of both realms effectively.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Chordata > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes)
Land Hearing Emerges: Amphibians
Land Hearing Emerges: Amphibians
370 Mya
Land Hearing Emerges; Yet Larger Brains.

Hearing, which initially appeared in early fish, underwent a remarkable transformation as vertebrates transitioned to terrestrial life a bit after 400 million years ago. Early forms of hearing involved simple pressure-sensitive cells that could detect vibrations in water. As amphibians moved onto land, rudimentary hearing evolved into processing airborne sound. This transition further drove the need for enhanced brain capacity to process increasingly complex sensory information.

Acanthostega (circa 365 Mya): Hearing, a critical evolutionary advancement, underwent significant changes as vertebrates transitioned from aquatic to terrestrial environments. While the earliest forms of hearing evolved in water, allowing organisms to detect vibrations through their bodies, the move onto land posed new challenges and opportunities for auditory systems. Acanthostega, an early amphibian, exemplifies this transition. This period marks a crucial phase in the development of auditory systems capable of detecting a broader range of sounds, setting the stage for the complex hearing abilities observed in later terrestrial vertebrates.

Phylum: Chordata > Subphylum: Vertebrata > Class: Sarcopterygii (Lobe-finned fishes)

Reptile Amniotic Eggs
Corn snake hatching, Pantherophis guttatus guttatus, also know as red rat snake
318 Million BCE

After about 320 million years, the next significant leap in egg evolution came with reptiles, which developed amniotic eggs. These eggs have a protective shell and specialized membranes to support development outside of water, enabling reptiles to lay eggs in terrestrial environments.

Early Complex Sentience Emerges: Dimetrodon
Early Complex Sentience Emerges: Dimetrodon
295 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Early Complex Sentience.

Both reptiles and our ancestor synapsids evolved from amphibians. While reptiles evolved better amniotic eggs, synapsid eggs were like amphibian eggs. Synapsid’s birthing process eventually led to mammalian live births. These are the animals that evolved Complex Sentience, the ability to feel various emotions. While it is unknown when this complex spectrum fully evolved, it is defined as the ability to suffer and feel the dichotomy of pleasure and pain. Dimetrodon is an example of a meat eater, which if any of our ancestors were meat eaters. Although not a While dimetrodons were not direct ancestor of mammals, our mammalian ancestors might have been similar to our direct-line ancestors around this time. 

Class: Synapsids (pre-mammal, not a dinosaur, not pre-dinosaur)
Evolution: Amphibians > Amniotes > Early Reptiles > Synapsids
Time Period: Late Triassic to Early Jurassic; 295-272 Mya; Diet: Carnivore

Ginkgo biloba-like Trees: True Leaves
Ginkgo biloba-like Trees: True Leaves
270 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

The Ginkgo biloba, prominently featured in this image, stands as a testament to the resilience and persistence of nature. Its unique fan-shaped leaves, characterized by radiating veins, mark it as a “living fossil,” a term that reflects its ancient origins and relatively unchanged form over millions of years. These leaves first appeared during the Permian period, a time when the landscape was dominated by coniferous trees and early reptiles, setting the stage for the Ginkgo biloba’s long evolutionary journey. The depiction emphasizes the transition from simpler, primitive leaves to the more specialized flabellate leaves of the Ginkgo, illustrating a significant evolutionary development in plant life.

Plate Tectonics
Plate Tectonics
Circa 260 Million BCE

By dating rocks and fossils scientists can document the movement of the continents over time. 

To confirm and refine this science, geologists study rocks, paleontologists study fossils, and anthropologists study human societies, cultures, and relics. The location and dating of rocks, fossils, and relics allow us to understand the distant past.

  • Cynognathus, circa 242 million BCE
  • Lystrosaurus, circa 250 million BCE
  • Glossopteris, circa 275 million BCE
  • Mesosaurus, circa 285 million BCE
Pine Needles Evolve
Pine Needles Evolve
252 MYA (+/- 5 million years)

As the Permian period waned around 299 to 252 million years ago, the Earth’s climates became increasingly arid, fostering the evolution of plant adaptations suited for water conservation. Among these adaptations was the emergence of true pine needles, characteristic of early conifers. These needle-like leaves, with their narrow, waxy surfaces, were crucial in minimizing water loss, a vital trait in the challenging Permian environments. As the planet transitioned into the Triassic period (about 252 to 201 million years ago), these early conifers diversified and spread, forming dense forests that featured a variety of conifer species with distinct pine needles. This marked a significant evolutionary step, enabling conifers to dominate many landscapes and setting the stage for the later proliferation of these resilient trees during the Mesozoic era.

Pangaea Super Continent Breakup
Pangaea Super Continent Breakup
250 Million BCE to 1 CE

Animation of the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea and the subsequent drift of its constituents, from the Early Triassic to recent (250 Million BCE to 1 CE). The super continent Pangaea existed from about 335 to 175 Million BCE.

 

Asilisaurus kongwe
Asilisaurus kongwe
245 Million Years Ago

The closest known ancestor of Nyasasaurus parringtoni before its appearance is likely to be found among the Dinosauromorpha, a clade that includes dinosaurs and their immediate precursors. One of the most well-known early dinosauromorphs is Asilisaurus kongwe, which lived around 245 million years ago in what is now Tanzania. Asilisaurus exhibits several characteristics that are intermediate between earlier archosaurs (the group that includes all dinosaurs, crocodiles, and birds) and true dinosaurs. These early dinosauromorphs provide critical insights into the evolutionary steps that led to the rise of dinosaurs.

Phylum: Chordata > Class: Reptilia > Order: Saurischia (Clade: Dinosauria)
Evolution: Amphibians > Amniotes > Early Reptiles > Dinosauriform

Nyasasaurus parringtoni
Nyasasaurus parringtoni
243 Million Years Ago

The earliest known dinosaur is Nyasasaurus parringtoni, which lived during the Middle Triassic period, around 243 million years ago. Discovered in Tanzania, Nyasasaurus represents a key transitional form, showcasing features that are both dinosaurian and pre-dinosaurian, highlighting the evolutionary path leading to more well-known dinosaurs of the Late Triassic and beyond. This discovery pushes back the origin of dinosaurs by approximately 10 to 15 million years earlier than previously thought, providing crucial insights into the early evolution of these remarkable creatures.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Chordata > Class: Reptilia > Saurischia (or Ornithischia)
    (Clade: Dinosauria)
Marasuchus lilloensis
240 Million Years Ago

Before dinosauromorphs like Asilisaurus, the evolutionary lineage would include earlier archosaurs. One such early archosaur is Marasuchus lilloensis, which lived around 240 million years ago. Marasuchus exhibits several primitive features that are on the evolutionary path towards dinosaurs.

  • Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Chordata > Class: Reptilia > Order: Dinosauriformes
  • 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 inches)
  • Found in Argentina, South America
  • primarily bipedal
  • carnivore
Morganucodon: An Early Mammalian Herbivore
Morganucodon: An Early Mammalian Herbivore
205 Million BCE
around 205-200 million years ago

Morganucodon is an example of a plant eater likely similar to our direct-line ancestors around this time. It is not a direct human ancestor but is among the early mammaliaforms, close to the lineage leading to true mammals. It likely had a varied diet, but its inclusion here highlights the transition towards more specialized mammalian diets from the broader reptilian ones.

Evolution: Amphibians > Amniotes > Synapsids > Mammalia
Class: Mammaliaforms or maybe Synapsida 
Time Period
: Late Triassic to Early Jurassic

Diet: Likely Herbivore

Mammals: First Live Births
Mammals: First Live Births
185 Million BCE

An example of early live birth is the protomammal Kayentatherium, Jurassic period. This cynodont is related to early mammals and its clutch size suggested egg-laying, providing clues about the transition to live birth. The switch to live birth in mammals, including marsupials and placentals, likely evolved once at their common ancestor, suggesting live birth in mammals has a deep evolutionary history.

 

Modern Trees: Modern Leaves
Modern Trees: Modern Leaves
145 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

This image showcases the intricate leaf structures of modern trees, specifically highlighting the leaves of the Maple and Oak. These species represent the evolutionary pinnacle of leaf development, featuring complex, highly branched vascular systems that optimize photosynthesis and water management. Maples, with their characteristic palmate leaves, and Oaks, with their lobed leaves, exemplify the diversity and adaptability of modern angiosperms. Set against a backdrop of a Cretaceous landscape, replete with flowering bushes and early birds, this image captures the dynamic interplay of evolution that has sculpted the form and function of contemporary tree leaves.

South America Splits from Africa
140 Million BCE

Over millions of years, the modern-day South America and Africa  separated during the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea.

The First Flowers
By 130 Million Years Ago
Molecular analysis might push this back to 149 or maybe even 256 mya.

While the earliest fossils we have place the first flowers at about 130 million years ago, they likely evolved earlier. How much earlier is still under research. Recent molecular analysis suggests that the origins of flowering plants might extend back to between 149 and 256 million years ago. This type of research looks at the evolutionary relationships and timing. Stay tuned!

For sure, during the Cretaceous period, around 130 million years ago, the first simple flowers began to bloom. They were likely brown or green because they used wind, not insects, for pollination. These early angiosperms, or flowering plants, marked a significant evolutionary leap in the plant kingdom. They evolved from gymnosperms, a group of seed-producing plants that includes conifers. The development of flowers allowed for more efficient reproduction through the attraction of pollinators like insects, which facilitated cross-pollination and genetic diversity.

Fossil evidence suggests that the first flowers were small, simple structures, quite different from the diverse and complex blooms we see today. By 130 million years ago, the first flowers began to bloom, marking a pivotal moment in plant evolution. These early angiosperms emerged during the Cretaceous period, evolving from gymnosperms and revolutionizing reproductive strategies through the attraction of pollinators. 

Complex Sentience Settles: Eomaia scansoria
Complex Sentience Settles: Eomaia scansoria
circa 125 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Likely Proto Self-aware.

The rise of Eomaia scansoria, an early placental mammal, marks a definitive leap towards “Complex Sentience” in the evolutionary saga leading to humans. Unearthed from the Early Cretaceous period, Eomaia’s sophisticated array of mammalian features heralds the advent of deeply emotional and social behaviors. Possessing a brain and nervous system capable of supporting complex emotions, Eomaia represents a lineage increasingly equipped for the nuanced experiences of joy, suffering, pleasure, and pain. This small, shrew-like creature’s life history likely involved care for its young, suggesting the presence of emotional bonds and a capacity for emotional experiences that go beyond mere survival instincts. As one of the earliest examples in the mammalian lineage, Eomaia embodies the evolutionary moment when our ancestors began to navigate the world not just physically but emotionally, setting the stage for the rich tapestry of sentient experiences that characterize human life and our closest animal relatives today.

Likely Proto Self-aware: It’s plausible that it possessed a foundational level of self-awareness, or what can be termed as Proto Self-awareness. This rudimentary sense of self would not meet the criteria for self-recognition observed in modern species but likely included basic self-directed behaviors and an emerging sense of individuality advantageous for survival and social interactions. The cognitive capacities of its descendants suggest that the earliest forms of these traits, essential for navigating complex environments and social dynamics, began to develop around this pivotal point in mammalian evolution.

Appendix
Appendix
80 Million BCE

The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch attached to the large intestine. It has long been considered a vestigial organ, meaning that it has no function in the human body. However, recent research suggests that the appendix may actually serve as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria.

The appendix is an example of a Phenotype Variation — a trait that varies among individuals. In fact, something like 1 in 100,000 people are born without an appendix. The presence or absence of the appendix is one example of a variation in humans. However, the presence or absence of the appendix is not a typical example of phenotype variation, as it is not a continuous range of variation within a population. Nonetheless, it is an interesting variation that our descendants over the next eons will certainly observe.

Purgatorius — Earliest known proto-primate.
© N. Tamura (CC BY-SA)
66 Million BCE
Cretaceous End -- Tertiary Start

Within mammals, only primates have binocular vision, grasping hands, and flat nails–instead of claws. Purgatorius might have had all three earning it the earliest known proto-primate label. It lived in Eastern Montana about 66 million years ago during the very last years of the Cretaceous period. It lived through the K-T extinction event and the extinction of dinosaurs.

Class: Mammal; Early Proto-Primate
Time Period: Late Cretaceous to the early Paleocene
Diet: Likely Frugivorous (fruits) / Insectivorous (insects)

Opposable Thumb Emerges
Opposable Thumb Emerges
60 Million Years Ago

Around 60 million years ago, the early ancestors of primates began to develop a crucial adaptation: the opposable thumb. This evolutionary milestone marked the beginning of increased dexterity and the ability to grasp objects more effectively. Living in the dense canopies of prehistoric forests, these early primates used their newly opposable thumbs to navigate their environment, forage for food, and interact with each other in more complex ways. This small but significant change laid the groundwork for the remarkable manual dexterity that would evolve in future primate species.

Plesiadapis: First fruit-insect eaters.
Plesiadapis: First fruit-insect eaters.
58 Million BCE
circa 55-58 million years ago

Plesiadapis, a proto-primate, is an example of a fruit-insect eater likely similar to our direct-line ancestors around this time.

Class: Mammal; Early Primate (Plesiadapiformes)
Time Period: Late Paleocene
Diet: Likely Frugivorous/Insectivorous

Opening of the North Atlantic Ocean
Fama Clamosa, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
56 Million BCE

North America splits from Europe causing diverging evolutionary lines. Over millions of years, the modern-day Europe (Eurasian plate) and North America (North American Plate) separated during the final breakup of Pangaea in the early Cenozoic Era. This split is a later part of that breakup and created the North Atlantic Ocean.

Early Self-Awareness: Miacis
Early Self-Awareness: Miacis
50 Million BCE

Emerging in the lush forests of the Eocene, Miacis signifies a pivotal moment in the evolution of cognitive abilities among mammals. As a basal member of the Carnivora, this small, tree-dwelling creature exhibited behaviors and social dynamics suggesting the early stages of self-awareness. Though not akin to the self-recognition seen in humans or other highly intelligent animals, the life of Miacis and its interactions with its environment and conspecifics likely involved a level of awareness and individual recognition. These early forms of cognitive complexity mark the beginning of the path toward the rich inner lives characterized by self-awareness in later mammals.

Early Intelligence Emerges: Aegyptopithecus zeuxis
Early Intelligence Emerges: Aegyptopithecus zeuxis
30 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Semi Self-awareness settles in.

True Primate: Within mammals, only primates have binocular vision, grasping hands, and flat nails–instead of claws.

Intelligent: Within the dense forests of the Oligocene epoch, Aegyptopithecus zeuxis marked a significant advance in the evolution of intelligence among primates. As an early forerunner to both the great apes and humans, Aegyptopithecus possessed adaptations crucial for enhanced cognitive function, such as a larger brain relative to its body size and eyes positioned for depth perception. These physical traits supported the development of behaviors requiring problem-solving, learning, and adaptation—hallmarks of emerging intelligence. The social life of Aegyptopithecus, inferred from its anatomy and fossil context, likely involved complex interactions and the use of rudimentary tools, setting the stage for the exponential growth in intelligence that characterizes later primates, including humans.

Great Ape Thumb Evolves
Great Ape Thumb Evolves
30 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

Likely between 25 and 30 million years ago, the evolution of the great apes brought about further refinement of the opposable thumb. This period saw the divergence of the lineages that would lead to modern apes, including orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. The great ape thumb evolved to become more robust and versatile, allowing these primates to perform a wider range of tasks. The ability to grasp and manipulate objects with precision became increasingly important for activities such as tool use, social interactions, and foraging. This evolutionary step set the stage for the remarkable capabilities seen in modern apes and, eventually, in humans.

Image: Gorilla on right, human, then orangutan. Orangutan-like hands evolved about 30 mya, gorilla-like hands evolved about 12 mya, and human-like hands evolved about 3 mya.

Genus Proconsul (Self-Awareness Settles)
Genus Proconsul (Self-Awareness Settles)
20 Million Year Ago (+/- 2 Million Years)
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Maybe Self-aware; Likely Simple EI.
800,000 Generations Ago

Great Apes LCA candidate: Proconsul, an inhabitant of the Miocene forests in East Africa, stands as a landmark in the evolutionary journey toward self-awareness. This early ape lacked a tail and exhibited a mixture of arboreal and terrestrial traits, providing clues to the social and environmental challenges that likely spurred cognitive advancements. While direct evidence of self-awareness in Proconsul is beyond our reach, its position in the ape lineage suggests the development of social structures and cognitive abilities that predate the sophisticated self-awareness observed in modern great apes, elephants, and dolphins. Proconsul’s world was one of increasing cognitive complexity, setting the stage for the emergence of true self-aware beings, capable of recognizing themselves as distinct entities within their social and natural environments.

Great Apes: Medicine Emerges
Great Apes: Medicine Emerges
18 Million Years Ago (+/- 5 million years)

While speculative, it is reasonable to position the occassional use of proto-medicine as emerging in the great apes sometime around 18 million years ago. Modern orangutans, apes, and chimpanzees treat wounds, digestive issues, and even use insect repellant. The Great Apes LCA lived around 18 million years ago, so using the Occam Approach, this implies that’s around the time such traits emerged. This demonstration of chronoception, a sense of time, is interesting.

This, of course, is only a guess as dog’s and cat’s, which evolved much earlier, frequently eat specific plants to settle their stomach. Some insects, like Ants, use plant extracts to treat fungal infections in their colonies. While the dog and cat example is likely an example of convergent evolution, the ant example for sure is.

Imagined image: By around this time, the great apes could experience time the way we do. They remember the past while living in the present and anticipating the future. In this case, an early great ape is applying mud to a wound he just experienced while anticipating the mud will soothe the pain and help him feel better in the future.  

Emergence of the Great Apes (Great Apes LCA)
Emergence of the Great Apes (Great Apes LCA)
17 Million Years Ago (+/- 2 Million Years)
680,000 Generations Ago

The Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of the Great Apes, a.k.a. the Hominidae family, marks a pivotal point in our evolutionary history, encompassing the origins of orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. This ancestor species, likely existing between 15 to 19 million years ago, represents the shared lineage from which all modern great apes have diverged. Current evidence suggests possible candidates for this ancestor ranging from a species within the fossil genus Proconsul from about 19 million years ago to one in the genus Kenyapithecus, dating as late as 15 million years ago. The genus Proconsul survived and evolved from about 22 million years ago to about 18 million years ago in East Africa. Also in East Africa, the genus Kenyapithecus survived and evolved from about 16 million to about 14 million years ago, specifically in Kenya.

Genus Kenyapithecus: EI Emerges
Genus Kenyapithecus: EI Emerges
16 Million Years Ago
Survived from 16 to 14 MYA.

Great Apes LCA candidate: Kenyapithecus is an extinct genus of great ape that lived in Kenya around 14-16 million years ago. It is considered a potential candidate for the last common ancestor of all great apes, including humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Kenyapithecus had a mix of primitive and advanced features, with a brain size slightly larger than that of modern chimpanzees and a more human-like dental structure. Its face was likely more flat and human-like than modern great apes, and it may have had a more upright posture. While its exact relationship to modern great apes is still debated, Kenyapithecus provides important insights into the evolution of the great ape lineage.

