Ancient Timeline


13.7 billion-
2.6 million BP
(Before Present)

13.7 billion BP (Before Present) Universe born in Big Bang, perhaps according to string theory from collision of two previous universes; first atoms along with cosmic microwave background radiation appear 380,000 years later as matter and energy begin decoupling; almost all hydrogen and most helium existing today created then; first stars appear 100 million years later as gravity concentrates hydrogen atoms, which ignite through nuclear fusion

13.7-4.6 billion BP Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements of life created within stars before birth of Solar System through nuclear fusion near end of stars' lives; elements heavier than iron created primarily through neutron capture in two ways: r-process involving rapid collapse and explosion of massive stars at end of their life into supernovas, and s-process involving slow expansion of second- or third-generation mid-size stars at end of their life into red giants

4.6 billion BP Sun and planets form from gravitational collapse of gas and dust remaining from previous stars, perhaps brought together initially by shock wave from a supernova; Earth forms 20 million years after Sun in the habitable zone to eventually allow for formation of liquid water, with enough mass to sustain an atmosphere, and with iron in its core to create a magnetic shield, all of which will be necessary for creation of life as we know it

4.5 billion BP Mars-size planet, named Theia, collides with Earth, creating debris that eventually coalesces into Moon, which stabilizes Earth's rotation and creates stable environment that will eventually be suitable for life

4.1 billion BP Earth cools enough for oceans, land, and atmosphere to form

4.0 billion BP Life emerges on Earth as a grouping of carbon-based (organic) molecules by chance makes a copy of itself in primordial ocean or perhaps in volcanic ash; self-replicating groupings of molecules are more successful than groupings that don't replicate and thus become more numerous; competing for limited resources, life begins to evolve into greater competence and complexity to maintain and replicate itself, eventually using simple nucleic acids to replicate, then RNA, then DNA; all life on Earth can likely be traced back to one surviving line of these early organisms, a universal common ancestor

3.8 billion BP Single-cell organisms emerge, cells being oily bubbles that allow for concentration of favorable molecules and obstruction of unfavorable molecules
3.6 billion BP Bacteria and bacteria-like archaea, both single-cell organisms that use DNA to self-replicate, evolve from simpler single-cell organisms
3.5 billion BP Bacteria emerge that use photosynthesis, employing energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into food
3.0 billion BP Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae (or blue-green bacteria), emerge that produce oxygen as waste product of photosynthesis, beginning oxygenation of atmosphere, which will eventually lead to higher life forms
2.4 billion BP "Oxygen Catastrophe" results when rising levels of oxygen, which is toxic to most life at the time, kills off most such anaerobic organisms; oxygen beneficial to newer aerobic organisms, enabling cells to process nutrients more efficiently
2.0 billion BP Complex single-cell organisms, with cell nuclei, emerge when an archaeon captures a bacterium, or a bacterium invades an archaeon, and the pairing by chance leads to the more efficient processing of nutrients for both; such symbiotic bacteria evolve to become energy-producing mitochondria in cells of higher organisms, including humans
1.2 billion BP Sexual reproduction emerges, with two organisms contributing genetic material to offspring, improving ability of life to adjust to changes in environment, increasing rate of evolution, and allowing for emergence of multicellular organisms
1.0 billion BP First animal emerges, likely tiny worm-like creature that evolved from a single-cell organism with a whip-like structure at the end, similar to sperm

850-630 million BP "Snowball Earth" results when Earth freezes over in global glaciation, with entire planet covered by ice; possibly caused by variations in solar output, cyclical changes in Earth's orbit around Sun, or motion of tectonic plates; leads to mass extinction, but life survives under ice; ends as result of reversal of causes and possibly as well by volcanic activity releasing enough greenhouse gases into atmosphere to warm Earth's surface

540 million BP Cambrian Explosion results when many complex life forms quickly appear, likely resulting from global warming and from oxygen, byproduct of previous ocean bacteria and algae life, reaching high enough threshold to support larger organisms

510 million BP First fish emerge, without jaws, probably evolving from sea worms

475 million BP First land plants emerge, evolving from freshwater algae; plant and later animal life on land made possible by high oxygen level in atmosphere forming ozone layer, which provided same protection against ultraviolet radiation as ocean water

425 million BP First animals, arthropods that were ancestors of today's crabs and spiders, crawl out of oceans onto land; not direct ancestors of humans

400 million BP Amphibians evolve from fish; both direct ancestors of humans

320 million BP Reptiles evolve from amphibians

250 million BP Permian Extinction, caused by a surge in vulcanism, a meteor or comet strike, or both; about 95 percent of species on Earth go extinct

230 million BP Dinosaurs evolve from reptiles surviving Permian Extinction

200 million BP Mammals evolve from reptiles

180 million BP Pangaea, last supercontinent, begins breaking up into current continents

