TIMELINE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION
— Milestones in Evolution and History —
         Years ago Event   BCE   CE    
  discs fill with colour as time passes towards the present (further explanation below )
I. COSMOLOGICAL ANTECEDENTS
13,800,000,000 Big Bang singularity, creation of all particles of matter and counterpart antimatter, and the laws of physics governing their interactions; expansion and cooling of space → formation of the observable Universe, its galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets, moons, asteroids and comets
13,550,000,000 ignition of hydrogen stars, bathing the Universe in first light of cosmic dawn → earliest galaxies of stars forming 400 million years after the Big Bang; helium in stars fusing into carbon, leading to stellar nucleosynthesis of all elements
12,200,000,000 earliest water: an interstellar vapour, and repository for oxygen
12,000,000,000 formation of the Milky Way galaxy, a warped disc of 100 billion stars, now one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe
4,570,000,000 formation of the Sun and Solar System within the Milky Way, orbiting a supermassive black hole at its Galactic Centre every 240 million years
4,510,000,000 formation of the Moon from a giant impact with proto-Earth
4,500,000,000 formation of planet Earth with 510 million km² of surface area, orbiting the Sun on a yearly cycle, rotating eastward on a daily cycle around a tilted axis that perpetuates opposing polar seasons
4,400,000,000 formation of Earth’s oceans and moist atmosphere, protected from solar wind and cosmic rays by Earth’s magnetosphere generated by its iron core
4,400,000,000 earliest subduction of Earth’s crust → continental plate tectonics by 3 billion years ago, unique to Earth in the Solar System
II. HUMAN ANCESTRY AND EVOLUTION

1. Evolution of life on Earth

4,100,000,000 earliest life on Earth: single-celled prokaryotic Archaea (Hadean Eon, 3.8-4.2 billion years ago)
3,500,000,000 photosynthesising bacteria amongst the Archaea (Archean Eon)
3,400,000,000 earliest atmospheric oxygen, present at low levels (Archean Eon)
2,330,000,000 the Great Oxygenation Event: 1-10 million years of rapidly accumulating atmospheric oxygen (Proterozoic Eon), a product of photosynthesis
2,100,000,000 earliest multicellular life, with cell-to-cell signalling and coordinated responses (Proterozoic Eon)
1,450,000,000 earliest Eukaryotes amongst the Prokaryotes, arising from the merger of an archaeon with a bacterium: sexual reproduction with meiosis and recombination (Proterozoic Eon)
890,000,000 earliest Metazoa – animals – amongst the Eukaryotes: sponges, then worms and jellyfish (Proterozoic Eon), prior to Snowball Earth episodes of worldwide glaciation
700,000,000 Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event: 100 million years of rising photosynthesis with lengthening days as Earth’s rotational speed slows, improving conditions for complex life
540,000,000 explosion in animal diversification (earliest Cambrian Period), including Deuterostomia appearing amongst the metazoans: tiny bag-like body with multiple openings
535,000,000 earliest chordates amongst the deuterostomes (Early Cambrian Period): notochord and pharyngeal gill slits
500,000,000 first colonisation of land, by algal plants of the Middle Cambrian, probably facilitated by fungi
480,000,000 radiation of vertebrates amongst the chordates (Ordovician Period): aquatic with a mineralised skeleton, armour and scales
445,000,000 mass extinction in two pulses across 1 million years, eliminating more than three-quarters of all species (Late Ordovician), linked to volcanic activity
407,000,000 earliest woody stems of vascular plants (Early Devonian) → evolution driven by hydraulic constraints, pre-adapting plants for taller morphologies
394,000,000 earliest tetrapods amongst the vertebrates (Devonian Period): limbs replacing paired fins; still fully aquatic
385,000,000 earliest forests (Devonian Period, Cairo, New York, North America) → three-dimensional terrestrial habitat; rising atmospheric O₂ and diminishing CO₂
375,000,000 mass extinction in a series of pulses across 20 million years, eliminating more than two-thirds of all species (Late Devonian), linked to climatic cooling
350,000,000 earliest land vertebrates (Carboniferous Period): semi-aquatic amphibian tetrapods
340,000,000 earliest fully terrestrial tetrapod vertebrates, laying amniote eggs (Early Carboniferous Period)
251,900,000 Earth’s largest mass extinction, eliminating nine tenths of all species during 61 thousand years (Permian-Triassic transition), caused by hot and acidifying volcanic CO₂ emissions
233,000,000 dawn of the modern world: major biological turnover linked to volcanism (Late Triassic) → rapid diversifications and originations of conifers, insects, dinosaurs, reptiles and stem mammals
201,300,000 mass extinction event, eliminating more than two-thirds of all species (Triassic-Jurassic transition), linked to volcanic CO₂ equivalent to projections for CE 21ˢᵗ century anthropogenic emissions
178,000,000 earliest true mammals amongst the terrestrial vertebrates (Jurassic Period): fur and endothermy
135,000,000 major radiations of flowering plants and their insect pollinators in the Early Cretaceous: an “abominable mystery” (Charles Darwin, 1879)
66,000,000 abrupt mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, along with three-quarters of all species, following a 9-km wide asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico (Cretaceous-Paleogene transition) → rapid diversification of flowering plants and mammals
55,000,000 earliest primates amongst the mammals (Eocene Epoch): brachiation
44,000,000 divergence of Old World from New World primates (Eocene Epoch): colour vision, opposable thumbs, sociality
25,200,000 earliest hominoids (apes) amongst the Old World primates (Tanzania, Oligocene Epoch): tailless, enlarged brain; dawn of speech in contrasting vowel sounds – no language without vowels
16,800,000 earliest hominids (great apes) amongst the hominoid gibbons in Asia: larger body size and sexual dimorphism; nest-making, play, empathy
13,000,000 hominids Pierolapithecus catalaunicus in Spain, and Nyanzapithecus alesi in Kenya, possible ancestors of hominins and modern apes respectively, the former with upright posture
7,000,000 earliest hominins Sahelanthropus, then Orrorin and Ardipithecus, amongst the hominids in Africa: reduced canines, arboreal habit, bipedal capability
4,200,000 replacement of the earliest hominins by Australopithecus spp. in Africa: fully upright, bipedal and free-striding gait
3,300,000 earliest knapped stone artefacts (Kenya): Lomekwian tools → hominin technological behaviour

2. Human evolution

2,800,000 earliest human, Homo sp., amongst the hominins (Ledi-Geraru, Ethiopia): rounded chin as Australopithecus afarensis, but smaller and slimmer molars as the later Homo habilis
2,700,000 rise of co-existing hominin genus Paranthropus (East Africa)
2,600,000 incorporation of meat and marrow into generalist diets of hominins (Africa)
2,600,000 earliest stone tools produced by humans (Gona, Ethiopia): Oldowan tools, chopping through flesh, bone, bark
2,588,000 start of the current geological period of Quaternary glaciation, possibly initiated by a supernova blast 150-300 light-years away, luminous as the full Moon
2,400,000 Homo habilis in Africa, using stone tools for cleaving meat from bone
2,120,000 earliest evidence of human ancestors outside of Africa: tool-using hominins in Shangchen, southern China
2,000,000 early Homo erectus, direct ancestor of modern humans, coexisting with Australopithecus – soon extinct, and Paranthropus (South Africa): enlarged brain and smaller teeth
1,800,000 migrations of Homo erectus from Africa to Eurasia (Georgia; to Lantian in northern China by 1.63 million years ago; to Java by 1.5 million years ago)
1,700,000 earliest stone hand axes (Tanzania): Acheulean tools, standardised for butchering, cutting, stripping, hammering, drilling → population mobility
1,400,000 earliest organic tools: a hand axe made from hippopotamus bone (Ethiopia) → conscious symbolism?
1,400,000 replacement of Homo habilis by Homo erectus in Africa
1,000,000 extinction of Paranthropus (South Africa), our last remaining sibling genus
1,000,000 earliest control of fire, by Homo erectus (South Africa) → uniquely human capability, extending the day by firelight, raising the nutritive value of food with cooking
900,000 Homo antecessor in western Europe (Atapuerca, Spain), closely related to the last common ancestor of Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans
900,000 flint scrapers associated with Homo antecessor (Atapuerca, Spain), suitable for preparing animal hides → clothing?
800,000 earliest cannibalism, in Homo antecessor (Gran Dolina, Spain), practised throughout human history; social motivation?
700,000 diminutive Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores, probable descendent of Homo erectus
600,000 rise of Homo heidelbergensis in Africa and Europe, possible ancestor of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis; cooking meat and starchy plants
500,000 earliest abstract markings: a zigzag engraving on shell by Homo erectus (Indonesia) → uniquely human capacity for abstraction
500,000 earliest use of stone-tipped spears, by Homo heidelbergensis (South Africa) for hunting large game
450,000 rise of Neanderthals Homo neanderthalensis across Europe
430,000 Denisovans diverge from Neanderthals (southern Siberia) → Tibetan Plateau by 160,000 years ago; subsequent interbreeding, possibly also with Homo erectus
400,000 multiple hominin dispersals across Arabia (Nefud Desert), during windows of desert greening at four-, three-, two- and one-hundred thousand years ago
400,000 earliest evidence of food storage for later consumption: bone marrow (Qesem Cave, Israel) → food economy, anticipating future need
320,000 long-distance transport of obsidian for fine blades and points, and ochre for pigments (Kenya) → technological transition to Middle Stone Age during intensifying climate swings
315,000 earliest representatives of our species, Homo sapiens (Jebel Irhoud, Morocco): facial and dental structure similar to modern humans, yet still archaic elongation of the braincase
300,000 wooden spears and lances used by Homo heidelbergensis for hunting large herbivores (Schöningen, Germany)
250,000 replacement of Homo heidelbergensis by Homo neanderthalensis in Europe, and by Homo sapiens in Africa over the subsequent 100,000 years
210,000 Homo sapiens enter Eurasia (Greece): first of multiple dispersals out of Africa by humans with early modern traits, including globular braincase and descended larynx facilitating spoken language
200,000 earliest adhesive: birch tar used by Neanderthals for hafting stone tools (Campitello, Italy) → pyrotechnology
III. CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