Complex EI Emerges: Orangutans fall into the Complex EI category. They exhibit a broad spectrum of emotionally intelligent behaviors, including empathy, where they show concern for the welfare of others; the use of emotional cues to communicate and navigate complex social landscapes; self-control and mood management; and problem-solving that incorporates emotional states. Their ability to engage in morally influenced behaviors, such as sharing based on social bonds or altering their behavior to maintain social harmony, underscores their capacity for complex emotional intelligence. Orangutans’ nuanced social interactions, care for their young, and responses to environmental and social challenges demonstrate a sophisticated understanding and management of emotions that align with the hallmarks of complex EI.

Skin Color Diversity Across and within Primate Species
Skin Color Diversity Across and within Primate Species
By 14 Million Years Ago
Phenotype Variations

The skin color diversity in primates over the last 20 million years showcases the adaptability of primates. The melanin levels in primate skin vary significantly based on the varying levels of UV radiation exposure in different climates. In high UV regions, darker skin evolved to protect against UV damage and folate degradation, while in areas with less sunlight, lighter skin developed to facilitate vitamin D synthesis through the skin. This adaptive trait is not static; it can change over millennia as populations move between different UV environments.

Genus Dryopithecus: Cultural Transmission Emerges
Genus Dryopithecus: Cultural Transmission Emerges
Emerged 13 mya, extinct 9 to 7 mya
Cultural Transmission

Likely an orangutan ancestor: As the branches of the ape family tree diverged, Dryopithecus emerged during the Miocene epoch, offering a glimpse into the early development of primate social structures. Living approximately 13 to 12 million years ago, this early ape flourished in the European forests, at a time slightly preceding or overlapping with the divergence of orangutans around 12 to 16 million years ago. This timeline positions Dryopithecus as an example of early apes developing complex social behaviors that may have included rudimentary forms of cultural transmission.

Inhabiting a world of dense forests and diverse ecosystems, Dryopithecus likely navigated a social landscape that required adaptive behaviors and communication skills, setting the stage for the evolution of more sophisticated social learning and cultural transmission. These early apes were not direct ancestors of modern orangutans but rather part of a broader group of Miocene apes that explored various adaptive strategies. The evolution of social learning in such environments underscores the beginnings of culture, where knowledge and behaviors started to be passed down through generations, shaping the social dynamics of future ape lineages.

Genus Sivapithecus: Orangutans Branch Off
Genus Sivapithecus: Orangutans Branch Off
Emerged 12.5 to 12 mya, extinct 8.5 to 7 mya.
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Self-aware; Complex EI.

Orangutan ancestor: After the Great Apes LCA, orangutans evolved in Asia. The genus Sivapithecus represents early orangutans. An extinct species of the great apes, they  lived in the Indian subcontinent from around 12 to about 8 million years ago. It is considered a close relative of the orangutan lineage and shares many similarities with modern orangutans, including a similar skull shape and dental structure. Sivapithecus indicus had a more advanced brain than earlier great apes, and its face was likely more protruding and snout-like, similar to modern orangutans. Its discovery in the Siwalik Hills of India and Pakistan has provided important insights into the evolution of the great ape lineage in Asia, and it is thought to have played a key role in the origins of the orangutan genus, Pongo.

Genus Nakalipithecus: Gorillas Branch Off
Genus Nakalipithecus: Gorillas Branch Off
Emerged 10 mya, extinct 9.8 to 9 mya.
Ancestral Hominids (us, pre-split)
320,000 Generations Ago

Last Gorilla-Chimp-Human ancestor: The last common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans likely lived about 8 to 10 million years ago. Both the Nakalipithecus and Chororapithecus genuses are candidates. Genus Nakalipithecus: This “might” be the leading plausible candidate. From Kenya, they are dated to about 10 million years ago.

Following the divergence of the orangutans, the gorilla lineage branched off from the rest of the great ape family around 8 to 9 million years ago. This split led to the evolution of the largest of the living apes, the gorillas. They exhibit a fascinating social structure and exhibit impressive displays of strength, yet are known for their gentle nature. The divergence of gorillas from the common ancestor they shared with humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos further highlights the rich tapestry of evolution that has given rise to the variety of great ape species seen today.

Location: Emerged in Western or Central Africa; spread to Eastern Africa and no further.
Size: Up to 5’8″ and 550 pounds (Eastern Lowland Gorillas)

Transition from Trees to Savannah Begins
Transition from Trees to Savannah Begins
9 Million Years Ago

Arboreal to Terrestrial: Beginning approximately 9 million years ago, our ancestors began an evolutionary change from forests to woodlands to savannahs. This gradual transition from primarily arboreal (tree-dwelling) lifestyles to increasingly terrestrial (ground-based) behaviors was very gradual with traits specific for walking around carrying things gradually accumulating. This evolutionary journey spanned roughly 7 million years, culminating in species like Homo habilis, which by about 2 million years ago, had adapted to spend most of their time on the ground and carrying things like stone tools and likely walking sticks which were also used to hunt and fight off animals.

Analysis: The last common ancestor (LCA) of orangutans, which are predominantly arboreal, is dated to around 13 million years ago, whereas the LCA for gorillas, who are more terrestrial, dates to about 8 million years ago. This timeline suggests that around 9 million years ago, the ancestors of modern humans and other great apes began to adapt to life on the savannahs and open landscapes of Africa. As evolutionary paths diverged, each lineage developed distinct adaptations that favored survival on the ground—ranging from changes in limb structure and gait to the development of tools for defense and foraging. By the time of Homo habilis, evidence strongly indicates a lifestyle that was predominantly terrestrial, with occasional returns to the trees for foraging or safety.

Genus Gigantopithecus
Emerged 9 mya, extinct 100,000 BCE.

The great ape Gigantopithecus was a genus of large primates that lived in Asia, primarily during the Pleistocene epoch. Gigantopithecus is closely related to modern orangutans (genus Pongo) within the great ape family. These large primates were not direct ancestors of humans but were part of the broader family Hominidae, which includes all the great apes—humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Gigantopithecus stood out due to its enormous size, with estimates suggesting it could reach up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) in height and weigh up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

 

Chimpanzees Branch Off (CHLCA)
Chimpanzees Branch Off (CHLCA)
7.5 Million Years Ago
Hominini Tribe: Chimpanzee Branch Off
300,000 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

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 ancestor lived in Africa about 7.5 million years ago, likely in East Africa or perhaps Central Africa. The genus that is perhaps the most likely for the CHLCA is Sahelanthropus. While much of Africa today features arid deserts, Western Africa and at least parts of Central Africa and Eastern Africa were rainforests and tropical forests during this key time of early hominin evolution. 

The descendants of CHLCA are known collectively as the Hominini tribe within the larger Hominidae family. Today this tribe includes only humans, the common chimpanzee, and bonobos. Did you notice that I said CHLCA is not part of the Hominini tribe? Interestingly, scientists so far have excluded the ultimate founder of the Hominini tribe. Tribes are defined by common characteristics and because we have yet to find a CHLCA, they are left out. Since all known descendants of CHLCA, living and extinct, have the common characteristics that define the Hominini tribe, so did CHLCA. Well, that’s what I think at least. For more on why the simplest explanation gets this kind of weight in analysis, check out my Occam’s Razor: Simplifying Complexity article.

CHLCA likely lived sometime between 5 and 13 million years ago, with 7.5 million years ago being a common educated estimate. Sahelanthropus tchadensis, and other later Hominini tribe descendants, supports estimates placing the CHLCA at about 7.5 million years ago. For example, Sahelanthropus tchadensis survived from 7 to 6 million years ago in Central Africa. 

Genus: Sahelanthropus (Walking Upright)
Genus: Sahelanthropus (Walking Upright)
7 Million BCE
Hominin
260,000 Generations Ago

CHLCA candidate: Often considered one of the earliest potential hominins, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, best known from the “Toumai” skull found in Chad, exhibits features that suggest bipedalism but remains debated due to limited fossil evidence. With two human anatomical traits, small canine teeth, and a spinal cord hole in the cranium further forward (on the underside of the cranium), it is possible that they are the fist of our ancestors to walk upright. If not, they likely had an intermediate stride.

Survival: From about 7 to 6 MYA in Central Africa (a densely wooded rain forest at the time)
Size:
4′ to 4’6″ (a little taller than modern chimpanzees)
Brain Size
: around 320 to 380 cm³ (speculative)

Brain to Body EQ: Unknown, but like similar to chimpanzees at 2.2 to 2.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Perhaps the first species below represents Sahelanthropus tchadensis:

The female human evolution.

Genus Gorilla
Genus Gorilla
7 Million Years Ago
Imagined image: kenyapithecus.

The gorilla genus is thought to have diverged from other great apes around 7 million years ago. The western gorilla and the eastern gorilla diverged around 2 million years ago. The western gorilla has two subspecies: the western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla. The eastern gorilla has two subspecies as well: the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla.

Genus: Orrorin
Genus: Orrorin
6 Million Years Ago
Hominin, Maybe Us

CHLCA candidate: Known from Kenya, Orrorin tugenensis is another early form, with femoral evidence suggesting bipedality, indicating it was likely an early walker.

Genus: Ardipithecus
Genus: Ardipithecus
5.8 Million Years Ago
Hominin, Maybe Us, 5.8 to 4.4 million years ago

CHLCA candidate: This genus includes Ardipithecus ramidus (like “Ardi”) and possibly earlier species like Ardipithecus kadabba. Ardipithecus shows a mix of bipedal traits and adaptations for climbing, reflecting a transitional form in human evolution.

Echoes of Early Steps: The Laetoli Footprints
Echoes of Early Steps: The Laetoli Footprints
3.66 Million Years Ago
Hominin

In the verdant landscapes of Laetoli, Tanzania, beneath a layer of volcanic ash from a nearby eruption, a remarkable story is preserved. Dating back 3.66 million years, a series of footprints capture a fleeting moment in time when early hominins walked across the wet ash. These footprints, attributed to Australopithecus afarensis, represent one of the earliest known evidences of bipedal locomotion, a pivotal adaptation in human evolution. The prints reveal not just the mechanics of early human walking but also a snapshot of life in a world teeming with both challenges and opportunities. As these hominins moved through their environment, their upright strides marked a significant departure from their four-legged forebears, setting the stage for a journey that would eventually lead to us. The discovery of these footprints in 1976 by Mary Leakey and her team opened a window into our ancestral past, highlighting a critical step in our long, adaptive stride through history.

Early Wood tools
Early Wood tools
3.4 Million Years Ago

Simple wood tools starting with picking up a stick to poke at some out of reach fruit likely paralleled the use of stone tools. Wood tools for the most part did not survive the test of time. The earliest so far include advanced javelins form 400,000 years ago and a digging tool from 780,000 years ago.

Possible, but speculative, progression of wood tools:
By 3.4 mya: hand stick used for poking and defense. A hand stick could be used for poking to gather edible plants, digging small holes, or as a simple defensive tool against predators or rival groups as well as for hunting smaller prey. Chimpanzees today sharpen sticks and kill bushbabies so it’s reasonable to speculate that hominins have been doing similar things going back to at least 3.4 million years ago.

By 3.3 mya: walking stick used for protection and hunting. As early hominins began to traverse more varied terrains, the use of walking sticks could have emerged. These sticks, possibly sharpened at one end, could serve dual purposes: aiding in mobility over rough landscapes and as a rudimentary weapon for hunting small animals or defense.

By 2.6 mya: small sharpened sticks for detailed work. Coinciding with the development of Oldowan stone tools, which included flakes and cores, early humans could have crafted small, sharpened wooden sticks. These sticks would be useful for tasks requiring more precision, such as extracting termites from mounds, piercing to create simple garments from hides, or intricate food preparation like skewering.

By 1.76 mya: Spears and Digging Sticks: With the advent of Acheulean hand axes, there might have been the concurrent use of wooden spears, either fire-hardened or using stone tools to sharpen the tips. These would be essential for hunting larger animals at a distance. Similarly, robust digging sticks could be used for accessing water sources, tubers, or creating simple traps.

By 500,000 ya: Complex Wooden Constructs: By the time Middle Paleolithic tool cultures emerged, there could be more complex wooden constructions such as frames for shelters, more sophisticated spears, and possibly even simple rafts or paddles for navigating waters. The use of fire to harden and treat wood could enhance the durability and effectiveness of these tools.

By 300,000 ya: Hafted Tools and Advanced Spears: The use of adhesives and bindings to attach stone points to wooden shafts likely emerged, producing more effective hafted tools. This period may also see the refinement of spear technology, with better aerodynamics and durability for more effective hunting strategies.

By 200,000 ya: Ritual or Symbolic Wooden Structures: The potential for wooden objects to play a role in ritual or communal activities, such as totem poles or communal meeting structures, reflecting more complex social behaviors and spiritual beliefs.

 

Early Stone Tools
Early Stone Tools
3.3 Million BCE
Hominins

The earliest known stone tools date back to at least 3.3 million years ago. They are identified by their purposeful flaking patterns, sharp edges, and location with other more identifiable artifacts or fossils. They are then verified with microscopic analysis confirming repetitive use. 

Possible Stone-Tool Progression:
By 3.4 mya: Hammerstones, no modification, used for pounding seeds, nuts, or breaking bones.
By 3.3 mya: Lomekwi stone tools. Stone cores, rock flakes removed to reshape, narrow, or sharpen.
By 2.6 mya: Oldowan tools; first definite tools. Stone flakes with sharp edges would used for cutting meat, scraping hides, chopping plants, and wood whittling.
By 2.4 mya: Refinement of Oldowan tools, with more controlled flaking and sharper edges.
By 1.76 mya: Acheulean hand axes, iconic tools with a distinctive teardrop or oval shape for chopping wood, butchering animals, digging, and scraping.
By 1.76 mya: Larger cutting tools such as cleavers for butchering large animals, or heavy-duty scrapers for processing hides or wood.
By 500,000 ya: Middle Paleolithic tools, including pointed hand axes, side scrapers, knife-like tools, and awls for piercing.
By 300,000 ya: Diverse materials such as bone and antler start surviving the test of time. Earliest evidence of composite tools using multiple materials combined to produce tools with specific functions.
By 200,000 ya: Hafted tools, where stone tips are attached to wooden handles, significantly enhancing their effectiveness and range of use.

Collective Learning Emerges
Collective Learning Emerges
3.3 Million Years Ago

The dawn of collective learning can be traced back the oldest known stone tools, discovered at Lomekwi 3 in Kenya. The creation of these tools required more than just individual innovation; it involved the rudimentary form of collective learning, where knowledge of toolmaking was shared within groups. This early transmission of skills not only enhanced survival and adaptation but also marked the beginning of cultural accumulation—a fundamental characteristic that would define human societies.

Collective learning is the 6th threshold in Big History. While they place it at about 200,000 years ago, I recrafted it as Trasendental Intelligence and moved it back to 475,000 years. Collective learning, likely started with cultural transmission and the making of tools is a good example. If you agree, then collective learning moves back to at least 3.3 million years ago.

 

Human Thumb Evolves
Human Thumb Evolves
3 Million Years Ago (+/- 400,000 years)

Slightly greater range of movement and precision: Around 2 to 3 million years ago, the evolution of the human thumb reached a pivotal point. Early hominins, such as Australopithecus and later Homo habilis, exhibited a thumb that was more similar to that of modern humans. This thumb was capable of a greater range of movement and precision, which was crucial for the development of advanced tool-making techniques. The ability to craft and use tools not only provided a survival advantage but also facilitated the development of culture and technology. The evolution of the human thumb is a key factor in the story of human evolution, highlighting the interplay between biological adaptation and cultural innovation.

Genus: Australopithecus
Genus: Australopithecus
2.9 Million BCI
Hominin, Us, From 4.2 to 2 MYA
116,000 Generations Ago

This genus is more directly ancestral to humans and includes several species, such as Australopithecus afarensis (famously represented by “Lucy”), Australopithecus africanus, and others. Australopithecines show a greater commitment to bipedalism and have features more closely resembling modern humans, although they still retained some adaptations for climbing.

This genus is known for their true bipedalism, enhanced predator awareness, and facilitated tool use by freeing the hands. These hominins exhibited significant dental evolution, with smaller, less pronounced canines indicative of dietary changes and reduced aggression, suggesting more complex social interactions. Their brains, though only modestly larger than those of great apes, showed gradual increases in size, hinting at evolving cognitive abilities.

Survival: From about 4.2 to 2 MYA in Eastern and Southern Africa (in woodlands and grasslands)
Size:
3’6″ to 4’6″ (a bit taller than modern chimpanzees)
Brain Size
: around 350 to 550 cm³ (speculative)

Brain to Body EQ: 2.5 to 3.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)
Species: Australopithecus anamensis (around 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago), Australopithecus afarensis (famous for the “Lucy” specimen, around 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago), and others. 

Genus: Paranthropus
Genus: Paranthropus
2.7 Million Years Ago
Hominin, Not Us (2.7 to 1.2 million years ago)

Not us: Other hominin species lived in niche spaces along side our ancestors. Species like Paranthropus aethiopicus, Paranthropus boisei, and Paranthropus robustus, dating from about 2.7 to 1.2 million years ago. These species are characterized by robust craniodental features, likely related to their diet.

A contemporary genus to early Homo.

Homo habilis: Our Intelligence Settles.
2.3 Million BCE
92,000 Generations Ago

Earliest Identified Human: Earlier hominins are “humanoid,” due to their human-like features, but the term “human” is reserved for species in the genus Homo. Homo habilis is the earliest known of these “early humans.”

First Earth Explorer: Known as the “handy man,” Homo habilis’s association with the earliest stone tools is evidence of unprecedented level of cognitive ability, including foresight, planning, and the ability to manipulate the environment in complex ways. They used stone tools as well as controlled fire. They were likely the first of “us” to explore most of the Earth. We know they evolved into at least 20 known species of which only Homo Sapiens survive today.

You can think of Homo habilis as a super smart chimp, a 55% smarter one. 

Survival: From about 2.4 to 1.4 MYA in Eastern and Southern Africa (in woodlands and grasslands)
Size:
3’4″ to 4’5″ (a bit taller than modern chimpanzees)
Brain Size
: around 510 to 600 cm³ 

Brain to Body EQ: 3.3 to 3.8 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Emergence of the Chimpanzee Family
Bonobo chimpanzees in the wilderness in Democratic Republic of the Congo
2 Million BCE
Hominids, Not Us (different branch)

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.

Chimps are smart, but nowhere near Homo habilis from 2.3 million years ago.

Size: 3’ to 4’5″ (a bit shorter than Homo habilis)
Brain Size: 273 to 500 cm³ (much smaller than Homo habilis at 510 to 600 cm³)
Brain to Body EQ: 2.2 to 2.5 (much less than Homo habilis at 3.3 to 3.8, and humans at 7.4 to 7.8)

First Proto-Containers
First Proto-Containers
2 Million Years Ago

The earliest containers were likely simple natural resources that early hominins stumbled upon and adapted for use. Starting possibly with Homo habilis around 2.0 million years ago, these early humans may have utilized large leaves, shells, or naturally hollowed-out pieces of wood as rudimentary containers. This usage marks an innovative step in early human technology, reflecting an understanding of natural resources for practical purposes.

As hominins evolved, particularly with the advent of Homo erectus, more sophisticated uses of materials likely developed. Homo erectus, known for their tool-making abilities, might have used animal hides to gather and carry items, gradually fashioning them into simple bags or slings. This represents a significant advancement in carrying technology, allowing for the transport of goods over greater distances and supporting more complex foraging strategies.