150 million BP Birds evolve from dinosaurs

65 million BP Dinosaurs and half of all animal species go extinct after a period of increased vulcanism, which gradually warmed climate, followed by an asteroid hitting the Earth near Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, which quickly cooled climate

60 million BP Primates emerge, separating from other mammals

5 million BP Hominids emerge in Africa, separating from other primates

Stone Age

2.6 million BP-
3500 BC

2.6 million BP Homo Habilis, or Handy Man, emerges in Africa, first hominid to make stone tools, first hominid clearly recognizable as us

1.75 million BP Homo Erectus, or Upright Man, evolves from Homo Habilis in Africa, first to walk truly upright, domesticate fire, and migrate out of Africa; possibility exists that Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus were both descended from a common, and yet unknown, ancestor as they existed together for long time

250,000 BP Homo Neanderthalensis, or Neanderthal Man, evolves from Homo Erectus in Europe and Asia, or possibly from Homo Heidelbergensis or a similar intermediate species; Neanderthal technology advances little

200,000 BP Homo Sapiens, or Intelligent Man (modern man), evolves from Homo Erectus in Africa, or possibly from Homo Heidelbergensis or a similar intermediate species; Homo Sapiens only hominid to engage in abstract thinking and symbolic behavior (mythology, art, writing, science, coinage, etc.)

110,000 BP Homo Sapiens begins migrating out of Africa, crossing Red Sea into Yemen; lines don't survive, according to DNA evidence

80,000 BP Homo Sapiens, crossing Red Sea into Yemen from East Africa, begins to populate world and eliminate other hominids; it takes about 20,000 years for any group's skin color to change from dark to light as a result of reduced exposure to ultraviolet radiation, according to geneticists; East Africa was possibly Garden of Eden, romanticized and mythologized

74,000 BP Super volcano erupts in Sumatra, Indonesia, leading to six years of volcanic winter, reducing Homo Sapiens population to 10,000 or less, leaving only fittest surviving

50,000 BP Homo Sapiens begins arriving in Europe from Persian Gulf region after changing climate eliminates desert barriers in Mesopotamia

28,000 BP Neanderthal Man goes extinct, likely as a result of being both killed and outcompeted by modern man; DNA evidence suggests that modern humans in Europe and Asia interbred with as well as killed off Neanderthal Man because modern Europeans and Asians have some genes that Neaderthal Man had while modern Africans do not

25,000-12,000 BP Homo Sapiens arrives in New World at this time or earlier from Siberia, primarily Mongoloid peoples from East Asia but also Caucasoid peoples from northern Japan; archeological evidence indicates that in this general time frame Americans in small numbers may have arrived by boat from the South Pacific as well as from Europe, who then for the most part must have been eliminated or absorbed by the Siberian immigrants

13,000 BP Megafauna such as woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats begin going extinct in North America, primarily from success humans have in hunting them, a result of their increased numbers and improved hunting technology, just as megafauna elsewhere before this and afterward went extinct

10,000 BP/8000 BC Agriculture emerges in Fertile Crescent, region of Middle East incorporating Mesopotamia, Levant, and Egypt (Neolithic Revolution), leading to formation of permanent settlements; 10,000 BP dividing line between Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age)

8000 BP/6000 BC Discovery of gold

5600 BP/3600 BC Continuing melting ice from retreating glaciers of last ice age, which officially ended 10,000 BP, causes huge amount of water from Mediterranean Sea to spill over Bosporos into Black Sea, flooding Black Sea coastal areas; this is what likely led to Great Flood story in Assyro-Babylonian and later Judeo-Christian tradition

Bronze Age

3500-1200 BC

3500 BC Bronze, strong man-made alloy of copper and tin, invented independently in Middle East and Far East

3300 BC Sumerians, a non-Semitic people in southern Mesopotamia, invent writing, using clay tablets, to keep records of commodities; Sumerians considered by many to be world's first civilization

3200 BC Sumerians invent wheel and nails; Uruk, in Sumer, is world's first city

3100 BC Stonehendge, likely a religious center, built in southern Britain

3000 BC Egyptians, a Semitic people, invent papyrus, with Semitic peoples thought to have originated in Yemen area of Arabian Peninsula

2800-1450 BC Minoan civilization in Crete, Minoans being a non-Indo-European, pre-Hellenic people; Minoan civilization was likely mythological Atlantis, which ended after a massive volcanic eruption on Santorini (also known as Thera), near Crete

2700-2200 BC Egyptian Old Kingdom, period of pyramid building

2500 BC Indo-European speaking peoples begin arriving in Europe from Pontic-Caspian steppe (region northeast of Black Sea and northwest of Caspian Sea corresponding to ancient Scythia and Sarmatia and present-day eastern Ukraine, Russian Volga and Southern districts, and western Kazakhstan)

