Before we invented the means to create and control fire, human life was pretty grim. Berries, raw veg, raw meat and fish. In all a pretty uninspiring, and more importantly, an unhealthy diet. Once we could create fire as needed, we could cook food which increased the types of food available, and made the cooked food healthier as the fire destroyed dangerous bacteria. Fire also creates light, and controlling it meant that humans could continue to be active long after darkness fell. This increased the time available for humans to experiment in doing things that were not immediately related to the finding of food. The beginnings of human culture – including art and music – can be traced to the taming of fire. Fire also produces heat, and that fact led to longer life spans as humans could stay warm in the colder months, and could also increase their range – pushing into colder parts of the earth that had hitherto been too extreme for human life. All of this meant that humans could grow beyond the simple life of hunter-gatherers. It is not certain when humans first started controlling and creating fire, but it certainly predates the agricultural revolution that took place in the Neolithic period, starting some 6000 years BC. Fire was an important part of agriculture as it could clear the ground for planting, and also process the food to make it edible (for example by making wheat into bread). In many respects, the existence of human culture as we know it today hangs on humans ability to create and control fire.
The problem with determining when humans invented clothing is that the items themselves don’t last that long. The most reliable way we have of coming up with a likely date is a study of the humble human louse. You see, in terms of its DNA, the human body louse, which lives in clothing, parted ways with the human head louse some 170,000 years ago. So it’s a good assumption that human were wearing clothes at least that long ago. This is only 30,000 years after the first known appearance of modern humans, so it seems that the first thing we did was get all dolled up to keep warm. Sewing needles have been identified as being as old as 40,000 years, and dyed fibres date from at least 36,000 years ago. Weaving is at least 7,000 years old. Humans were clearly keen to create better, and better-looking clothes from early on. In art there are figurines wearing clothes which date back 25,000. Of course, clothing kept humans alive longer, but they were also an expression of the development of human culture. The history of clothes is the history of human civilisation.
The wheel, a most fundamental device, without which human life would be reduced to living in mud huts as hunter gatherers, was invented at least twice.Firstly it was invented around 4500 to 3300 BC, that is the Neolithic period. It first took the form of the potter’s wheel, to enable clay pots to be more easily formed, built also form this period date some of the oldest wooden wheels and earliest wheeled vehicles. The fact that this invention occurred at the same time as the domestication of the horse is not coincidental. The purpose of the earliest wheeled vehicles, invented in Mesopotamia, was to allow the haulage of heavier loads than humans could manage. In order to do this a large beast was required to pull the wagon – enter the horse.Nothing much happened then until about 2000 years later when the stronger, lighter, spoken wheel was developed and attached to chariots. The wheel was invented for the second time in the New World in about 1500 BC. The device was primarily used for children’s toys and on a small scale. The use of the wheel in the Americas was limited by the lack of any large domesticated animal to pull large vehicles. There were only pretty untameable bison, and llamas whose range was restricted to the far south of the continent. It wasn’t until the introduction of the horse after 1492 that use of the wheel in the Americas could develop. Since its invention, the wheel has developed further into propellers, jet engines, and turbines. We owe a lot to the unidentifiable cave people who first came up with it.
It’s pretty much certain that if humans had not invented agriculture – that is the cultivation of animals, plants, and fungi for food, fiber, fuel or other purposes, we would never have amounted to much. Prior to its invention, humans could only be hunter gatherers – roaming about following the sources of food. With agriculture came the ability to settle and remain in one place. And with that came villages, towns, and eventually cities. Something that revolutionary was not invented in one place by one group of humans. The evidence is that it was developed independently in at least 11 different regions across the world. We know that pigs were domesticated in Mesopotamia 15,000 years ago. The Chinese domesticated rice some 13,500 years ago, and soy and mung beans up to 13,000 years ago. Humans have been farming sheep for at least 13,000 years. Then 11,500 years ago humans in what is now the Levant domesticated wheat, barley, peas, lentils, vetch, chick peas, and flax – crops that remain staples for people the world over to this day. We domesticated cows from their wild ancestors 10,500 years ago in what is now Turkey and Pakistan. In the Americas the potato – arguably the most important food crop after wheat, was domesticated 10,000 years ago, as were beans, cocoa, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs (yes, they are a food stock). On the other side Pacific sugar cane was domesticated 9,000 years ago, and in Africa sorghum was first grown 7,000 years ago. of the Sugarcane and some root vegetables were domesticated in New Guinea around 9,000 years ago. Sorghum was domesticated in the Sahel region of Africa by 7,000 years ago. Cotton was first grown in Peru 5,600 years ago, and in Mesoamerica, wild teosinte was domesticated into maize by 6,000 years ago.