Before these developments, even earlier hominins may have employed static storage methods, such as piling resources like rocks or wood in designated locations, such as inside caves or on natural ledges. These caches would have served as communal collection points that group members could contribute to and draw from, reflecting early forms of community resource management.

Additionally, the use of vines or strong plant fibers to tie items together suggests the beginning of material manipulation for transport purposes, predating the knowledge of weaving but laying the groundwork for future technological innovations in container making.

Olduvai Gorge Site: A Glimpse into Early Organizational Behavior
Olduvai Gorge Site: A Glimpse into Early Organizational Behavior
2 Million Years Ago (Up to about 15,000 years ago)

The Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania stands as a testament to early human ingenuity and foresight, illustrating a rudimentary form of organizational behavior that predates modern civilization. Utilized extensively over two million years, the site functioned akin to a “factory,” where early humans systematically crafted a variety of stone tools. They strategically selected specific locations that optimized their tool-making efforts. This specialization of space for specific activities suggests a significant cognitive leap—recognizing the efficiency of designated work areas. Such spatial organization reflects the emergence of complex thinking, where early humans not only made tools but also thought strategically about where to make them, hinting at the early development of proto-civilizational structures.

Analysis: Interestingly, remarkably few human remains have been directly associated with the primary tool-making areas. This separation implies that while the site was pivotal for tool production, other aspects of daily life, such as habitation and burial practices, occurred elsewhere. The diverse array of tools found at Olduvai, from simple Oldowan choppers to more advanced Acheulean hand axes, marks significant milestones in technological advancement. The absence of human remains, coupled with the diversity of artifacts, provides crucial insights into the early human capacity for planning, foresight, and possibly, social stratification.

Homo erectus: A True Omnivore
1.9 Million BCE
76,000 Generations Ago

Homo erectus is a direct ancestor of modern humans and represents a key point in human evolution where evidence of a truly omnivorous diet becomes clear, including the use of tools for hunting and processing both plant and animal foods. This species shows significant brain enlargement and other adaptations indicative of complex foraging and social behaviors.

Survival: From about 1.9 MYA to 50,000 years ago. Emerged in Eastern Africa, spread throughout Africa, Asia, and into Europe.
Size:
4’9″ to 6’1″
Brain Size
: around 600 to 1,100 cm³ 

Brain to Body EQ: 3.3 to 3.8 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Emergence of Early Hominin Shelters
Emergence of Early Hominin Shelters
1.8 Million Years Ago (+/- 500,000 years)

The origins of tent-like structures in human history remain shrouded in mystery, primarily due to the perishable materials involved and the lack of direct archaeological evidence. However, as Homo erectus appeared and spread into varied climates, their enhanced tool-making skills and control of fire likely necessitated and enabled the construction of more complex shelters. This period marks a significant point where early humans may have started to build the first tent-like structures using branches, leaves, and plant fibers to create semi-permanent shelters. The move into cooler environments would have increased the need for such innovations.

Before this timeframe, it’s possible Homo habilis created simple shelters. The emergence of Homo habilis and their use of simple stone tools opens a window of possibility. They might have used vines or branches to create rudimentary windbreaks or lean-tos for temporary protection from the elements.

Imagined image: Close-up view of the hands of Homo habilis as they might have realistically appeared, wrapping a vine or plant fiber around the top of tipi-like branches. The hands are depicted as rougher and more calloused, reflecting the physical demands of their environment, and capturing their survival skills.
Hand Axe
Hand Axe
1.76 Million BCE
70,400 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

By about 1.76 million BCE, early humans began to create hand axes. They would strike really large flakes, then continue to shape them around the edges. On the right, the hand axe pictured dates to circa 1.1 million BCE. It was found at Isampur, India.

 

Modern Gorilla Species
Modern Gorilla Species
1.75 Million Years Ago

The modern gorilla species, the western and eastern gorillas, are estimated to have diverged approximately 1.75 million years ago. However, recent studies suggest that there was an interbreeding event between an extinct gorilla population and eastern gorillas around 40,000 years ago, leaving a genetic legacy in present-day eastern gorillas.

Oldest Modern Human-like Footprints
1.52 Million BCE
1.53 to 1.51 Million BCE
60,800 Generations Ago

Species: Likely Homo erectus, our direct ancestor. The footprints found in Ileret, Kenya represent the oldest undisputed evidence of hominins walking upright in an efficient manner characteristic of modern humans. Our style of upright walking, which Homo erectus appears to have shared, is energy-efficient and adapted for long distances. It involves a long stride with a spring-like mechanism in the arch of the foot. These particular footprints demonstrate a well-developed arch and a long stride, culminating in a propulsive toe-off similar to us.

By this period, Homo erectus set a precedent for the locomotion seen in future hominin species, including Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and even the shorter Homo floresiensis.

Less Body Hair Emerges in Homo erectus
Less Body Hair Emerges in Homo erectus
1.2 Million BCE
Supported by DNA evidence.

As Homo erectus roamed the expansive savannas, a significant evolutionary shift occurred in human ancestors: the reduction of body hair. This adaptation likely enhanced sweat-based cooling systems, crucial for surviving and thriving under the scorching sun during long hunts and foraging activities. While this change marked a general trend towards the hairiness levels observed in modern humans, variations persisted among individuals, reflecting a natural diversity similar to the range seen today. Some members of this early Homo population may have retained slightly more body hair, potentially offering better insulation in cooler climates or during seasonal changes.

Skin Color Variety: Each time a species of our genus Homo ancestors spread to new environments, the melanin mechanisms that all primates have kick in. The following is an imagined image of our ancestors in the various environments they spread into by 1.2 mya.

Homo antecessor: Earlier Modern Looks
Homo antecessor: Earlier Modern Looks
1.2 Million Years Ago
48,000 Generations Ago

NSLCA Candidate: This ancient human species challenges traditional views by suggesting that some of our human ancestors bore a closer resemblance to modern humans than previously believed. Homo antecessor, which existed long before Homo sapiens and Homo heidelbergensis, displayed distinctly modern human-like features, including a flatter face and a more refined nose, indicative of significant evolutionary developments.

The concept that Homo antecessor may have had such advanced facial features suggests a complex evolutionary lineage that might revise our understanding of human morphology’s progression. These traits possibly facilitated enhanced social interactions and communication, reflecting a sophisticated level of behavioral adaptation.

To illustrate the uncertainty and the scope of scientific interpretation in paleoanthropology, consider the following artistic impressions. These images underscore the speculative nature of reconstructing ancient human appearances—while grounded in evidence, each representation involves a degree of conjecture.

Or even:

Image depicting a slightly more pronounced primitive features, such as a heavier brow ridge and a less refined nose, while still maintaining a generally flat face.

Or even:

This portrayal includes a flat face and a modern-looking nose.
Rapid Brain Growth
blue and green peacock feather
800,000 BCE
800,000 to 200,000 BCE

Genus Homo: Rapid brain growth in our human ancestors started about 800,000 BCE. Now, by rapid brain growth we mean about 600,000 years! Larger complex brains helped early humans to survive. They interacted with each other and their surroundings in new and different ways.

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.

 

Seasonal Settlements at Zhoukoudian site
Seasonal Settlements at Zhoukoudian site
770,000 BCE
from circa 770,000 BCE to circa 5700 BCE

Earliest known seasonal settlement in the Asian zone: Nestled in what is now the outskirts of Beijing, China, the Zhoukoudian site stands as a testament to some of the earliest forms of semi-permanent human settlement in Asia. The presence of a long-standing fire pit at the center of the site is a significant indicator of repeated use, perhaps up to tens of thousands of years. Around this fire pit, early humans crafted stone tools, an essential skill for their survival and an activity that likely drew groups together.

Hyoid Bone: Speach Emerges
Hyoid Bone: Speach Emerges
700,000 BCE

Around 700,000 years ago, the development of a human-like hyoid bone suggests early hominins may have begun transitioning from simple vocalizations to more structured speech.

"<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/133115863@N08/18439175894" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">88 - Neck muscles, with mandible, hyoid bone, clavicles and laryngeal cartilages2</a>" by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/133115863@N08" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Knowledge Collector</a> is licensed under <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CC PDM 1.0</a>
Hyoid bone location.

This period marks a critical evolutionary point for Homo heidelbergensis, whose anatomical adaptations for speech, coupled with advanced tool use and complex social structures, indicate possible use of rudimentary language. Earlier hominins like Homo erectus also showed signs of vocal communication, but whether this included structured language remains uncertain. This era highlights the beginnings of speech, setting the stage for the sophisticated linguistic capabilities of later hominins. 

Hominin World Population: 2 Million (speculative)
Hominin World Population: 2 Million (speculative)
700,000 BCE
Highly speculative. Based on rational analysis of the great apes.

Other than humans, today’s smartest primates—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans—have a combined wild population of approximately 400,000 to 700,000. This number persists despite their near-complete inability to expand beyond their current ideal environments, a restriction not faced by any human species since before Homo habilis. Moreover, this is in spite of the extreme pressures exerted by various human species over the last 300,000 years. Drawing from this, the hominins of 700,000 BCE, including Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and other yet-to-be-discovered human species, might have had a global population ranging from 1.2 to 2.1 million. While highly speculative, this estimate is plausible, perhaps even conservative, considering Homo erectus‘ widespread presence and success across diverse environments in Africa and Eurasia. This era, significantly before the emergence of modern humans, showcases a dynamic tableau of early human life, marked by significant migrations and adaptations to varying ecological niches. Check out A New Look at Ancient Hominin Numbers: A Speculative Journey for more information.

Full Emotional Intelligence Emerges
Full Emotional Intelligence Emerges
700,000 Years Ago

Full emotional intelligence (EI) likely emerged around this time in species such as Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. EI heralds the dawn of a new era where emotional intelligence began to take a recognizable shape.

Analysis: With indications of complex social structures, more potential for language, and advanced tool-making abilities, these species navigated their world with a level of social cognition and emotional awareness that surpassed their predecessors. Their ability to cooperate in hunting, share resources, care for the injured or ill, and possibly mourn their dead, points towards an emerging capacity for understanding the emotional states of others, fostering group cohesion and survival.

Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis
Circa 640,000 Years Ago
Homo heidelbergensis on Earth from about 640,000 to 200,000 BCE.
25,600 Generations Ago

NSLCA Candidate: Homo heidelbergensis, an important figure in human evolution, represents a notable advancement over its predecessor, Homo erectus and Homo antecessor. Emerging around 640,000 years ago, they exhibited a larger brain capacity, averaging about 1,100 to 1,400 cubic centimeters, which facilitated more complex thought processes and behaviors. This increase in brain size is correlated with evidence of more sophisticated tool use, particularly the development of the Levallois technique, which allowed the production of diverse and specialized tools. Unlike Homo erectus, who primarily used simple stone flakes, Homo heidelbergensis crafted tools that were pre-planned and could be retouched and reused. Physically, they were more robust than Homo erectus, with a sturdier skeletal structure that supported a larger musculature, likely an adaptation to the colder climates encountered as they spread across Europe. Furthermore, Homo heidelbergensis is credited with the earliest potential evidence of constructed shelters and the systematic use of fire, suggesting a significant leap in technological and social practices, including possibly the earliest forms of communal living and hunting strategies. These traits mark Homo heidelbergensis as a crucial intermediary between earlier hominins and later species such as Neanderthals and modern humans.

  • Brain Size: 1,100 to 1,400 cc (humans=avg=1,350; 1,200 to 1,500 cc)
  • Brain to Body EQ: 4.5 to 5.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)
  • Evolved in Africa about 770,000 YA, spread to Europe by 500,000 YA.
  • Spread through Africa, Europe, and Asia. Last known: Africa until about 200,000 YA. 
  Male Female
Avg. Height 5’9″ 5’2″
Avg. Weight 136 lbs 112 lbs
First Clothes: Proto-Clothing and the Advent of Garments
First Clothes: Proto-Clothing and the Advent of Garments
600,000 Years Age

Proto-clothing, encompassing basic garments such as animal skins and possibly decorative natural materials, likely emerged among hominins around 600,000 years ago, with Homo heidelbergensis being a probable early adopter. This species, experiencing diverse and often colder climates across Europe and Africa, may have utilized simple clothing as a practical response to environmental challenges.

Analysis: The evidence for early use of clothing, while direct only for Homo sapiens and Neanderthals around 100,000 years ago, can be inferred for earlier hominins through indirect markers. The Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of Neanderthals and modern humans, dating back approximately 600,000 years ago, introduces the possibility that simple forms of clothing might have been in use from this point forward. This assumption is based on the survival needs in varying climates and the sophistication of tool use seen in Homo heidelbergensis. Additionally, the emergence of Homo antecessor around 1.2 million years ago and the sophisticated behaviors observed in Homo erectus, suggest that the use of clothing could be reasonably extended back as far as 1.5 million years ago, albeit more speculatively. Conversely, earlier hominins such as Homo habilis, with their limited tool use and milder environmental conditions, likely did not develop clothing.

Transcendental Intelligence Emerges
Transcendental Intelligence Emerges
475,000 Years Ago

Transcendental Intelligence (TI) likely emerged around this time in species like Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. Species such as these mark a compelling case for the early development of TI: the ability to store information outside the mind and across generations. This would likely take the form of stories, art, or something like a symbolic marking of an area used as a warning to stay away.

Analysis: Although direct evidence of art or jewelry from this era remains elusive, the sophisticated crafting techniques observed in later Neanderthal and Denisovan artifacts, suggest advanced cognitive abilities capable of TI including symbolic thought and advanced tool making. Denisovans are thought to have split from Neanderthals in Europe about 450,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens branched off in Africa about 315,000 years ago. The speculation that TI developed during this time is grounded in the understanding that the cognitive prerequisites for such advancements—complex problem-solving, abstract thinking, and perhaps rudimentary forms of symbolic communication—were likely present.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Collective Learning: The 6th threshold in Big History is Collective Learning, what I’ve dubbed Transcendenal Intelligence, the storing of information outside our minds. While Big History has this step set about 200,000 years ago as Homo sapiens emerged, I’ve moved it back to Homo heidelbergensis before Neanderthals and us branched off. After the publication of Big History, neanderthal art was discovered, indicating symbolic thought which might imply TI abilities. It’s important to note that very early collective learning likely emerged in Homo habilis or earlier. 

Neanderthal-Sapien LCA
Neanderthal-Sapien LCA
440,000 Years Ago

NSLCA: The Neanderthal-Sapien Last Common Ancestor was likely Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor.

Analysis: Before the discovery of Homo antecessor in the 1990s, Homo heidelbergensis was considered the primary candidate for the NSLCA due to its chronological and morphological position in the human lineage. The discovery of Homo antecessor, with its more modern-looking facial features, has intensified debates around the NSLCA’s identity. Recent scholarly speculation, influenced by the anatomical closeness of antecessor to modern humans and the larger brain of heidelbergensis, suggests a potential hybrid scenario where the NSLCA could represent a mix of traits from descendants of antecessor and contemporaneous heidelbergensis. This hybrid theory, while speculative, aligns with genetic evidence of interbreeding among Homo species.

Homo heidelbergensis first appeared in Africa around 770,000 to 650,000 years ago, while Homo antecessor emerged in Spain about 1.2 million years ago. If Homo antecessor is confirmed as our direct ancestor, this would imply that modern human features such as a flatter face and protruding nose may have evolved much earlier than previously thought, potentially as early as 1.2 million years ago. This scenario would also suggest complex migratory and evolutionary dynamics, possibly involving a back-migration of antecessor or its descendants into Africa, where the NSLCA would have emerged. This area remains a hotbed of research as new fossil discoveries continue to reshape our understanding of early human history.

 

Homo neanderthalensis: Verified True Symbolic Thought
Homo neanderthalensis: Verified True Symbolic Thought
430,000 BCE
On Earth from 430,000 to 29,000 BCE
16,000 Generations Ago

True symbolic thought emerges before 430,000 BCE: The discovery in 2018 of Neanderthal art dating back to 68,000 years ago, proved symbolic thought in Neanderthals. It also indicates strongly that symbolic thought evolved in or before our common ancestor about 430,000 years ago. This must be true unless either they evolved it separately in an example of convergent evolution or we’re wrong about the art, meaning we’re wrong about our idea that humans were not in Spain until after that art. (see my Occam’s Razor article.) 

See Beyond the Brain: Reassessing Neanderthal Intelligence, for more information. Humans and Neanderthals had a common ancestor about 430,000 BCE (current estimates range from 430,000 to 450,000 BCE). Humans did not evolve from Neanderthals, but both are the current evolution of a common ancestor: Homo Heidelbergensis. After the split, Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals interbred up to and as recently as 29,000 BCE. Through DNA testing we can identify DNA that came from interbreeding with Neanderthals. They built shelters, wore clothes, used tools, and spoke. Neanderthal DNA in modern humans is the highest in East Asians, intermediate in Europeans, and lower in Southeast Asians.

  • Class: Mammal; Genus: Homo; Diet: Omninivore
  • Brain Size: 1,200 to 1,700 cm³ (humans=avg=1,350; 1,200 to 1,500 cm³)
  • Brain to Body EQ: 4.5 to 5.5, but maybe 6.2, or even 7.9? (humans=7.4 to 7.8)
  • Evolved in Europe, spread to Africa and the Middle East.
  • Last known: 29,000 BCE in the mountains of Polar Ural, northeastern part of Komi, Russian Federation.
Terra Amata Site, France
Terra Amata Site, France
circa 400,000 Years Ago
Nice, France

Discovered in the 1990s, this 400,000-year-old Homo heidelbergensis structure in France is believed to be a primitive hut or shelter made from wooden posts and branches. The structure is thought to have been built by Homo heidelbergensis. The shelter is estimated to be around 4-5 meters (13-16 feet) wide and 6-7 meters (20-23 feet) long. It’s believed to have been constructed using a simple framework of wooden posts, with branches and leaves used to create a roof and walls. While the above image is a minimalist artist representation, the following is more likely what their camp looked like.

Imagined image depicting a complex settlement of Homo heidelbergensis. The scene includes a variety of structures that demonstrate their architectural and technological skills, such as more durable shelters, fire hearths, simple storage facilities, defensive structures, and areas for tool-making.
Oldest Surviving Spear
Oldest Surviving Spear
350,000 BCE
400,000 to 300,000 BCE
14,000 Generations Ago

Homo heidelbergensis: Long spears made hunting large animals more safe. The oldest wooden spears found so far were found in Germany and dates to circa 400,000 BCE. In fact, they are currently the oldest known wooden artifacts. The find included 3 wooden spears, stone tools, and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.

These spears have the same qualities as modern tournament javelins and can be thrown over 200 feet. The workmanlike qualities of the heavily worked wood were similar to modern javelins where the heaviest thickest part of the spear, the center of gravity, is in the front third.

Homo naledi: A Likely Hybrid
Homo naledi: A Likely Hybrid
335,000 BCE
Human, but probably not our human branch.

Speculative branch of humans. Maybe a long lost hybrid: In the evolving tapestry of human history, the emergence of Homo naledi represents a captivating mystery that challenges traditional narratives of linear progression. Positioned within the intricate web of human evolution, Homo naledi could exemplify a complex branch woven from ancient threads. Imagine a scenario where a group descended from late Australopithecus interbred with Homo erectus, resulting in a unique hybrid species. This hybrid lineage, embodying a blend of primitive and advanced traits, might have thrived alongside other hominins, contributing to a rich mosaic of human diversity. The existence of Homo naledi, with its distinct blend of characteristics, suggests that our evolutionary past may not be a simple tree with neatly diverging branches, but rather a dense network of interconnected lineages, intermingling and evolving in response to the dynamic landscapes of ancient Africa. Such a perspective invites us to reconsider the complexity of human ancestry, highlighting the possibility of multiple, overlapping narratives of evolution driven by hybridization and adaptation.

