In the long march out of the barbarism of our distant past, and into our modern and advanced society, mankind has accomplished so many wondrous and monumental achievements. Some of these achievements have been more profound than others, some are simply astounding and some could be viewed as the most important events in human history. They say that history judges the value of our accomplishments, those that change the status quo are bound to be remembered long into the future. Below are the top five milestones of human history, as I see them.
The Conquering of Fire:
Dating back to about 125,000 years ago, widespread control of fire allowed our ancestors to cook food, and to gain artificial warmth and protection from wildlife. The ability to cook food allowed the people of the time to prepare and store foods (for short periods of time) that would otherwise go bad, and it significantly reduced the bacterial danger associated with eating raw meats. There is some scientific support for the idea that Homo erectus had sporadic control of fire up to 400,000 years ago, but it isn’t currently known exactly when or how knowledge of the use of fire occurred at first. In any event the use of fire has been immeasurably beneficial to human evolution, and must be counted as one of the most important events in history.
The Advent of Agriculture:
Arguably the most important event in human history, the move from a hunter gatherer society to an agricultural society –approximately 10,000 years ago– had an impact on every aspect of life for our ancestors. It affected the permanency of dwellings and rudimentary villages, the ability to keep and utilise livestock, and introduced more complex carbohydrates and increased good sources of protein in their diet. Agriculture was the catalyst needed to jumpstart human culture, and brought about the first incarnation of government. Agriculture changed the way we live, it changed where we could live and it changed how long we lived. I personally count agriculture as the most important event in human history, not only because it had such an effect on our culture as a whole, but also because it had a remarkable effect on our life expectancy. In addition it led to an agrarian movement, making land ownership a primary measure of personal worth –which wasn’t by any means a good thing at the time, but it did ultimately establish our current system of government.
The Written Word:
Writing, as a means for recording information, began in approximately 8000BC. It is different from cave paintings or illustration in that it consists of a textual medium of repeating signs or symbols (otherwise known as a writing system), rather than subjective pictographic symbols. It is generally believed that the earliest writing systems came out of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Writing began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. Ultimately, the advent of the written word facilitated the growth of early government and trade. In essence, the written word allowed people to pass on ideas to further generations; it brought people closer together and was the beginning of the recording of history.
As is commonly known, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright invented and built the world’s first successful airplane and made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. Since that time aeronautics (or the science of flight) has progressed by leaps and bounds. It’s gone from light woods and linen to high strength alloys and electric circuits, from the Wright brother’s first flight which achieved 10.98 kilometres per hour, to the current air speed record which is 3529.6 kilometres per hour, achieved by the SR-71 Blackbird (on July 28, 1976). Aside from these incidentals, the achievement of flight has served to bring humanity closer together. It allows us to circumnavigate the globe; it allows global cooperation and, like the internet, it fosters international connectivity. Prior to air travel, emigration and trade were limited to oceanic means, which was a large, expensive and potentially dangerous endeavour. As aeronautics developed, it became cheaper and more reliable and air travel permitted people of lesser means a faster way to travel both nationally and internationally. The benefits of which seem apparent.
In development since the mid to late 1950’s, the internet wasn’t invented by any one person, it was a group effort over a number of years. The Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) became standardised in 1982, culminating in the first world-wide network of fully interconnected TCP/IP networks, which was then called the internet. Since the mid-1990s the Internet has had a drastic impact on culture and commerce, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) “phone calls”, two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites. This rise of near-instant communication has had a profound effect on human culture world wide. It allows multi-national collaboration on projects of every kind, and has changed the way we look at global commerce and trade. Not to mention the change in our social encounters with people of differing cultures, the internet has opened lines of communication between disparate parts of the world, enhancing opportunities for education and cultural assimilation. All told, I think that the internet and all its sub-components have been arguably as transformative as the advent of agriculture on human society.
Some may argue that there are more worthy events in human history than the above. Some might suggest certain religious events, the resurrection for instance, or perhaps more scientific ideas like heliocentric theory, or the invention of the incandescent light bulb. I would like to invite any and all readers to submit their top pick for the most important event in human history.