It’s almost impossible to say when the first ‘home’ was invented. Early humans slept in the open, or in trees, or caves. But shelter is a fundamental human need and after the end of our hunter gatherer phase, when a fixed base was not needed, and carrying a tent or other such about was a burden, the first structures that can be called houses date from about the time of the agricultural revolution. At first the structures would have been temporary, or movable. Easily replaceable. But in time they became larger and more elaborate. Homes became a status symbol, their design far out-distancing their simple use as somewhere warm to sleep. But whether tent or yurt, castle or condo, the importance of ‘home’ to humans is itself an indication of how far back in our history we first closed the door on the outside world.
For as long as there have been humans we have been trying to kill each other. It is, you could say, human nature. The earliest weapons were undoubtedly stones thrown in anger, but in terms of items designed or built as weapons, it is not too easy to pin down a date when they first appeared. Wooden clubs and spears rot. We do have Neolithic arrow heads. The earliest known spears date from 300,000 years. In Turkey human skeletons have been found with unmistakable signs of weapon trauma to the skulls, as well as shards of obsidian arrowheads still lodged in their bones. From these beginnings humans quickly became involved in a n eternal arms race. No field of human endeavour has been more of a crucible for innovation than the creation of weapons and defences to combat them. The race continues to this day, although we have come very far from antler clubs and bone daggers.
7. Musical Instruments
With all that extra time that humans had from the adoption of agriculture and the creation of fire, we needed something to do with our time. So we invented music. Given its basis in mathematics and natural harmonies, it is probably more correct to say we ‘discovered’ music. What humans did invent were instruments to produce music, and it is surprising how early in human history we did so. It probably started with banging rocks on resonant logs, but the wide appearance of instruments over the whole range of human civilisations makes it difficult to pin down a single point of invention. Among the first devices external to the human body that are considered instruments are rattles, stampers, and various drums which have the effect of adding sound to human movement – or dances. Probably ritual in origin they developed in complexity and new forms of instrument appears, including rudimentary flutes. The earliest images of musical instruments date from Mesopotamia in 2800 BC and in images from Samaria dating from about 2000 BC there is the suggestion of a professional class of musician appearing – players skilled on more complex instruments. From there it was just a short step to Kenny G.
For something as apparently sophisticated as a magnetic compass, there is a surprisingly long history. Natural magnetism was discover in the dark depth of human history, but there is evidence that the Chinese created the first compass device during the Han dynasty in about 200BC using a naturally magnetic lodestone to find north. They were first used for navigation in the Song Dynasty and magnetic iron compasses were in use by early medieval Europe in 1300.
9. Time keepers
From the time the first humans watched the passage of the sun and the moon across the sky, it seems that we have been obsessed with time keeping. Early civilisations developed quite sophisticated schemes for measuring the movements of starts and other celestial bodies to mark the passage of the year, and the earliest sundial dates from 1500 BC Egypt. Before that, however, humans used the earth itself to mark time, and Stonehenge, dating probably from around 3000 BC is a giant sun clock. Relying on the sun was not much use art night and the first description of a water clock dates from 1600 BC, with an actual water clock found in the tomb of Amenhotep I. Water clock technology improved and was used by the Romans, and well into the middle ages. Hourglasses, telling the passage of time by use of sand and gravity came into use in about 1100 and carried Magellan around the world in 1522. The earliest escarpment clock dates from 1088 China, and the geared clock – which led to the development of the pocket watch and the wrist watch – was created in Islamic Iberia in the 11thCentury.
A map is a symbolic depiction of the relative positions of places or objects. Cartographic maps are maps of geography. The earliest known map is a map of the stars dating from 14,500BC in the famous Lascaux caves of southern France, although a possible map showing the layout of some routes around the mountains dated from 25,000 BC has been found tin the Czech Republic. By 7000 BC, the ancient Babylonians were using sophisticated surveying techniques to produce pretty accurate maps (See picture). The earliest map of the world dates from 600 BC, again from Babylonia. While it is symbolic rather than literal, it is still believed to be more accurate that Apple Maps.