Imagined image: Homa naledi. Left is circa 250,000 BCE. Right is circa 335,000 BCE. The later Homo naledi individual as appearing more human-like is somewhat speculative but can be supported by the evidence of their anatomical features and behaviors.

Survival: From about 335,000 BCE to 236,000 BCE in Eastern and Southern Africa (in woodlands and grasslands)
Size: 3’4″ to 4’5″ (a bit taller than modern chimpanzees)
Brain Size: around 510 to 600 cm³
Brain to Body EQ: 3.3 to 3.8 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Homo Sapiens: Advanced Transcendental Intelligence
Homo Sapiens: Advanced Transcendental Intelligence
315,000 BCE
12,600 Generations Ago

The first humans evolved in Africa about 315,000 BCE. These first humans had most of the traits we identify as human including looking and thinking much as we do. They used brain power, innovation, and teamwork. They spoke and controlled fire. Their lives were complex. Over the next 250,000 years they evolved into us. By about 150,000 BCE our current capabilities were mostly evolved. Today’s humans have essentially the same DNA as humans from circa 60,000 BCE.

With the emergence of Homo sapiens, the landscape of consciousness witnessed the dawn of Transcendental Intelligence (TI)—a level of cognitive and cultural sophistication unmatched in the natural world. The 2018 discovery of Neanderthal cave paintings, which dates back over 64,000 years, compellingly extends the evidence of TI to at least 400,000 years ago, demonstrating advanced cognitive abilities such as symbolic thought and artistic expression.

This era, spanning several hundred thousand years, is distinguished not only by the development of complex languages and profound knowledge systems but also by the ability to actively transmit culture, art, and technology. Homo sapiens harnessed TI to shape their environments, conceive abstract concepts, and establish societies with intricate social norms and belief systems. Similarly, Neanderthals, with their complex behaviors and symbolic practices, demonstrated a capacity for TI that suggests a broader cognitive potential within the genus Homo. As modern AI systems begin to replicate aspects of TI in information processing and communication, they reflect humanity’s ongoing quest to understand and replicate the depths of its own intelligence. However, the quintessential human experiences of consciousness, emotion, and cultural identity remain unparalleled, emphasizing the profound mystery and uniqueness of human cognition and its evolution over millennia.

Imagined image: two Homo sapiens males from different stages of human evolution are featured. The first figure represents Homo sapiens from about 300,000 years ago, and the second from about 100,000 years ago, each with distinct features representative of their times.

Size: 5’9″ (175.3 cm) for males and 5’4″ (161.8 cm) for females on average
Brain Size: 1300-1400 cm³
Brain to Body EQ: 7.4 to 7.8

 

 

Neanderthal-Denisovan Split
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spread_and_Evolution_of_Denisovans.jpg
300,000 BCE
500 to 30 Thousand BCE
12,000 Generations Ago

Neanderthals and denisovans in the genus Homo had a common ancestor about 370,000 BCE (current estimates range from 250,000 to 500,000 BCE). Though neanderthals, denisovans, and sapiens share a common ancestor, they didn’t evolve directly from each other. That common ancestor from which all three evolved from was likely a later Homo heidelbergensis. Although some research suggest Denisovans branched from an early neanderthal. If Denisovans branched from an earlier Homo heidelbergensis, it suggests modern cognitive abilities like symbolic thought may have emerged much earlier than previously believed, which aligns with discoveries of early art currently under investigation. Some suggest denisovans branched from Homo erectus, if that’s true but I don’t think it is, that pushes the evolution of our modern brains back to about 1 million years ago. Either way, it’s clear our current anthropomorphic bias has painted a cloudy picture. It’s much more likely that many of these species were roaming around with similar cognitive abilities. Occam’s Razor suggests that’s more likely than all these species evolving “intelligence” in such a short time. 

Long after the three species were on Earth, they interbred from time to time. Through DNA testing we can identify DNA that came from interbreeding with both. The highest percent of denisovan DNA in modern humans is in Melanesian population ranges; it ranges from 4 to 6 percent, lower in other Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander populations, and nearly undetectable elsewhere in the world.

Denisovans became extinct about 40,000 BCE, the last surviving in Siberia. They built shelters, wore clothes, used tools, and spoke. Late Homo heidelbergensis, neanderthals, denisovans, and sapiens all likely looked very similar: a combination of the wide variety seen in modern humans.

Venus of Tan-Tan
Venus of Tan-Tan
300,000 BCE
Africa; 300,000 to 500,000 years ago

Found in Morocco, this natural pebble with human-like features is possibly the oldest known example of a figurine or representation of the human form.

Hominin World Population: 2 Million (maybe)
Hominin World Population: 2 Million (maybe)
300,000 BCE
Very speculative.

When Homo sapiens first emerged, their population in Africa was likely just a few hundred thousand, while the total hominin population, including other species like Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis, may have ranged from 1.1 to 2.1 million. During this period, Homo sapiens were primarily found in Africa, while other hominins occupied broader ranges across Eurasia, with Neanderthals and Denisovans adapting to their environments with sophisticated tool-use and social structures. The early hominin distribution and interaction remain unclear, and this narrative, while speculative, helps us imagine the ancient world, highlighting the need for caution in interpreting these ancient population dynamics. Check out A New Look at Ancient Hominin Numbers: A Speculative Journey for more information.

Homo rhodesiensis: A Hybrid Lesson
Homo rhodesiensis: A Hybrid Lesson
300,000 Years Ago
Survived from about 300,000 to 125,000 years ago.

Homo rhodesiensis, often regarded as Africa’s counterpart to Europe’s Homo heidelbergensis, represents a pivotal species. Discovered in Kabwe, Zambia, the species exhibits a mix of robust and modern traits with a large brain size and advanced tool use, reflecting significant cognitive capabilities.

Interbreeding Analysis: The evolutionary journey of Homo rhodesiensis might highlight well the complex nature of species development within the genus Homo. As with other human species, the lines between Homo rhodesiensis and its contemporaries were not always clear-cut. Genetic and morphological evidence suggests that early humans, including Homo rhodesiensis, likely engaged in interbreeding with closely related species. This interbreeding could have occurred as they encountered each other in overlapping territories, facilitated by their innate “pioneering spirit” — an inherent drive to explore and adapt to new environments.

Pioneering Spirit and Its Consequences: The inherent exploratory nature of Homo rhodesiensis and other early humans is a defining characteristic of the genus. This “pioneering spirit” not only allowed these hominins to traverse vast and varied landscapes but also to interact and genetically mingle with other emerging human species. Unlike earlier primates that may have been more restricted to specific environments, the mobility of Homo rhodesiensis enabled a dynamic exchange of genes and cultures, potentially accelerating the pace of human evolution.

Analysis: While the exact paths of migration and interaction are still subjects of active research, the adaptability and innovativeness of Homo rhodesiensis likely played a crucial role in their survival and evolutionary success. Their ability to innovate technologically and adapt culturally might have paved the way for the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa. As such, Homo rhodesiensis not only contributes to our understanding of human evolution but also exemplifies the interconnectedness and fluidity of species boundaries within the genus Homo.

Imagined Image: A Homo rhodesiensis man with emphasized archaic and robust features, designed to reflect the preferences of paleoanthropologists who favor a more primitive portrayal of ancient human species, possibly influenced by anthropomorphic biases. This version highlights a pronounced brow ridge, strong jawline, and a robust, ape-like nose structure, deviating from more human-like interpretations.
Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, Cupules
Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, Cupules
Before 290,000 BCE
Hominins; 290,000 to 700,000 years ago

Found in central India, these cupules (circular hollows on rock surfaces) are among the earliest known forms of rock art.

Adam: Haplogroup A
Adam: Haplogroup A
275,000 BCE
11,000 Generations Ago

All humans today share a single grandpa, circa 275,000 BCE. We know this because all humans alive today share our ancestor’s haplogroup A genes — from our Y chromosome. He was one of many thousands of men living in eastern Africa. Many paternal lines survived for many generations but ultimately over time all the other male lineages died out. Adam’s descendants met our Eve about 100,000 years later–about 4,000 generations later.

Haplogroup A, screenshot from 23andme.com

Extinction: Homo naledi
Extinction: Homo naledi
236,000 Years Ago

Discovered in 2013 and first dated in 2017, Homo naledi and humans coexisted in South and East Africa from our emergence around 315,000 years ago until their extinction about 236,000 years ago. It is possible that we share a common ancestor with them, but research is pending. Homo naledi lived in South Africa from 335,000 to 236,000 years ago, and our earliest evidence for Homo sapiens put us originating in East Africa.

Imagined Image: A speculative scene of several Homo naledi individuals around a natural fire source, set in an ancient South African landscape. This visualization highlights the social and survival aspects of early hominin life.

Survival: From about 335,000 to 236,000 years ago in South Africa.
Size: 4’9″ to 5’3″
Brain Size: around 465 to 600 cm³
Brain to Body EQ: 3.3 to 3.8 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Extinction: Homo heidelbergensis
Extinction: Homo heidelbergensis
200,000 Years Ago

Homo heidelbergensis lived in Africa, Europe and Asia from 700,000 to 200,000 years ago. They coexisted with humans in Africa, Europe, and Asia from our emergence around 315,000 years ago until their extinction about 200,000 years ago.

Imagined Image: A Homo heidelbergensis campsite a few thousand years before they went extinct, set in a lush European forest. The scene includes several individuals in a communal setting, showcasing aspects of their life and environment.

Eve: Haplogroup L
Eve: Haplogroup L
175,000 BCE
200,000 to 150,000 BCE
7,000 Generations Ago

All humans today share a single grandma, circa 175,000 BCE. We know this because all humans alive today share our ancestor’s haplogroup L genes — from our X chromosome. She was one of many thousands of women living in eastern Africa. Many maternal lines survived for many generations but ultimately over time all the other female lineages died out.

Haplogroup L, 23andme.com screenshot.

Modern Human Looks and Brains
lover couple of caucasian male and female lay down at the beach relaxing
150,000 BCE
200,000 to 150,000 BCE
6,000 Generations Ago

By circa 150,000 BCE, the size of our brain and it’s capabilities matured. Think about this. A human born today and a human born in 150,000 BCE had roughly the same mental and physical capacities. This includes all of our traits including our need for attention and power, our ingenuity, our gullibility to believe things, and our intolerance of the unknown and different. If a human from this time landed in a modern morgue, the doctor performing yet another autopsy would most likely think it was a modern human.

How many times since 150,000 BCE did humans create new religions and Gods? How many times did they discover or invent things that were then lost for thousands of years? Human knowledge builds on previous knowledge, but only if it can be passed down, and survive the test of time. It’s reasonable to believe that various forms of writing and labels were developed and lost countless times. Many interesting advances developed, and lost. No doubt, the stubborn belief in myth or dogma has led directly to the suppression of various human advances countless times. Many times through the use of war and genocide.

Let’s look at just one modern human example. We know the Greeks several thousand years ago knew the Earth was a globe. Over time, the information, the advance, was lost because of the belief in myth and a desire to control others.

 

Homo longi: Rewriting Human Migration Narratives
Homo longi: Rewriting Human Migration Narratives
146,000 Years Ago

In the lush landscapes of northeastern China, the discovery of the Homo longi skull has opened new chapters in our understanding of human evolution. This skull, dating back to approximately 146,000 years ago, represents a pivotal moment in prehistory. Homo longi, also nicknamed “Dragon Man,” showcases a unique blend of archaic and modern traits—marked by a large, broad face and pronounced brow ridges. This solitary but exceptionally well-preserved fossil suggests that Homo longi could have emerged as a distinct species much earlier, potentially around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The timing and features of Homo longi indicate it might represent an earlier migration out of Africa, preceding or running concurrent with other known migrations. The implications extend further, hinting at a possible influence from Homo antecessor, which may have shaped the evolutionary path of humans more profoundly than previously recognized. The Homo longi fossil, while singular, provides a critical piece of the puzzle in tracing the intricate web of human ancestry and migration across continents.

Size: 5’5″ (Tentative. This is based on a single fossil find.)
Brain Size: 1400-1750 cc (larger than Homo sapiens at 1300-1400 cc)
Brain to Body EQ: unknown (Homo sapien is 7.4 to 7.8)
Imagined image: Homo longi man, blending modern and Neanderthal-sapien features such as a large and broad face, pronounced brow ridges, and a prominent nose. This representation suggests an early migration out of Africa, positing that Homo antecessor may have influenced modern human appearances sooner than previously thought.
Seasonal Settlements at Klasies River Caves
Seasonal Settlements at Klasies River Caves
125,000 BCE
125,000 to 60,000 BCE

Earliest known seasonal settlement in the Africa/Middle East zone: In the diverse and rich landscapes of what is now South Africa, the Klasies River Caves served as a vital seasonal haven for early modern humans.

Positioned strategically along the coast, these caves were revisited across generations, suggesting a shared understanding among different groups about the benefits of this location. The community constructed simple yet effective shelters from branches and animal hides just outside the cave entrances, creating a setup that supported daily activities such as tool crafting, hide preparation, and communal cooking over open fires.

This pattern of seasonal settlement allowed for the efficient exploitation of local resources, minimizing the need for constant movement and enabling a more sustainable living arrangement. It fostered not only survival but a thriving community life where knowledge, skills, and social bonds were developed and strengthened.

The archaeological remains and artifacts from the Klasies River Caves—ranging from sophisticated stone tools to evidence of hearths and human remains—illustrate a complex social structure that predates agricultural societies. These findings highlight the ability of early humans to adapt to their environment through cooperative behaviors and strategic planning, showcasing a level of communal life and environmental management that speaks to the enduring human spirit and intellectual vigor comparable to that of contemporary societies. This site provides a profound glimpse into one of humanity’s earliest known attempts at semi-permanent living, underscoring the sophisticated social dynamics that underpinned pre-agrarian human settlements.

Imagined Image: The image of the semi-nomadic people of South Africa depicts a group of up to 50 individuals congregating here around 100,000 years ago, establishing a semi-permanent settlement that utilized the natural shelter provided by the caves and the abundant resources of the surrounding area.

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Extinction: Homo rhodesiensis
Extinction: Homo rhodesiensis
125,000 Years Ago

Homo rhodesiensis went extinct somewhere around 125,000 years ago.

Many Early Out of Africa Migrations
Many Early Out of Africa Migrations
120,000 BCE
130,000 to 100,000 BCE

The “out of Africa” migration took place in many waves of which two are widely recognized: 130,000 to 100,000 BCE, and the Southern Dispersal around 70,000 to 50,000 BCE. Through genetic DNA testing we know that none of the genetic differences prior to circa 70,000 BCE exist in today’s humans.

Extinction: Gigantopithecus
100,000 BCE

Gigantopithecus is believed to have gone extinct approximately 100,000 years ago. The primary evidence for their existence and extinction comes from fossilized teeth and jawbones found in caves in southern China, Vietnam, and India.

About King Kong: The legend of King Kong is a modern fiction rather than an ancient tale. The character of King Kong was created by American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper and first appeared in the 1933 film “King Kong.” The story was a product of contemporary imagination, inspired by adventure tales, the fascination with exotic locations, and early 20th-century interest in dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

However, the idea of enormous ape-like creatures has roots in various cultures’ mythologies and folklore, which may have been inspired by the discovery of large ape fossils or by encounters with large animals. Gigantopithecus, which lived until about 100,000 years ago, was a real genus of giant apes, and it is possible that remnants or legends of such creatures could have influenced later myths.

Earliest Known Prepared Burial, “Mtoto”
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

Earliest known symbol use in the Africa/Middle East zone. 

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

Oldest Known Bracelet
Oldest Known Bracelet
70,000 BCE
2,880 Generations Ago

Denisovan: This bracelet dates from 70,000 to 40,000 BCE. It was discovered inside the Denisova Cave beside ancient human remains. The Denisova Cave is a cave located in Siberia, Russia. Other cave finds include woolly mammoth and woolly rhino bones. Scientists say there is evidence that the bracelet’s maker used a drill. This is the earliest known example of advanced drilling in the world.

Head of the museum Irina Salnikova said: ‘The skills of its creator were perfect. Initially we thought that it was made by Neanderthals or modern humans, but it turned out that the master was Denisovan.” This has led to speculation that these earliest humans, Denisovans, were more technologically advanced than previously thought. If true, it might be that the Denisovans were more skilled than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals of the time.

Like Neanderthal DNA, Denisovan DNA exists in modern humans. Non-African East Asians and Europeans have about 2% Neanderthal DNA. Modern Melanesians derived about 5% of their DNA from Denisovans.

Imagine image: A group of Denisovans, clad in animal skins and adorned with fur trimmings, gathers in the rugged valley of the Altai Mountains, dating back to around 40,000 to 70,000 years ago. A prominent individual showcases a bright green, polished jade bracelet, signaling sophisticated craftsmanship. Their robust features, including wide skulls and strong brows, are highlighted as they engage in what appears to be an important communal discussion.
The Settlement of Australia
The Settlement of Australia
65,000 BCE
Homo sapiens or an earlier Homo species
2,600 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

Long before the sails of European explorers dotted the horizon, the Australian continent witnessed the arrival of its first human inhabitants. Archaeological evidence, such as ancient tools and cave art, suggests that people arrived in Australia at least 65,000 years ago, marking one of the earliest known human migrations out of Africa. These first Australians, ancestors of today’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, developed rich cultural traditions and adapted to the diverse environments of the continent, from its arid deserts to its lush coastlines. Their legacy is a testament to human resilience and ingenuity, shaping the land that would later be known as Australia for tens of thousands of years before European contact.

Extinction: Homo luzonensis
Extinction: Homo luzonensis
65,000 BCE

Discovered in 2019, Homo luzonensis inhabited the Luzon area north of Manila in the Philippines from at least about 67,000 to about 50,000 years ago. While current evidence suggests that Homo luzonensis may have become extinct before the documented arrival of Homo sapiens around 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, the exact timing of their extinction remains uncertain.

Lineage: Similar to Homo floresiensis, the luzonensis people are not likely descendants of Homo heidelbergensis. It is more plausible that they descended from an earlier ancient human, possibly from the Dmanisi population, an early Asian Homo erectus lineage, or potentially even directly from Homo habilis. However, any direct link to Homo habilis is speculative, but particularly interesting given the small brain size and stature of the luzonensis people.

Imagined Image: A small group of Homo luzonensis in a dense tropical forest on Luzon. This visualization emphasizes their survival strategies and interactions within their lush habitat.

Survival: From about 50,000 to 67,000 years ago (possibly earlier) in Luzon area, near Manilla, Philippines.
Size: 3′ 3″ to 3′ 7″ (same size or smaller than Homo floresiensis)
Brain Size: Estimated around 400 cm³ (about the same size as Homo floresiensis).
Brain to Body Encephalization Quotient (EQ): Ongoing research but likely about the same as Homo floresiensis, about 3.2.

