Human beings have flourished on Earth for at least 2.5 million years. The study of history
in its broadest sense is a record of humanity and its accomplishments from its earliest
origins to modern times. This record of human achievement has reached us in many
forms, as written documents, as oral traditions passed down from generation to
generation, and in the archaeological record—sites, artifacts, food remains, and other
surviving evidence of ancient human behavior. The earliest written records go back about
5,000 years in the Near East, in Mesopotamia, and the Nile Valley. Elsewhere, written
history begins much later: in Greece, about 3,500 years ago; in China, about 2,000 years
ago; and in many other parts of the world, after the 15th century C.E. with the arrival of
Western explorers and missionaries. Oral histories have an even shorter compass,
extending back only a few generations or centuries at the most. 1
History, which remains primarily though not exclusively the study of written documents,
covers only a tiny fraction of the human past. Prehistory, the span of human existence
before the advent of written records, encompasses the remainder of the past 2.5 million
years. Prehistorians, students of the prehistoric past, rely mainly on archaeological
evidence to study the origins of humanity, the peopling of the world by humans, and the
beginnings of agriculture and urban civilization. 2
Archaeology is the study of the human past based on the material remains of human
behavior. These remains come down to us in many forms. They survive as archaeological
sites, ranging from the mighty pyramids of Giza built by ancient Egyptian pharaohs to
insignificant scatters of stone tools and animal bones abandoned by very early humans in
East Africa. Then there are caves and rock shelters adorned with ancient paintings and
engravings, and human burials that can provide vital information, not only on biological
makeup but also on ancient diet and disease and social rankings. 3
Modern scientific archaeology has three primary objectives: to study the basic culture
history of prehistoric times, to reconstruct ancient lifeways, and to study the processes by
which human cultures and societies changed over long periods of time. Archaeology is 4

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