Becoming History: Life in Ancient Civilizations

Historians and archaeologists refer to the very ancient past as "prehistory" - the time before history was written down. History as we know it today began when people started to write things down. This happened for the first time around 3200 BCE in what is today known as the Middle East. Stylized pictures called cuneiform were used to represent trade agreements, land sales, and other transactions, and these records eventually became the sources historians used to study the ancient past.

Change in technology, political systems, or religion sometimes took hundreds or thousands of years, but life in the ancient world was far from static. Archaeologists also use other sources, including pottery, burial sites, religious sculptures, and metal artifacts, to learn about people living during the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE) and the Iron Age (1200-550 BCE). These objects show how people lived, why they lived that way, and how life changed over time.

From the Early Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age, life in the Near East changed. New religions appeared. Rulers rose and fell. Trade expanded. Technology developed. Empires expanded and became more complex. Just as they do with the very ancient past, historians and archaeologists use the artifacts left behind to track these changes over time.


Laurel Overstreet (