The Peopling of the World and Early River Valley Civilizations

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The Peopling of the World and Early River Valley Civilizations

  • AP World History – Chapters 1-3


  • Objects made by humans and studied by Archaeologists to draw conclusions about the past.
  • Written documents provide a window to the distant past. For several thousand years, people have recorded information about their beliefs, activities, and important events. Prehistory, however, dates back to the time before the invention of writing – roughly 5,000 years ago. Without access to written records, scientists investigating the lives of prehistoric peoples face special challenges.
  • Archaeologists are specially trained scientists who work like detectives to uncover the story of prehistoric peoples. They learn about early people by excavating and studying the traces of early settlements. An excavated site, called an archaeological dig, provides one of the richest sources of clues to the prehistoric way of life. Archaeologists sift through the dirt in a small plot of land. They analyze all existing evidence, such as bones and artifacts. Bones might reveal what the people looked like, how tall they were, the types of food they ate, diseases they may have had, and how long they lived. Artifacts are human-made objects, such as tools and jewelry. These items might hint at how people dressed, what work they did, or how they worshipped.


  • The unique way of life of a group of people.
  • Scientists called anthropologists study culture. Anthropologists examine the artifacts at archaeological digs. From these, they re-create a picture of early people’s cultural behavior. Other scientists, called paleontologists, study fossils – evidence of early life preserved in rocks. Human fossils often consist of small fragments of teeth, skulls, or other bones. Paleontologists use complex techniques to date ancient fossil remains and rocks. Archaeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, and other scientists work as a team to make new discoveries about how prehistoric people lived.
  • In prehistoric times, bands of humans that lived new one another began to develop shared ways of doing things: common ways of dressing, similar hunting practices, favorite animals to eat. These shared traits were the first beginnings of what anthropologists and historians call culture. Culture includes common practices of a society, its shared understandings, and its social organization. By overcoming individual differences, culture helps people to unify the group.
  • People are not born knowing about culture. Instead, they must learn culture. Generally, individuals learn culture in two ways. First, they observe and imitate behavior of people in their society. Second, people in their society directly teach the culture to them, usually through spoken or written language.


  • Humans and other creatures that walk upright, such as australopithecines. The earliest hominids lived in Africa four million years ago.
  • In the 1970s, archaeologist Mary Leakey led a scientific expedition to the region of Laetoli in Tanzania in East Africa. There, she and her team looked for clues about human origins. In 1978, they found prehistoric footprints that resembled those of modern humans preserved in volcanic ash. These footprints were made by humanlike beings now called australopithecines.
  • While Mary Leakey was working in East Africa, U.S. anthropologist Donald Johanson and his team were also searching for fossils. They were exploring sites in Ethiopia, about 1,000 miles to the north. In 1974, Johanson’s team made a remarkable find – an unusually complete skeleton of an adult female hominid. They nicknamed her “Lucy” after the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” She had lived around 3.5 million years ago – the oldest hominid found to that date.
  • Lucy and the hominids who left their footprints in East Africa were species of australopithecines. Walking upright helped them travel distances more easily. They were also able to spot threatening animals and carry food and children. These early hominids had already developed the opposable thumb. This means that the tip of the thumb can cross the palm of the hand. The opposable thumb was crucial for tasks such as picking up small objects and making tools.

Paleolithic Age

  • Term used for the earliest period of human history, from approximately 2,500,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C., also known as the Old Stone Age. During this time humans used simple stone tools and lived as nomads.The greatest achievements during this period were the invention of tools, mastery of fire, the development of language, and the creation of the first artwork. (Cave Drawings)
  • Much of the Paleolithic Age occurred during the period in the earth’s history known as the Ice Age. During this time, glaciers alternately advanced and retreated as many as 18 times. The last of these ice ages ended about 10,000 years ago. By the beginning of the Neolithic Age, glaciers had retreated to roughly the same area they now occupy.
  • Before the australopithecines eventually vanished, new hominids appeared in East Africa around 2.5 million years ago. In 1960, archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered a hominid fossil at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. The Leakeys named the fossil Homo habilis, which means “man of skill.” The Leakeys and other researchers found tools made of lava rock. They believed Homo habilis used these tools to cut meat and crack open bones. Tools made the task of survival easier.
  • About 1.6 million years ago, before Homo habilis left the scene, another species of hominids appeared in East Africa. This species is known as Homo erectus, or “upright man.” Some anthropologists believe Homo erectus was a more intelligent and adaptable species than Homo habilis.
  • Drawing from Chauvet Cave in France
  • C. 1, S. 1, Q. 1: Why was the discovery of fire so important?

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