3. Hunter-gatherer nomads

176,000 earliest built constructions: underground edifices made from broken stalagmites by Neanderthals (Bruniquel Cave, France) → material culture
171,000 earliest record of fire technology, by Neanderthals: boxwood digging sticks with shafts worked smooth by controlled burning (Poggetti Vecchi, Italy)
170,000 widespread use of clothing, setting humans apart from all other animals, evidenced in the divergence of clothing lice from head lice (Africa)
160,000 coastal shellfish harvested by Homo sapiens in southern Africa, and by Neanderthals in the Mediterranean → fatty acids boosting cognitive development
126,000 Homo with mix of archaic-human and Neanderthal traits (Nesher Ramla, Israel): stone-tool industry, cooking meat; cultural exchange with humans?
120,000 burial of dead, by anatomically modern humans in Qafzeh Cave, Israel, and by Neanderthals in Tabun Cave, Israel: mortuary practices
115,000 earliest symbolic art: marine shells painted with mineral pigments by Neanderthals in Spain, and shell beads made by modern humans in the Levant
110,000 last appearance of Homo erectus (Ngandong, Java), 1.89 million years after its first appearance → the longest enduring species of human
105,000 hording of non-utilitarian objects by Homo sapiens: crystals and ostrich eggshell fragments (Kalahari, southern Africa)
100,000 interbreeding of Homo sapiens with Homo neanderthalensis (Siberia) → accumulation of modern traits through gene flow
100,000 toolkit for mixing and storing pigments: ochre, charcoal, bone, hammerstones, grindstones and abalone-shell containers (Blombos Cave, South Africa) → complex human cognition
100,000 earliest human etchings on rock: cross-hash decorations or symbols (Blombos Cave, South Africa) → conceptual imagination
90,000 manufacture of bone harpoons, for hunting catfish (Semliki river, DR Congo)
90,000 fisher-hunter-gatherer Neanderthals eating mussels, crab, eels, sea bream and shark, dolphins and seals, hoofed game and waterfowl; pine-nut economy (Figueira Brava, Portugal)
78,000 earliest symbolic human burial, a 3-year old Homo sapiens (Panga ya Saidi Cave, Kenya): funerary practices by our ancestors
77,000 construction of bedding from sedges, topped with aromatic leaves containing insecticidal and larvicidal chemicals (Sibudu rock shelter, South Africa)
75,000 earliest jewellery fashions: shifts in styles of threaded shell beads (Blombos Cave, South Africa)
73,000 earliest drawing by humans: criss-crossed lines on a grindstone drawn with red-ochre crayon (Blombos Cave, South Africa)
71,000 earliest heat-treatment of bladelets, for atlatl darts or arrows (South Africa): communication of complex technology → emergence of the modern mind
65,000 rapid colonisation of Australia by humans during 5,000 years, transecting the continent along superhighways (ancient Sahul): maritime exploration
64,800 earliest symbolic cave paintings by Neanderthals (La Pasiega Cave, Spain)?
60,000 earliest notation, with notched-bone tally marks by Neanderthals (Les Pradelles, France) → uniquely human number culture and record keeping
60,000 symbolic burial of dead by Neanderthals (La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France): funerary practices
60,000 range expansion of modern humans out of Africa into Eurasia, beginning 60,000 years ago and enduring 10,000 years
51,000 a giant deer’s phalanx bone becomes a Neanderthal artist’s canvas, prepared by scraping and boiling before etching (Harz Mountains, Germany)
50,000 earliest use of cord: three-plied bark fibres (Abri du Maras, France) → clothing, mats, baskets, nets, rope, snares, fishing lines, watercraft
50,000 earliest eyed needle, made from bone by Denisovans (Denisova Cave, Siberia), suitable for tailoring garments
50,000 Neanderthal fire-lighting technology (France): striking flint axes with mineral pyrite → wood the predominant fuel for cooking and heating until the CE 19ᵗʰ century
50,000 Eurasian Homo sapiens co-existing with Homo floresiensis (soon extinct) and Homo luzonensis, interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans
48,000 self-medication by Neanderthals, with pain-killing salicylic acid in poplar leaves, and antibiotic-producing Penicillium mould (El Sidrón, Spain)
46,000 earliest anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, established in Europe (Bacho Kiro, Bulgaria), mating with Neanderthals, spreading eastwards.
45,500 earliest representational art, a red-ochre composition of Sulawesi warty pigs (Leang Tedongnge, Sulawesi): narrative stories
44,000 earliest figurative painting (Sulawesi Island, Indonesia), of therianthropes hunting anoa and pigs: mythological stories
42,000 earliest musical instruments: bone and ivory flutes (Swabian Jura, Germany) → concepts of harmony, melody, rhythm, timbre; no human society without music
42,000 earliest record of fish-hooks, manufactured from broken shell (East Timor): deep-sea fishing for pelagic tuna and parrotfish, sharks and marine turtles
41,500 most recent reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles, lasting 500 years, decreasing stratospheric ozone, driving global climate shifts and extinction events
40,000 anatomically modern humans replace Neanderthals, our last remaining sibling species. Full language → currently about 7,000 extant languages
40,000 earliest figurative sculpture, an ivory figurine of a therianthrope with lion’s head and human torso (Hohlenstein, Germany)
40,000 earliest image of human form: a hand stencil (Maros karsts, Sulawesi)
40,000 earliest habitual use of solid footwear (Sunghir, Russia), opening permafrost regions to occupancy → hay socks by 5,000 years ago
37,000 earliest artistic representation of human form: engravings of vulvas (Abri Castanet, France): fertility symbol?
35,000 earliest animation in cave art (Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, France): breaking down animal movement, prefiguring cinema
35,000 earliest fully human sculpture and female imagery: a mammoth-ivory ‘Venus’ figurine (Hohle Fels, Germany): fertility totem?
35,000 a giant virus freezes into Siberian permafrost, melting back to virulent activity 35,000 years later
32,600 food-plant processing, of dried wild oats with grindstones (Grotta Paglicci, Italy; soon appearing across Europe, Australia) → flour for storage and cooking
32,000 fruits of the campion Silene stenophylla freeze in Siberian tundra, regenerating from cryobiosis 32,000 years later into fertile plants
32,000 earliest migration of humans into the Americas (Chiquihuite Cave, Mexico), along the coast from Siberia?
30,000 earliest woven fabrics, made from dyed fibres of wild flax (Georgia) → baskets, textile clothing
29,500 earliest stone statuette: ochre-tinted oolitic limestone ‘Venus of Willendorf’ (Austria)
29,000 earliest fishing-net sinkers (South Korea) → modern industrial fishing currently in 55% of ocean area, covering agricultural area
25,000 a coronavirus epidemic sweeps through East Asia, driving genetic adaptations still present in modern humans
24,000 use of poison arrows, with wooden ricin applicator (Lebombo mountains, South Africa)
24,000 a bdelloid rotifer freezes into ice in the Alayeza river (Russian Arctic), reviving 24,000 years later to full vigour
23,000 fisher-hunter-gatherer brush huts (Sea of Galilee, Israel): sealed floor, hearth, berry and seed stockpiles, grindstones, sleeping area with grass bedding
23,000 first domestication: dogs from grey wolves Canis lupus (Siberia), providing companionship, pulling sledges → 700 million dogs by CE 21ˢᵗ century
20,000 earliest pottery vessels (Xianrendong Cave, China), cooking food in pots during the Last Glacial Maximum
19,000 replacement of early modern humans across Eurasia by the ancestors of today’s populations
15,000 introgression of last remaining Denisovans into the modern human genome? Anatomically modern humans henceforth the only hominin
15,000 colonisation and occupation of North America by humans and their dogs, from northeastern Siberia over the Bering land bridge
15,000 colonisation of South America (Huaca Prieta, Coastal Peru); humans henceforth occupying every continental landmass on Earth, except Antarctica
15,000 semi-permanent forager settlements of Natufians (Levant), evidenced by presence of house mice
15,000 earliest record of a string instrument: the musical bow (cave painting at Trois Frères, France) → music initiated outside the body
15,000 earliest thaumatrope (Laugerie-Basse, France): an optical toy, creating movement by juxtaposition of images
14,400 evidence of baking bread: unleavened flatbread from wild einkorn and club-rush tubers (Shubayqa, Jordan) → caries from consumption of starchy foods
14,000 earliest lime plaster, used as an adhesive for hafting (Kebaran, Levant) → mortar by 3,000 years ago
13,400 earliest evidence of inter-communal violence on a large scale, with projectile impacts and blunt-force trauma (Jebel Sahaba, northern Sudan): competition for food?
12,000 extinction of megafauna including woolly mammoths from continental Eurasia and North America, caused by human hunting or climate warming
11,700 start of the Holocene Epoch within the Quaternary Period, characterised by warm and stable climate until the late CE 20ᵗʰ century
11,700 in the Mojave desert a seed germinates and grows into a deadly creosote bush, which segments to sprout new stems, sprouting and segmenting for 11,700 years
11,600
earliest monumental ritual art (Shigir, Siberia): 5-m tall larchwood plank carved with human forms and signs → complex ideas expressed by hunter-gatherers

