Prehistoric to High Renaissance & Mannerism
Prehistoric to High Renaissance & Mannerism

Prehistoric to High Renaissance & Mannerism

Lead Author(s): Michael Briere

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Prehistoric to High Renaissance & Mannerism is a 12 chapter survey of the humanities, most often used in general introductory humanities time line courses.

Chapter 1   Prehistory into History

People living back in prehistoric times were really not so very different than we are today. We share with them some of the same needs and wants, along with the same kinds of aspirations they did. When you think about it, you may discover that they also had rudimentary yet sufficient technology for their survival, even if they didn't have smartphones. What they did have was cleaner air and darker skies at night with brighter stars to prompt their eternal wonderment. And they had storytellers to tell stories around campfires. With fewer distractions to compete for their engrossment, you can bet that they were more attentive to these stories, which essentially stayed the same, often passed down through the eons, and mostly intact, from generation to generation.

Telling stories around the campfire [1]​

Our ability to symbolize and to tell stories, to walk uprightly and to use tools are among the most important things that characterize us as human beings. (Koch 1.) Along with certain physical traits we possess, such as opposing thumbs and large, complex brains, oral language is also an integral part of who we are and have always been. When combined with gestures, facial expressions and body language, those campfire presentations would have been indeed impactful! Stories would have discussed the hunt, sex and childbirth, the stars, creation and a host of other things. Over time, story patterns or archetypes would have emerged to organize story collections and give further clarity to the storytelling effort.

Now, we are generally aware of some of the more important, primary developments in the lives of these earlier people, including their discovery and manipulation of fire and the invention of the wheel. The post and lintel building system is also evident in structures ranging from prehistoric Stonehenge, all the way to the frontier homes of our early pioneers. What makes the big difference in the lives of early humans is the invention of written language. This is what also moved humans from prehistory into the era of history, where we still are today. This phenomenon developed in various places, such as in the areas of present day France, China, Greece, Egypt and India. But -- the first written language, Cuneiform, was established in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago, before the 3rd millennium, B.C.E.

Chapter 1 Question 1

Linked information mentions that three writing systems developed independently in:


Africa, Australia and the Arctic regions.


The Near East, Africa and Europe.


Near East, China and Mesoamerica.

Efforts to illustrate and enumerate celestial occurrences such as the phases of the moon or to account for baskets of wheat, borrowed, led this mark-making effort from its earliest beginnings. Often, these marks appeared as engraved dots or scratches on cave walls or rocks. Along with them, cave paintings and rock carvings often tell a story of a human desire to express and to communicate. Picture-glyphs embodied the first written languages and in certain cases, such as in Chinese, they still do. As a side note, ancient glyphs or marks like the Chinese character for boat are thought by some to contain a pictorial reference to the flood event. (Voo, Sheeley, Hovee.)

Zhou symbol for boat​ [2]  ​

Over time, these pictures went through a process which simplified them and then turned them into symbols, standing for something else. We see the result today in the Roman alphabet in which letters, originally inspired by pictures, have a meaning and a pronunciation that is quite separate from their visual look. But in the earliest times of recorded history, pictures were used to compose thoughts into visual communication. Interestingly, today we also see a resurgence of primary visual communication through infographics or graphic symbols on signage, in advertising and on our smartphones where an initial picture either leads to or else, replaces the words. Things truly do come around and go around in this modern day of technology.

One important feature of written language was that it aided in the development cities. As you may imagine, written communication would have been invaluable for purposes of production, distribution, accounting, and building. Writing continues to valuable in the current day. A story from recent times has it that the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, in building his most beautiful building, the Fallingwater residence, was often absent or distanced in interpreting his floor plans to his foreman. Luckily for that total effort, the foreman was a true master builder, yet this was not so for many builders in history. And so it was with the other aspects of human culture, in coming together to live as one. Written communication provided a certain degree of exactness to which matters had to be directed, when they might fall into dispute.

Chapter 1 Question 2

Which development aided in the development of cities?




Written Language.



So, you may be saying to yourself, "This is all well and good, the 'mechanics of cultural growth' and such, but how or when did the ARTS get involved in the business of communicating in a meaningful way?" We've briefly discussed cave paintings and storytellers and no doubt, music was involved, as evidenced through pictorial and actual artifacts, even though Western origins may not fully take in to account these earlier strains or types. But just when in the development of Cuneiform writing might it have become more than a utilitarian device, accounting for each of the activities with which early people had to do? That is a great question and it is one that has an easy answer.

