A Ten-Point Big-Picture
Most of history’s really big deals happened relatively early in our species’ existence. Bear in mind that we’re talking some 200,000 years since Homo Sapiens evolved, and five to six million years since hominids evolved. In this top ten list below, seven items happened before the eighteenth century.
I’m not looking, here, at dynastic struggles, or historic battles or political revolutions. All of that, all of the “stuff” usually thought of as “history,” I consider to be the details of one story from one period of the human career, that is to say the Agrarian period, starting with the “birth” of agriculture, and ending with the Industrial Revolution.
In this period the human energy profile remained relatively constant because technology did not develop dramatically, and population growth was slow and steady. People lived and died, dynasties and empires fought using relatively similar weapons, the mass of people existed in poverty, without much individual agency, died from disease, violence or hunger–if not in childbirth or childhood–until a “J curve” moment shows up–The Industrial Revolution, and we begin to overturn everything about how we lived.
The really big things, then — the turning points — happened before and after the Agrarian period, either in the first 190,000 years, or in the last 250. So having said that, here’s my top ten major developments in Human history.
1 Bipedalism (4–6 mya).
In discussing human history you need to define “human.” We can stick with homo sapiens, our specific species, but I find it more persuasive to go back further to our human ancestors. Around four to six million years ago, early hominids started walking on two legs. What were the consequences? Hands were now freed from tree-grasping, and available for other activities. This adaptation allowed for subsequent major adaptations, including tool-making, hunting, and cooking. Humans are the only large mammal that can walk upright for extended periods; some apes and monkeys can, but only briefly. In the absence of teeth and claws, eventually handy-man skills paid off — for defence, aggression and survival-related creativity.
But why did we start walking upright? We don’t know for sure, but many theories…