4. Agricultural farming and settlements

BCE 9500 cultivation of wild barley and oats around village settlements (Fertile Crescent) → beginnings of agriculture; storable grains sustaining population growth
9500 earliest monumental temple (Göbekli Tepe, Anatolia): carved stone stelae up to 4-m tall serving ritualistic purposes; associated skull cult; ceremonial porridge and beer
9000 earliest continuous settlements (southern Levant), including Jericho: stone and mud architecture developing into a walled city of up to 3,000 people → modern cities of 30 million people
8200 domestication of sheep and goats (Fertile Crescent and Turkey) → milk, meat, wool, hide and capital from 1.2 billion sheep and 1.1 billion goats by CE 2019, rising trend
8100 global population of humans passes 5 million; annual energy use per person averages 1,700 kWh, 2.4× the resting metabolism
8000 continental ice-sheets withdraw from Europe and North America
8000 domestication of cattle, from aurochs (Near East and Indus Valley) → haulage, milk, meat, hide and capital from 1.5 billion head of cattle by CE 2019, rising trend
8000 domestication of cats, from Near Eastern wildcats Felis silvestris lybica (Middle East) → 400 million domestic cats by CE 20ᵗʰ century, a substantial threat to wildlife
8000 domestication of wheat (Mesopotamia): hybrid vigour efficiently converting solar energy into food energy → 772 million tonnes per year by CE 2017, using 218 million ha of land: peak production?
8000 domestication of the bottle gourd Lagenaria siceraria, indigenous to Africa, in the Americas from Asian stock → global diffusion for containers, musical instruments, fishing floats
8000 earliest record of artistic expression through dance, as rite of passage (engravings in Addaura II Cave, Sicily) → collective desire for cosmic order
7500 earliest use of bricks: adobe earth and reeds (Tell Aswad, Tigris) → fired bricks by 3000 BCE (China)
7500 domestication of chickens from red junglefowl (Southeast Asia) → meat and eggs from 25.9 billion chickens by CE 2019 and rising, the biomass of all wild birds
7200 earliest large-scale representations of complete human forms: lime plaster statues 1-m tall (Ain Ghazal, Jordan)
7000 domestication of the potato (Andes, southern Peru) → 370 million tonnes per year by CE 2019, using 17 million ha of land; a food-security crop worldwide, not a globally traded commodity
7000 domestication of pigs (Anatolia and China) → meat, hide, bristles, medical research and capital from 1.0 billion pigs by CE 2015: peak production?
7000 big-game hunting practised by females and males (Wilamaya Patjxa, Andean highlands) → strong male bias across recent hunter-gatherer societies
6500 earliest mining of metal, to heat, hammer and grind into tools: copper for projectile points (Great Lakes, North America)
6500 earliest cattle dairying (north-western Anatolia), for milk and its products of cheese and ghee: protein and fat obtained without killing the capital asset
6500 beginning of a wave of migrations from the Middle East northwest through Anatolia, spreading farming practices into Europe
6000 domestication of rice (Asia) → 763 million tonnes per year by CE 2018, using 166 million ha of land
6000 foraging for honey (Mesolithic painting in the Araña Caves, Spain) → 90 million beehives by CE 2019
5900 earliest grape wine and viniculture (South Caucasus) → wine as a social lubricant, medicine and commodity throughout western civilisation
5900 start of the Copper Age (Fertile Crescent), spread of copper smelting for weapons and tools
5800 cultivation of cotton Gossypium barbadense (north Peru); G. arboreum cultivated in Pakistan by 5500 BCE → clothes, fishing nets, sheets, towels, rugs, wadding
5600 cultivation of poppies for opium (western Mediterranean), widespread by 4500 BCE, domestication by 3100 BCE → psychoactive, medicinal and alimentary uses
5500 flooding of the Black Sea from the Mediterranean Sea: perhaps the great flood of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the biblical flood of Noah’s Ark
5480 extraordinarily large influx of cosmic rays from an abnormal Sun, possibly caused by solar proton events → potential for DNA damage on a global scale
5200 earliest use of bitumen, for waterproofing reed-bundle boats (As-Sabiyah, Kuwait) → 65 billion tons of asphalt in roads and pavements by CE 2020
5200 earliest seaborne trading networks (Aegean for obsidian, Persian Gulf for Ubaid pottery), with mast and sail technology: the earliest harnessing of natural forces to replace human labour
5100 ritual landscape of large-scale mustatil monuments (northern Saudi Arabia): entranceways to courtyards, chambers, orthostats; associated cattle cult
5000 rise of languages with subject-verb-object syntax – as in English – from the root syntax of subject-object-verb (proto-Indo-European), and expansion westward; other combinations arise later
5000 domestication of tobacco (Andean Highlands, South America), spreading to North America by 1520 BCE → smoking kills 100 million people worldwide in CE 20ᵗʰ century, the worst preventable killer
4200 domestication of maize (Mexico) → 1.15 billion tonnes per year by CE 2019 using 197 million ha; with wheat and rice accounting for 43% of all human calorie supply, using 4% of global land area
4000 domestication of chili pepper Capsicum (Tehuacán Valley, Mexico), spreading rapidly into South America; brought to Europe by Columbus CE 1492 → now used daily by a quarter of the global population
4000 earliest extraction of salt (Lake Yuncheng, China; Cardona salt mountain, Spain): enhancing flavour, preserving food → high consumption in Western societies, with no evolutionary precedent
4000 earliest use of indigo blue, from Indigofera species, for dyeing cotton fabric (Huaca Prieta, Peru); use in Egypt by 2400 BCE, China by 1000 BCE
4000 earliest board games (Egypt), moving pieces on a track according to outcomes determined by a throw stick → computers outperform humans in all board games by CE 2016
3600 earliest engineering of water delivery and storage, for people, animals and irrigation (Jawa, Jordan) → landscape engineering of dams, levees, ditches in China by 3100 BCE
3500 earliest ploughs for tilling soil (Italy) → expansion of arable farming
3500 rising human fertility, enabled by earlier weaning of babies fed with milk of domestic ruminants (southern Britain)
3500 domestication of horses (Central Asian steppes), revolutionising mobility, economy, warfare → transport, haulage, meat and capital from 59 million horses by CE 2019
3400 earliest wheeled wagons (Germany, Slovenia, Near East) → breakthrough in haulage and locomotion: mechanical advantage equalling ratio of wheel to axle radii, moderated by friction; nanoscale wheel and axle by CE 2007
3300 start of the Bronze Age (Near East), bronze replacing copper for weapons, tools, nails, utensils; mixing of Eurasian peoples → rapid westward spread of farming, conversion of forest to dairy pasture
3300 cultivation of cocoa trees for chocolate (upper Amazon) → domestication in Mesoamerica by 1600 BCE, sacrificing productivity for stimulant and disease-resistance genes
3300 earliest numeral systems: pictograms of economic units (Uruk, Mesopotamia) → cuneiform sexagesimals in Mesopotamia by c. 3200 BCE, and hieroglyph decimals in Egypt by 3100 BCE
3200 full writing (cuneiform in Mesopotamia, hieroglyphics in Egypt) using the rebus principle → bookkeeping, instruction, commemoration, scripture, prayer, historical records
3150 organic medicinal remedies from herbal wines (Egypt)
3100 earliest evidence of the plague (Latvia), possibly driving 3ʳᵈ millenium BCE migrations across Europe and Asia
3100 development of systems of governance with the rise of Uruk, city of 30,000 residents (Sumer civilisation, Mesopotamia), and cities of the Indus valley (India and Pakistan)
3050 earliest standard weights for balance scales, and cubit length (Mesopotamia and Egypt): objective frames of reference for valuing commodities → integration of markets across Western Eurasia within 2 millennia
3000 cultivation of oil palm (west and central Africa) → 411 million tonnes of oil-palm fruit per year by CE 2019 using 28 million ha, largely converted tropical forest
3000 global agricultural land use per person peaks at 2.72 ha → 0.66 ha by CE 2016 with improvements in yield
3000 synthetic glass (Phoenicia) for beads → ingots, vessels by 1500 BCE; CE 1ˢᵗ century mirrors; 7ᵗʰ century stained-glass windows; 13ᵗʰ century eyeglasses; late-20ᵗʰ century float-glass skyscrapers
3000 earliest swords, for combat and prestige (Arslantepe, Turkey) → essential battle weapons through most of 5 millennia to CE 1918 and the end of World War I
3000 earliest use of a Solar calendar year of 365 days, anchored by spring and autumn equinox dates (Egypt and old Sumer)
2800 global population of humans passes 50 million; annual energy use per person averages 2,100 kWh, 3× the resting metabolism
2720 in the North American White Mountains a seedling grows into a bristlecone pine tree, which sustains production of viable seeds over a lifespan extending beyond 4,700 years
2650 earliest use of a lunar calendar year of 12 months, and each hour as one-twelfth part of the day or night (Shulgi, King of Ur, Mesopotamia)
2650 magnetic compass, used to orient chariots (Emperor Hoang-Ti, China, recorded in the Zizhi Tongjian CE 1084, Thoung Kian Kang Mou edition) → navigation at sea by CE 300, Tsin dynasty, China
2650 earliest regulation of wildlife exploitation: every fisher and hunter taxed one-tenth of their take (pharaoh Djoser, Egypt, recorded in the Famine Stela)
2650 earliest massive stone monuments: step pyramid tomb of pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara, Egypt; contemporaneous pyramidal architecture in Caral-Supe, Peru; megalith at Stonehenge, Britain
2550 earliest dictionary: cuneiform tablets translating between Sumerian and Eblaic (Ebla, Syria)
2550 earliest writing on papyrus: Diary of Merer, recounting construction of the Great Pyramid (Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt) → parchment by 200 BCE, Greece; paper from pulp by 100 BCE, China
2550 architectural precision: the Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt), taller than any other building in the world for 3,800 years
2500 earliest locks (Egypt): door bolts → emergence of private ownership and privacy; lock and key by 1500 BCE
2350 earliest government reforms, addressing taxes and corruption (Uru-KA-gina, King of Lagash and Girsu, Mesopotamia)
2340 first emperor of a state: Sargon the Great, Akkadian Empire (expanding across Mesopotamia, Levant, Anatolia) → beginnings of artistic emphasis on the person of the ruler as an individual
2300 earliest records of marriage ceremonies, uniting a man and a woman (late 3ʳᵈ millennium BCE, Akkadian clay tablets)
2100 earliest code of law, applying general principles to particular cases (Code of Ur-Nammu, Sumerian King of Ur, Mesopotamia)
2030 earliest recorded poetry (Nippur, Iraq): a Sumerian love poem of passionate ardour, expressing an emotional truth about the human spirit
2000 extinction of last remnant population of woolly mammoths, on Wrangle Island, Arctic Sea
2000 decline of Bronze-Age civilisations in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia, and terminal decline of Indus Valley civilisation, caused by 200 years of drought beginning c. 2000 BCE
2000 earliest use of coal as fuel (Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, China), for smelting copper, cooking, heating → peak global coal production of 8.2 billion tonnes/year in CE 2013
2000 earliest abacus, replacing tables of multiplication, reciprocals, powers (Old Babylonians, Mesopotamia c. 2000-1600 BCE) → nanoscale abacus storing numerical information in individual molecules by CE 1996
1900 earliest map of a territory: 3-dimensional topography covering 30 km of the Odet river valley, sculpted to scale on a schist rock slab (Saint-Bélec, France)
1900 establishment of a 7-day week (Assyria and Babylonia)
1850 earliest alphabetic script (Proto-Sinaitic, Sinai and Egypt) → economy of signs
1850 earliest architectural arch, a Canaanite gate (Ashkelon, Israel) → breakthrough in construction of gateways, vaults, doors, windows, bridges: converting tensile stress into compressive stress
1825 earliest record of contraception: Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (Lehun, Egypt)