Cuneiform, as was previously stated, was already fundamental to many aspects of Mesopotamian life before the 3rd millennium, B.C.E. Its use facilitated the various operations of government and business. However, it was not until more than a millennium later, after the reigns King Sargon and Naram-Sin and the fall of the Akkadian empire of city-states, that the first known story, Gilgamesh, was written as epic poetic verse. In fact, many stories in history, from Homer's ancient epics: the Iliad and Odyssey, spanning to Beowulf, written in Europe's middle ages and the Renaissance-era Canterbury Tales, too, were also written as poetry. Prose, or straight-forward communication, although introduced in Greece's Archaic era, did not necessarily gain favor in popular usage until the birth of the novel...but more about this in a later chapter.

Gilgamesh is a story about a demigod (one-third human; two-thirds super human), a Sumerian king of Uruk (Warka, Iraq, in the modern day setting), whose reckless life choices also led him to seek for himself immortality. Through his many exploits and due to a close friendship, lost, he concludes for himself, that immortality is not in the purview or scope of mortal man. Thus, he comes to the conclusion that the walls he built in defense of his city-state Uruk and decorated with the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli; these became a monument to his record of achievements. The story of Gilgamesh is also one of many stories, including Biblical and Yoruba accounts, that record a similar, worldwide flood event. These stories are of great interest to many scholars who also question which account came first, as well as the veracity of such an event. It is possibly important to remember here, for the sake of this discussion on the written record, that oral accounts often precede written records for many of these records.

Chapter 1 Question 3

Which was the first recorded story written?


The Iliad.





As for the visual arts created by these people, we may look to France, to the caves of Lascaux, Dordogne or Chauvenet. For instance, in the Hall of Bulls, we get the sense from a mural painted on a rock wall featuring a long, panoramic view of bovines and other four-legged beasts, that some sort of parade may possibly be taking place. These animal profiles are sensitively detailed and colored in neutral colors, often in browns and black. Various of them are textured with spots or hair. Some are unfinished and many have delicate snouts and legs. We are told that these may have been painted as some sort of prayer for the hunt or as a thanksgiving offering for a good hunt but we can also sense the artists who painted really enjoyed what they were depicting.

A quick look at some of the origins for various language groups can be helpful here toward understanding how languages develop. In very many cases, they have a point of origin and this is shown at the top of each of these charts, such as the one below. As the timeline lengthens, new languages emerge for various reasons yet invariably, they emanate from earlier ones. Add to that, some languages may become extinct from non-use, over time, while other ones like English regularly sees new words enter its lexicon, old words and phrases becoming archived just as quickly, due to their antiquated status. Finally, in recent, popular movies we see a host of made up languages, made up for various purposes by linguists and others, among them Na'vi, a language created for the 2009 movie Avatar, as well as Cityspeak, a blended language used in the 1982 movie Bladerunner .

Proto-Indo-European language diagram​ [3]

Finally, we turn our attention briefly toward ancient Egypt and especially, toward writing in ancient Egypt. Perhaps, many know that shortly after Cuneiform was invented in Mesopotamia, the Egyptians began to employ a picture language of hieroglyphics for inscribing formal inscriptions. But what may be less known, generally, is that about the same time, Egyptian Hieratic script was also being used for everyday writing purposes, eventually being replaced with Demotic script. Later, as Egypt fell to a succession conquerors, these Egyptian forms of writing fell out of use and then became largely undecipherable, well before the time of the fall of Rome, in 476 C.E.

Chapter1 Question 4

Hieratic script -


Came before Hieroglyphics.


Came after Hieroglyphics.


Came about the same time as Hieroglyphics.

It would not be until Napoleon's campaign to Egypt, that the Rosetta stone was discovered in 1798. This artifact, with its triple language display: Demotic Script, Hieroglyphics and Greek (a known written language), was the critical piece, toward reading and gaining an understanding of the first two languages it displayed. This also gave researchers great insight into the Egyptian culture, once they understood its written language. First spotted by French Lieutenant Bouchard, the Rosetta Stone was then secured and handed over by the officer to his commander, General Menou. Napoleon also inspected the artifact before he returned to France in 1799 to become Emperor of France. Later, however, in 1801, Menou was defeated in battle by the British and through a series of events, they took possession of the stone, bringing it back to England, depositing it into the British Museum.