Neanderthal Art: Symbolic Thought
Neanderthal Art: Symbolic Thought
Before 64000 BCE
Upper Paleolithic

It’s clear: neanderthals created art. The discovery of cave paintings in Spain, dated to over 64,000 years ago, marked a profound shift in our understanding of Neanderthals. Found in sites such as La Pasiega, Maltravieso, and Ardales, these artworks — comprising abstract symbols, geometric patterns, and hand stencils — are attributed to Neanderthals, predating the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe. This corrected the longstanding perception that Neanderthals lacked symbolic thought and artistic expression.

The presence of these ancient artworks, along with evidence of personal ornaments like decorated shells, suggests that Neanderthals engaged in behaviors once thought exclusive to modern humans. This includes the creation of art and the use of symbolic communication, indicating a level of cognitive sophistication and cultural complexity previously unrecognized. These findings not only expand our understanding of Neanderthal capabilities but also blur the lines between them and our own ancestors, highlighting a shared capacity for creativity and symbolic thinking in the human lineage.

“The” Human DNA
Spiral strands of DNA on the dark background
60,000 BCE
2,400 Generations Ago
2,400 Generations Ago

The modern human DNA evolved sometime between 71,000 and 51,000 BCE. Imagine that. A human baby born today, and a human baby born in 60,000 BCE have nearly indistinguishable DNA. There are differences but essentially humans are the same now as they were then. The popular website 23andme.com focuses on 23 changes in DNA that signify your ancestors recent migration. 23andMe.com, ancestry.com, and many others identify differences for their customers. Finally, the medical community is currently in an intense wave of identifying genetic differences that lead to medical problems with the idea of early diagnosis, prevention, and through the use of mRNA correction.

Through mtDNA sequencing, we currently believe the most recent common ancestor of all the Eurasian, American, Australian, Papua New Guinean, and African lineages dates to between 73,000 and 57,000 years ago.

Successful Out of Africa Migration
Successful Out of Africa Migration
55,000 BCE
70,000 to 55,000 BCE

Through minor DNA changes, we know which early humans have descendants alive today. This successful “out of Africa” migration, the Southern Dispersal, took place around 70,000 to 50,000 BCE. Our ancestors proceeded to colonize all the continents and larger islands, arriving in…

Dark Skin Diversification: Africa’s intense UV radiation continues to select for darker skin, which protects against UV-related damage and helps in managing folate levels. The mention of some populations developing even darker skin tones could be linked to local environmental adaptations within the continent.

World Population: 1.5 Million
World Population: 1.5 Million
50,000 BCE
Estimates range from 500,000 to 2.5 million

Cognitive Revolution

50,000 BCE – 70,000 BCE. Population range: 500,000 to 2.5 million.
Given the uncertainties and lack of direct data, the following are speculative estimates.

  • Africa-Middle East: 50-60% or 600,000 to 1 million people
    Africa, being the origin of modern humans, likely had the highest population density at this time, particularly in Sub-Saharan regions which were more conducive to human habitation due to their climate and available resources.
  • Asia: 40% or 200,000 to 400,000 people
  • Europe-Mediterranean: 10% or 50,000 to 100,000 people
  • The Americas: 0.
  • Oceana-Australasia: 1% or 10,000 to 15,000 people
    The initial colonization of Australia around 50,000 BCE by modern humans involved small, isolated groups who managed to navigate sea crossings, leading to a very low initial population density. The rest of the remote islands of Oceania were among the last to be reached by humans.

A Shared Earth! Neanderthals-Hobbits-Flourensis

Around this time, Homo sapiens shared the Earth with other hominin species. Neanderthals were still widespread in Europe and parts of western Asia. In Asia, particularly on the islands of Indonesia, Homo floresiensis, often referred to as the “Hobbit” due to their diminutive stature, survived until about 50,000 years ago. Additionally, Denisovans, a less visually documented but genetically distinct group, also roamed Eurasia, leaving behind a genetic legacy that persists in modern humans, particularly among populations in Melanesia.

Extinction: Homo Erectus
Extinction: Homo Erectus
50,000 BCE

Homo erectus and humans last coexisted in Javanese in Asia around 50,000 years ago.

Imagined image above: A late-stage Homo erectus individual in Java, Indonesia, focused on crafting a tool from volcanic rock near a simple fire, set within the lush tropical rainforest. This visualization aims to capture the essence and appearance of Homo erectus during this late stage of their existence.

Imagined Image: A Homo erectus campsite, showing several individuals engaged in various activities within a mixed savannah. This scene captures the communal and daily life aspects of Homo erectus a few thousand years before they went extinct.
Extinction: Homo floresiensis
Extinction: Homo floresiensis
48,000 BCE
58,000 to 48,000 BCE

Discovered in 2003, Homo floresiensis (also known as the “Hobbit”) inhabited the island of Flores in Indonesia from 190 to 50 thousand years ago. Humans arrived about 50,000 years ago and may be the reason for their extinction.

Lineage: Most likely not a Homo heidelbergensis, but a descendant species from an earlier ancient human. Perhaps from the very successful Dmanisi people, an Asian Homo erectus lineage, or perhaps even directly from Homo habilis, which might be the original Earth roamer. The link to Homo habilis is speculative and based on the smaller brain size and stature of the floresiensis people.

Imagined Image: A small group of Homo floresiensis in their natural habitat on the island of Flores, engaging in daily activities around a communal fire and interacting with the local fauna. This scene captures their unique adaptations and social behaviors within a lush volcanic landscape.

Survival: From about 190,000 BCE to 50,000 BCE, primarily on the island of Flores, Indonesia.
Size: Approximately 3’6″ to 3’10″ (a bit shorter than the pygmy in Africa at 4’11”).
Brain Size: 380 to 420 cm³.
Brain to Body Encephalization Quotient (EQ): Research ongoing, but roughly 3.2 (habilis=3.3 to 3.8; humans=7.4 to 7.8).

Lebombo bone: First Lunar Phase Counter
Lebombo bone: First Lunar Phase Counter
42,200 BCE
44,200 to 43,000 years old according to 24 radiocarbon tests

The Lebombo Bone is one of the oldest known mathematical artifacts in human history. This ancient tool is a baboon fibula with 29 distinct notches carved into it. It was discovered in the Lebombo Mountains between South Africa and Swaziland. It was initially dated to approximately 35,000 years, but 24 radiocarbon tests since date it back about 44,000 years.

The Lebombo Bone was potentially used as a lunar phase counter or a simple tally stick. The series of notches may represent a lunar calendar, which would imply that early humans were tracking lunar phases for either ritualistic purposes or as a practical method for keeping time, possibly related to menstrual cycles or seasonal changes.

This artifact belongs to the Middle Stone Age, a period characterized by the development of more advanced stone tool technologies and the emergence of modern human behavior, including symbolic thought and perhaps early forms of arithmetic. The Lebombo Bone suggests that early humans engaged in complex thinking and had the capacity for abstract thought and planning.

The discovery of the Lebombo Bone and similar artifacts underscores the cognitive capabilities of early humans and their ability to use numerical concepts long before the development of written language or formal systems of numeration. This artifact, along with others like the Ishango Bone from Central Africa, indicates that the concept of counting and numerical recording was a part of human culture across different regions of Africa tens of thousands of years ago.

Sulawesi Cave Art
Sulawesi Cave Art
circa 41,900 BCE

Discovered in Indonesia, these hand stencils and depictions of animals are among the oldest known figurative artworks.

Phenotype Variation: Eye Shape and the Epicanthic Fold
Phenotype Variation: Eye Shape and the Epicanthic Fold
circa 40,000 BCE

The feature of the epicanthic fold, particularly prevalent among East Asian populations descended from Haplogroup A, is an adaptation to cold, windy, and bright environments encountered as humans migrated northward from Africa. This phenotype likely developed to protect the eyes from frostbite and snow blindness, showcasing how genetic diversity within human lineages adapted to specific environmental challenges.

Upper Paleolithic Cave Art with Symbols
Upper Paleolithic Cave Art with Symbols
circa 40,000 BCE
Spain & France

Earliest known symbol use in the Europe/Mediterranean zone. 

Dating back to around 40,000 BCE, the Upper Paleolithic cave art found across Europe presents a compelling narrative of early human communication and symbolic expression. Sites like Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain feature elaborate depictions of animals, human figures, and abstract symbols that recur with remarkable consistency across diverse regions. These symbols, including dots, lines, and geometric shapes, suggest a standardized usage that transcends mere artistic decoration. Researchers speculate that these symbols may have served proto-writing functions, possibly representing early attempts to record important information such as seasonal changes, ritual practices, or social codes.

Extinction: Denisovans
Extinction: Denisovans
40,000

Denisovans and humans coexisted in Siberia from about 194,000 to around 40,000 years ago. While their exact cause of extinction remains debated, competition with modern humans and climate change are thought to be contributing factors.

Imagined image: Set in Siberia around 45,000 years ago, a group of Denisovans is depicted in their winter camp, surrounded by a snow-laden forest. They are dressed in heavy fur clothing, complete with detailed, fur-lined boots, essential for the extreme cold. Their camp, featuring sturdy shelters made from wood and animal skins, centers around a warm, bustling fire, highlighting their advanced survival strategies and social cohesion in the harsh climate.

Venus of Hohle Fels
Ramessos, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
38,000 BCE
38,000 to 33,000 BCE

The Venus of Hohle Fels is a 2.4″ figurine made of wooly mammoth ivory that was unearthed in 2008 in Hohle Fels, a cave near Schelklingen, Germany. It was pieced together from six pieces found in a cluster, about 10 feet below ground, and about 60 feet from the cave entrance. The left arm and shoulder are still missing. In place of a head, a carved ring protrudes indicating the sculpture was likely worn as a pendant. Using radiocarbon dating, the figurine is dated to between 38,000 and 33,000 BCE.

Bone Flute
Bone Flute
38,000 BCE
38,000 to 33,000 BCE
1,600 Generations Ago

The oldest undisputed musical instrument is the Hohle Fels Flute discovered in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany’s Swabian Alb in 2008. The flute is made from a vulture’s wing bone perforated with five finger holes.

Extinction: Neanderthals
Extinction: Neanderthals
38,000 BCE
Extinction range: 38,000 BCE to 22,000 BCE

Homo neanderthalensis: Neanderthals and humans coexisted in Europe and Asia until around 40,000 years ago. While their exact cause of extinction remains debated, competition with modern humans and climate change are thought to be contributing factors.

Imagined image: Left is a neanderthal, right a human. Just as human looks vary widely, Neanderthals did too. This is perhaps one way neanderthals might have looked. The likely looked a bit more human than this too, but this gives you a good idea of the differences.

Chauvet Cave Paintings
Chauvet Cave Paintings
30,000 BCE

Located in France, the cave contains hundreds of wall paintings of animals, abstract symbols, and hand prints.

Advanced Sewing Needles
Advanced Sewing Needles
28,000 BCE
28,000 to 21,000 BCE
1,200 Generations Ago

Humans used bone and ivory needles like these about 28,000 BCE to sew warm, closely fitted garments. These bone needles are from Xiaogushan, Liaoning Province, China, and are dated to about 28,000 to 21,000 BCE.

Modern Skin Color Variety Emerges
Modern Skin Color Variety Emerges
By 25,000 Years Ago (+/- 10,000 years)

Current understanding suggests that the diverse skin colors among modern humans, ranging from dark brown to fair, evolved multiple times both within Africa and as Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa. This variation is driven by natural adaptation to varying levels of UV radiation exposure in different populations, a process that typically unfolds over thousands of years.

Modern humans predominantly descend from a successful migration wave out of Africa that occurred around 50,000 years ago. Although there were earlier migratory events, this later exodus has been well-documented and significantly shaped our genetic makeup. Evidence suggests that these migrants interbred with earlier waves of sapiens as well as other hominin groups they encountered, notably including Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Skin color adaptation occurred in each migratory wave of Homo sapiens, as well as through interactions with other hominins. The process that most significantly affected modern skin colors began during these migrations and continued over a span of 20 to 30 thousand years. Cross-breeding among various waves of populations, which contributed to the diversity in skin pigmentation, was almost certainly a factor. Lighter skin tones primarily evolved in areas with reduced sunlight, especially after the Last Glacial Maximum, to facilitate vitamin D synthesis under conditions of lower UV radiation.

Note: The adaptation of skin color is intricately linked to the migration patterns of ancient humans. As populations spread from Africa into Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia, their skin color adapted to local environmental conditions. Robust genetic evidence, particularly concerning alleles such as those in the SLC24A5 and SLC45A2 genes, supports these adaptations. This evolutionary trajectory underscores the complex interplay between genetics, diet, and environment in shaping one of the most visible aspects of human diversity.

Seasonal Settlements at Franchthi Cave
Seasonal Settlements at Franchthi Cave
20,000 BCE
From circa 20,000 to 3,000 BCE

Earliest known seasonal settlement in the European Mediterean zone: Nestled in the Argolid region of the Peloponnese in Greece, the Franchthi Cave offers a unique window into the lives of early Europeans spanning from the Upper Paleolithic through the Mesolithic and into the Neolithic periods. For over 23,000 years, from about 20,000 BCE to 3,000 BCE, this cave served as a seasonal hub for prehistoric communities.

The strategic coastal location of the Franchthi Cave allowed early humans to exploit both marine and terrestrial resources effectively. The abundance of marine shells and fish bones found within the cave layers suggests that these groups were highly adept at fishing and shellfish gathering, activities that likely formed a significant part of their subsistence strategy during their stays.

As seasons turned, these early inhabitants would have utilized the cave as a base from which to conduct their hunting and gathering activities. Over millennia, the evidence shows a gradual shift from reliance on wild resources to the introduction of domesticated plants and animals, signaling the start of agricultural practices in the region.

This transition marks Franchthi Cave not just as a site of temporary habitation but as a pivotal location where significant cultural and technological transformations occurred. The cave’s extensive use and the layers of habitation offer profound insights into the evolutionary journey of human societies in the Mediterranean, showcasing how a simple seasonal settlement could eventually evolve into a cornerstone of early agrarian life.

Franchthi Cave thus represents one of the earliest known seasonal settlements in the European-Mediterranean zone, providing invaluable lessons on the adaptability and innovation of early human communities in the face of changing environmental and social landscapes.

Imagined image: This image portrays a seasonal settlement at Franchthi Cave around 10,000 BCE, where early humans utilized natural materials to construct temporary shelters nestled within a lush landscape. Central hearth areas serve as communal hubs for cooking and social gatherings, illustrating the strategic use of space and resources by these early inhabitants. The arrangement of shelters around the cave entrance highlights their reliance on the natural environment for survival and community activities.

Earliest Known Domesticated Animal: Dogs
Wolf-to-dog: same species, dogs are a subspecies
By 20,000 BCE

Eastern Asia and Europe: The domestication of dogs marks one of the most remarkable and earliest examples of animal domestication by humans. This significant event occurred approximately 20,000 years ago, with some studies suggesting an even earlier date. The process began when wolves, drawn by the waste and remnants of hunting left by human groups, started to linger around the fringes of hunter-gatherer camps. Over time, a mutual relationship developed: these ancestral wolves provided humans with alertness to dangers and help in hunting, while humans provided a steady food source.

The transformation from wild wolves to domesticated dogs likely took place in several regions independently, but genetic evidence points to significant early domestication events occurring in Eastern Asia and Europe. Through a natural and then increasingly intentional process of selection, humans favored wolves that exhibited traits beneficial to their lifestyle—traits like reduced fear and aggression, which made them better companions and guards. This led to genetic divergence from their wild counterparts, morphing wolves into various forms and breeds of dogs as we recognize them today.

These early dogs were not just pets but integral to human societies, assisting in hunting, guarding territories, and providing companionship. Their roles expanded as human societies grew more complex, with dogs adapting to various climates and cultural expectations. The domestication of dogs not only highlights the adaptability and intelligence of these animals but also underscores the deep, symbiotic relationship that developed between two distinct species, setting the stage for the later domestication of other animals and the rise of agrarian societies.

Seasonal Settlements at Monte Verde
Seasonal Settlements at Monte Verde
circa 14,800 BCE

Earliest Known Semi-Permanent Settlement in the Americas: Located in the lush landscapes of southern Chile, Monte Verde marks one of the earliest known human settlements in the Americas. Dating back to around 14,800 years ago, this site provides compelling evidence of early human ingenuity and adaptability far from the commonly accepted Eurasian cradles of civilization.

The archaeological remains at Monte Verde reveal a picture of a well-established community, whose inhabitants constructed semi-permanent structures using local materials such as wooden stakes and animal hides, combined with an array of insulating local vegetation. This level of architectural development suggests a shift from nomadic lifestyles to more settled, albeit seasonally influenced, habitation patterns.

Monte Verde is distinguished not only by its age but also by the variety of artifacts discovered on site, including tools, remnants of wooden structures, and evidence of medicinal plant use, indicating a sophisticated understanding of the local environment. The presence of these items points to a diversified economy, with a blend of hunting, gathering, and possibly early forms of plant processing that would precede true agriculture.

This settlement reflects a significant phase in human migration and adaptation, showcasing how early peoples in the Americas were able to create enduring communities in challenging new landscapes. Monte Verde stands as a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of these early Americans, highlighting a pivotal moment in the march of civilization across continents.

Significance: Monte Verde challenges previous conceptions about the timing and progress of human settlements in the New World, pushing back the dates of human presence in the Americas and showing an advanced level of social and technological development long before the widespread adoption of agriculture. This site helps us understand the complexity of early human societies and their capacity to adapt to and thrive in diverse and distant environments.

Imagined Image: Monte Verde site around 14,800 BCE showing a thriving early human settlement in a lush forested environment, with semi-permanent structures and a community engaged in daily activities.

The Clovis Culture
The Clovis Culture
circa 13000 BCE

In what is now the United States, the Clovis culture, named after distinctive stone tools found near Clovis, New Mexico, represents one of the earliest known sophisticated societies in the Americas. Dating back to around 13,000 BCE, the Clovis people are believed to be among the first inhabitants of the continent, crossing the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska during the last Ice Age. Their technology, characterized by finely crafted spear points, indicates advanced hunting strategies and social organization. The Clovis culture played a crucial role in the peopling of the Americas, setting the stage for thousands of years of diverse indigenous civilizations.

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.

World Population: 4 Million
World Population: 4 Million
10,000 BCE
Estimates range from 2 to 5 million

Late Stone Age

Mesolithic Period: 10,000 BCE – 6000 BCE.

  • Africa-Middle East: 30% or 1.2 million peopleg
  • Asia: 40% or 1.6 million people
  • Europe-Mediterranean: 15% or 600 thousand people
  • The Americas: 10% or 400 thousand people
  • Oceana-Australasia: 5% or 200 thousand people
Neolithic Revolution
Trevethy Quoit a Portal Dolmen in Cornwall
9,700 BCE
Start of "our" Holocene geological epoch
468 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

The Neolithic Revolution is the earliest known Agricultural Revolution. It is very likely that humans practiced forms of agriculture earlier. How much earlier? Well, without evidence, we are guessing. For convenience, anthropologists label humans as hunter-gatherers prior to the Neolithic Revolution. The fact is that the current theory states that agriculture started magically all around the world circa 9,700 BCE. I think it is much more likely this is simply the earliest farming we have yet to discover and will likely push this date back further and further over time.

The Neolithic revolution is the belief in a wide-scale transition of many human cultures during the Neolithic period from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an increasingly large population possible. These settled communities permitted humans to observe and experiment with plants, learning how they grew and developed. This new knowledge led to the domestication of plants. A stable lifestyle led to more leisure time and more time to think about things which led to what we would call civilization today. Only the most sturdy of structures from this time period survived the test of time.

