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The term Paleolithic was created at the end of the nineteenth century. Its ancient Greek etymology refers to the « Old Stone Age », as opposed to the « New Stone Age », which refers to the succeeding Neolithic period. The Paleolithic period begins with the first evidence of human technology (stone tools) more than three million years ago, and ends with the major changes in human societies instigated by the invention of agriculture and animal domestication.
In the Mesolithic period, the successors of Paleolithic humans adapted to the rapid global warming that constitutes the beginning of our present interglacial period, circa 9,600 BCE ago. Their lifestyle nonetheless continued to be based on hunting, fishing and gathering until with the arrival of the Neolithic farmers-breeders circa 6000 BCE in France.
In France, the Neolithic period, which corresponds to the first farming societies, extended from 6000 to 2200 BCE. During this time, the nomadic way of life was replaced by a sedentary one. Ceramic technology was used make pottery and some stone tools, such as axes, were polished.
After Prehistory, which includes the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic, the Bronze Age is the first period of « Protohistory », also called the « Metal Ages ». Marked by significant technological and social advances, the Bronze Age was an important step in the evolution of European societies. It is characterized by the use of bronze metallurgy, to create this alloy mainly composed of copper and tin.
The Iron Age, which corresponds to the second part of Protohistory, extends from 800 BC to the end of the first century AD. During this period, the regions corresponding to present-day France were gradually frequented by populations with a prolific written language (Greeks andRomans). The local populations (Celts, Gauls, Ligures, Iberians, etc) had little or no writing, on the other hand. Most of our knowledge of these human groups is therefore provided by archaeology, along with a few Greek and Latin texts.
The Roman civilization, which existed for twelve centuries in Italy, from the 8th century BCE to the 5th century AD, was constantly nourished by outside influences and borrowings. It extended outside of Italy as early as the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE. In 120 BCE, the Roman province of Transalpine (roughly equivalent to the southern part of present-day France) was created, and in 52 BCE Caesar conquered Gaul.
The Middle Ages spanned more than one thousand years. According to historians of texts, it began in 476 AD , at the end of the reign of Romulus Augustule, the last Roman emperor of the Occident, or in 496 AD, the date of the baptism of Clovis. It ended in either 1453, with the taking of Constantinople by the Turks and the end of the Eastern Roman Empire, or in 1492, the date of Christopher Columbus' landing on the American continent, or the death of Louis XI in 1481.
The modern era covers the three centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the French Revolution. In France, it can be subdivided into three periods that are marked by important political and artistic transformations : the Renaissance (from the end of the 15th century to the first decades of the 17th century), the advent of the nation-state during the reign of Louis XIV (17th and early 18th century), and the Enlightenment (the eighteenth century until the Revolution).
The contemporary period extends from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day. Many historians place its beginning in 1789 or at the Congress of Vienna in 1815), which marks the end of the Napoleonic period. In Europe, these two centuries are characterized by phenomena and events of an unprecedented magnitude: demographic growth, industrialization and productivism, political revolutions, globalization of crises, colonialist extensions and collapses, nationalisms, wars, etc., along with the extension of democracy, totalitarian episodes, mass education, the decline of Christianity, agriculture, progress in medicine, etc.
The Amerindian period starts from the origins of Prehistory until contact with the Old World in 1555, with the arrival of the brothers Pinzon on the coast of Guyana. This definition applies to all of South America and the West Indies. It is characterized by Amerindian migrations between the West Indies and South America and the development of eponymous cultures.
The colonial period began with the contact between the Old and New Worlds in 1555, and ended with the abolition of slavery in 1848. It was characterized by the slave trade between Africa and the Americas, and exchanges between the new arrivals and Native Americans. It was also marked by the bacteriological shock associated with the arrival of the settlers who contributed to the disappearance of part of the Amerindian population.
This section contains information on excavations carried out elsewhere in the world, whose chronology does not correspond to that of the European regions or the West Indies.