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Key Concept 1.2 >

Big Geography and the Peopling of the Earth (Big Bang to 600 BCE)


masscities.pngFor more resources, go to Massachusetts History & Social Science Curriculum Framework

  • Grade 7.1 on climate and environmental changes leading to growth of human life
  • Grade 7.2 on sites with evidence of the origins of modern humans

  • Grade 7.3 on characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleolithic Age

Map of the fossil sites of the early hominids
Map of the fossil sites of the early hominids


rotating gif.gifSee Special Topic Page on Peopling of the Americas



I. Archeological evidence indicates that during the Paleolithic Era, hunting-foraging bands of humans gradually migrated from their origin in East Africa to Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, adapting their technology and cultures to new climate regions (AP World History Standards).


What is the evidence that explains the earliest history of humans and the planet?

Humans first appeared on Earth during the Paleolithic Era. The evidence of burial grounds, as well as stone tools and other items explains this. They show a general migration path from Africa outwards. These tools show that the groups were hunter-foragers and nomadic.


Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering History of Our Species, New York Times (June 7, 2017)


What are the theories that interpret this evidence?

Anthropologists infer through analogy between modern hunter-forager societies.

Anthropologists Link Human Uniqueness to Hunter-Gatherer Group Structure This article demonstrates how anthropologists study modern hunter-forager societies to better understand early human societies.

Where did humans first appear on Earth, and what were their society, technology, and culture?

Humans first appeared on Earth during the Paleolithic Era, in the steppes and savannah of Africa, before migrating to Eurasia, the Americas, and Australia. These humans were hunter-foragers, changing their tools and culture to adapt to their surroundings.

Multimedia.pngThe Journey of Man : A Genetic Odyssey is an excellent video to show human migration. 4.5 Billion Years in 24 Hours offers a perspective on just how little of earth's history involves humans. The videos can currently be found on Youtube.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngJourney of Mankind website - includes an interactive timeline and lecture/video.

Multimedia.pngBridging World History Unit 3: Human Migrations focuses on human migrations out of Africa, across the Pacific and the Bantu through Africa.

History, Geography and Time provides an introduction to big geography.

external image IPod_family.pngBack in Time, a history textbook for the iPad, uses a 24 hour clock to tell the story of the history of universe and the emergence of human life on the planet.

Image shows Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania where the Leakeys made their discovery of early humans. Photo on Wikimedia Commons by Dan Lundberg.
external image 1993_161-14_Olduvai_Gorge_%28Leakey%29.jpg

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Paul Salopek's 21,000 mile walk; image National Geographic

Multimedia.pngHistory of the World in 7 Minutes provides a quick video. Presented and created by World History for All of Us.

The follow link allows users to see human migration patterns over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Visitors can interact with the page and manipulate time as well as view videos. National Geographic migration tool


external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngHuman evolution interactive timeline, demonstrates how humans evolved as climate changed over time. Also shows important discoveries such as the uses of fire and when it was approximately invented.


A. Humans used fire in new ways: to aid hunting and foraging, to protect against predators, and to adapt to cold environments.



B. Humans developed a wider range of tools specially adapted to different environments from tropics to tundra.


Describe earliest humans’ technology & tools.

The humans used fire as a main tool everywhere, from hunting and foraging, as well as for defense and warmth. The earlier human’s used a variety of stone weapons for their specific environments and food they hunted.

Archaic Human Culture presents information on Paleolithic tool technology.

Early tools show humans migrating from Africa, this shows how evidence uncovered from early tools may prove that humans migrated out of Africa sooner than we had once believed.

The following three tools are all hand axes from different places around the globe that early humans made. For more information please visit this link: Early Human Tools.
3.3.3-8_handaxe_meyral_jddh_s.jpg 3.3.3-9_handaxe_isampur_jddh_s.jpg 3.3.4-30_handaxe_bose_jdhd_s.jpg
Locations in order: Europe, India, China


C. Economic structures focused on small kinship groups of hunting-foraging bands that could make what they needed to survive. However, not all groups were self-sufficient; they exchanged people, ideas, and goods.


What were the earliest humans’ religious beliefs and practices?

The image to the right shows the Neanderthals who lived in the Northern and Western areas of Eurasia, during the Pleistocene epoch, in the time of the last Ice Age. Neanderthals looked very similar to modern humans.

Many of the earliest beliefs were in spirits, no real concept of gods. The beliefs were animistic in nature.
How did the earliest humans’ society help them procure enough supplies to survive?

Each band of hunter-foragers had specific duties assigned to a group of people to make what they needed for survival. However, exchanges in items and ideas between these groups were common.

Foragers and Others This journal shows the history of studying hunter-forager societies.

Lesson Plans

lesson_plan_icon.jpgGenographic: Mapping the Human Journey A lesson plan for high school students that covers both early and modern human migrations

Early Civilizations in the Americas


For more on the peopling of North America, see Grade 7.1

Beringia Land Bridge. Animated gif of its progress from 21.000 BC to modern times
Beringia Land Bridge. Animated gif of its progress from 21.000 BC to modern times

The story of Native Americans begins in the ancient past. Scientists believe that the first human settlers of the Americas migrated from northeastern Asia during the last ice age, which ended 10,000 years ago.

Whereas today the waters of the Bering Strait separate Asia and North America, during the ice age sea levels were much lower, and a wide land bridge, called Beringiaconnected the continents. Anthropologists believe one or more waves of people crossed this bridge to North America, and through countless generations, eventually made their way down to Central America and across the Isthmus of Panama into South America.

In what in evolutionary terms was a brief flash of time, the descendants of those first migrants adapted to nearly every environment throughout Middle and South America, from the temperate highlands of Mexico and tropical rain forest of the Amazon Basin to the grassy pampas of Argentina and frigid islands of southernmost Chile. In Middle America and in the Andes mountains of South America, Native Americans began to grow maize (corn), beans, squash, and many other crops. As agriculture and food production intensified, populations soared, eventually developing into great states and empires of immense size, wealth, and complexity.

The largest and best known of these were the Maya Civilization, the Aztec Empire, and the Inca Empire. Other important civilizations included the Olmec, Toltec, and Zapotec cultures of Middle America; and the Chavín, Moche, Navza, Tiwinaku (Tiahuanaco), and Chimu cultures of the Andes.

multicultural.pngWhen Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he thought he had reached islands off the eastern coast of Asia, which was then known as the Indies.
  • Perhaps because of this belief, he called the villagers who greeted him indios, which later became the English word Indian.
  • During the colonial period in Spanish-speaking Middle and South America, many indigenous peoples came to detest the name indio because it was accompanied by their subjugation and maltreatment at the hands of European conquerors.
  • Although the use of indio persists to the present, anthropologists today generally use the term indigenous peoples when referring to the native inhabitants of Latin America and their ancestors; some also use the English terms Indian or Native American in scholarly writing.
  • Like their counterparts in North America, the indigenous peoples themselves prefer to be identified by their specific tribal name, such as Huichol, Maya, or Aymara.
Multimedia.pngVideo on early South American native civilization and their contributions

Bibliography, the following are mostly journal readings for history teachers. They could be useful to give students for additional reading or extra credit assignments. Some are framed as extra credit assignments.



Read any or all the articles on the Bridging World History site here

Read David Christian, “Inner Eurasia as a Unit of World History” from the Journal of World History here http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/journals/jwh/jwh052p173.pdf

Multimedia.pngSee also "The History of the World in 18 Minutes," David Christian's 2011 TED Talk

Read the main article here and several of the articles at the end of the article – 2nd web page: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1212_021213_journeyofman.html - then explain what the controversy is about the Out of Africa thesis is and why the timing is the major division among researchers in various fields: genetics, archaeology, paleontology, etc.

Read Antronotes about what it means to be human and displaying evolution at the Smithsonian: http://anthropology.si.edu/outreach/anthnote/AnthroNoteSpring2010webversion.pdf

Read David Christian, “The Case for ‘Big History” in the Journal of World History here: http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/journals/jwh/jwh022p223.pdf

Read Johan Goudsblom, “The Civilizing Process and the Domestication of Fire” in the Journal of World History here: http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/journals/jwh/jwh031p001.pdf

Review the Migration stories from these websites – these are great sites for WHAP – be sure to use the timeline feature: https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/lan/en/globe.html#/index/