Discover the Mysteries of the 200,000 Years We’ve Forgotten

Defining Prehistory and History

Prehistory and history are two distinct periods that help us understand the evolution of human societies. Prehistory refers to the time before the existence of written records in a given culture or society. On the other hand, history marks the period after the invention of written records. The earliest known written records, discovered in Egypt, date back to 3200 BCE, marking the accepted beginning of “history.”

Discover the Mysteries of the 200,000 Years We’ve Forgotten

The Scope of Human History

Anatomically modern humans have been around for between 200,000 and 300,000 years. However, the written records we have found only cover a fraction of this time. This implies that a vast majority of human history is unrecorded, leaving us to infer from archaeological and biological remains.

The Role and Limitations of Written Records

Written records serve as our primary tool in understanding history. These records, however, come with their own set of challenges. They may be biased, incomplete, or written in a dead language that we know little about. Therefore, even with written records, we must exercise caution and thoughtfulness in our interpretations.

Tools for Understanding Prehistory

For events that occurred before the existence of written records, we rely on archaeological excavations and scientific methods. Carbon dating, for instance, measures the amount of radioactive carbon in fossils to place them in time. Linguists and geneticists also contribute to our understanding of prehistory by piecing together possible human migrations and connections based on similarities in modern languages and genetic similarities and differences in populations today.

Uncertainty in Historical Understanding

Despite the tools and knowledge we have, our understanding of history and prehistory is inevitably partial and incomplete. Every piece of historical evidence needs to be closely read, sourced, interpreted, contextualized, and compared with other available sources. Many things that historians take as a given today will be questioned by future historians armed with new tools and new evidence. Thus, the study of history is an ongoing process, continually evolving with new discoveries and interpretations.

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