Timeline: Journalism

This timeline represents some of the known, or at least accepted, events in journalism including language, writing, and printing. It’s purpose is to bring some sense of perspective to the known evolution of humans documenting their existence on Earth. This timeline is intended to help me personally with the big picture. I’ll update it as I learn new things and as new things are discovered. I hope you enjoy it and that it helps you too!

This timeline of journalism starts with a few notable events in human history. The purpose of these events is to give one a sense of how long humans have been speaking and sharing ideas. The documenting of our existence using writing systems started in prehistory. For this timeline I will use the terms proto-writing, primitive writing, and complex writing to categorize writing systems. The use of simple identifying symbols is known as proto-writing. Proto-writing evolved into primitive writing capable of documenting simple ideas. Primitive writing expanded and at the point they could document complex ideas they became a complex writing system. Perhaps not equal to modern writing systems, but in the ballpark.

To open our minds, let’s speculate a bit. Although the archeological record is slim, one can speculate that early proto-writing, the use of simple symbols, started as soon as our ancestors could talk, circa 700,000 BCE. We can also speculate that the use of symbols evolved frequently into primitive writing systems throughout prehistory.

Although speculative, I personally have no doubt that proto-writing existed long before the archeological record indicates. I also have no doubt that it evolved into primitive writing many thousands of times. If I were to guess, I would guess proto-writing and primitive writing systems started within a few generations of the first stable communities sometime between 700,000 to 150,000 BCE. I can imagine simpler complex writing systems capable of documenting complex ideas existing at various times from perhaps 500,000 BCE through to 3500 BCE with the earliest known complex writing system of cuneiform.

700,000 BCE
28,000 Generations Ago
First Speakers: Homo Heidelbergensis
First Speakers: Homo Heidelbergensis

Homo Heidelbergensis lived from about 700,000 to 200,000 BCE. Several species evolved from this common ancestor and the last known species identified as Heidelbergensis species became extinct about 28,000 BCE. Homo heidelbergensis lived in Africa, Europe, and possibly Asia. They had some of our human characteristics including large brains, small teeth, bipedality, and used tools.

Could Heidelbergensis speak? We believe they had the physical ability to speak (a Hyoid bone), and a complex lifestyle that would require at least simple conversations. For more information, explore archaeological research into the Hyoid bone which is unique to humans today and is required to duplicate our speech.

  Male Female
Avg. Height 5’9″ 5’2″
Avg. Weight 136 lbs 112 lbs
60,000 BCE
2,400 Generations Ago
“The” Human DNA
Spiral strands of DNA on the dark background

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.

7000 BCE
7000-6001 BCE
Neolithic China
Neolithic China

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.

6500 BCE
2,000 Generations Ago
Sumerian Civilization
Sumerian Civilization

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.

1900 BCE
1900-1500 BCE
Proto-Sinaitic script
Proto-Sinaitic script
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.

1300 BCE
1500-1100 BCE
Phoenician Alphabet
Phoenician Alphabet
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. 

800 CE
Upper and Lowercase Starts
Upper and Lowercase Starts
50 Generations Ago

Uppercase and lowercase started circa 800 CE. Notice in the image above of an actual book from 460 CE that although it is missing word-spacing, punctuation, paragraphs, and lowercase it does make use of two colored text as well as margin notes to orient the reader. Many pre-printing press books very well made and gorgeous with very creative pages.

1000 CE
40 Generations Ago

Spaces between words started circa 1000 CE because those copying texts found it easier and faster to copy if they introduced spaces between words. The 1215 Magna Carta is a good example of this quality of writing which included word-spacing, uppercase, and lowercase, but no punctuation, nor paragraphs. 

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