Chapter Four will continue to measure time in units of KYA or KiloYears (thousands of years) Ago. Some of the more recent millennia will be numbered negatively, e.g. the -3rd millennium spanned 2,000 – 3,000 years before the year 1 1 . This chapter will also continue to use the time scales traditionally used by geologists to measure the Earth and by archaeologists to describe human artifacts. Geologically, the Pleistocene Epoch or “ice ages” persisted until about 12 KYA, when glaciers most recently retreated to the polar zones. We now live in the present interglacial or the Holocene Epoch, and that brings us to the end of the geological time scale.
Archaeological time scales are not standardized by years. They differ by region, because people adopted tools and practices at different times throughout the world. The middle (Mesolithic) and most recent (Neolithic) periods of the Stone Age were both on the scale of 10,000 years ago. The Neolithic is characterized by agriculture. In the Old World, many cultures then proceeded through a bronze age about 3 – 6 KYA and entered an iron age about 3 KYA.
This chapter is organized around the two goal posts of agriculture and civilization. Section II concludes humanity’s pre-agricultural highlights. Section III describes the Neolithic period during which humanity was agricultural but not yet “civilized”. Finally, the beginnings of civilization are the subject of section IV.
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