5. Empires and conquests

BCE 1800 beginnings of complex societies: Babylonian civilisation in Mesopotamia, 1800 BCE; Olmec civilisation in Mesoamerica, 1800 BCE; Shang dynasty in China, 1600 BCE; New Kingdom in Egypt, 1600 BCE
1800 earliest extraction and working of iron (Anatolia) → alloying with carbon to make steel in Cyprus by 1100 BCE
1800 earliest prose fiction: Epic of Gilgamesh (in cuneiform on clay tablets, Ur, Mesopotamia), on the nature of life, love, comedy, tragedy, and inevitable death
1750 earliest principles of insurance against loss or damage, for maritime shipments (Code of Hammurabi, Babylon)
1750 earliest cultivation of the tea plant Camellia sinensis (China, early 2ⁿᵈ millennium BCE) → now the most frequently consumed beverage worldwide, with many health benefits
1650 harvesting of latex from the Castilla elastica tree to make rubber for balls and figurines (Mexico): the first plastic polymer → unsurpassed sliding friction and durable elasticity
1650 earliest team sport: rubber-ball game played in an architectural ballcourt (Paso de la Amada, Mexico) → social compacts; decapitation rituals by CE 500
1650 earliest porcelaneous high-fired ceramics (Piaoshan kiln, China): fragile when whole, indestructible as broken shards → true porcelain by early CE, China
1650 earliest use of stencils, of hyperbolae, ellipses and spirals, for the Gathering of Crocus wall painting (Thera, Aegean Sea): knowledge of the foundations of geometry
1630 earliest planetary observations, of the motions of Venus (reign of Ammisaduqa, king of Babylon)
1550 reckoning with fractions and geometry (Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Egypt)
1520 first accurate timepiece: an outflow water-clock (Amenemhet, court of Amenhotep I, Egypt) measuring night-time; shadow clocks and sundials regulating daytime worker shifts
1500 earliest depiction of joyful and uninhibited celebration by ordinary people (Minoan Harvester Vase, Agia Triada, Crete)
1350 early artistic rendering of tenderness in human relations: Tutankhamun and his wife (throne from the tomb of Tutankhamun, Thebes, Egypt)
1300 earliest notated music: Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal (in cuneiform, Ugarit, Syria); the singing voice carrying further than the spoken voice, conveying feeling
1200 sea-going trade in silver and dyes by Phoenicians, connecting the Levant with western Europe across the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean
1050 start of the Iron Age (Aegean; Britain by 800 BCE), iron replacing bronze for tools and weapons
1000 use of hydraulic plaster, mixing lime with silicates (Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel) → concrete in Ancient Rome by CE 70, the dominant building material of modern times
1000 earliest depiction of the cosmos: a bronze disc inlaid with gold symbols of the Sun, Moon, and stars including the Pleiades cluster (Nebra, Germany)
950 first Jewish temple (King Solomon, Jerusalem) → rise of Judaism for a chosen people
900 earliest centre of higher learning (Taxila University, India) → Plato’s Academy in Greece by 387 BCE; Taixue University in China by CE 3; Al-Karaouine University in Morocco by CE 859; European medieval universities
900 accurate prediction of lunar eclipses (Germany)
850 earliest professional army (Lacedaemonians of Sparta, Greece, described in Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 388 BCE)
776 first Olympic games (Olympia, Peloponnesus, 776 BCE)
700 first book of European literature: The Iliad (Homer, Greece), an epic poem on the suffering and loss of war
700 Archimedes’ Screw, used to irrigate Sennacherib’s elevated garden (river Tigris, Mesopotamia), described by Archimedes 4 centuries later
650 earliest use of metallic money (Lydians of Anatolia): stamped gold and silver coins
650 earliest collection of scholarly texts, on 32,000 cuneiform tablets: the Library of Ashurbanipal (Nineveh, Iraq)
600 first circumnavigation of the African continent (Phoenicians from Arwād, reported by Herodotus in The Histories 430 BCE)
600 peak of Greek civilisation (Greece), foundations of ethics, poetry, drama, philosophy; first democracy 508 BCE
550 earliest cartography: a map of the known world, by Anaximander (Greece, c. 550 BCE, reported in Strabo’s Geographica 7 BCE)
550 first Persian Empire (Cyrus the Great, Persia), connecting the Mediterranean to the Indus valley → code of just rule that respects others’ faiths
550 training in surgery and anatomy, described in the Susruta Samhita (northern India, 6ᵗʰ century BCE)
550 professional policing, investigating criminal cases, addressing injustices (the paqūdu of Babylonia c. 550 BCE)
500 construction of a navigable canal from the Nile to the Red Sea (Darius I of Persia) → Suez Canal by 1869, the shortest maritime route between Europe and Asia
500 earliest use of cannabis as a psychoactive substance (Jirzankal Cemetery, China) → modern narco-trafficking spread by counter-drug interdiction
450 collection of the sayings of Confucius (551-479 BCE, China) into the Analects, founding Confucianism, with a role for every person in society and universal education
450 earliest cast iron artefacts (Jiangsu, China)
450 collection of the Torah and other scriptures into the Hebrew Bible → Christian Old Testament 500 years later, including the divine authority of the Ten Commandments
400 Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha, c. 480-400 BCE, Ancient India) lays the foundations of Buddhism, with joy as a calling towards the path of nirvana; rebirth in hell for misconduct
400 earliest in-patient hospitals (King Paṇḍukābhaya, Sri Lanka) → professional care for the sick
375 idea that justice and virtue are inherent qualities of inner harmony (Plato’s Republic, Greece): limits to the liability of external forces for conduct → moral conscience of Christianity
364 first sighting of another moon: Jupiter’s Ganymede, discovered with the naked eye (Gan De, China) → rediscovery by Galileo Galilei in CE 1610, using a 20× telescope
350 concept of time-velocity space applied to the motions of Jupiter (Babylonia)
350 development of formal systems of reasoning, by logical deduction from axioms and postulates (Aristotle, Greece) → scientific disciplines
320 compilation of the Tao Te Ching (China) on peace and war, founding Taoism in ritual cultivation of life’s inherent natural and spiritual forces, benefitting all
300 earliest economic exploitation of chicken outside East Asia (Southern Levant); now the world’s most ubiquitous species of livestock, a principle source of protein
300 postulation of Euclidean geometry of flat surfaces (Euclid of Alexandria, Greece) → first printed edition of Euclid’s Elements, CE 1482
280 first hypothesis that Earth revolves around the Sun (Aristarchus of Samos, Greece, reported in Archimedes’ The Sand Reckoner, c. 260 BCE)
250 first estimation of π within known limits (Archimedes, Greece), describing circles, discs, spheres, cones, orbits, loops, spirals, waves → method of calculus
250 earliest accurate estimates of the circumference, diameter and tilt of a spherical Earth (Eratosthenes, Greece, c. 250 BCE, reported by Pliny CE 77)
250 earliest watermills (Egypt; Anatolia by 50 BCE, reported in Strabo’s Geographica 7 BCE), milling grain, processing ore; the first machines to harness a natural force for mechanical work
250 construction of the Great Wall, stretching 1,900 km (Emperor Qin Shi Huang, China) → 21,196 km by the Ming dynasty to CE 1644
200 fusion of Indian cultures and traditions into Hinduism, with worship posthumously rewarded by favourable rebirth; torment in hell for sinners → third most populous religion of the modern era, after Christianity and Islam
200 widespread adoption of seed drills (Han dynasty, northern China); reinvention by Jethro Tull in 1701, Britain → production efficiency heralding the dawn of modern agriculture
100 first analogue computer: Antikythera Mechanism of bronze gears, mechanising solar and lunar epicycles and eclipses, and motions of the planets in the known cosmos (Antikythera, Greece); unsurpassed for 1,400 years
100 earliest positional system of decimal fractions, for algorithmic calculations with positive and negative numbers using counting rods (China)
100 establishment of the Silk Roads, for overland trade between East Asia and southern Europe → China’s 2013 Belt and Road Initiative, opening routes to trade and investment in 70 economies
BCE 50
rise of the Roman Empire (Europe), enduring 500 years → efficient road and aqueduct systems, self-strengthening concrete, lead-pipe plumbing networks, sanitation; 4-yearly leap day
CE 50 death of Jesus of Nazareth and transcribing of his life in the New Testament → rise of Christianity, with salvation for the righteous and heaven as reward; otherwise fear hell
77 earliest encyclopaedia (Pliny the Elder, Italy, Naturalis Historia books 1-5, 6-10, 11-17, 18-23, 24-31, 32-37 CE 77)
100 maritime trade routes between Africa, India, China, for spices, medicines, fabrics; connecting to Ancient Rome through Alexandria
100 use of paper for writing and painting begins to supplant bamboo and silk in China (Emperor He, Eastern Han dynasty, c. 100)
132 invention of the seismoscope (Zhang Heng, Eastern Han dynasty, China, 132), detecting earthquakes at a distance of 600 km
150 development of the astrolabe from celestial globes, locating Sun and stars in relation to the equator (Ptolemy, Alexandria, c. 150) → determination of latitude
150 earliest industrial complex: watermills of Barbegal (France, 2ⁿᵈ century), producing 25 tons/day of hardtack for local harbours
290 firing of natural gas in southwest China, to boil brine for salt (Bowu zhi c. 290), and to pipe into homes for lighting (Huayang Guo Zhi c. 340) → 3.9 trillion m³/year of global gas extraction by 2018 and rising
290 use of mineral oil in central China, to lubricate axles and to seal water tanks (Bowu zhi c. 290, reported in Shui Jing Zhu c. 500) → 5.0 billion tonnes/year of global oil extraction by 2018: peak production?
300 beginning of central Europe’s 300-year Migration Period: cultural and socioeconomic turmoil coinciding with climatic variability; eastern tribes overwhelming the Roman Empire
357 earliest explicit use of zero, in the Maya Classic Period (Uaxactun, Guatemala, 357)
400 rise of urbanisation, with administrative cities of over 100,000 people (Teotihuacan, Mexico, covering 18 km² c. 400) → specialisation of trades and occupations
532 creation of anno Domini, or AD (Dionysius Exiguus, Romania, 532); called anno aerae nostrae vulgaris by Johannes Kepler in 1615, now Common Era, or CE → no calendar year zero
536 crop failures across the northern hemisphere caused by volcanic eruptions in Iceland; then bubonic plague (536-547) → century of economic stagnation
550 earliest block printing on paper (China, c. 550) → widespread use of printed books in 11ᵗʰ century Song dynasty China
620 discovery of Antarctica by Polynesian Māoris (Hui Te Rangiora on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, from New Zealand, early 7ᵗʰ century) → numerous visits over subsequent centuries
628 introduction of rules governing the use of zero in number systems (Brahmagupta, India, Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta 628)
650 death of the prophet Muhammad (Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 632) and transcribing of his revelations in the Qur'an → rise of Islam, with prayer guiding righteous deeds and paradise as reward; hell for disbelievers
700 Islamic Golden Age, from 8ᵗʰ to 14ᵗʰ centuries: flourishing art, design, architecture, and scientific innovation
754 establishment of the Papal States (Pope Stephen II, central Italy, 754) → global reach of the Catholic Church headed by a pope; 900 years of European art and architecture in the service of Christianity
841 earliest use of statistical inference (Abū Yūsuf Ya'qūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī, Iraq, Risalah fi Istikhraj al-Mu'amma 841) → cryptography; analysis of distributed variables
874 Norse colonisation of Iceland, 874; deforestation and sheep grazing erode soils, driving down the island’s vegetation irretrievably to a half, and forests to 4%, of original extent
900 earliest windmills (Khorasan, Iran-Afghanistan, c. 900, recorded by Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad Iṣṭakhrī)
985 Norse colonisation of Greenland by Erik Thorvaldsson, 985; Newfoundland by his son Leif, c. 1010 → harvesting North American stockfish and eiderdown for a century
1000 sexagesimal subdivision of the hour into 60 minutes, and the minute into 60 seconds (Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni, Iran, c. 1000)
1044 formula for gunpowder, used for fire arrows, incendiary projectiles, smoke bombs (Northern Song dynasty, China, Wujing Zongyao 1044) → cannons by 1128, guns by c. 1270, rockets by 1272
1055 first hospice (Jerusalem, c. 1055) → professional palliative care for the dying
1060 beginning of 300 years of warring Crusades in the name of the Latin Church, against Islamic rule in the biblical Land of Israel and Palestine
1120 first government-issued paper money (Song dynasty, China) → a trusted IOU bundling Aristotle’s functions of money, as medium of exchange, mode of payment, unit of account, store of value
1150 eastward migrating Asian Polynesians meet westward migrating South Americans (southern Pacific Marquesas Islands, c. 1150) → admixture on Easter Island by 1380, construction of monumental stone statues
1206 rise of the Mongol Empire connecting the Pacific to the Mediterranean, founded by Genghis Khan; recounted by Marco Polo c. 1300 → 35 million male-line descendants of Genghis Khan across modern Asia
1215 first declaration of human rights: Magna Carta (King John of England, 15/6/1215) → Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
1283 first mechanical clock with an escapement mechanism (Dunstable Priory, Britain, 1283), regulating clock speed
1286 discovery of the art of making eyeglasses (anon., Italy, 1286), “one of the best and most necessary arts that the world has” – Friar Giordano da Rivalto, 23/2/1305 → 2.5 billion people needing yet not having glasses in 2016
1337 accretion of personal wealth from gold by Mansa Musa I (c. 1280-1337), Emperor of Mali and richest person in history: peak of inequality amongst individuals → gold still a safe haven in money markets
1347 plague caused by the Black Death bacillus Yersinia pestis originating in the Himalayas kills a third of the human population across much of Europe, 1347-51, transmitted by rats and their fleas
1350 earliest cultivation of Coffea arabica for coffee (Yemen, using Ethiopian seeds, 14ᵗʰ century) → 100 million coffee farmers supplying 2 billion cups per day; extinction threats to most wild coffee species
1400 birth of the European Renaissance (Italy), rise of individuality, imagination, innovation, capitalism
1418 accurate geometrical perspective in painting (Filippo Brunelleschi, Italy, c. 1418; codified by Leon Battista Alberti, Italy, De Pictura 1436)
1440 first mechanical printing press with movable type (Johannes Gutenberg, Germany, 1440) → mass production of pamphlets, books, journals, newspapers
1492 European mariners reach the Americas (Christopher Columbus from Spain, 1492) → colonial settlements; 16ᵗʰ century Columbian Exchange of cultural infrastructure between New and Old Worlds, and Great Dying of 56 million indigenous peoples of the Americas
1498 European mariners reach India (Vasco da Gama from Portugal, 1498), connecting the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean → colonial empires in Africa and Asia; Indian Ocean trade; global multiculturalism
1500 foundations of Western art laid by Leonardo da Vinci (Italy, 1452-1519) and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (Italy, 1475-1564), in humanist sculpture, drawing, portraiture and frescos
1510 technical drawing of anatomical features, mechanisms and engineering designs (Leonardo da Vinci, Italy, c. 1510)
1516 concept of utopia, imagined as an island society in the New World that meets all human desires (Thomas More, Britain, Utopia 1516) → political ideal theory
1517 Reformation, splitting the universal Christian world into sects (Martin Luther, Germany, 1517)
1522 first circumnavigation of the globe (Ferdinand Magellan from Spain to Philippines, Juan Sebastián Elcano return to Spain, 1519-22) → globalisation of sea trade
1526 beginning of the Atlantic slave trade by Europeans (1526) → 12 million slaves exported from Africa to the Americas up to 1900
1542 global population of humans passes 500 million; annual energy use per person averages 9,800 kWh, 14× the resting metabolism

