Human history, or world history, is the narrative of humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, and linguistics, and since the advent of writing, from primary and secondary sources.
Humanity's written history was preceded by its prehistory, beginning with the Palaeolithic Era ("Old Stone Age"), followed by the Neolithic Era ("New Stone Age"). The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin, between 10,000 and 5000 BCE, in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. During this period, humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals. As agriculture advanced, most humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.
Whether in prehistoric or historic times, people always needed to be near reliable sources of drinking water. Settlements developed as early as 4,000 BCE in Iran, in Mesopotamia, in the Indus River valley on the Indian subcontinent, on the banks of Egypt's Nile River, and along China's rivers. As farming developed, grain agriculture became more sophisticated and prompted a division of labour to store food between growing seasons. Labour divisions led to the rise of a leisured upper class and the development of cities, which provided the foundation for civilization. The growing complexity of human societies necessitated systems of accounting and writing. Hinduism developed in the late Bronze Age on the Indian subcontinent. The Axial Age witnessed the introduction of religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Jainism.
With civilizations flourishing, ancient history ("Antiquity," including the Classical Age and Golden Age of India, up to about 500 CE) saw the rise and fall of empires. Post-classical history (the "Middle Ages," c. 500–1500 CE,) witnessed the rise of Christianity, the Islamic Golden Age (c. 750 CE – c. 1258 CE), and the Timurid and Italian Renaissances (from around 1300 CE). The mid-15th-century introduction of movable-type printing in Europe revolutionized communication and facilitated ever wider dissemination of information, hastening the end of the Middle Ages and ushering in the Scientific Revolution. The early modern period, sometimes referred to as the "European Age and Age of the Islamic Gunpowders", from about 1500 to 1800, included the Age of Discovery and the Age of Enlightenment. By the 18th century, the accumulation of knowledge and technology had reached a critical mass that brought about the Industrial Revolution and began the late modern period, which started around 1800 and has continued through the present.This scheme of historical periodization (dividing history into Antiquity, Post-Classical, Early Modern, and Late Modern periods) was developed for, and applies best to, the history of the Old World, particularly Europe and the Mediterranean. Outside this region, including ancient China and ancient India, historical timelines unfolded differently. However, by the 18th century, due to extensive world trade and colonization, the histories of most civilizations had become substantially intertwined, a process known as globalization. In the last quarter-millennium, the rates of growth of population, knowledge, technology, communications, commerce, weapon destructiveness, and environmental degradation have greatly accelerated, creating unprecedented opportunities and perils that now confront the planet's human communities.