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

Earliest known permanent settlement in the Africa/Middle East zone. 

Jericho, located in the West Bank, Palestinian Territories, stands as one of the earliest known permanent settlements in the Africa/Middle East zone, with continuous habitation dating back to at least the 9th millennium BCE. Situated near an oasis in the Jordan Valley, Jericho’s strategic location provided access to vital water sources, facilitating agriculture and sustaining human settlement.

Permanent Settlement Note: This early permanence challenges traditional notions of settlement patterns, showcasing the importance of water in the establishment of communities. It’s worth noting that while Jericho is among the earliest known permanent settlements, there may be even earlier settlements nestled along lakeshores or rivers, but their discovery is hindered by the very element that made them attractive to ancient peoples: water.

Corn
Glass Gem Flint Corn
Before 9000 BCE
Mexico

In the highlands of Mexico, the story of maize, or corn, begins with its ancestor, teosinte. Through centuries of selective breeding, Indigenous peoples transform this humble grass into corn.

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.

The Domestication of Rice
Bali Rice Fields
circa 8000 BCE
China

In the lush, fertile lands of the Yangtze River Valley in ancient China, early inhabitants achieved a milestone that would revolutionize human society: the domestication of rice. Around 8,000 BCE, these innovative communities began to cultivate wild rice, laying the groundwork for sedentary agriculture and complex civilizations. This agricultural breakthrough not only provided a stable food source but also spurred social and technological advancements, leading to the rise of sophisticated cultures and the eventual emergence of the Chinese civilization, one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures.

Phenotype Variation: Blue Eyes
Photo of Woman With Blue Eyes and Black Hair
8000 BCE
Genetic Mutation from the Neolithic Era

Blue eyes emerging stands out as a striking example of a genetic mutation that spread across populations. Traced back to a single individual living between 6,000 and 8,000 BCE in the region near the Black Sea. The mutation involved is a specific change in the OCA2 gene, which alters the way melanin is produced in the iris. Originally, all humans had brown eyes, but this mutation led to the reduction of melanin in the iris, resulting in blue eyes.

Under Investigation: Yonaguni Monument
Yonaguni Monument Terraces midpart NWW
circa 8000 BCE (speculative)

Possible lost city off Japan: Discovered in 1985 off the coast of Yonaguni, Japan, it has captivated archaeologists, geologists, and conspiracy theorists alike. Characterized by its monolithic, terraced structures, this submerged rock formation resembles architectural craftsmanship that some suggest could date back to around 8000 BCE, a time when global sea levels were significantly lower. This date remains highly speculative, as definitive scientific consensus on the monument’s origins—natural or man-made—has yet to be established.

The debate hinges on the monument’s peculiar features, such as precise angles and straight edges that evoke images of human-made pyramids and temples. Proponents of the man-made theory argue that these features are too structured to be products of natural geological processes and suggest a lost civilization’s handiwork.

Mexico: Guilá Naquitz (Agrarian)
Mexico: Guilá Naquitz (Agrarian)
circa 8000 BCE
Americas Agrarian Society

Earliest known agrarian society in the Americas zone: In Oaxaca, Mexico, the site of Guilá Naquitz provides evidence of early plant domestication, particularly of squash, around 8000 BCE, with subsequent developments including maize and beans.

Imagined Image: An early agrarian society of Oaxaca, Mexico, circa 7900 BCE. It showcases small, temporary shelters, with indigenous people engaged in early farming practices.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Agriculture: The 7th threshold is agrarian societies which allowed for complex structured urban cities.

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Phenotype Variation: Lactose Tollerance
Phenotype Variation: Lactose Tollerance
7500 BCE

As dairy farming became prevalent, particularly in Europe and some African communities, natural selection favored individuals who could digest lactose into adulthood. This genetic adaptation, known as lactase persistence, is a direct result of human cultural practices (dairying) and has had significant dietary implications.

Egypt: Nabta Playa (Agrarian)
Egypt: Nabta Playa (Agrarian)
circa 7500 BCE
Middle East Agrarian Society

Earliest known agrarian society in the Africa/Middle East zone: Located in southern Egypt, Nabta Playa is one of the earliest known agrarian societies in the Sahara. This prehistoric community developed a sophisticated system of cattle herding and possibly small-scale cultivation, alongside seasonal water management strategies, making it a precursor to more complex agricultural societies in the Nile Valley.

Imagined Image: The image of the semi-nomadic Nabta Playa around 7400 BCE depicts a semi-arid landscape with sparse vegetation, where early inhabitants manage small herds of cattle and engage in rudimentary agriculture. Simple stone structures and megalithic arrangements suggest the beginnings of organized social and ritual practices in a seasonally used settlement.

Greece: Sesklo Culture (Agrarian)
Greece: Sesklo Culture (Agrarian)
circa 7500 BCE
Europe/Mediterranean Agrarian Society

Earliest known agrarian society in the Europe/Mediterranean zone: The Sesklo culture in Greece is recognized for its early adoption of agriculture, including the cultivation of cereals and legumes, and domestication of animals. This Neolithic culture is noted for its distinctive pottery and advanced housing architecture, reflecting significant societal organization.

Imagined image: The Sesklo Culture village around 7400 BCE, featuring sturdy mud-brick houses with thatched roofs, organized around a communal area, set in a lush, agriculturally rich landscape. This early Neolithic settlement in Greece exemplifies one of Europe’s first transitions to a settled, agrarian lifestyle.

Nüwa (女娲)
Nüwa (女娲)
Circa 8000-7000 BCE

If Nüwa existed as one person, that person likely lived sometime between 8000 and 7000 BCE. Nüwa is a mother goddess in Chinese mythology, often associated with Fuxi. She is credited with creating mankind and repairing the pillar of heaven, symbolizing the restoration of order in the universe. Nüwa’s story highlights themes of creation, nurturing, and the balance between chaos and order, which are integral to early Chinese cosmology and philosophy.

Fuxi (伏羲)
Fuxi (伏羲)
Circa 8000-7000 BCE

If Fuxi existed as one person, that person likely lived sometime between 8000 and 7000 BCE. Fuxi is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology, considered one of the Three Sovereigns. He is credited with creating humanity, inventing writing, and teaching people to fish and hunt. Fuxi’s contributions laid the foundation for early Chinese civilization and culture, embedding the importance of knowledge, survival skills, and societal organization in Chinese thought.

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.

 

 

Neolithic Symbols: China
Neolithic Symbols: China
7000 BCE
7000-6001 BCE

Potential earliest writing in Asian zone: the Oracle Bone Script, circa 1250 BCE is oldest confirmed.

These symbols which are radiocarbon dated to the 7th millennium BCE have similarities to the late 2nd millennium BCE oracle bone script. Put this writing in the MAYBE column. Scientists are still going through a process to verify this claim. If we can discover some intermediate links, yes, more missing links, we can firm up these symbols as early writing. They were discovered in 2003 on tortoise shells found in 24 Neolithic graves excavated in Jiahu, Henan province, northern China.

Zoroastrian Universe Creation Date
Zoroastrian Universe Creation Date
circa 7000 BCE
12,000 to 9,000 BCE (representing the start of 12,000 years)

Zoroastrian texts like the Bundahishn describe a cosmology with a timeline involving a 12,000-year long struggle between good and evil. In 2024, we are nearly 3,000 years into the ealiest known history of this religion. If the “Time of Humanity” is 3,000 years, then Earth was created about 7000 BCE and we are close to entering the “Final Renovation.” Lot’s of assumptions, yes, but this gives you an idea for the cyclical nature of Zoroastrianism.

In Zoroastrian cosmology, the universe’s creation is set within a grand temporal framework of 12,000 years, meticulously divided into four 3,000-year epochs. The beginning of the cycle marks a pivotal moment when Ahura Mazda, the wise and benevolent deity, initiates the creation of an immaculate spiritual realm. This era encapsulates the pure conception of existence, untouched by any malign forces, where Ahura Mazda’s divine light and goodness pervade the cosmos.

As the first phase transitions into the subsequent 3,000 years, a cosmic dualism emerges with the introduction of Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), the destructive spirit who introduces chaos and discord into the previously harmonious creation. This marks the beginning of time as it relates to human understanding and sets the stage for the cosmic conflict between good and evil. 

Our current age, the “Time of Humanity,” is when humans exist and are actively engaged in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Human beings have a critical role in this age, as their choices and actions contribute to the ultimate outcome of the cosmic battle.

When our 3,000 years is up, the “Final Renovation” period starts. This future age will culminate in the eventual victory of good over evil. Ahura Mazda will prevail, Angra Mainyu will be destroyed, the restoration of the world, and a new cycle of existence.

China: Jiahu Settlement (Agrarian)
China: Jiahu Settlement (Agrarian)
circa 7000 BCE
Asia Agrarian Society

Earliest known agrarian society in the Asia zone: Located in Henan, China, Jiahu is one of the earliest sites showing comprehensive signs of early agriculture, including rice cultivation. The community also showed advanced practices like winemaking, music, and possibly writing, indicating a highly developed early agrarian society.

Imagined image: This panoramic image presents the Jiahu Settlement around 7000 BCE, capturing a vibrant Neolithic village in Henan, China. It features typical mud and wood homes with thatched roofs, nestled in a lush landscape where inhabitants are engaged in the early cultivation of rice, illustrating the dawn of agriculture in ancient China.

New Guinea: Kuk Early Agricultural Site (Agrarian)
New Guinea: Kuk Early Agricultural Site (Agrarian)
circa 7000 BCE
Oceana-Australasia Agrarian Society

Earliest known agrarian society in the Oceana-Australasia zone: Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea provides evidence of early agricultural innovation, including ditched drainage systems for taro cultivation. This represents one of the earliest known instances of agriculture in Oceania, showing complex environmental management by its inhabitants.

Imagined image: The Kuk Early Agricultural Site around 7000 BCE in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, showcasing a landscape marked by sophisticated drainage systems and irrigated taro fields. The typical homes, constructed from bamboo and thatch and elevated on stilts, reflect the innovative adaptations of this early agrarian community to their wet, mountainous environment.

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 City of Kish” by D-Stanley is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Oldest Known Flute in China
Oldest Known Flute in China
6,000 BCE

The Jiahu gudi is the oldest known musical instrument from China. This 8,000 year old flute dates back to circa 6,000 BCE. Gudi literally means “bone flute”.

Cheese
Delicious Cheese board. Assortment of cheese, camembert, brie, Gorgonzola, parmesan, olives
Before 5500 BCE
Poland

In the Neolithic villages of Poland, milk, a nourishing gift from domesticated animals, is left to curdle, giving rise to the earliest form of cheese.

4004 BCE, The Bible’s Earth Creation Date
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.

Others not specified.

  • Islam: No creation date implied.
  • Chinese mythology: No creation date implied, early time is more symbolic.
  • Ancient Egyptian: No creation date implied, early time is more symbolic.
3761 BCE, Judaic Earth Creation Date
3761 BCE, Judaic Earth Creation Date
3761 BCE
231 Generations Ago

Estimating the date of Earth’s creation according to Judaic tradition involves delving into the Hebrew Bible and rabbinical interpretations. A significant historical calculation places the creation at 3761 BCE, marking the beginning of the Hebrew calendar. This date is derived from the Seder Olam Rabbah, a 2nd-century CE chronology that counts the generations and events as described in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Unlike interpretations that might visualize detailed scenes, Judaic tradition emphasizes an abstract representation of creation, focusing on God’s divine utterance as the world is brought into existence. This reflects the core Jewish belief in an incorporeal and unseen God, where creation is viewed through the lens of spirituality and the mystical qualities of the divine word. The Hebrew calendar, which currently dates back to this creation, is more than just a measure of years; it is a continuum of spiritual history, deeply rooted in the Judaic understanding of time and creation.

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.

Cuneiform Writing
Cuneiform Writing
3400 BCE
3400 BCE to 100 CE (end of use for scholarly work)

Earliest known writing in Africa/Middle East zone.

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.

Skara Brae Scottish Village
Skara Brae Scottish Village
3180 BCE
3180 to 2500 BCE

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of the largest island of Scotland. It consists of ten houses made of flagstones within earthen dams that provided support for the walls; the houses included stone hearths, beds, and cupboards. A primitive sewer system, with “toilets” and drains in each house which carried waste to the ocean using water to flush waste into a drain.

3114 BCE: Mayan Earth Creation Date
3114 BCE: Mayan Earth Creation Date
3114 BCE
August 11, 3114 BCE

The Maya Long Count calendar is often associated with a creation date, which corresponds to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar. This represents the start of the current cycle of creation according to Mayan mythology.

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.

World Population: 15 Million
World Population: 15 Million
3000 BCE
Estimates range from 9 to 16 million

Stone Copper Age

Chalcolithic Period: 3,000 BCE – 500 BCE.

  • Africa-Middle East: 36% or 5 million people
    Early civilizations include Egypt and Mesopotamia with a relatively higher population density.
  • Asia: 36% or 5 million people
    Early civilizations include Indus Valley and ancient China. They saw early urban development and agriculture which supported larger populations.
  • Europe-Mediterranean: 14% or 2 million people
    Smaller due to the varied climatic conditions and the later development of agriculture compared to the Middle East.
  • The Americas: 7% or 1 million people
    More sparsely populated with many diverse hunter-gatherer communities and early agricultural societies, particularly in regions like Mesoamerica.
  • Oceana-Australasia: 7% or 1 million people
    These regions were among the least densely populated, with scattered tribal groups primarily leading hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
Shennong (神农)
Shennong (神农)
circa 2800 BCE
The Divine Farmer

If Shennong existed as one person, that person likely lived sometime around 2800 BCE. Shennong, also known as the Divine Farmer, is another of the Three Sovereigns. He is said to have taught the Chinese people agriculture and herbal medicine. Shennong’s contributions emphasize the relationship between humans and nature, the importance of agriculture for societal stability, and the development of early medical knowledge. His legacy underscores the value of practical knowledge and its role in the well-being of society.

Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE)
Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea
2700 BCE
188 Generations Ago

The Xia Dynasty is the first documented government of ancient China. The first to adopt dynastic succession. In modern times, it was regarded as a myth created later by Chinese historians, but 20th-century excavations uncovered sites which corresponded to descriptions in earlier historians’ accounts. This fact is an important lesson on understanding how little survived the test of time. How much we will never know about the true progress of humans over our first 100,000 years. 

Gilgamesh, circa 2700 BCE
Gilgamesh, circa 2700 BCE
King of Uruk

Gilgamesh is the legendary figure whose exploits are immortalized in the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Gilgamesh’s reign as king is shrouded in myth and history. The epic describes his journey from a tyrannical ruler to a wise and beloved king, highlighting his quest for immortality and the profound friendship with Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to temper Gilgamesh’s arrogance. Through his adventures, which include battling monsters and seeking eternal life, Gilgamesh learns about the limits of human power and the inevitability of death. The tale, etched on clay tablets, is one of the earliest known literary works.

The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi)
The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi)
circa 2650 BCE (+/- 50 years)

The Yellow Emperor, or Huangdi, is a legendary figure in Chinese history, traditionally credited with foundational contributions to Chinese civilization. He is associated with the development of the concept of Yin and Yang, the dualistic nature of reality, and balance, which profoundly influenced Chinese philosophy, medicine, and cosmology. Attributed to his era are the Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), an ancient text exploring these principles, as well as innovations in the Chinese calendar, writing, and agriculture. Though his historical existence is debated, his impact on Chinese thought and culture is enduring.

The Rise of the Maya Civilization
Aerial view of Chichen Itza
By 2600 BCE

The Maya civilization, emerging around 2600 BCE in what is now Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, represents one of the most complex societies of ancient America. Renowned for their achievements in mathematics, astronomy, art, and architecture, the Maya developed a sophisticated calendar system and constructed towering pyramids and cities that blended harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. The Classic Period (250–900 CE) saw the peak of Maya civilization, with large city-states engaged in intricate political, economic, and military networks. The Maya’s contributions to knowledge, particularly their understanding of the cosmos and time, remain a lasting legacy of indigenous American ingenuity.

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

30 Phil, Chapter 2: Shuruppak and Paternal Wisdom
Sumerian civilization consisted of over 30 city-states, among which Ur and Shuruppak were among the more prominent. 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. 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.”

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.

Pictured is the Ziggurat of Ur, about 70 miles from Shuruppak. The city of Shuruppak had a similar one.

Indus Valley Script: Northwest India
Indus Valley Script: Northwest India
circa 2600 BCE

Earliest undeciphered writing in the Asian zone. 

The Indus Valley script, emerging around 2600 BCE in one of the world’s earliest urban civilizations, remains one of archaeology’s greatest puzzles. Found across a vast expanse from today’s northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India, this script comprises over 400 unique symbols, ranging from geometric shapes to plant-like and animal motifs. Inscribed on a variety of objects including seals, pottery, and metal tools, these markings suggest a sophisticated system of communication used for trade, administration, or ritual purposes.

Knowledge Framework
Knowledge Framework
A network of ideas.
New Look

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 5: Knowledge Framework.

In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology. It’s important because knowledge describes reality, and understanding how we craft knowledge brings philosophical clarity. Each of us maintains a personal knowledge framework that arranges the knowledge we accumulate. You can think of it as a personalized dictionary. But unlike a dictionary, the definitions are far from sterile. Each entry is imbued with your unique perspective including a tapestry of direct and indirect experiences, retained memories and emotions.

Philosophy
Philosophy
The what, why, and how of life.

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 6: Philosophy.

Philosophy is the systematic study of fundamental questions concerning existence, knowledge, values, and meaning. It’s a discipline guided by reason and the evaluation of evidence. A central question is “How should we live?” While there is a general agreement on overarching principles, as always, the devil is in the details. In general, philosophy encourages you to continually refine your mental, emotional, and physical self—a task that involves not just understanding words but grappling with the experiences and emotions they represent. It also urges you to be content with who you are now, while fostering a genuine desire to help others. Philosophy doesn’t just address the “what” of our lives; it also delves into the “why” and the “how should we proceed.” It’s good advice, a possible explanation for the unknown, or an exploration of the unknowable.

First Mail, First Postal System
man holding scroll
2400 BCE
Egypt

The first known postal system goes back to the Pharoah’s of Egypt circa 2400 BCE. Pharaohs used couriers to send out decrees throughout the Egyptian territory. The earliest surviving piece of mail dates back to 255 BCE and is also Egyptian.

 

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.

Chocolate
Cocoa powder and cocoa beans
Before 1900 BCE
Mesoamerica

In the tropical rainforests of Mesoamerica, the ancient Olmecs unlock the secrets of the cacao pod. By fermenting, roasting, and grinding the seeds, they create the bitter beverage chocolate. This divine elixir lays the foundation for chocolate’s enduring legacy, cherished by the Mayans and Aztecs as a ceremonial drink, a currency, and a medicine.

Cretan Hieroglyphic script: Greek Island
Cretan Hieroglyphic script: Greek Island
1900 BCE
from circa 1900 BCE to 1700 BCE

Earliest known writing in the European/Mediterranean zone. 

The earliest known writing system in the European/Mediterranean zone is the Cretan Hieroglyphic script from ancient Crete, part of the Minoan civilization. This script dates back to around 1900 BC to 1700 BC. Closely related and slightly later in development is Linear A, which emerged around 1800 BC and was also used by the Minoans.