​ The Rosetta Stone [4]

From early times, Egypt had been largely isolated from its many neighbors, especially during the formation and consolidation of its Old Kingdom (3rd millennium, B.C.E.) During that time it rose to become a great power. The Nile river, a body which flows from south to north, has a delta or triangular split at its outlet into the Mediterranean Sea. Its fertile land had been farmed from as early as 10,000 B.C.E. with great success, its yearly flooding pattern providing the necessary nutrients. But it took Narmer, an Egyptian King, who lived at the beginning of the 4th millennium, B.C.E., to unify Lower Egypt (the north) with Upper Egypt in the south. Thus began the age of the Three Kingdoms: the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Throughout its existence as a vital world power, and even after this, Egypt saw the development of various, formal and elaborate agricultural, architectural, governmental and religious systems, each aided by and recorded in writing.

Chapter 1 Question 5

Egypt was largely consolidated during which period?


The New Kingdom.


The Middle Kingdom.


The Old Kingdom.

This video (below) will provide you with a quick "crash course" on ancient Egyptians. In it, you will discover various, interesting things about their thought processes, their relationship to their king, the Pharaoh, and how they saw their gods: sometimes in human form while other times, as animals and, more rarely, as inanimate objects. Enjoy!

Koch, David H. What Does it Mean to be Human? Smithsonian Institution. 29 March, 2016. Accessed 13 May, 2017.

Schmandt-Bessarat, Denise. The Evolution of Writing. Briscoe Center for American History. 25 January, 2014. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Voo, Shin Kui, Sheeley, Rich, Hovee, Larry. Noah’s Ark hidden in the ancient Chinese characters. academic paper. 2005. Accessed 13 May, 2017.

Wiebe, Charles. "Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater." Smarthistory, August 9, 2015. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Strayer, Hope, R. From Neumes to Notes. Cedarville, University. 6 June, 2013. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Mark, Joshua, J. Cunieform. Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28 April, 2011. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Jones, Josh. Hear the Epic of Gilgamesh Read In It's Original Ancient Language: Akkadian. Open Culture. 12 October, 2015. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Looney, Mary Beth. Hall of Bulls, Lascaux. Smarthistory. 19 November, 2015. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Scudder, Rebecca. Avatar Community. Panosoniv Viera. 20 April, 2010. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Williams, Matt. Stories by Williams. Movies, Reviews. 15 August, 2011. Accessed 16 May, 2017.

Brunner, Hellmut and Dorman, Peter F. Hieroglyphic writing. Encyclopædia Britannica 8 January 2008, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2017.

Staff. Rosetta Stone Found. 2009. 19 July, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2017.

Hitchins, Derek. The Three Kingdoms. Prof's Ancient Egypt. 2015. Accessed May 16, 2017.

[1] Image courtesy of Charles Dyer under CC BY-SA 2.0

[2] Image courtesy of Magna under CC BY-SA 2.5

[3] Image courtesy of Maumos under CC BY-SA 3.0 

[4] Image courtesy of Christian Theological Seminary under CC BY-SA 3.0

Before existence of writing.
Limited to basic forms or principles
A major division of time, also subdivided into eras.
A recurring symbol or motif in literature, art, or myth.
A building system in which horizontal components are held up by vertical components with large spaces between them.
An observable fact or situation whose cause or explanation may be in question.
To number of things one by one.
A written, visual symbol that conveys a particular object or action with a picture.
A visual image (chart or diagram) that represents information or data, giving the reader an increased sense of understanding.
To impart or exchange information.
A disagreement or argument.
The machinery that moves a thing.
The total list of creative activities done by a people or culture.
An object designed primarily to be useful, rather than attractive.
Ordinary written or spoken language, without metrical structure.
A long poem, from ancient tradition, concentrating on the deeds and adventures of legendary figures or peoples.
The human condition; beings who will die.
A structure built to remember a famous or notable person or event.
Accuracy, truthfulness.
Visual art executed directly on a wall.
An image as seen from one side.
Where something begins.
To come forth from a source or place of origin.
Cityspeak is the "street" language as used in the movie Blade Runner.
An ancient writing system; the first one, developed in Mesopotamia, wedge-shaped characters being impressed on clay tablets.
An ancient Egyptian written language consisting of a pictographic script.
Speech or writing which is not able to be read or understood.
Ordinary Egyptian speech and writing forms.
Having little to no contact or with others.
Elements in food or supplements which provide the essential nourishment for the body to grow and stay healthy.
A state or fact of existing or being.
Expressing an idea or meaning with a movement of part of the body, especially a hand or head motion.
A supervisor who directs other workers.
A member of a southwestern Nigeria or Benin tribe.
A type of living thing no longer in existence; that has ended or died out
To put or set something down.
Land capable of producing abundant vegetation or crops.