2200 BC Mycenaean Greeks, an Indo-European speaking people, begin entering mainland Greece from north, founding cities such as Mycenae, Thebes, and Athens

2000 BC Italic tribes begin arriving in Italy

1900 BC Epic of Gilgamesh, best-known of world's first literary works, written in Babylon, Babylonians being a Semitic people

1800 BC Hittites, an Indo-European speaking people in Asia Minor, invent iron, use for weaponry; iron may have been invented independently in India at about same time

1755 BC Hammurabi, first king of Babylonian Empire, creates world's first surviving code of laws

1500 BC Abraham of Ur in southern Mesopotamia leads Hebrews, a Semitic people, from Sumer to Canaan and then, as result of famine, to Egypt

1500 BC Celts begin arriving in Britain from Gaul (France)

1500 BC Work begins on Vedas, oldest scriptural texts of Hinduism, emphasizing ethical actions and spiritual practices to liberate individuals from egoism and cycle of birth and rebirth

1250 BC Trojan War, possibly a semilegendary fusion of several wars, pitting Mycenaean Greeks against Greeks from Troad region of Asia Minor

1200 BC Moses leads Israelites (Hebrews) from Egypt into Canaan

Iron Age

1200-800 BC

1200 Widespread use of iron begins in Mediterranean region; Iron Age doesn't begin in Central Europe until 800 BC and Northern Europe until 600 BC

1200-1100 BC Dorians (Spartans) immigrate from north into Greek mainland, ending Mycenaean civilization; Sea Peoples, who may have been barbarian mercenary infantry soldiers who rebelled against ruling kingdoms, invade Mediterranean coasts, destroying Hittite Empire and weakening Egyptian Empire; Dorians and Sea Peoples succeed with use of iron weaponry; drought and earthquakes may have created instability that helped the invaders

1100-1000 BC Ionians (Athenians), displaced by Dorians, immigrate into Asia Minor

1100 BC Writing and other elements of civilization ceases in Greece and Asia Minor, ushering in Dark Age, as a result of Dorians and Sea Peoples crushing earlier civilizations; Greek city states ruled by kings

1050 BC Phoenicians, a Semitic people living in present-day Lebanon and skilled in ancient times as seafaring traders, invent phonetic alphabet, with about two dozen abstract symbols (letters) representing sounds, in contrast to non-alphabetic writing systems such as Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Chinese characters in which thousands of originally representational pictures depict things or actions; Arabic, Hebrew, Indic, Greek, and Latin alphabets derived from Phoenician alphabet; Phoenician alphabet represents only consonants, not vowels

930 BC Israel and Judah separate into two kingdoms; some time afterward priests in each kingdom begin writing down oral traditions that eventually coalesce into Bible

900 BC Dorians (Spartans) immigrate into Peloponnesos, Aegean islands, and Lycia, Asia Minor

Archaic Age

800-500 BC

800 BC Writing reappears in Greece; Greeks invent first alphabet with vowels

800-700 BC Monarchies in Greece begin to be replaced by aristocratic republics

776 BC First Olympic games

750 BC Greek colonization intensifies

621 BC Draco institutes code of law in Athens, its first written constitution

610 BC Lydians of Asia Minor invent coinage; shortly afterward it spreads to Greek cities in Asia Minor, then Greek islands, then Greek mainland, then rest of world

600 BC Thales of Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor, first philosopher in Greek tradition and "father of science"; offers naturalistic explanations of world in contrast to magical, miraculous, and mythological stories that have remained central to most religions up to and including the present

600 BC China issues its first coins, cast bronze pieces in shape of farm tools

560 BC Lydians invent bimetallic coinage, issuing coins of pure gold and pure silver

546 BC Cyrus the Great, founder of Persian Empire, conquers Lydia as well as Greek territories in Asia Minor

509 BC Monarchy in Rome is replaced by aristocratic republic

507 BC Kleisthenes ushers in world's first democracy in Athens, with power shared by male citizens (excluded women, slaves, freedmen, and non-Athenians)

500 BC Buddha teaching in India, emphasizing non-craving to bring relief from suffering; Confucius and Lao-tzu teaching in China, former emphasizing morality, latter harmonious action

Classical Age

500-330 BC

499-495 BC Unsuccessful Ionian revolt against Persian domination of Greek Asia Minor

490 BC First Persian invasion of Greece; Battle of Marathon

480-479 BC Second Persian invasion of Greece; Persians defeat Spartans at Thermopylae; Persians occupy Athens; Greeks defeat Persians at Salamis

477 BC Athens-dominated Delian League formed to unite Greece against Persians

449 BC Greeks and Persians make peace, the Peace of Callias

443-429 BC Pericles is leader of Athens during its Golden Age

431-404 BC Athens fights and loses Peloponnesian War to Sparta, ending its military domination of Greece