These scripts were used primarily on the island of Crete and remain largely undeciphered, making it difficult to fully understand their content and purpose. Linear A, in particular, appears to have been used for administrative and religious purposes. Following these, the Mycenaean civilization developed Linear B, derived from Linear A, which has been deciphered as an early form of Greek and dates back to around 1450 BC. Linear B provides substantial insights into the administrative, economic, and daily activities of the Mycenaean Greeks.

File:UCB Phaistos Disc Symbols.png” by ÅñtóñSûsî (Ð) is licensed under CC BY 3.0
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.
Rigveda Samhita, Veda Book 1 of 4
Rigveda Samhita, Veda Book 1 of 4
1,700 BCE
148 Generations Ago

The Rigveda, Sanskrit for “praise knowledge”, is a collection of sacred texts of Hinduism first written down between 1700 and 1100 BCE. The sounds and texts of Rigveda have been orally transmitted since at least circa 2000 BCE. It discusses cosmology, praises deities, and covers philosophical questions including…

  • 1.164.34: “What is the ultimate limit of the earth?”, “What is the center of the universe?”, “What is the semen of the cosmic horse?”, “What is the ultimate source of human speech?”;
  • 1.164.34: “Who gave blood, soul, spirit to the earth?”, “How could the unstructured universe give origin to this structured world?”;
  • 1.164.5: “Where does the sun hide in the night?”, “Where do gods live?”;
  • 1.164.6: “What, where is the unborn support for the born universe?”;
  • 1.164.20 is a parable of the Body and the Soul.

The other three books of the Veda were written centuries later:

  • Yajurveda, circa 1000 BCE
  • Samaveda, circa 1000 BCE
  • Atharvaveda, circa 700 BCE
Dragons: Early Dinosaur Fossils
Dragons: Early Dinosaur Fossils
By 1600 BCE

Fossil discoveries have brought wonder to humanity from the very beginning. The discovery of fossils from prehistoric animals like sauropods and mammoths inspired ancient people to create stories about massive, powerful creatures. Dragon-like and other creatures appear in myths across the world from our earliest writings.

For example, in China, the discovery of fossils from giant prehistoric animals like mammoths and sauropods dates back to the Shang Dynasty (around 1600-1046 BCE). These finds likely influenced the development of dragon legends, which were present in Chinese culture by the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE). As early as the 4th century BCE, Chinese scholars documented the discovery of “dragon bones.” These bones, often large and unexplained, were likely dinosaur fossils. The Chinese ground them into powder for use in traditional medicine, believing them to possess healing properties.

Greco-Roman authors, such as Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, mentioned large bones being discovered and attributed them to mythical creatures or ancient giants. While early thinkers like Xenophanes of Colophon recognized some fossils as remnants of once-living creatures as early as 600 BCE, it wouldn’t be until the 1600s that humanity would start to accept this empirical evidence as once living creatures.

The Lapita Culture
The Lapita Culture
1500 BCE
1500 BCE to 500 BCE

The Lapita culture, named after a site in New Caledonia, was an Austronesian people known for their intricate pottery and advanced navigation skills. Around 1500 BCE, they began spreading eastwards across the vast Pacific, reaching as far as Tonga and Samoa. The Lapita are considered the ancestors of many modern Pacific Islanders, including Polynesians, Micronesians, and some coastal Melanesian populations. Their remarkable journey across the ocean, covering thousands of kilometers in outrigger canoes, stands as a monumental achievement in human exploration and settlement, laying the foundations for the rich cultural tapestry of the Pacific Islands.

Minoan Frescoes at Knossos
Minoan Frescoes at Knossos
1400 BCE
circa 1700–1400 BCE

 (Crete, ) – The Palace of Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, is famous for its sophisticated and colorful frescoes. These paintings depict a variety of subjects, including processions, animals, and scenes of daily life, characterized by naturalistic figures and a vibrant palette. One of the most iconic images is of the bull-leaping ceremony, showcasing the importance of bulls within Minoan culture and religion. The frescoes reflect the Minoan civilization’s artistic prowess, with a keen eye for naturalism, movement, and the depiction of textiles and patterns, setting them apart from the more stylized art of contemporaneous cultures.

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. 

Oracle Bone Script: China
Oracle Bone Script: China
1250 BCE

Earliest deciphered writing in Asian zone: Indus Valley writing, undeciphered, predates this to circa 2600 BCE.

The earliest known writing system in Asia is typically considered to be the Oracle Bone Script from ancient China. This script was used during the Shang Dynasty around 1200 BCE, but evidence suggests it may have developed as early as 1250 BCE or earlier. Oracle Bone Script was primarily used for divination purposes and was carved on animal bones or turtle shells. These artifacts, known as oracle bones, were used to communicate with ancestors and gods to ask about weather, crop planting, the fortune of the kingdom, and other issues of state and religious importance. The script is a direct precursor to modern Chinese characters, making it not only one of the oldest forms of writing in Asia but also a foundational element of one of the world’s continuously used writing systems.

Major Religion: Hinduism
Major Religion: Hinduism
1100 BCE (+/- 300 years)
125 Generations Ago

Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions, emerged around 1100 BCE, several centuries after the Indus Valley Civilization collapsed. Hinduism has no known roots in the IVC, but it’s a topic to follow as we uncover clues. There was a several century gap from the collapse of the IVC to the rise of the early Vedic tradition, which might have adopted or been influenced by some imagery and cultural elements from the previous civilization in the area, but the writing skills were lost. Early Vedic tradition was based on oral traditions that predate the earliest known Vedic writings, which date back to around 550 BCE. The religion does not have a single founder and is a synthesis of various traditions. Today, Hinduism is centered around the Vedas, ancient sacred texts. As with all religions, it evolved through various phases, including the early Vedic period (circa 900-500 BCE) and was solidified to today’s Hinduism much later.

Creation date: 155 Trillion Years ago.
Hindu cosmology presents a cyclic model of the universe that undergoes periodic creation and destruction. Texts like the Puranas describe cycles of creation that span billions of years. According to some interpretations of Hindu scriptures, the current universe is about 155.52 trillion years old, and we are in the 51st year of the present Brahma, making it roughly 155.52 trillion years since the creation of the cosmos.

Some of my favorite Hindu sayings:

  • Every day you should sit quietly and affirm, with deep conviction.
  • You become that which you believe you can become.
  • The entire universe is to be looked upon as the Lord.
Olmec Hieroglyphs: Mexico
Olmec Hieroglyphs: Mexico
900 BCE
From before 900 BCE to 400 BCE.

Earliest known writing in the Americas zone. 

The Olmec civilization flourished in what is now the southeastern part of Mexico from around 1500 BC to about 400 BC. The Olmecs are often referred to as the “Mother Culture” of Mesoamerica, influencing later civilizations like the Maya and the Aztecs.

The Cascajal Block artifact, dated to around 900 BCE, bears 62 symbols carved into it that some researchers believe represent the earliest form of writing in the New World.

 

Gargi Vachaknavi (circa 800 BCE)
Hindu god Ganesha on white wooden table. Candles on background
Vedic Tradition
The "woman" Vedic sage
112 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

30 Phil, Chapter 3: Gargi and the Concept of Holism
Gargi lived in India around 800 BCE, give or take a century, but we do not know her lifespan. We know about her from early Vedic Tradition, specifically from the early Vedas. Gargi is one of the earliest known female philosophers. Although the specifics of her timeline are unclear, she emerged around 800 BCE. Gargi’s life unfolded in the kingdom of Videha, present-day Bihar in eastern India. Her family belonged to the Brahmin caste, who have historically been the custodians of knowledge in Indian society. In this capacity, they played a vital role in the cultural transmission of knowledge.

Ontology
Ontology
The Nature of Being.
We are more than self-aware.

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 7: Ontology.

Ontology: When we’re alive, life feels endless, stretching beyond the horizon of our imagination. The realization that it must end is not easily accepted. We’re not just sentient beings; we are self-aware. For many, the notion that we cease to exist after death is unbearable. We can’t help but wonder if we’re special; if something inside us continues even when our bodies stop. It’s about the human instinct for self-preservation extending beyond life. We lean into beliefs that promise we might continue in some form. This sphere of thought is called Ontology.

Holism
Holism
Nature is the master plan.

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 8: Holism.

Holism views things as a whole, emphasizing interconnectedness and interdependence, and values unity and synthesis. It is essential for fully understanding complex systems like living organisms and ecosystems. This notion of an underlying, unifying essence mirrors the intricacies of the natural world, where each element, though distinct, harmoniously contributes to the grander mosaic of existence.

Thales of Miletus (624 – 546 BCE)
Thales of Miletus (624 – 546 BCE)
Early or "First" Science
The Grandfather of Western Philosophy
106 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.
The Birth of Logic
The Birth of Logic
624 BCE
Circa 624-546 BCE

In the vibrant intellectual climate of Ancient Greece, the 6th century BCE marks the embryonic stage of formal logic, attributed to the philosopher Thales of Miletus (around 624-546 BCE). Thales, recognized as the first of the Seven Sages of Greece, embarked on a quest that laid the foundational stones of logical thought. He shifted the explanation of natural phenomena away from mythological interpretations towards rational principles.

Library of Ashurbanipal
Library of Ashurbanipal
Built circa 700 BCE, destroyed 612 BCE.

The Library of Ashurbanipal, established during the reign of Ashurbanipal (668–627 BCE), the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, is one of the most significant collections of ancient texts. Located in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, this library housed thousands of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, covering a wide range of subjects including literature, history, science, and law. The most famous work found in this collection is the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” Ashurbanipal, a scholar-king, collected texts from across his empire and beyond, aiming to preserve the knowledge and culture of Mesopotamia. The library’s discovery in the mid-19th century provided invaluable insights into the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia, making it a cornerstone in the study of ancient Near Eastern history.

Laozi (604-517 BCE)
Laozi (604-517 BCE)
Daoism
Old Master
105 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 4: Laozi and Daoist Philosophy
The life of Laozi is shrouded in mystery, but he is the first philosopher in “30 Philosophers” that attempts to construct a precise biography. The Spring and Autumn Period of China spanned nearly three centuries starting in 770 BCE, and Laozi lived about in the middle of that era. He was born about 604 BCE . His native language was Old Chinese, he authored the Dao De Jing, and founded the Daoist philosophy. Some stories indicate he was married and had at least one son.

Pictured is the statue of Laozi at the base of mount Qingyuan in China.  

Spherical Earth
Realistic Earth Planet against the the star sky
600 BCE

The Greeks knew the Earth is spherical. For example, Pythagoras (570-495 BCE), Aristotle (384-322 BCE), and Euclid (circa 450 BCE) wrote about the Earth as a sphere. Eratosthenes (276-194 BCE) even calculated the circumference of the Earth to within 1%. He also wrote about the idea that India could be reached by sailing westward from Spain.

Nearly 2,000 years later during the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue, most religious nuts believed the Earth was flat and he would fall off. What happened to truth? Although many educated people knew all along, the dogma of the brainwashed religious nuts over the centuries suppressed and terrorized the masses into believing things like the Earth is flat, the Earth is only a few thousand years old, women are property, and other such nonsense. The harm caused by formal religions over the eons is incalculable.

New Look: The Flood Stories
New Look: The Flood Stories
600 BCE
New Look

30 Phil, Chapter 1: The Great Flood Myths.
An examination of the Great Flood myths, comparing the flood stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. Discovered in 1853, the Epic of Gilgamesh’s flood story was lost for millennia and it predates the earliest written version of the biblical story by at least 400 years and likely by more than a millennium. They both tell the same story with different character names, minor differences, and a change from multiple gods to a single god. Noah’s Ark, set before 600 BCE, is a retelling of a Sumerian story dating back to about 2550 BCE featuring the character Ziusudra.

Wu-wei or “non-action”
Wu-wei or “non-action”
Go with the flow of nature.

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 9: Wu-wei or “non-action”

The term wu-wei is often translated as “non-action.” It is a general concept. It is the idea that the universe has a flow, and it is better to ride that flow than to fight it. Wu-wei is non-action, effortless action, or inaction, but does not mean laziness or passive behavior. It refers to the practice of avoiding conflict or competition, but it does not mean you do not engage. Instead, you accept the natural order of things rather than trying to force your will or desire upon the world.

Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self
Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self
Let life unfold organically.

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 10: Authenticity.

Ziran is often translates to “of its own.” Living in accordance with Ziran means you embrace naturalness. You welcome the spontaneous aspects of existence. With Ziran, you flow with nature while embracing your true self and innate tendencies, your authentic self. Living in accordance with Ziran is you attaining a state of inner peace, balance, and harmony. By cultivating a deep connection with the natural world and allowing things to unfold organically, you can experience the intrinsic flow of the Dao. For example, a conversation that unfolds without order and a musician improvising both exemplify Ziran.

Unknowable Dao
Unknowable Dao
We can only describe nature.

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 12: Unknowable Dao.

The “unknowable Dao” is the skeptical belief that the true nature of reality is unknowable. The Unknowable Dao is a mysterious universal reality that transcends both language and thought; it encapsulates the ultimate reality and its inherent natural order. It’s the idea that the Dao cannot be fully comprehended nor expressed in words. It resonates in modern times. What we perceive as reality is merely a shadow of the full scope of what reality actually is. Consider, for instance, the concept of visible and non-visible light. You perceive visible light and may think it’s the whole spectrum, but science tells us it’s not.

Pythagoras (570-495 BCE)
Pythagoras (570-495 BCE)
Pythagoreanism
Father of Mathematics
103 Generations Ago

The Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was born in Ancient Greece on the island Samos which is about a mile off the coast of modern Turkey. History looks at Pythagoras as an educator and philosopher as well as a cult leader. He discovered the musical octave, used deductive reasoning, and embraced an early version of forms which was a stepping stone to Plato’s forms. His early theories on math as the answer to the universe are elementary and off course, but these first attempts led the path for future mathematicians to explore. He is most remembered for his Pythagorean theorem which states the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides

As a cult leader, he spent his life brainwashing anyone who would follow him. Like Jesus, he said he was the son of God. His cult had strange rules including that you had to be silent for five years before you could join. A clever trick that meant only true believers who would not tell others of the crazy could get in. The crazy ran deep. You must spit on your finger clippings. You cannot urinate toward the sun. They sacrificed an ox whenever they proved a mathematical formula.

Pythagoras never wrote anything down or at least none of his writings survived so we have to rely on what others say he said and did, but we’re likely never to know what was Pythagoras’ pure ideas from the evolved or altered ideas of later writers. 

Some of my favorite translated sayings attributed to Pythagoras:

  • Reason is immortal, all else mortal.
  • There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.
  • As soon as laws are necessary for men, they are no longer fit for freedom.
  • Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.
Confucius (551-479 BCE, died age 72)
Confucius (551-479 BCE, died age 72)
Confucianism
The "Great Sage" or the "First Teacher."
103 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 5: Confucius and Confucianism
Confucius is remembered for his practical applied philosophy. His sayings are a reflection of many centuries of common sense sayings making his philosophy deeply Chinese.

My favorite sayings:

  • The man who knows he can, and the man who knows he cannot, are both correct.
  • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.
  • The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.
  • You are what you think.
  • All people are the same; only their habits differ.
  • Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.
  • Respect yourself, and others will respect you.

Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal
Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal
Normal is our current experiences.
New Look

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 13: Normalcy.

Normalcy refers to the standards or patterns established through repeated experiences and societal norms, serving as a baseline for judging deviations. Our concept of “normal” influences how we label and react to the world, shaping our perceptions of what is good, bad, or different. These norms are formed from personal and collective experiences, and they can evolve as we challenge ingrained prejudices and expand our acceptance of diversity. Understanding normalcy helps us recognize how our labels impact our interactions and views of the world.

This view of normal overlaps with existing ideas, including David Hume’s Bundle Theory as well as with behavioral philosophy which considers normalcy as a normative foundation, focusing on individual perceptions and experiences within a broader behavioral context.

Schemas
Schemas
The abstractions of life.

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 14: Schemas.

A schema is a mental structure we employ to organize and interpret information. We classify things into schemas, which we can then modify by adding or removing elements. Schemas help us simplify life. Once things are categorized as normal or abnormal, we utilize our cognitive processes, such as memory and association, to attach emotional or value judgments like good, bad, great, horrible, delicious, gross, and so on, to these “normal” or “abnormal” classifications.

Gautama Buddha (circa 563-486 BCE)
Gautama Buddha (circa 563-486 BCE)
Buddhism
The "Buddha"
103 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 6: Gautama Buddha and Buddhism
In a much simpler time, the royal family of the Shakya dynasty lived in a palace located at the capital of the Shakya kingdom in present-day Nepal. Around 563 BCE, a boy named Siddhartha Gautama was born in the palace. At the age of 29, he left the luxury of his palace, and became one of the many wandering ascetics. After six years of wandering, in a flash, he suddenly attained enlightenment at the age of 35 under a Bodhi tree. Over the centuries, Buddhist Councils reorganized and revised the Canon, eventually adding the third text containing philosophical and psychological analysis. The degree to which these revisions deviated from the Buddha’s original words remains unknown. It was not until the 1st century BCE that the orally transmitted Pali Canon was finally committed to writing. 

Pictured: Gautama Buddha statue in Buddha Park of Ravangla, Sikkim. Showing after Confucius just to group Laozi & Confucius together.

Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman
Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman
Your idea of "self" does not exist.

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 15: Illusion: Self and Non-self.

The Buddhist terms of Atman and Anatman relate to the idea of “Self,” or “Atman,” your eternal soul and the Buddhist doctrine of “Non-Self,” or “Anātman.” To understand non-self, you have to understand the concept of “emptiness,” which refers to the idea that nothing lasts forever. “Non-self” says what we consider our “self” does not exist. What we perceive as an unchanging “self” or “soul,” is actually a collection of ever-changing physical and mental components, such as form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. There is no enduring “I,” existing independently of these aggregates.

Nondualism and Dualism
Nondualism and Dualism
The separation of mind and body is an illusion.

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 16: Nondualism-Dualism.

Nondualism and dualism help to explore the many variations and nuances within the overarching discussion of our nature, whether we have a soul, what happens to it, etc. Dualism says the mind and the body are distinct entities from each other and from the universe. How they interact with the universe is a separate question. Nondualism says reality is a singular, indivisible, and all-encompassing entity, and any apparent divisions, such as the separation between the mind and body, are merely illusory. These schemas are used in many frameworks across various disciplines, including philosophy, science, and psychology to explore topics such as consciousness, the self, and reality, as well as the basis of personal identity and interconnectedness. 

Heraclitus (circa 535-475 BCE)
Heraclitus (circa 535-475 BCE)
Pre-Socratic Philosophy
Weeping or "Dark" Philosopher
102 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 7: Heraclitus and Your Worldview
Chapter 7 in part one transitions from Eastern luminaries to their counterparts in the West. The pre-Socratic philosophers, guided by a new rational perspective, challenged the stronghold of mythology, and propelled human thought onto a trajectory marked by reason. Little is known for sure about Heraclitus. Born around 535 BCE, stories indicated he lived about 60 years.

My Favorite Sayings:
  • Everything is in Flux.
  • No man ever steps in the same river twice.

Pictured: Bust of an unknown philosopher. Some believe this might be Heraclitus. This bust is in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, but the museum makes no such identity assumption.

Impermanence and Flux
Impermanence and Flux
ChatGPT Change is the only constant.

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Impermanence and Flux.

