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Why History Began at 3,150 BC?

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Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:In_Thought_…_(3020466221).jpg

We are Homo sapiens. It is easy for us to name ourselves humans, men and women, or people. That happenstance exists only because all other non-Sapiens humans got extinct some time ago. However, that was not always true. If we want to look at history, in which we could equate Homo sapiens and humans, we have to find out when that was untrue.

What to include in History of Mankind?

Otherwise, we would need to include in the history of humanity Neanderthals and many other non-Sapiens humans. Then we could sort it out if we look at the history of all humans since the first appearance of humans on Earth around 2 million years ago.

Everybody Likes Convenience and Comfort 

On the other hand, all classifications are up to people. Historians could say that the history of humanity started just 3 or 4 thousand years ago. If you do not believe me, then look at any historic site, book, course, or textbook.

Everybody will tell you that the history of humanity started around 5,150 years ago. Of course, not the same wording would be used. The phrase would be like this. The history of mankind is a recorded history. In other words, our history began only when humanity invented writing.

Different sources pointed to slightly different dates of a first known writings. An ‘Archaeology’, a publication of the Archaeological Society of America, and comprehensive ‘The Oxford Companion to Archaeology’ dates the first writing at 3,200 BC – 3,100 BC. The average of those two dates would be 3,150 BC plus minus 50 years. In other words, according to conventional wisdom, a history of humanity began at 3,150 BC. Counting from nowadays, in 2020, that was approximately 5,130 years ago.

First writing was recorded in Mesopotamia in clay tablets. Below is an image of much later written record, which was done in 2,600 BC.

Ancient cuneiform writing
Image credit: File: Chicago Stone, side 2, recording sale of a number of fields, probably from Isin, Early Dynastic Period, c. 2600 BC, black basalt – Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago.jpg

No doubt, the invention of writing was a breakthrough event in the history of humanity. What about the time when humans managed to get control over fire? What about the date when people invented the wheel? There were a lot of important breakthrough events in the history of humanity. Yet, mankind settled on a notion that its history began with a first writing. We could read and hear this over and over. 

Do Not Stop Questioning

I tried to find out who was a first to tie the beginning of the history of humankind to the invention of writing. I was not able to find it out who started this tradition to consider only the recorded history of humanity as a history at all. It is hard to see the roots of that tradition. Did we get an explanation of why we should believe that? No. We all know the saying that the old traditions die hard. Should we just accept that everything which happens with humans before the invention of writing is prehistory? Is it a “no questions asked” situation?

Of course, it could be explained. That reason is simple and very convincing. The magic word is convenience. It is much easier to work with historical facts and artifacts if you have written records about it. It is hard to work with only archeological or similar data. The history with existed written records is a comfort zone for everybody. Any choice of the beginning of history of humankind as a date before a first writing will throw researchers and the public out of this comfort zone. Well, that should not stop us from asking.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein – Image credit: By Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay

Albert Einstein famously said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”.

Broadly Accepted Is Not Always the Best

First writing was invented at around 3,200 – 3,100 BC. What happens if the history of mankind started only at that time? Should we, at least, remind ourselves about the famous ‘Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater’ saying? You bet.

For example, many historians stated the Agricultural Revolution was a main event in world history. That is acknowledged across the board – from the ‘History Crunch‘ site, which provides content for history students and educators, to Yuval Harari’s books. When the Agricultural Revolution happen? Well, it began many thousands of years before writing was invented. If the history of mankind began at 3,150 BC, then that revolution is thrown from the history of humanity into prehistory.

We Are the Champions!’ I meant Sapiens

Did you watch ‘Queen – We Are The Champions (Official Video)’? In September 2020 it had 223 million views. Millions of people sang Freddie Mercury words ‘We Are The Champions’ with enthusiasm. That is a great metaphor for how we, humans, feel about ourselves compared to animals. We never say ‘to other animals’. We say ‘to animals’. In the back of our minds, we know that we are animals too, but we do not feel that we belong to the animal kingdom. Moreover, we believe that we superior also to other, non-Sapiens, humans too.

That is another reason why the history of humanity, which started at around 3,150 BC, is very convenient for people. That history of humankind would be equivalent to the history of Sapiens.

For already a long time before the first writing, Homo Sapiens was the only non-extinct human species on the planet. In recent years, our understanding of Neanderthals has changed significantly. There is an overview of those changes by Mike at SelfAwarePatterns site. Still, probably, what most of us want is to have mankind’s history of us, proud Sapiens, and not to be messed up with Neanderthals or other non-Sapiens humans.

Embed from Getty Images

Ready to move a start line?

We want the history of humankind to be a history of Homo Sapiens. A use of a first writing as our history beginning is, definitely, a sound solution to that. However, it is not the only possible solution. We could move a starting block. But first we need to understand why life, and we, humans, were possible on this planet. We will discuss it in the next post.

Starting block is movable – Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PressureSensitiveStartingBlocks.jpg

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By victortorvich

I'm a scientist and a writer. My upcoming book is “Subsurface History of Humanity”.

4 replies on “Why History Began at 3,150 BC?”

Thanks for the link! Interest post.

One thing that’s interesting about the 3000BC date for the beginning of history: it has a history. In early modern times, scholars didn’t know how to read a lot of ancient writing. So history for them largely started with Homer and the Bible. There was a barrier of around 500BC for getting reliable history. (Herodotus, regarded as the father of history, didn’t write until the fifth century BC.)

Even today, history after c. 500 BC is mostly about reading documents. But history from 3000-500BC is still mostly an exercise in archaeology. The earliest writing is accounting records. It took a while for people to start writing letters. And even longer for anyone to write down the oral stories they told each other, much less record events. That’s why the oldest stories are all in poetry. They were originally oral traditions.

Thank you, Mike. You are welcome.

Herodotus wrote about events, which happen with people or were results of people actions. Such events are part of the history. I also agree with your observation about ancient poetry.

We could look at this poetry at a slightly different angle. Here are two examples.

The first author in the history of humanity was a woman, poetess. Her name was Enheduanna. She lived in Sumer from 2,285 to 2,250 BC. Five written works of Enheduanna were recovered. She was the first to put her name under her texts. Before Enheduanna texts were anonymous. That is a huge event in our history. It is especially important for all authors. There were two hymns among her works. This event is practically unknown because revolutions, wars, and dynasties got the most attention.

The other example is Gilgamesh poetic work, which is the oldest piece of epic world literature. It was written somewhere between 2,150 BC and 1,400 BC.

Those two examples are presented in my upcoming book “Subsurface History of Humanity”.

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