6. Scientific Revolution

CE 1543 theory of Earth and the planets revolving around the Sun (Nicolaus Copernicus, Poland, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium 1543) → pursuit of supporting evidence
1582 introduction of the Gregorian calendar (Pope Gregory XIII, Italy, 1582) → de facto international standard for civil calendars
1605 first modern novel (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote 1605 and 1615): an unreliable narrator describes the funny consequences of free will colliding with fate
1608 invention of the refracting telescope (Hans Lipperhey, Netherlands, 1608)
1609 inversion of the refracting telescope to create a compound microscope (Galileo Galilei, Italy, described in Il Saggiatore 1623) → cryo-electron microscopy imaging atoms in molecules by 2020
1610 observations of the orbits of Jupiter’s moons (Galileo Galilei, Italy, Sidereus Nuncius 1610), falsifying doctrine of Earth as the only centre of movement in the Universe → birth of evidence-based science
1612 concept of a universal clock, calibrated on orbital periods of Jupiter’s moons (Galileo Galilei, Italy, 1612) → accurate estimation of longitude for navigation, given a stable observation platform
1619 distances of planets from the Sun measured relative to Earth’s distance of 1 astronomical unit (Johannes Kepler, Germany, Harmonices Mundi 1619)
1621 first medical treatise on mental welfare (Robert Burton, Britain, The Anatomy of Melancholy 1621), the author confiding in his reader → association with nature, physical health and exercise, social stability and inclusion
1628 first graph of distributed observations (Michael Florent van Langren, Netherlands, 1628); line graphs and bar charts by 1786 → data visualisation that saves lives
1632 basic principle of relativity: the laws of nature apply equally to any frame of reference in constant linear motion, regardless of its speed (Galileo Galilei, Italy, Dialogo 1632)
1637 idea that truth is the product of autonomous reason (René Descartes, France, Discours de la Méthode 1637; Méditations 1641) → emancipation from revelational truth and religious doctrine; distinction of mind from matter
1642 earliest functioning mechanical calculator, for addition and subtraction: the Pascaline (Blaise Pascal, France, 1642)
1650 relatedness of married couples averages about fourth cousin in 1650 for Europe and North America → decreasing only from 1870 onwards with cousin marriage prohibitions
1656 first pendulum clock (Christiaan Huygens, Netherlands, 25/12/1656), developing on ideas by Galileo Galilei → unsurpassed accuracy on land for 275 years
1665 identification of organismal cells (Robert Hooke, Britain, Micrographia 1665), the smallest unit of structure and function for all life forms
1665 concept and measure of Gross Domestic Product: GDP, the annual value of a country’s produce or income (William Petty, Britain, 1665) → still the predominant index of economic prosperity
1676 first determination of the speed of light (Ole Rømer, Denmark, 1676) → 299,792 km per second; astronomical distance of 1 light-year = 9.46 trillion km travelled by light in 1 year
1687 formulation of laws of motion and universal gravitation (Isaac Newton, Britain, Principia 1687) → foundation of classical mechanics, European Age of Enlightenment
1690 extinction of the dodo (Mauritius, c. 1690) → symbol of stupidity: the pigeon that couldn’t fly; later symbolic of human wreckage across three-quarters of Earth’s land and two-thirds of oceans
1700 rapid colonisation of Americas, India and Australia by Europeans from the early 1700s → dominion of India by the British East India Company from 1760s; British rule 1858-1947
1700 modest improvements in global GDP per capita since CE 1 now begin accelerating in western Europe and North America → acceleration in Latin America and Asia from 1950, Africa from 2000
1735 cataloguing of organisms by genera and species (Carl Linnaeus, Sweden, Systema Naturae 1735-1768) → taxonomic classification of all organisms
1759 first accurate sea clock (John Harrison’s H4, Britain, 1759), a pocket watch with high-frequency balance wheel, solving the problem of longitude for marine navigation
1761 first observed transit of Venus across the Sun (6/6/1761) → 1 astronomical unit of distance from Earth to Sun equal to 149,597,870.691 km
1769 invention of the first cost-effective steam engine (James Watt, Britain, 1769) → powered machinery, Industrial Revolution
1770 invention of the spinning jenny (James Hargreaves, Britain, 1770), mechanising the spinning of cotton → cloth weaving factories (1771)
1773 establishment of the law of conservation of mass (Antoine Lavoisier, France, 1773): the amount of matter cannot change
1774 vaccination with an attenuated pathogen: cowpox to treat smallpox (Benjamin Jesty, Britain, 1774; Edward Jenner, Britain, 1798) → artificial attenuation by 1881; vaccination programmes save more lives than any other medical intervention in history
1776 declaration of independence of the United States of America from colonial rule, and of the unalienable rights of everyone to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (4/7/1776) → economic superstate of the USA
1776 idea that pursuit of self-interest leads to the common good (Adam Smith, Britain, The Wealth of Nations 1776) → free markets, producing unequal opportunity unless government regulates trade
1778 first national nature reserve (Bogd Khan Uul, Mongolia, 1778) → global protected areas cover 15% of land and 11% of ocean by 2017