399 BC Socrates dies in Athens; laid foundation of Western philosophy, emphasizing questioning of assumptions, reason, and self-knowledge

395-340 BC Warfare among rival Greek leagues

392 BC Rome begins conquest of Italy, sacking Etruscan city of Veii

386 BC Plato founds Academy in Athens, first institute of higher learning in Western world; Plato's thinking about dualism of world into ideal and sensual, that people who regard natural world knowable by senses as real and good are ignorant and should be scorned, would informed later Christianity and influence what modern world became; Platonism, however, was based on reason, Christianity on faith

382 BC Celts of Gaul sack Rome

338 BC Philip of Macedonia founds League of Corinth, ends autonomy of Greek city states

336-323 BC Alexander the Great's reign; conquers Persian Empire and most of known world east of Greece, spreading Greek culture

335 BC Aristotle founds Lyceon in Athens, institute of higher learning; as opposed to Plato, emphasizes study of natural world

Hellenistic Age

330-30 BC

323-148 BC Greek city states remain relatively independent; frequent warfare continues among rival leagues

300 BC Ptolemy I, Macedonian king of Egypt, begins building Library of Alexandria, world's first public library designed to be repository of world's knowledge; likely destroyed by Christians in late 4th or early 5th century AD

300 BC Euclid in Alexandria writes Elements of Geometry, compendium of his work and others; becomes one of most commonly used text books of all time

280 BC Celts arrive in the Balkans and Asia Minor

264-146 BC Rome defeats Carthage in three Punic Wars, establishing dominance in western Mediterranean

221 BC China unites for first time, under Qin (Ch'in) dynasty

215 BC Rome introduces denarius, silver coin replacing slightly larger drachm; serves as main Roman coin denomination for 500 years; evolves into French denier and English silver penny and later both English copper penny and U.S. cent

200-196 BC First Roman victories over Greece

168 BC Rome wins Third Macedonian War

148 BC Rome annexes Macedonia, making it Roman province, and begins stripping it of material wealth

146 BC Rome conquers Greece, sacking Corinth and ending Greek independence

88-86 BC Athens joins revolt against Roman rule led by Mithradates the Great of Pontos, Asia Minor, which ends in sack of Athens by Roman general Sulla

73-71 BC Spartacus leads unsuccessful revolt of Roman slaves

64 BC Rome annexes Syria

57 BC Caesar conquers Gaul

55 BC Caesar invades Britain

50 BC Rome introduces the gold coin aureus

36 BC Mayans in Central America first to use symbol for zero

31 BC Octavian defeats Antony and Cleopatra and annexes Egypt, ending Hellenistic Age

Roman Empire

27 BC-476 AD

27 BC Octavian becomes Augustus, first Roman emperor

27 BC-180 AD Pax Romana, 200-year period of relative peace within Roman Empire, corresponding to pinnacle of Roman influence, ending with death of emperor Marcus Aurelius

9 AD Rome loses the Battle of Teutoburg Forest to the Germanic Cherusci tribe, ending its northern expansion

30 AD Crucifixion of Jesus

43 AD London founded as Roman settlement

70 AD Roman emperor Titus destroys Temple of Jerusalem and sacks the city, leading to the diaspora of the Jews to Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and Greece

105 AD China invents paper

267 AD Gothic tribes (East Germanic tribes that probably originated in southern Sweden) sack Byzantium, Athens, and Corinth

306-337 AD Rule of Constantine the Great, first emperor to fully embrace Christianity; moves Roman capital to Byzantium

360 AD Beginning of the intensification of Germanic incursions into Roman territory, with Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, and Franks increasingly threatening Roman hegemony in the West

360-363 AD Reign of Julian the Philosopher, last Roman emperor who tried to restore classical paganism; this failure more than anything else led to a dark age, a thousand years of dogmatism, darkness, and decline in which observation, experimentation, and original thinking were suppressed, a period longer than the traditional Dark Ages of 476 to 1000 AD, a period that began reversing itself during the Renaissance in the 14th century with the rediscovery of classical learning

379-395 AD Reign of Roman Emperor Theodosius, who makes Christianity Rome's state religion and begins persecuting non-Christians, banning the Olympics

410 AD Rome withdraws from Britain

449 AD Germanic tribes of Anglo-Saxons begin invading Britain, displacing Celts

452 AD Attila the Hun invades Italy

476 AD Romulus Augustulus, last Western Roman emperor, exiled and replaced by Germanic king Odoacer; traditionally considered end of the Roman Empire, though the Eastern Roman Empire of the Byzantines, with Constantinople as its capital, would last until 1453

Note: Many of the above dates are approximate and debatable; some early events are commonly accepted theories; division of time into particular ages is partly from a Western perspective. See Traveling back in time: Nature's Objects for photos and descriptions of several natural objects that span the eons.

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough