The time during human development before the appearance of the written word.
Human cultures before the use of writing. A classification system, the Three Age system, was devised 1816 by Danish archeologist Christian Thomsen, based on the predominant materials used by early humans for tools and weapons: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age.
Stone was predominant for tools and weapons. The Stone Age is divided into:
Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) 3,500,000–8500 bc. Tools were chipped into shape by early humans, or hominids, from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as well as later Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people; the only domesticated animals were dogs. Some Asians crossed the Bering Strait to inhabit the Americas. Cave paintings were produced 20,000 years ago in many parts of the world; for example, Altamira, Spain; Lascaux, France; India; and Australia.
Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) and New Stone Age (Neolithic). Stone and bone tools were used. In Neolithic times, agriculture and the domestication of goats, sheep, and cattle began. Stone Age cultures survived in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Australia until the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bronze tools and weapons began approximately 5000 bc in the Far East, and continued in the Middle East until about 1200 bc; in Europe this period lasted from about 2000 to 500 bc.
Iron was hardened (alloyed) by the addition of carbon, so that it superseded bronze for tools and weapons; in the Old World generally from about 1000 bc.