7. Industrial Revolution

CE 1780 mass production of spun textiles, mechanised by water power; coal-fired and steam-powered production of iron and steel (beginning Britain, c. 1780) → economies of scale, rising polarisation of rich and poor nations, dominance of fossil fuels
1781 inherent limits to the powers of reason (Immanuel Kant, Germany, Critique of Pure Reason 1781): knowledge springs from understanding the objects of experience; pure reason is properly directed only to moral imperatives
1783 invention of aviation: first piloted free flight by humans, in a hot-air balloon constructed by Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (France, 21/11/1783)
1789 spread of Republicanism (French Revolution, 1789-1799) → radical socio-political transformation in western Europe; building of nation states; metric system of weights and measures by 1792
1792 indictment of double standards in the treatment of women by men (Mary Wollstonecraft, Britain, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792) → slow progress towards gender equality
1798 calculation of Earth’s density, using a torsion balance (Henry Cavendish, Britain, 1798) → Newton’s gravitational constant G determining the gravitational force between two masses
1798 observation that population growth capacity always outpaces improvements in resources (Thomas Malthus, Britain, 1798) → the struggle for existence facing all organisms; the challenge to human wellbeing, until the advent of oil-based economies
1799 first electrochemical battery (Alessandro Volta, Italy, 1799), sandwiching electrolyte-soaked pasteboard between two dissimilar metals to create a steady voltage → mobile energy storage
1807 concept of the mutual dependence of physical, climatological and organic phenomena (Alexander von Humboldt, Prussia, 1807) → science of biogeography
1808 discovery of atoms, uniquely defining each chemical element of ordinary matter (John Dalton, UK, 1808) → atomic masses of Earth’s 94 elements, hydrogen accounting for nine tenths of all atoms in the Universe
1817 invention of the bicycle (Karl von Drais, Germany, 1817) → pedals by 1853, chain by 1886, derailleur by 1895; the most efficient human-powered land vehicle
1821 first demonstration of an electromagnetic rotary device (Michael Faraday, UK, 1821) → dynamos to generate electricity; electric motors to convert electricity into mechanical energy
1822 first prediction of Earth’s greenhouse effect (Joseph Fourier, France, 1822; empirical measurements by John Tyndall, Ireland, 1859) → CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels cause global climate warming
1825 first public railway for steam locomotives (George Stephenson, UK, 1825), outpacing carriage horses, previously the fastest land transport during 5,300 years of human history
1826 publication of String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor Op. 131 by Ludwig van Beethoven (Germany, 1826), “hear only the direct revelation from another world” – Richard Wagner, 1870
1827 first permanent photograph taken by a camera (Nicéphore Niépce, France, 1827) → Louis Daguerre seizing the light, arresting its flight on silvered plate, preserving a moment
1834 invention of the Analytical Engine (Charles Babbage, UK, 1834), functional yet unbuilt → first computer programs by Babbage and Ada Lovelace; programmable computers by 1940s
1838 first scheduled trans-Atlantic steamer: coal-fired Great Western (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, UK, 1838) → globalisation of economies
1848 scale of absolute temperature (Lord Kelvin, UK, 1848): fundamental limit to degree of coldness at 0 K = −273°C → not for quantum gases
1850 principles of conservation of energy and gain of entropy (Rudolf Clausius, Germany, and Lord Kelvin, UK, 1850) → laws of thermodynamics: heat flows from a warmer to a colder body – unless reversed by inertia
1850 industrial processing of flour and sugar; fattening of cattle in feedlots (Europe and USA, beginning c. 1850) → biggest dietary shift since the beginning of agriculture
1856 first practical compression refrigerator (James Harrison, Australia, 1856), for storing perishable foods → globalisation of trade in fresh and frozen meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables
1859 invention of the lead-acid cell (Gaston Planté, France, 1859), the first rechargeable battery → practical electric vehicles by the 1880s
1859 theory of evolution by natural selection (Charles Darwin, UK, On the Origin of Species 1859), a law unique to biological systems → heritable adaptations of individuals to their environment, speciation of populations through time, the diversity of life
1859 first training manual for care of the sick regardless of their means (Florence Nightingale, UK, Notes on Nursing 1859) → professional nursing, health benefits of personal cleanliness
1860 factory production of internal-combustion engines (Jean Lenoir, Belgium, 1860; user manual 1864) → electricity generators, vehicular transport
1860 development of Western modern art, during 100 years from c. 1860, depicting impressions of light and movement, expressive colours and forms, collective struggle, decisive moments and experience
1866 discovery of the unitary character of heritable traits, the alternative forms of each, and their independent assortment (Gregor Mendel, Austria, 1866) → the gene as unit of heredity, contained in chromosomes – but not for Borgs
1867 theory that capitalism exploits labour, with the objectionable consequence of empowering the rich by disadvantaging the poor (Carl Marx, Germany, Das Kapital 1867, 1885, 1894) → Marxism, socialism, Stalinism
1874 discovery of unequal infinities: the infinite continuum of all real numbers exceeds in size any infinite set of natural numbers (Georg Cantor, Germany, 1874) → three sizes of infinity?
1876 invention of the telephone (Alexander Bell, USA, 1876) → telecommunications
1877 invention of the phonograph (Thomas Edison, USA, 1877), first practical sound recording → gramophone, mass production of records (1890s), popularisation of individual artists
1879 invention of the electric light bulb (Thomas Edison, USA, 1879), providing cheap and safe illumination → organic light-emitting diodes by the 21ˢᵗ century
1880 invention of the photophone (Alexander Bell and Sumner Tainter, USA, 1880), transmitting sound on a beam of light → fibre-optic data transmission by 1966
1880 adult literacy reaches 20% of the global population by 1880 → 85% by 2010
1882 first commercially viable power stations, coal-fired (London and New York, 1882) → electrical grid; fossil fuels providing 63% of global electricity generation by 2019
1882 first hydroelectric power station (Jacob Schoellkopf, USA, 1882) → megadams replumbing the world’s major rivers from the 1950s; 16% of global (and 98% of Norway’s) electricity generation by 2019
1884 first rooftop photovoltaic solar array (Charles Fritts, USA, 1884) → rising to 3% of global electricity generation by 2019
1884 beginning of the Scramble for Africa by European powers (1884), occupying nine tenths by 1914 → ethnic partitioning through official colonial rule through to c. 1960
1886 first car with gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (Karl Benz, Germany, 1886) → 97 million motor vehicles produced globally per year by 2017: peak production?
1887 speed of light is invariant to source and observer motion (Albert Michelson and Edward Morley, USA, 1887) → upper limit to speed of matter and information, except for celestial objects separated by expanding space
1887 first wind-powered turbine for production of electricity (James Blyth, UK, 1887) → rising to 5% of global electricity generation by 2019
1890 centralised sewerage treatment plants (UK, USA, Australia, 1890s), preventing spread of diseases
1893 first self-governing democracy to grant women the vote (New Zealand, 1893) → rising women’s employment, diminishing yet ever-present gender inequality and bias
1895 first wireless transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves (Guglielmo Marconi, Italy, 1895), global radio communication by 1901 → radio broadcasts by 1920s; radar by 1930s
1895 first commercial screening of motion-picture films (Auguste and Louis Lumière, France, 1895) → birth of cinema, entrancing audiences with captured events and experience
1895 discovery of X-rays and production of X-ray images (Wilhelm Röntgen, Germany, 1895) → radiography
1896 discovery of natural radioactivity (Henri Becquerel, France, 1896) → radioisotopic labelling and dating
1897 first detection of an elementary – fundamental, subatomic and indivisible – particle: the electron (Joseph Thomson, UK, 1897)
1899 Planck units: natural units for length, time, mass and temperature (Max Planck, Germany, 1899) → fundamental limit to the degree of heat = 1.42 × 10³² K
1900 Planck’s law: every physical body emits electromagnetic radiation (Max Planck, Germany, 1900) → quantum mechanics, explaining the subatomic workings of the Universe
1900 theory of the unconscious mind and emotions guiding and motivating human behaviour (Sigmund Freud, Austria, The Interpretation of Dreams 1900) → limits to rational behaviour; foundation of psychoanalysis
1900 two-thirds of the global population living in extreme poverty, on less than US$1/day (1985 prices), by 1900 → one-quarter by 1990, amid rising geopolitical inequality up to 1950
1900 global average life expectancy equals 32 years by 1900 → doubling over the next 75 years, exposing diseases of ageing
1903 first powered, controlled flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft (Orville and Wilbur Wright, USA, 17/12/1903) → 4.4 billion airline passengers per year by 2019: peak volume?
1904 first quantification of dark matter (Lord Kelvin, UK, 1904), with gravitational influence yet no electromagnetic interactions; most of the matter in the Universe, concentrated amongst galaxy clusters
1905 theory of special relativity (Albert Einstein, Switzerland, 1905): energy-mass equivalence; length-contraction of moving objects and time-dilation of moving clocks relative to an observer → nuclear physics
1905 earliest chainsaw for cutting wood (Samuel Bens, USA, 1905), portable by 1918 → 2 billion m³ of wood produced globally by 2018, for construction, packaging, paper, pulp, fuel
1907 first fully synthetic organic polymer: Bakelite plastic (Leo Baekeland, USA, 1907) → large-scale production of plastics from 1950, dominated by polythene
1908 industrial-scale synthesis of ammonia from ambient nitrogen (BASF, Germany, 1908) using the Haber-Bosch process → chemical fertilisers release crops from nitrogen limitation, fuelling the human population explosion
1908 unification of 3D space and 1D unidirectional time into absolute spacetime (Hermann Minkowski, Germany, 1908): deceleration through time accompanies acceleration through space, and vice versa
1909 first people to set foot on Earth’s Poles (North Pole: Robert Peary and Matthew Henson, USA, 1909; South Pole: Roald Amundsen, Norway, 1911)
1913 introduction of factory assembly lines for mass production of Ford Model T cars (Ford Motor Company, USA, 1913): dedicating one worker to each step → efficient manufacturing by robotic labour
1914 World War I (1914-18), 32 nations participate, 20 million killed: “the war to end war
1914 opening of the Panama Canal (15/8/1914), the shortest route for shipping most cargo between Atlantic and Pacific oceans
1915 mass deployment of X-ray units (Marie Curie, France, 1915) for treatment of over 1 million wounded soldiers
1916 theory of general relativity (Albert Einstein, Germany, 1916): equivalent effects of gravity and acceleration; gravity as a distortion of spacetime by massive objects → unresolved incompatibility with quantum mechanics
1917 Russian Revolution (Russia, 1917) → first communist state: USSR, 1922-1991
1917 a urinal made by a plumber becomes a sculpture made by the force of an imagination (Marcel Duchamp, France, Fountain 1917): reorientation of art away from craft, onto interpretation
1918 Spanish flu pandemic (1918-20): H1N1 influenza virus infects one third of the global population and kills 50-100 million, mostly in the 2ⁿᵈ wave; early interventions reduce mortality
1919 demonstration of nervous mechanisms in plants, paralleling those in animals (Jagadish Chandra Bose, Bengal, 1919)
1919 observations of starlight deflection during a Solar eclipse confirm the gravitational lensing prediction of general relativity (Arthur Eddington, UK, 1919)
1919 first commercial radio broadcasts (PCGG, Netherlands, 1919); global uptake during 1920s → dissemination of time signals, news, propaganda, education, entertainment; storytelling for the complicit listener
1921 discovery of insulin (Frederick Banting and Charles Best, Canada, 1921) → treatment of diabetes, now afflicting 1 in 10 of the global population, particularly in high-income and urban areas
1922 invention of leaded petrol (General Motors, USA, 1922), improving engine performance, causing epidemics of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and developmental delays in children → global elimination by 2021
1922 prediction of an expanding Universe (Alexander Friedmann, Russia, 1922) → dark energy accelerating the expansion of a flat or possibly closed, cyclic or hologram Universe
1923 concept of every quantum entity having dual nature, as both wave and particle (Louis de Broglie, France, 1923, Niels Bohr, Denmark, 1928) → no independent physical reality of atomic phenomena
1924 first aerial circumnavigation of the world (US Army Air Service, 1924) → globalisation of human mobility
1926 first working television system (John Logie Baird, UK, 1926) → nationwide television broadcasting by 1929, bringing rulers to their subjects, entertainers to viewers, inspiring awe
1926 Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery (League of Nations, 1926) → commitment by 99 of 195 countries since 2008; still 168 million child labourers and 21 million forced labourers
1927 a car outpaces a racehorse (La Chapelle, France, 1927) → dominion of the automobile for land transport and haulage
1927 principle that every particle has a constant product of its variances in position and momentum (Werner Heisenberg, Germany, 1927) → no precisely determinable Universe
1928 prediction of positron particles, the antimatter counterpart of electrons (Paul Dirac, UK, 1928) → abundant antimatter at the birth of the Universe; cosmic rays, positron emission tomography
1928 identification of plasma, the fourth fundamental state of matter after solids, liquids and gases (Irving Langmuir, USA, 1928)
1928 first experimental isolation of an antibiotic: penicillin (Alexander Fleming, UK, 1928) → healthcare revolution; antibiotic overuse driving resistance in pathogens
1929 Great Depression, symbolised by the Wall Street Crash of 29/10/1929 and the North American Dust Bowl of the 1930s22% drop in worldwide GDP
1930 postulation of neutrinos (Wolfgang Pauli, Austria, 1930), the smallest elementary particle and one of the most abundant in the Universe, rarely interacting with other matter
1931 proof that no set of consistent axioms can suffice to derive all mathematical truths, to leave none undecidable (Kurt Gödel, Germany, 1931) → incomplete reality
1932 discovery of neutrons (James Chadwick, UK, 1932), with protons constituting the nuclei of atoms → atomic energy; nuclear fission by 1938; nuclear chain reactions; atomic bombs and nuclear energy
1934 first radio detection and ranging (Navel Research Laboratory, USA, 1934): radar, concurrently developed in UK, Germany and other countries, targeting aircraft, ships, submarines and weather
1935 concept of the ecosystem (Arthur Tansley, UK, 1935), a complex association of organisms with their environment → value of nature to humans from provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting ecosystem services
1938 invention of nylon (Wallace Carothers, DuPont, USA, 1938), the first synthetic textile fibre → filaments, films, bristles, cords, washers, sacking, fabrics, hosiery and clothing, spacesuits, parachutes, fishing nets and longlines
1939 first turbojet powered aircraft (Heinkel He 178, Germany, 1939) → jet planes
1939 World War II (1939-45), 184 nations participate, 60 million killed, including genocide of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust 1941-45
1941 development of frequency-hopping radio communication (Hedy Markey [Hedy Lamarr] and George Antheil, USA, 1941) → Bluetooth and Wi-Fi by 1990s
1941 first binary-logic digital programmable computer: Z3 (Konrad Zuse, Germany, 1941)
1942 discovery of insecticidal action of DDT (Paul Müller, Switzerland, 1942), the most successful chemical ever synthesised to control malaria → toxicity in food chains exposed by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 1962; worldwide ban 2004
1944 first electronic digital programmable computer: Colossus (Tommy Flowers, UK, 1944) → code-breaking that hastened the end of World War II
1945 first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare: the US atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (Japan, 6/8/1945), killing 130,000 outright → the Atomic Age
1945 establishment of the United Nations (UN, 1945), with a mission to maintain international peace, security and cooperation

