Homo sapiens is only 200 000 years old, but in that time we have come so far. A lot of the breakthroughs we have made in this time are amazing. But the things people think are important aren’t always the things that have made a difference. What things have affected EVERYONE? Every human on the planet? Here are 20 things which, together, provide a beautiful map of human progress.
5 The Wheel (8,000 years ago)
Around six thousand years ago, the wheel began to be used in various parts of the world. Our fascination with it was slow at first, as the lack of smooth roads limited its wider uses. Gradually it took hold and settlements would flatten paths so that wagons could pass, greatly increasing the efficiency of a number of human endeavors. The wheel went on to give birth to the water wheel and the windmill, which gave us power and dramatically reduced the amount of effort needed in farming and food production. Vehicles and chariots began to develop, changing the fate of empires through warfare and travel. Its other offspring are the spinning wheel, enabling the development of various kinds of refined cloth making, potter’s wheels, used to make higher quality and refined pottery, cogs and pulleys, allowing all manner of mechanics to develop, the astrolabe, a device used by great minds to study the movements of the heavens, the propeller, used much later on planes and boats as a means of propulsion, and the steam engine, another great breakthrough discussed below.
6 Mathematics (20,000 years ago)
Mathematics had a slow beginning, but became highly needed once agriculture developed. Dealing with trading goods and keeping track of larger numbers of animals necessitated counting and manipulation of numbers. As farming grew, people needed not only to count into the hundreds or even thousands, but they also had to be able to add and subtract those numbers. Mathematics allowed far more complex trading, which had up until then been dependent largely upon haggling, and introduced the notion of currency. This revolutionized business and gave rise to economics and true commerce. Mathematics also allowed engineering and astronomy to become independent fields in their own right, and together these formed the basis of much of modern science and technology. More recently, the introduction of Arabic numerals and the place-value system made higher mathematics universally accessible. Up until then, years at university were required before something as simple as multiplication could be understood.
7 Metalworking (10,000 years ago)
Probably the first metal to be widely used was gold. This is because, unlike many other metals, it naturally occurs in a fairly pure form and is soft enough to be worked by stone tools. Eventually, ancient people realized that heat from fire could be used to extract other quite pure metals from ores (rocks containing small amounts of metal). Copper and tin were extracted and prized for their superior hardness, but were still too soft for many uses until they were combined, probably by accident, and formed bronze, an alloy that is much harder and more useful. Bronze weapons and tools easily outperformed all that had come before them. Farming tools, chariots, armor, and scientific instruments became unrecognizably better. Iron took much longer to be mastered, due to its higher melting point, but when it was, it was found to be an even better metal. People noticed that iron that had come into contact with organic matter formed a near-perfect metal – steel. Steel is more resistant to rust, is easier to weld, and today is cheaply mass-produced and used around the world.