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World History Era 1

The Beginnings of Human Society Giving Shape to World History

Standard 1: The biological and cultural processes that gave rise to the earliest human communities

Standard 2: The processes that led to the emergence of agricultural societies around the world

So far as we know, humanity’s story began in Africa. For millions of years it was mainly a story of biological change. Then some hundreds of thousands of years ago our early ancestors began to form and manipulate useful tools. Eventually they mastered speech. Unlike most other species, early humans gained the capacity to learn from one another and transmit knowledge from one generation to the next. The first great experiments in creating culture were underway. Among early hunter-gatherers cultural change occurred at an imperceptible speed. But as human populations rose and new ideas and techniques appeared, the pace of change accelerated. Moreover, human history became global at a very early date. In the long period from human beginnings to the rise of the earliest civilization two world-circling developments stand in relief:

The Peopling of the Earth: The first great global event was the peopling of the earth and the astonishing story of how communities of hunters, foragers, or fishers adapted creatively and continually to a variety of contrasting, changing environments in Africa, Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas.

The Agricultural Revolution: Over a period of several thousand years and as a result of countless small decisions, humans learned how to grow crops, domesticate plants, and raise animals. The earliest agricultural settlements probably arose in Southwest Asia, but the agricultural revolution spread round the world. Human population began to soar relative to earlier times. Communities came into regular contact with one another over longer distances, cultural patterns became far more complex, and opportunities for innovation multiplied.

Why Study This Era?

  • To understand how the human species fully emerged out of biological evolution and cultural development is to understand in some measure what it means to be human.

  • The common past that all students share begins with the peopling of our planet and the spread of settled societies around the world.

  • The cultural forms, social institutions, and practical techniques that emerged in the Neolithic age laid the foundations for the emergence of all early civilizations.

  • Study of human beginnings throws into relief fundamental problems of history that pertain to all eras: the possibilities and limitations of human control over their environment; why human groups accept, modify, or reject innovations; the variety of social and cultural paths that different societies may take; and the acceleration of social change through time.

Each standard was developed with historical thinking standards in mind. The relevant historical thinking standards are linked in the brackets, [ ], below.

Standard 1

The biological and cultural processes that gave rise to the earliest human communities.

Standard 1A

The student understands early hominid development in Africa.

GRADE LEVELTHEREFORE, THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO
5-12 Infer from archaeological evidence the characteristics of early African hunter-gatherer communities, including tool kits, shelter, diet, and use of fire. [Interrogate historical data]
7-12 Describe types of evidence and methods of investigation that anthropologists, archaeologists, and other scholars have used to reconstruct early human evolution and cultural development. [Interrogate historical data]
7-12 Trace the approximate chronology, sequence, and territorial range of early hominid evolution in Africa from the Australopithecines to Homo erectus. [Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives]

Standard 1B

The student understands how human communities populated the major regions of the world and adapted to a variety of environments.

GRADE LEVELTHEREFORE, THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO
7-12 Analyze current and past theories regarding the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens and the processes by which human ancestors migrated from Africa to the other major world regions. [Evaluate major debates among historians]
5-12 Compare the way of life of hunter-gatherer communities in Africa, the Americas, and western Eurasia and explain how such communities in different parts of the world responded creatively to local environments. [Compare and contrast differing behaviors and institutions]
7-12 Assess theories regarding the development of human language and its relationship to the development of culture. [Evaluate major debates among historians]
5-12 Infer from archaeological evidence the characteristics of Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherer communities of western Eurasia including tool kits, shelter, clothing, ritual life, aesthetic values, relations between men and women, and trade among communities. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation]
7-12 Analyze possible links between environmental conditions associated with the last Ice Age and changes in the economy, culture, and organization of human communities. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation]

Standard 2

The processes that led to the emergence of agricultural societies around the world.

Standard 2A

The student understands how and why humans established settled communities and experimented with agriculture.

GRADE LEVELTHEREFORE, THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO
5-12 Infer from archaeological evidence the technology, social organization, and cultural life of settled farming communities in Southwest Asia. [Draw upon visual sources]
9-12 Describe types of evidence and methods of investigation by which scholars have reconstructed the early history of domestication and agricultural settlement.[Appreciate historical perspectives]
9-12 Describe leading theories to explain how and why human groups domesticated wild grains as well as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs after the last Ice Age. [Evaluate major debates among historians]
7-12 Identify areas in Southwest Asia and the Nile valley where early farming communities probably appeared and analyze the environmental and technological factors that made possible experiments with farming in these regions. [Incorporate multiple causation]

Standard 2B

The student understands how agricultural societies developed around the world.

GRADE LEVELTHEREFORE, THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO
5-12 Analyze differences between hunter-gatherer and agrarian communities in economy, social organization, and quality of living. [Compare and contrast differing behaviors and institutions]
5-12 Describe social, cultural, and economic characteristics of large agricultural settlements such as Çatal Hüyuk or Jericho. [Obtain historical data]
7-12 Analyze how peoples of West Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Americas domesticated food plants and developed agricultural communities in response to local needs and conditions. [Compare and contrast behaviors and institutions]
7-12 Analyze archaeological evidence from agricultural village sites in Southwest Asia, North Africa, China, or Europe indicating the emergence of social class divisions, occupational specializations, and differences in the daily tasks that men and women performed. [Hold interpretations of history as tentative]
7-12 Assess archaeological evidence for long-distance trade in Southwest Asia. [Draw upon visual sources]
9-12 Assess archaeological evidence for the emergence of complex belief systems, including widespread worship of female deities. [Interrogate historical data]