8. Technological Revolution

CE 1945 first proposed electronic calculator (Alan Turing, UK, 1945) → modern stored-program computers
1947 first supersonic flight, in a rocket-powered aircraft (Chuck Yeager in Bell X-1, USA, 14/10/1947) → space exploration
1948 invention of the transistor (Bell Labs, USA, 1948) → transistor radios by 1950s; integrated circuits by 1959; microprocessors by 1971; consumer electronics
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 10/12/1948): all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
1949 invention of the barcode (Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver, USA, 1949) → automated product tracking
1950 start of the Anthropocene Epoch, humans using 22×10²¹ joules of energy over the next 70 years, 1.5× more than all energy use during the previous 11,700 years: accelerating combustion of fossil fuels, their greenhouse gases trapping a further 10× more solar energy in the oceans
1950 beginning of a rapid acceleration in global crop yields through innovations in seed varieties, agrochemicals, irrigation, mechanisation → Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, global cereal yield tripling over 60 years from 1960, provisioning feedlots of up to 100,000 cattle
1950 global GDP per capita having tripled over the previous 130 years to 1950, tripling again over the next 50 years; North Americans and western Europeans achieving more than 3× the global average wage
1951 genocide becomes a crime under international law (UN, 1951); genocide events over the next 50 years kill more than 12 million civilians
1951 over 500 above-ground tests of nuclear weapons through to 1980 release 6 tonnes of plutonium and other radionuclides, detectable globally in sediments, soils and organismal tissues for 100,000 years into the future
1952 half the world adult population has at least basic education by 1952 → three-quarters by 1990
1953 molecular structure of DNA (Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick, UK, 1953) → access to the genetic code of relatedness, form and function for all living organisms, through evolutionary time as far back as 700,000 years and in the environment
1953 ascent to the highest point on Earth: Mount Everest 8,848 m (Tenzing Norgay, Nepal, and Edmund Hillary, New Zealand, 29/5/1953)
1954 first nuclear power plant (Obninsk, USSR, 1954) → advent of clean energy: 10% of global electricity generation in 2019; nuclear disasters: Chernobyl, Ukraine, 26/4/1986
1955 first accurate atomic clock (Louis Essen and Jack Parry, UK, 1955): time as atomic oscillations → establishment of the atomic standard of time interval; Coordinated Universal Time, UTC, starting 1/1/1960
1956 first shipment of freight in standardized intermodal containers (Malcom McLean, USA, 1956) → globalisation of commerce
1956 emergence of pop art (Richard Hamilton, UK, 1956; Andy Warhol, USA, 1962), its impersonal style anticipating a commodified and media-saturated world of illusory promise, desire and consumerism
1957 first orbiting space satellite (Sputnik 1, USSR, 4/10/1957) → global telecommunications, Global Positioning System: GPS, Earth observation, intelligence gathering
1957 first living being to leave Earth for outer space: stray mongrel dog Laika in Sputnik II (USSR, 3/11/1957), deceased in passage
1959 the Great Chinese Famine 1959-1961, the worst famine in history: Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ policy colliding with drought to cause 15-45 million deaths
1959 Antarctic Treaty (1/12/1959), designating use of the continent of Antarctica solely for peaceful purposes and scientific investigation, and prohibiting nuclear activity → need for Māori insight
1960 descent to the deepest point in the oceans: Mariana Trench at 10,911 m (Jacques Piccard, Switzerland, and Don Walsh, USA, in the bathyscaphe Trieste, 23/1/1960), the last frontier of Earth exploration
1960 first female head of a democratic government: Sirimavo Bandaranaike, serving three terms as prime minister of Ceylon then Sri Lanka between 1960 and 2000
1960 first laser beam (Theodore Maiman, USA, 1960) → LiDAR mapping; cutting, welding, printing, precision surgery; reading/writing data; trapping atoms; 21ˢᵗ century interferometry
1960 first government-approval of oral contraceptives for use by the public (US FDA, 1960) → women take control over their fertility, liberating them to develop professional careers
1960 formation of The Beatles rock band (UK, 1960) → globalisation of musical influence in the 1960s
1961 first astronaut in outer space (Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1, USSR, 12/4/1961), completing one Earth orbit during a 108-minute flight → the Space Age
1964 origin of mass explained by interactions with Higgs quantum field (Peter Higgs, UK, and others, 1964) → Standard Model of particle physics
1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN, 1965) → commitments from 182 countries since 2019; race still defining exposure to violence
1967 postulation of imperfect symmetry between matter and antimatter (Andrei Sakharov, USSR, 1967) → surplus of matter over antimatter since the early Universe
1967 Outer Space Treaty (UN, 1967), the basis of international space law → freedom for all to explore space, and prohibition of weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit
1968 peak growth rate of 2.07% in the world human population (1968), averaging 3.7 offspring per female → growth rate halved by 2020, in an ageing global population
1969 first astronaut on the Moon (Neil Armstrong, USA, 20/7/1969), delivered by a 160-million horsepower Saturn V rocket; the Apollo 11 Command Module returning to Earth 4 days later
1969 first host-to-host computer connection (ARPANET, USA, 29/10/1969): “lo” sent across 500 km → Internet by the 1980s; first quantum network by 2017
1970 proof of the birth of the Universe in a spacetime singularity (Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, UK, 1970)
1970 first optical disc encoding binary data (James Russell, USA, 1970) → digitisation of data storage, sound recording and playback
1972 recognition by governments worldwide that fossil-fuel combustion threatens Earth’s atmosphere (UN Conference on the Human Environment 1972), understood by the growing environmental movement as a crisis rooted in Western worldviews of nature as commodity
1972 atomic clocks flown east around the world lose time to clocks flown west, confirming the time-dilation predicted by special relativity (Joseph Hafele and Richard Keating, USA, 1972)
1972 creation of first recombinant DNA, from a polyomavirus and a bacteriophage (Paul Berg, USA, 1972) → first transgenic mammal: a mouse (Rudolf Jaenisch and Beatrice Mintz, USA, 1974)
1973 concept of natural capital: the stock of natural resources (Ernst Schumacher, UK, Small is Beautiful 1973) → an asset that underpins human, social, manufactured and financial capitals, its qualities of mobility, silence and invisibility defying economic measurement, exposing it to unregulated human activities
1973 global average life expectancy exceeds 60 years by 1973 → 70 years by 2008 and rising for all countries; strengthening link to affluence, which drives down natural capital
1975 fraction of world adult population overweight or obese (BMI > 25 kg/m²) rises above 20% by 1975 → 39% by 2016, rising fastest in the young
1975 first personal computer: Altair 8800 (John Blankenbaker, USA, 1975), word processing software by 1976, spreadsheets by 1979 → digital media beginning to replace paper and celluloid by the end of the 20ᵗʰ century
1975 first global commitment to cross-border environmental protection: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1975) → illegal trade still threatening wildlife and human health
1976 first probe to land on another planet, our nearest neighbour Mars, and send back images of the surface (NASA’s Viking 1, 20/7/1976)
1977 indigenous Green Belt Movement (Wangari Maathai, Kenya, 1977), combatting poverty with environmental conservation → UN Billion Tree Campaign (2006); One Trillion Tree Initiative (2020)
1978 first human born on the Antarctic mainland (Esperanza Base, Argentina, 7/1/1978) → continuous human settlement of every continent on Earth
1978 first human born from in vitro fertilisation (IVF, UK, 1978)
1979 completion of the Standard Model, combining quantum mechanics with special relativity to explain how elementary particles determine the composition of all matter and all its governing forces except gravitation (1979)
1980 global eradication of smallpox (WHO, 1980), after it kills 300 million people and one-third of those infected during the 20ᵗʰ century, the only infectious disease of humans to have been eradicated by vaccination
1981 first diagnosis of AIDS (USA, 1981) → identification of causal HIV by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, France, 1983; global epidemic killing 36 million by 2021; continuing health risk
1982 adoption of the World Charter for Nature (UN, 1982, only USA voting against) recognising nature’s intrinsic value, establishing the imperative of keeping human activities within Earth’s limits
1983 activation of standardized Internet Protocol (USA, 1983) → proliferation of email, file transfer, Internet forums, information sharing
1983 genetic engineering enters mainstream agriculture, then medicine, with patents for genetically modified crop plants (International Plant Research Institute, 1983), and transgenic animals (Harvard College, USA, OncoMouse 1988)
1984 first untethered spacewalk (Space Shuttle 41-B, Challenger, USA, 7/2/1984)
1985 discovery of a human-induced hole in the stratospheric ozone layer (1985) → increase in UV-B radiation at Earth’s surface, changing climate, causing DNA damage to phytoplankton and plants; potential forest sterility and skin cancers
1985 first aircraft to fly on another planet: VeGa balloons in the cloud system of Venus (USSR + 8 European countries, 1985) → Earth’s evil twin, yet potential for life in the clouds?
1985 discovery of the enzyme telomerase controlling cellular ageing (Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, USA, 1985) → eternal lifespan of cancer cells
1986 beginnings of continuous colonisation of space, in low Earth orbit (Mir Space Station, USSR, 20/2/1986) → International Space Station from 2/11/2000
1986 global population of humans passes 5 billion; annual energy use per person averages 18,300 kWh, 26× the resting metabolism
1987 global agreement to ban hydrochlorofluorocarbons and other ozone depleting substances (Montreal Protocol, 1987), the only UN protocol to be ratified by every country on Earth → punctuated recovery of stratospheric ozone, slowing Earth’s warming
1987 sustainable development enters economics, as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Report 1987) → ecosystems as capital assets, economies as systems embedded within nature
1988 first assessment that global climate warming has begun (James Hansen, Senate testimony to US Congress, 23/6/1988) → creation of the IPCC, 1988; human imperative to stabilise climate change
1989 invention of the World Wide Web information system (Tim Berners-Lee, UK, 1989) → birth of the Information Age
1990 spacecraft Voyager 1 photographs the sunlit Earth from a distance of 6 billion km (NASA, 14/2/1990): Pale Blue Dot, our place in the cosmos
1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA with ESA, 1990) → observing the birth of stars, growth of galaxies, prevalence of black holes, atmospheres of exoplanets
1992 first detection of exoplanets, orbiting a neutron star 2,300 light-years from Earth (Arecibo Observatory and NRAO, USA, 1992) → possibility of extra-terrestrial life on temperate and moist planets, perhaps feeding off radiolytic H₂; beings for whom we are aliens
1992 global commitment by nation states to conservation of biodiversity, and sustainable use and equitable sharing of its benefits (UN Convention on Biological Diversity: CBD, 1992) → ratified by every country except the USA
1992 first Internet server for streaming media (StarWorks, 1992) → rise of on-demand and live video and audio streaming during the 2000s; personalisation of entertainment and nostalgia
1993 tuning of enzyme functions by directed evolution (Frances Arnold, USA, 1993) → environmentally friendly production of pharmaceuticals and renewable fuels
1994 launch of online marketplace Amazon.com (Jeff Bezos, USA, 1994) → world’s largest cloud-computing platform
1995 observation of Bose-Einstein condensate (NIST, USA, 1995), a fifth state of matter with properties unlike solids, liquids, gases, plasmas → quantum mechanical description of gravity?
1995 peak of global marine fishery catch, at 130 million tonnes during 1995 → thereafter diminishing returns for a still expanding global fishery
1996 first cloned mammal (Dolly the sheep, Roslin Institute, UK, 1996) → cloning of human stem cells from embryos by 2013 in pursuit of novel therapies; moral, ethical, and social dilemmas
1996 first practical solar-powered aircraft (Icaré 2, Germany, 1996) → race for clean-energy applications; emerging political vision
1997 first robotic rover lands on Mars and measures surface composition (NASA’s Sojourner, 4/7/1997) → Mars Express spacecraft finds liquid water in 2018, conducive to life and to human colonisation
1997 adoption of the Kyoto Protocol by 192 countries (UNFCC, 1997), binding 37 industrialised and industrialising countries plus the EU to targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions → still rising by 2019
1998 creation of Google search technology, as a student project (Larry Page and Sergey Brin, USA, 1998) → efficient acquisition of knowledge; pay-per-click business model and online shopping
2000 calory deficit afflicts 15% of the global population in the year 2000 → 11% by 2018; climate change exacerbating undernourishment and obesity
2000 ongoing and accelerating rise in global mean sea level exceeds 3 mm/year by 2000, regulated by thermal expansion, ice-mass loss and large-scale dams → no scenario that stops sea-level rise this century
2001 launch of Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, USA, 15/1/2001), collating knowledge as a common good → world’s largest work of general reference, open to editing by registered users
2001 first draft sequence of the human genome: c. 25,000 genes in 3 billion base pairs (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, USA, + 23 institutes, 2001), completed 2003Human Cell Atlas; gene therapy
2001 first space tourist (Dennis Tito, USA, with the Russian space programme to the International Space Station, 2001) → race to commercialise space travel by 2021
2001 terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon (USA, 11/9/2001) → accelerating globalisation of jihadi networks instigated in the 1980s, and counterterrorism strategies
2003 a heatwave across Europe causes 70,000 additional deaths in summer 2003, then with a return time of thousands of years → 100 years by 2015; rising frequency of record-shattering climate extremes, including marine heatwaves
2003 globally agreed enforcement of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CBD, 2003), governing translocation of living genetically modified organisms that threaten biodiversity
2004 launch of online social networking service Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, USA, 2004) → 1 billion users by 2012, 2 billion by 2017
2006 launch of microblogging service Twitter (Jack Dorsey, USA, 2006) → 500 million tweets per day by 2013; one-to-many echo chambers
2007 human urban population exceeds half the global population for the first time in historyurban wealth sustained by international trade that drives rural impoverishment; strengthening relation of fertility to poverty
2007 worldwide adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN, 2007) to be free and equal to all other peoples, supported by 182 nation states
2007 Great Recession (2007-9), free-fall of developed economies synchronised by global integration of markets
2008 first smartphone apps (iPhone App Store, 10/7/2008) → establishment of social media; 100 billion app downloads by 2015, 100 billion per year by 2020; no stewardship of global collective behaviour
2008 first national constitution to recognise rights of nature (Ecuador, 2008); first statutory law granting rights to nature, Bolivia 2010 → departure from nature as property
2008 global Internet traffic exceeds 10 trillion megabytes/month by 2008 → half the global population using the Internet by 2018; withdrawal of journalism behind paywalls, expansion of fake news, falsehoods and disinformation
2009 launch of first cryptocurrency: Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer medium of exchange by blockchain (Satoshi Nakamoto, 2009) → expanding carbon footprint from computationally intensive mining of digital coins
2009 humanity is overstepping three planetary boundaries to a safe operating space: climate change, biodiversity loss, nitrogen cycle → risk of abrupt ecological disruption, biosphere tipping points, and hothouse Earth
2010 creation of first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell (J. Craig Venter Institute, USA, 2010) → bioengineering with unlimited aspirations; artificial jellyfish built from rat cells by 2012; xenobots for intravenous drug delivery by 2020
2010 global agreement to implement 20 biodiversity targets by 2020 (CBD, 2010), to address causes of biodiversity loss, reduce pressures on biodiversity, safeguard ecosystems and their services → failure completely on 14, partially on 6
2011 international resolution against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (UN, 2011) → homosexuality legal in 133 of 195 countries by 2019, rising trend; recognition of a sex spectrum
2011 number of liberal and elected democracies in the world peaks at 101 in 2011, encompassing 55% of the global population
2011 two-thirds of the global population in 2011 have access to safe drinking water, a necessary condition for wellbeing; rising to almost three-quarters by 2020
2012 observation of Higgs boson: a fundamental force-carrier particle (CERN Large Hadron Collider, 4/7/2012) → validation of the Standard Model of particle physics
2012 more than half the world’s population tunes in to television coverage of the London Summer Olympics (2012)
2012 invention of CRISPR-Cas9 technology (Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, USA, 2012) → accurate, fast and cheap editing of genes and gene mutations in any organism, including – unethically – viable human embryos
2012 first human-made object escapes our Solar System and enters interstellar space, 18 billion km from the Sun (Voyager 1, 25/8/2012)
2013 atmospheric concentrations of CO₂ exceed 400 ppm for the first time in at least 3 million years, an accelerating rise (NOAA, Hawaii, 5/2013) → race for technologies to capture and use CO₂
2014 globally agreed enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (CBD, 2014), a legal framework for informed consent and benefit-sharing
2015 invention of the optical lattice clock (Hidetoshi Katori, Japan, 2015) → accuracy of 1 second in 15 billion years; ticking detectably faster with each centimetre of altitude, as predicted by general relativity
2015 a fishing boat sinks off the Mediterranean coast of Libya with the loss of 1,050 lives (18/4/2015) → 37.5 million people recorded displaced by conflict and violence as of 12/2019
2015 number of trees on Earth estimated at 3.04 trillion in 2015, down from 6.6 trillion at the start of human civilisation; annual cull of 15 billion → forest covering a quarter of global land area, declining
IV. PLANETARY MANAGEMENT