Impermanence as Flux is the idea of an ever-changing nature of life and the interconnectedness of all things. It is summed up as:

“Everything is in flux.”

Like the idea a “river,” everything flows. The only constant is change, and to resist it is to resist the natural order of things.

Worldview
Worldview
Your sub-culture and choices.

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Worldview.

A worldview is your current knowledge, perspectives, beliefs, and values, which evolves with experience and influences your interpretation of reality and self. Your worldview is comprised of all the frameworks you’ve embraced, and a good place to start your exploration is with the three major ones: language, religion, and philosophy. They give it structure, and your schemas thread through them, acting as filters for how you perceive reality.

Identity
Identity
Existence before essence.
Crafting yourself from your given traits.

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Identity.

Identity is the personal mosaic of attributes that set you apart as an individual. Your identity is shaped by the worldview you embrace and mold. It encompasses the world you were born into — encompassing aspects like gender, ethnicity, and nationality — and extends to your personal choices, including affiliations, accumulated knowledge, and even your preferences in entertainment. It also includes aspects that evolve and change on your journey including such things as your current age, where you choose to live, and how you make a living. It’s a complex interplay of internal and external factors. You are born without a predetermined essence or nature. It’s only through our experiences—through the act of living—that we define our essence, our identity.

Socrates (469 – 399 BCE)
Marble statue of the ancient Greek Philosopher Plato.
Socratic Questioning
Father of Western Ethics
99 Generations Ago

Socrates was a Greek philosopher and is frequently credited as the founder of Western philosophy. He left no writings, but his student Plato documented his philosophy.

Some of my favorite translated sayings attributed to Socrates:

  • Enjoy yourself — it’s later than you think.
  • He who is not content with what they have will not be content with more.
  • Do not praise someone wealthy until you known how they employ it.
  • We should hear and see more than we speak.
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.
  • He is rich who is content with the least.
  • Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior.
Democritus (460 BCE – circa 370 BCE)
Democritus (460 BCE – circa 370 BCE)
Atomist
The Laughing Philosopher

Democritus, known as the “Laughing Philosopher” for his emphasis on cheerfulness, lived from around 460 BCE to 370 BCE. Hailing from Abdera in Thrace, he was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and a central figure in the development of atomic theory. Democritus proposed that everything in the universe is composed of tiny, indivisible particles called atoms, moving through the void. His materialist philosophy challenged the prevailing views of his time, offering a mechanistic explanation of the natural world. Despite his significant contributions, much of his work survives only through the writings of later philosophers, yet his ideas laid the groundwork for modern science.

Law of the Twelve Tables
Law of the Twelve Tables
451 BCE

The Twelve Tables were rules citizens had to follow, and limits on the powers of the government. This idea was used several times during Roman history to force the Patricians, aristocrats, to consider the views of the plebeian citizens, commoners. In 451 BCE, plebeians went on strike to protest the tyranny of magistrates. The Twelve Tables came out of that strike. These bronze tablets were set up in the Forum of Rome for all citizens to see and students to study.

Content examples:

  • Table I – when a person is accused of something, both accused and accuser must be present at a trial. If only one party shows up, the judge is free to rule in their favor.
  • Table III – debtors have 30 days to pay off a debt. After that, a creditor is free to imprison them.
  • Table IV – approval to put to death a dreadfully deformed child.
  • Table V – all women, except Vestals (virgin priestesses), must have a guardian regardless of age. The guardian had no say in her private matters, but did guide her public matters especially matters of money.
  • Table VI – a man’s will is binding.
  • Table VIII – lists specific punishments for specific crimes. And, a person who fails to show up as a trial witness, can never again be a witness. And, a person shown to have lied in court will be put to death.
  • Table IX – judges who have taken a bribe as well as anyone committed of treason will be put to death.  
  • Table XI – prohibits marriages between plebeian (aristocrats) and patrician (commoners).
Plato (428-347 BCE)
Plato (428-347 BCE)
Platonism
Father of Idealism
98 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 8: Plato and Rationalism
Plato was a Greek philosopher born in Athens. He was a student of Socrates and a teacher of Aristotle. Plato’s Theory of Forms asserts that the reality is only a shadow, or image, of the true reality of the Realm of Forms — abstract, perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space.

My favorite sayings:

  • Excellence is not a gift, but a skill that takes practice. 
  • If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.
  • If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.
  • Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
  • Reality is created by the mind, we can change our reality by changing our mind.
  • Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.
  • If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life.
Genus Orangutans
Orangutan standing
400,000 Years Ago

Orangutans (genus Pongo) are great apes native to Indonesia and Malaysia, characterized by their distinctive reddish-brown fur, long arms, and intelligent behavior. They are the most arboreal of all great apes, spending most of their time in trees, and are skilled climbers and swing between branches with ease. Orangutans are also known for their advanced problem-solving abilities and have been observed using tools, such as sticks, to extract food and navigate their environment. With their slow pace of life and solitary nature, orangutans have adapted to their forest habitat in unique ways, making them one of the most fascinating and endangered primate species.

Reflective Inquiry
Reflective Inquiry
A constant state of self-assessment.

30 Phil, Chapter 8, Plato, Touchstone 20: Reflective Inquiry.

Reflective inquiry is the act of exploring and examining one’s own thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions to clear the illusions of life. It encourages a constant state of self-assessment, providing a foundation for intellectual growth based on a more authentic life. For example, with the Socratic Method, rather than lecturing you and telling you what you should think, he posed thought-provoking questions guiding and urging you to critically examine your own beliefs from within.

Ignorance is Bliss
Ignorance is Bliss
Strategic ignorance.

30 Phil, Chapter 8, Plato, Touchstone 21: Ignorance is Bliss.

The concept of “Ignorance is bliss” says being uninformed or unaware of certain truths can lead to greater happiness. Take, for example, germophobes—people who are excessively concerned about germs. Constant awareness and meticulous research about germs and contamination could elevate their levels of stress, affecting both mental and physical health. 

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)
Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)
Aristotelianism
Father of Western Philosophy
96 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 9: Aristotle and Empiricism
Aristotle was the greatest Greek philosopher and covered nearly all subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, meteorology, geology, and government. His Aristotelian philosophy characterized by deductive logic and an analytic inductive method.

Some of my favorite translated sayings are:

  • The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.
  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
  • Happiness depends upon ourselves.
  • Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
  • The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differ from the dead.
  • Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
Syllogisms
Syllogisms
Logically connect things.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 22: Syllogisms.

While deductive reasoning existed informally before Aristotle, he formalized it in his work “Prior Analytics” by introducing the Syllogism. It structures arguments into two key premises leading to a conclusion and remains widely used today. Aristotle knew that syllogisms can both analyze and validate derived truths, by logically connecting premises. 

Rationalism
Rationalism
Prioritize your ideas over reality.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 23: Rationalism.

Rationalism emphasizes reason and a priori knowledge—knowledge you are born with—as the primary means of understanding reality. It says truths can be known independently of experience and that reason alone can provide an understanding of the world.

Empiricism
Empiricism
Prioritize reality over your ideas.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 24: Empiricism.

Empiricism says knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience. It emphasizes the role of observation and evidence in forming beliefs and understanding the world.

Logic
Logic
Reality is organized and mathematical.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 25: Logic.

Formal logic is originated in Greece, and Aristotle is considered one of the most important figures in its early development. Aristotle’s work on logic, which is primarily contained in his collection of works known as the, “Organon” (meaning “instrument” or “tool”), formalized many of the principles of deductive reasoning that are still in use today.

Logical Fallacies
Logical Fallacies
Flaws in reasoning.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 26: Logical Fallacies.

A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning that invalidates an argument. In simple terms, it’s when a conclusion doesn’t logically follow from its premises. They sidestep issues with a lack of valid argumentation. While using a fallacy doesn’t mean the conclusion is wrong, it does indicate that a valid argument has yet to be made. In “Sophistical Refutations,” Aristotle discusses various kinds of fallacies, including those that occur in language and those that are more about the process of reasoning itself.

Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia
Flourish now and into the future.

30 Phil, Chapter 9, Aristotle, Touchstone 27: Eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia is happiness achieved through a flourishing life of virtue, including developing moral and intellectual faculties to their fullest potential; and is the best way to live. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined the goal of life as eudaimonia, attainable through a life of rational activity guided by virtue. To flourish, one must make balanced choices that avoid extremes—a concept he called the “golden mean.” In my “good intent-good results” anchor device, Eudaimonia focuses on “good intent.” Aristotle teaches you that the results of your actions will generally be good if you act virtuously. He believed that humans inherently strive for it, with a virtuous life being the most reliable path. In simpler terms, humans seek a life filled with purpose, moral virtue, and a sense of lasting accomplishment. 

For me, Aristotle’s Eudaimonia takes on a deeper meaning. Although eudaimonia is often translated as “happiness,” it signifies a deeper state of flourishing now and into the future. Aristotle hinted at the importance of the value of external things like friends, wealth, and power. Things like your contributions to society as part of fulfilling your role in the community. This can be as simple as a fulfilling career, pursuing a meaningful hobby, or even living a life reading books. Although Aristotle hinted at the future void and legacy, his eudaimonia was not directly tied to it. 

For me, eudaimonia ripples into the unknown void. A concept I call “Holistic Eudaimonia,” an all-encompassing approach to well-being.

Pyrrho (360-270 BCE)
Pyrrho (360-270 BCE)
Skepticism
Father of Skepticism
95 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 10: Pyrrho of Elis and Skepticism  
Pyrrho, the skeptic, believed no one knows anything. Everything can be questioned. The best approach is to keep an open mind. Like Socrates, Pyrrho himself left no writings. We know of his teachings through his students and later writers. 

Phrases that best represent skeptics:

  • Question everything.
  • Do not trust your senses.
  • What difference does it make if you are alive or dead?

There’s a big difference between a pure skeptic questioning literally everything, and a moderate skeptic who evaluates everything with an open mind. Pyrrho is reported to have been a pure skeptic, I’m more of a moderate skeptic.

Skepticism
Skepticism
Question your beliefs and avoid dogmatism.

30 Phil, Chapter 10, Pyrrho of Elis, Touchstone 28: Skepticism.

Skepticism emphasizes the continuous challenging of beliefs. Pyrrhonian Skepticism, founded by Pyrrho of Elis, takes this a step further by encouraging you to suspend judgment about reality and truth. This approach urges you to question your beliefs and avoid dogmatism. With skepticism, you question both reason and sensory data. Pyrrhonian Skepticism asserts that neither reason nor sensory perception can provide us with certain knowledge, leading to the suspension of judgment on all things.

Social Constructs
Social Constructs
Shared, not natural agreements.

30 Phil, Chapter 10, Pyrrho of Elis, Touchstone 29: Social Constructs.

A social construct is a shared, non-natural belief created and maintained by groups that shape reality. These are cultural blueprints that encompass shared ideas and frameworks. Many aspects of the world exist independently of humanity and are not social constructs, such as stars, animal reproduction, and gravity. In contrast, things that do not exist in nature and are social constructs include marriage, language, and money.

Epicurus (341-270 BCE)
Epicurus (341-270 BCE)
Epicureanism
The Garden Philosopher
94 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 11: Epicurus and Epicureanism
Epicurus founded Epicureanism in 307 BCE. The goal of Epicureanism is to help people attain a happy (eudaimonic), tranquil life characterized by ataraxia (free from fear) and aponia (free from pain). He authored over 300 books, scrolls, none of which survived the test of time.

Some of my favorite translated sayings attributed to him:

  • Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not
  • Death is not something experienced in life.
  • Fear of death is a waste of time.

My favorite saying is the Epicurean epitaph “Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo.”

  • I was not; I was; I am not; I do not mind.

I sometimes refer to myself as an epicurean stoic. A balance between enjoy the journey, and duty to yourself and others. Enjoying the complimentary yin and yang of my journey on Earth.

Epicurean Happiness Toolkit: A 4-Step Structure
Epicurean Happiness Toolkit: A 4-Step Structure
New Look

30 Phil, Chapter 11: The new look at the Epicurean Happiness Toolkit refines Epicurean tools into a clear 1-2-3-4 structure: one goal (pleasure), two types of pleasures, three categories of desires, and the Four-part Remedy (Tetrapharmakos). This presentation emphasizes pleasure as the ultimate aim, specifically ataraxia (peace of mind) and aponia (absence of pain), while replacing the term “hedonism” with “pleasure” to align more closely with Epicurus’s nuanced understanding of happiness.

Agnosticism
Agnosticism
Don't waste time on the unknowable.
Live in the present.

30 Phil, Chapter 11, Epicurus, Touchstone 30: Agnosticism.

Agnostics assert that it is impossible to either prove or disprove certain claims, such as the existence of unicorns, ghosts, or Valhalla. Within OVM, Agnosticism is the empiricist view that sits between true believers and true skeptics. OVM is one of the Five Thought Tools in the TST Framework.

Epicurean Agnosticism: Epicureans generally lean toward agnosticism, showing indifference to unknowable mysteries. They argue that pondering such mysteries likely leads to unhappiness. Epicureanism does not advocate for agnosticism as a dogmatic belief, but rather as a practical approach to dealing with the unknowable.

Dichotomy of Pleasure
Dichotomy of Pleasure
Prefer long term pleasures over short.

30 Phil, Chapter 11, Epicurus, Touchstone 31: Dichotomy of Pleasure.

Epicurus defined two types of pleasure: short-term and long-term. Too frequently people put short term pleasures over long-term ones causing deeper harm than warranted.
A short-term pleasure is kinetic as in the active enjoyment of fulfilling a desire, such as eating a delicious meal or engaging in a pleasurable activity. Longer or deeper pleasures are katastematic and include the relief of quenching one’s thirst or the contentment of a good night’s sleep. Put simply, for each pair of kinetic-katastematic pleasures, Epicurus wants you to prioritize the katastematic pleasure to live a better life.

Zeno of Citium (334-262 BCE)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paolo_Monti_-_Servizio_fotografico_(Napoli,_1969)_-_BEIC_6353768.jpg
Stoicism
Father of Stoicism
94 Generations Ago

Zeno is considered the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. When events occur in life, people react. Life is a series of events and immediate reactions. A stoic introduces a third middle step, a judge step. On their life journey, a stoic strives for a series of event-judge-react experiences. When you introduce a judge step, you can frequently change your reaction to a healthier reaction.

The Foundation of the Maurya Empire
The Foundation of the Maurya Empire
322 BCE
Wake of Alexander the Great

In 322 BCE, following the disruption left in the wake of Alexander the Great’s incursions into the Indian subcontinent, Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya Empire. This marked the beginning of one of India’s largest and most powerful empires, stretching at its zenith from the Himalayas to the Deccan Plateau. The reign of Chandragupta and his successors, most notably Ashoka the Great, was characterized by significant advancements in political organization, economic development, and the spread of Buddhism both within the empire and beyond its borders. The Maurya Empire’s legacy of unification, administration, and cultural proliferation left an indelible mark on the history of South Asia.

Cicero (106-43 BCE)
Cicero (106-43 BCE)
106 BCE
84 Generations Ago

The stoic philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of Rome’s greatest orators and had an immense influence on the Latin language.

Some of my favorite translated Cicero quotes:

  • If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
  • Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.
  • Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.
  • Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.
  • Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
  • Love is the attempt to form a friendship inspired by beauty.
Philo of Alexandria (circa 20 BCE to circa 55 CE)
Philo of Alexandria (circa 20 BCE to circa 55 CE)
Hellenistic Judaism
82 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 12: Philo and Abrahamic Philosophy
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.

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

 

Allegorical Interpretation
Allegorical Interpretation
Stories have complex meanings.

30 Phil, Chapter 12, Philo of Alexandria, Touchstone 32: Allegorical Interpretation.

Allegorical interpretation is the process of understanding the symbolic meaning behind a text or story. It is a literary technique in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract ideas or moral qualities.

Seneca the Younger (4 BCE – 65 CE)
Seneca the Younger (4 BCE – 65 CE)
Stoic Tradition
Roman Stoic Statesman
81 Generations Ago

The stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger has the distinction that more of his writings survived the test of time and is therefore a valuable primary source for stoic philosophy. 

Some of my favorite translated Seneca quotes:

  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
  • All cruelty springs from weakness.
  • Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
  • We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.
  • If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.
  • No man was ever wise by chance.
  • Only time can heal what reason cannot.
Earliest Known Magnification
crystal lens ball in a woman’s hand, with a refracted view of a misty country lane
65 CE

The earliest known magnification dates back to the first century. These simple early magnification devices consisted of using natural crystals or a glass globe filled with water. It is reasonable to assume the use of natural crystals for magnification was around for many thousands of years. One possible specimen is the Nimrud lens dating back to 750 BCE.

Although man-made glass was in common use about 3500 BCE, eye glasses would have to wait about 4,500 years later. Eye glasses were invented in the 13th century. A few centuries earlier, a reading glass was in common use. A piece of glass you set on a page of text to magnify the letters well enough to read easily.

These early devices provided a max of about 2x, or perhaps 3x, magnification. The microworld of cells and large bacteria would have to wait for the invention of good quality microscopes about 1630. The nanoworld of smaller bacteria, viruses, proteins, and molecules would have to wait for the invention of the electron microscope in 1931.

Epictetus (50-135 CE)
Epictetus (50-135 CE)
circa 100 CE
78 Generations Ago

Epictetus stressed that philosophy is a way of life and not simply analytical. The stoic philosopher Epictetus was cited by Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations. Epictetus was one of the future emperor’s teacher’s during childhood up to the age of 14. Although no writings by Epictetus are known, his students documented his beliefs and sayings well. Epictetus is my favorite philosopher. I like nearly all the quotes attributed to him.

Some of my favorite translated sayings attributed to him:

  • It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
  • The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you.

 

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 CE)
Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 CE)
Stoic Tradition
The Philosopher King
76 Generations Ago

30 Phil, Chapter 13: Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism
Some of my favorite translated meditations include:

  • Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.
  • The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
Cognitive Reframing
Cognitive Reframing
Emotions are judgements.

30 Phil, Chapter 13, Marcus Aurelius, Touchstone 33: Cognitive Reframing.

Cognitive Reframing: an Ancient Stoic “CBT” Technique: Cognitive reframing is a modern therapeutic technique employed in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of psychotherapy, and it has its philosophical roots in ancient Stoic thought, and Zeno himself is behind it.

Emotions are not arbitrary or purely biological responses, they are rooted in your worldview and affected by the world around you. When you experience an emotion, it is often because you have made a judgment about it.

Negative Visualization
Negative Visualization
Contemplate the future.

30 Phil, Chapter 13, Marcus Aurelius, Touchstone 34: Negative Visualization.

It is not external events, but our thoughts about them, that cause distress. Many of us don’t truly appreciate our family, friends, and possessions so visualizing their absence increases appreciation for them. Negative visualization finds a modern counterpart in “defensive pessimism,” a cognitive strategy in psychology. You start by casting your gaze ahead, pinpointing potential hiccups in your journey. You then explore those scenarios.

Cognitive Distancing
Cognitive Distancing
Step outside your reality.

30 Phil, Chapter 13, Marcus Aurelius, Touchstone 35: Cognitive Distancing.

Cognitive Distancing is a psychological technique where one separates themselves from their thoughts and emotions to gain perspective and objectivity. By viewing thoughts as transient and not necessarily true, individuals can reduce their emotional impact and make more rational decisions. This technique aligns with the Stoic principle of View from Above, where one mentally elevates themselves to see the broader context of their situation.