Early European History

The First Traces of Man in Europe

The first trace of man (of the species Homo erectus) in Europe dates back 500,000 – 10,000 years ago. Fossil remains from this time are as far west as England. These early descendants of Homo erectus are sufficiently different from what we now know as human. Their brain size and physique can be classed to an early form of humans known as Neanderthal man. They can be classed as an early form of Homo sapiens. This species lived in, what we now know as, Europe for thousands of years. Although they left little trace of themselves, only some stone tools, and fossils.

The First Signs of Culture

Modern man, who is similar to humans today, came quite late to Europe. However the continent does provide extensive evidence of early culture of humans. A Neanderthal flute is probably the oldest evidence of any culture. Small carvings and cave paintings are the most famous form of historical art found in Europe. Eastern Europe has traces of the earliest known free-standing structures which included circular huts with tusks or stones supporting a form of superstructure.

Neolithic Revolution

The Neolithic Revolution was when people first discovered how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. This was the most significant development in human history. It took place within the Stone Age, when tools where still flint and not metal. However it is the division which separates the old Stone Age (Palaeolithic) and the new Stone Age (Neolithic), hence the name Neolithic Revolution. Interestingly this revolution happened at different times in different parts of the world.

The Start of Civilization

The power of this revolution introduced villages and towns to the people. Commencing in the Middle East, the revolution made its way to Greece in approximately 7000BC (9000 years ago). It took approximately 3000 more years to spread to the Atlantic coast and Britain.

The introduction of villages and towns slowly pushed back the way of life of the hunter-gatherers. This is perhaps the reason for the slow progress of the movement. The way of life of the hunter-gatherers was to be changed dramatically. Agriculture is hard work. Especially when they had to move through heavily forested areas and clear trees with stone tools to make room for crops.


Within the European Neolithic communities there was often a communal longhouse as the central feature. These were often built from timber, as were their homes, and one at Bochum, Germany was 65 meters long. Along the Atlantic coast the focus of village life was a communal tomb. The simple huts they lived in clustered around the central feature. These tomb chambers introduced the tradition of stonework, passage graves and megaliths.

In a passage grave a stone passage leads into a tomb chamber. The chamber was first made of wood, and then later of stone. It contains the distinguished dead of the community. A megalith (Greek for “huge stone”) was used for the passage graves. Later they were used as huge standing stones. Often arranged in circles, for which the purpose remains unknown.

I believe it is because of these ancient traditions that European culture is so rich today. The people were able to pass on old customs and all the traditional forms of art, ceremonies, dance etc.

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