9. Sustainability Revolution

CE 2015 UN General Assembly of 194 countries adopts 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, to end poverty and other deprivations by improving health and education, reducing inequalities, addressing climate change and halting biodiversity loss (25/9/2015)
2015 UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change adopted by 196 nation states, resolving to keep global average temperature to well below 2°C in excess of pre-industrial levels, and striving to limit the increase to 1.5°C (12/12/2015) → slower losses of sea ice, permafrost, and biodiversity; no major economy on track by 2021
2015 accumulation since 1957 of 20,000 pieces of space debris bigger than an apple, travelling at up to 28,000 km/hr → risk to satellites and space stations, a problem for government space agencies of their own making
2015 human land use, rising exponentially up to 1960, still rising in 2015 for livestock grazing (27% of global land area), crops (7%), buildings, towns and cities (1%); industrial fishing in 55% of ocean area by 2015
2016 detection of gravitational waves (LIGO and Virgo interferometers, 11/2/2016), ripples in spacetime generated by accelerating bodies, predicted by the theory of general relativity
2016 coldest ground surface temperature on Earth: −110.9°C (central-eastern Antarctica, 2016); once temperate rainforests, now dry and salty antarctic soils uninhabitable even to microbes
2016 destruction of more than 6 million ha (60,000 km²) of tropical primary forest during 2016, an unprecedented peak in a rising trend → quick profit from drawing down natural capital, a down payment on future economic failure
2016 global land and ocean surface temperature for 2016 reaches 0.99°C above the 1951-1980 mean, Earth’s warmest year on record to date → roadmap for decarbonisation, implicating lifestyle choices
2016 loss of ice-sheet mass triples in Antarctica and doubles in Greenland from 2006 to 2016, accelerating sea-level rise → 190 million people at risk
2017 first national legislation for a mid-century target of net-zero emissions (Sweden, 2017) → Suriname and Bhutan CO₂-negative by 2019; net-zero pledges cover two-thirds of the global economy by 2021, while big emitters have yet to peak
2017 accumulation of plastic waste since 1950 exceeds 5 billion tonnes in landfills and the natural environment by 2017, more than 10× global human biomass → pervasive microplastics across the globe; paucity of options for mitigating harm
2018 humans and our livestock achieve respectively 9× and 14× the biomass of all wild mammals by 2018imperative of shifting towards plant-based diets, co-benefitting climate change and health
2018 hottest ground surface temperature on Earth: 80.8°C (Lut Desert, Iran, 2018; Sonoran Desert, Mexico, 2019), too hostile for plant life
2018 first commercial taxi service of fully self-driving cars (Google-Waymo, USA, 5/12/2018) → reducing traffic accidents, raising social dilemmas
2018 human activities have modified three-quarters of ice-free land and almost nine-tenths of the ocean by 2018; Earth’s remaining wildernesses become increasingly vital buffers against climate change
2019 first image of a black hole (Event Horizon Telescope, 10/4/2019), 55 million light-years from Earth, 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun, with spiralling magnetic fields, expelling jets of matter
2019 first global assessment of biodiversity finds 1 million of Earth’s 8 million species threatened by accelerating extinction rates (IPBES, 2019) → Earth’s sixth mass extinction imperils humanity’s life support systems, calling for transformative change
2019 Britain generates more electricity from zero-carbon sources than from fossil fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution (UK National Grid, 6/2019); fossil fuels still provide 84% of global primary energy
2019 energy use per person during 2019 exceeds the resting metabolism by 30× globally, and by 114× for citizens of the USA (cf. 15× for an elite athlete running a marathon)
2019 acidification of almost all open-ocean surface by absorption of anthropogenic CO₂, losing 0.02 pH units per decade since 1990, with projected threats to shell-forming species
2019 first global climate strike (20/9/2019), led by school children and joined by millions of people with justified concerns → world scientists warn of a climate emergency
2019 first demonstration of quantum supremacy over conventional computers (Google AI Quantum, USA, 2019) → double-exponential growth rate in computing power
2019 first case of COVID-19 coronavirus (Wuhan, China, 1/12/2019) → pandemic triggering unprecedented lockdown of nations and societies worldwide; 4.5 billion people under containment within 5 months, dramatically contracting the global economy; mass vaccinations begin 8/12/2020 after more than 1.6 million confirmed deaths
2019 inauguration of US Space Force (20/12/2019), formalising competition for military dominance in space; UK follows in 2021 → surveillance extending to stewardship and warfare capabilities
2019 rising frequency of weather-related disasters multiplies global economic losses 7.8× from the 1970s to the 2010s; early-warning systems reduce deaths by two-thirds
2020 One Trillion Tree Initiative (World Economic Forum, 2020), supporting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2020-2030nature-based climate solutions
2020 launch of first commercial space taxi (SpaceX, 30/5/2020), taking NASA astronauts to the International Space Station
2020 highest recorded air temperature on Earth: 54.4°C in Death Valley (California, USA, 16/8/2020); emergence of intolerable heat
2020 protein structures accurately predicted by an artificial intelligence network: AlphaFold (DeepMind, USA, 2020) → accelerated understanding of protein functions; rapid advances in drug design
2020 human-made materials surpass Earth’s total living biomass, predominantly as concrete infrastructure, doubling in mass every 20 years since 1900 → our material contribution to the Anthropocene Epoch
2020 global land and ocean surface temperature for 2020 exceeds 1°C above the 1951-1980 mean for the first time, 1.2°C above the pre-industrial 1850-1900 baseline, with 2011-2020 the 4ᵗʰ decade in succession to claim warmest average temperature
2020 ambient temperature exceeds the 1981-2010 average by 1.9°C in Europe, and by 2.1°C in the Arctic in 2020; permafrost thawing reaches a point of no return; Arctic zombie fires release more than 4× the CO₂ emissions from global volcanic activity
2021 first powered, controlled flight on another planet: Ingenuity Helicopter drone on Mars (NASA, 19/4/2021), hovering 3 m above the Jezero Crater
2021 worldwide acceleration of glacier melt, now at twice the speed of 20 years ago → explaining one-fifth of the rate and acceleration in sea-level rise during the 21ˢᵗ century
2021 human activities have unequivocally warmed atmosphere, ocean and land, intensifying heatwaves, floods and droughts; global warming will exceed 2°C without immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions (IPCC, 2021): a reality check for policy makers
2021 Earth’s hottest month on record (NOAA, July 2021): rising frequency of climate anomalies


Ages: following the big bang 13.8 billion years ago, time passed two-thirds of the way to the present before the formation of the Sun 4.57 billion years ago. Rescaled to a calendar year, starting with the big bang at 00:00:00 on 1 January (), the Sun forms on 1 September (), the Earth on 2 September (), earliest signs of life appear on 13 September (), earliest true mammals on 26 December (), and humans just 2 hours before year’s end (). For a year that starts with the earliest true mammals (), the dinosaurs go extinct on 17 August (), earliest primates appear on 9 September (), and humans at dawn of 25 December (). For a year that starts with the earliest humans (), our own species appears on 19 November (), the first built constructions on 8 December (), and agricultural farming begins at midday on 29 December ().

Quantities: 1 thousand = 10³ = 10×10×10 = 1,000; 1 million = 10⁶; 1 billion = 10⁹; 1 trillion = 10¹².

Units: metre (m); kilometre (km); hectare (ha); kilogramme (kg); kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Distances: 10⁹ nanometres in 1 m; 1,000 m in 1 km; 9.46 trillion km in 1 light-year. For example: 0.1-nanometre diameter of a hydrogen atom; 40,000-km circumference of Earth; 150 million km from Earth to the Sun; 300,000 km travelled by light in 1 second, and almost 10 trillion km in 1 year; 27 thousand light-years from Earth to the Galactic Center of the Milky Way; 46.5 billion light-years from Earth to the edge of the observable Universe.

Areas: 100×100 m or 10,000 m² in 1 ha; 100 ha in 1 km². For example: 3 million ha (30,000 km²) area of Belgium; 4 billion ha (40 million km²) of livestock grazing on Earth; 14.9 billion ha (149 million km²) of global land area.

Volumes: 1 billion m³ in 1 km³; 1 trillion m³ in 1,000 km³. For example: 1 billion grains in 1 m³ of sand; 2.5 trillion m³ (2,500 km³) of water in Lake Victoria.

Masses: 1,000 g in 1 kg; 1,000 kg in 1 tonne. For example: 100-tonne mass of a blue whale; 500 million tonnes of global human biomass.

Power and energy: 1 watt of power uses 1 joule of energy per second; about 740 watts in 1 horsepower; 3,600 kilojoules (kJ) or 860 kilocalories (kcal) in 1 kWh of energy, sustaining 1,000 watts for 1 hour. For example, a 100-watt incandescent light bulb illuminates a room; 80 watts sustain human basal metabolic rate, using 6,900 kJ or 1,650 kcal or 1.92 kWh of energy per day; rice and maize have an energy value per kg of 15,280 kJ or 3,650 kcal or 4.25 kWh, wheat has nine-tenths this energy, and beef has two-thirds; crude oil and natural gas provide a heat value per kg of about 45,000 kJ or 10,750 kcal or 12.5 kWh, coal gives nearly half this heat, and firewood one third.

Information sources: inline links, Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, BBC.

Inspiration: “It is the stars, the stars above us govern our conditions” William Shakespeare, King Lear (1608). “Das ewig Unbegreifliche an der Welt ist ihre Begreiflichkeit [The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility]” Albert Einstein (1936).

C. Patrick Doncaster, 19 September 2021, one of the then 7,790,464,180 (rising by 151 per minute, 79 million per year)