A Brief History of Mankind

Written by: Mansi Samre || Graphics by: Mansi Samre || SEO by: Darshan

the history of mankind

The origins of modern humans (the history of mankind) has been a topic of debate for a while now. Evidence shows that humans have evolved from their apelike ancestors for over 6 million years. Scientists have determined this by studying the physical and behavioral traits present in the two.

There are two key models that explain the history of evolution. These are the “out of Africa” model and “multi-regional” model. The “out of Africa” model suggests that the early Homo sapiens evolved in Africa before migrating to the rest of the world and the multi-regional model suggests that early Homo sapiens evolved in different parts of the world over a long period of time. The evolution of humans aka the history of mankind is very much ongoing research still the evidence suggests that the “out of Africa” is the most consistent in terms of the research and hence is more widely accepted.

Let’s look at how Homo sapiens were able to grow into the civilization we know today. So let’s dive into the history of mankind.

The beginning

Our story starts in Africa about 7 million years ago, when humans broke their lineage from their last common ancestor, the chimpanzee. Over time the lineage evolved into 15-20 different species of early humans also called hominins. Most of these hominins are extinct today and others are ancestors to today’s humans. A great deal of human evolution took place in the continent of Africa. All the fossils from 6 to 2 million years ago, that belong to early humans, come exclusively from Africa. 

About 1.7 million years ago, early humans developed the first complex tools. The hand axe being one of the most important pieces of technology created. They were multi-purpose tools and were used to make food and shelter. It also helped with population mobility. As humans dispersed around Middle East, Europe, and Asia, they brought these tools along with them. Nearly 1 million years ago, humans mastered how to control fire.

The presence of the ceramic vessels and kilns suggests that our ancestors could cook food, boil water and prepare clay to make pottery. Cooking food added more nutritive value to the food. The development of agriculture was groundbreaking. They were now able to grow and store their produce. Our ancestors also engaged in self-expression by painting on the walls of caves and decorating vessels

The first cities 

Around 5000 years ago, the human population flourished near the river valleys of the Nile, the Indus, and the Tigris and Euphrates. The fertile land and running water made it ideal for the early settlers. The ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Harappan civilizations were one of the first cities created in the world. 

The population of humans around the globe passed 50 million. New occupations emerged as society began to progress. As a result, different models of government, bureaucracy, priesthood, armies, and a ruling class arose. As the population grew in diversity, new methods of organization were required. Transportation links were established in the cities. Water delivery system was engineered and pond storage for people, animals, and irrigation was established. Humans started domesticating animals and using them for food and transportation. 

Another device that changed our world was writing. This led to the rise of bookkeeping, commemoration, prayers, keeping historical records, scriptures, etc. The earliest recorded date in the Egyptian calendar is 4241 BC. The ancient cities of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Indus were all connected through a trade network that not only exchanged goods but also ideas and people.

Empires and Conquests

As we built complex cities around the world, the age of empires and conquests came at the forefront. It started emerging around 2500 years ago in Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Rulers were conquering large territories consisting of people from different cultures, faiths, languages, and traditions. The sixteen Maha Janapadas emerge in India. These years also laid down the foundations of all the major religions we know today.

Some of which are Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Humans also developed a sense of community through music, art, and sports. 600 BC also marked the peak of Greek civilization. It was the first democracy and laid the foundations for poetry, drama, and philosophy. 

Silk routes were laid down in 100 BC between East Asia and Southern Europe. Maritime trade routes were laid down between India, China, and Africa for the exchange of spices, medicines, and fabrics. Paper was invented in China and was used for writing and painting. With the invention of paper also came the printing press. Books were printed and read widespread

Religion and the state

As religion became one of the most important factors influencing people’s lives, it became one of the most important tools to govern and gain administrative control. Some rulers attempted to force their religion onto the public while others showed their tolerance towards the multi-faith population. Rulers began to associate themselves with a particular faith or deity. They would often depict themselves as descendants or reincarnations of the god or the divine. This helped them gain the trust of the public and good public perception. 

This was done by various methods like aligning the emperors with religion and cultural traditions to gain power over the subjects. In China, the emperors’ words would be inscribed in public places to communicate his authority. Emperor Ashoka erected inscriptions across his empire and encouraged people to follow Buddhist practices. The Gupta kings of North India, the Romans, and the Byzantines would inscribe one side of the coin with a religious symbol to show the bond between the ruler and their faith. Islamic rulers would inscribe one side of the coin with texts from the Quran.

Increased quality of life

For several hundred years people all over the world were fighting for the abolition of slavery, independence from imperial rule, and the right to freedom. Spain, Britain, and other European nations conquered people in other parts of the world. Imperialism was advanced by the violent suppression of the global south. India was one of the first countries to gain independence but it came with the consequences of the partition of India and Pakistan. The pursuit of freedom is still an ongoing struggle for a lot of people.

As the years passed, more countries became autonomous. The quality of life improved for a lot of people. Information became more accessible to people. People began to think rationally and put more faith in science. In the 18th century huge social, economic, and political changes took place.

The industrial revolution began in 1750 which led to the innovation of combustion engines, steam-powered ships, railways, etc. it changed the way goods were produced. New innovations were being made across various industries. Economies changed from agricultural-based to production-based. More people started moving to cities to work at the newly urbanized factories. Wealth grew and so did the income inequality. 

The French and the American Revolution led to people rejecting the monarchy and confide in democracy. With the invention of the printing press, more and more people were reading books and newspapers. The literacy rate shot up. More and more people began to identify themselves as a citizen. 

Humans have come a long way from breaking their lineage from their monkey ancestors to living in civilized societies. But this change occurred over the course of millions of years. We live our lives at a very rapid pace and are undergoing constant change. It will be really interesting to see what our society would look like in a few hundred years. 

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