Timeline of the Human Condition

......Years ago

Historical event

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, comets and water
12,000,000,000 formation of the Milky Way galaxy of 200 billion stars, now one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe
4,600,000,000 formation of the Sun and Solar System within the Milky Way, orbiting a supermassive black hole at its Galactic Center every 240 million years
4,500,000,000 formation of planet Earth with 510 million km² of surface area, orbiting the Sun on a yearly cycle, and revolving daily around a tilted axis that perpetuates opposing polar seasons
4,400,000,000 formation of Earth's atmosphere and oceans
4,100,000,000 earliest life on Earth, single-celled prokaryotic Archaea (Hadean Eon)
3,500,000,000 photosynthesising bacteria amongst the archaea (Archean Eon)
3,400,000,000 earliest atmospheric oxygen, present at low levels (Archean Eon)
2,500,000,000 accumulation of 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, sexual reproduction with meiosis and recombination (Proterozoic Eon)
800,000,000 earliest Metazoa (animals) amongst the Eukaryotes: worms and jellyfish (Proterozoic Eon)
540,000,000 earliest chordates amongst the metazoans (early Cambrian Period), notochord and pharyngeal gill slits
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
394,000,000 earliest tetrapods amongst the vertebrates (Devonian Period), limbs replacing paired fins; still fully aquatic
385,000,000 earliest forests (Devonian Period, New York, USA) → 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 amphibians
340,000,000 earliest fully terrestrial vertebrates, laying amniote eggs (early Carboniferous Period)
252,000,000 Earth's largest mass extinction, enduring 60 thousand years and eliminating at least ninety percent of all species (Permian-Triassic transition), linked to volcanic activity
201,300,000 mass extinction event, eliminating more than two-thirds of all species (Triassic-Jurassic transition), linked to flood basalt volcanism
178,000,000 earliest true mammals amongst the terrestrial vertebrates (Jurassic Period), fur and endothermy
66,000,000 abrupt exinction of dinosaurs along with three-quarters of all species, following a 9-km diameter asteriod impact in Mexico (Cretaceous-Paleogene transition) → rapid diversification of 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 thumb, social
25,200,000 earliest hominoids (apes) amongst the Old World primates (Tanzania, Oligocene Epoch), enlarged brain, tailless
16,800,000 earliest hominids (great apes) amongst the hominoid gibbons in Asia, with larger body size and sexual dimorphism, nest-making, play
13,000,000 great ape Pierolapithecus catalaunicus in Spain, possible hominid ancestor of hominins and humans
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: full bipedality
3,300,000 earliest knapped stone artefacts (Kenya): Lomekwian tools → hominin technological behaviour
2,800,000 earliest human, Homo sp., amongst the hominins in Africa (Ethiopia)
2,700,000 rise of co-existing hominin genus Paranthropus (East Africa)
2,600,000 earliest stone tools produced by humans (Ethiopia): Oldowan tools, chopping through flesh, bone, bark
2,580,000 start of the current geological period of Quaternary glaciation
2,100,000 Homo habilis in Africa, using stone tools for cleaving meat from bone
2,000,000 extinction of Australopithecus spp (Africa)
1,870,000 earliest direct ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus (Kenya), coexisting with other Homo spp and with Paranthropus spp: enlarged brain
1,800,000 migrations of Homo erectus from Africa to Eurasia (Georgia; 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 replacement of Homo habilis by Homo erectus in Africa, probable use of speech
1,000,000 extinction of Paranthropus (South Africa), our last remaining sibling genus
1,000,000 earliest use of fire (South Africa): a uniquely human capability → cooking food?
900,000 flint scrapers (Atapuerca, Spain) suitable for preparing animal hides → clothing?
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, probable ancestor of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis
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
500,000 earliest organic tools: bone retouchers used by Homo heidelbergensis (Boxgrove, UK)
450,000 rise of Neanderthals Homo neanderthalensis across Europe
315,000 earliest representatives of our species, Homo sapiens (Jebel Irhoud, Morocco; also in South Africa 260,000 years ago)
210,000 Homo sapiens enters Eurasia (Greece), probably one of multiple dispersals of early modern humans out of Africa

1. Hunter-gatherer nomads

176,000 earliest built constructions: Neanderthal edifices made from broken stalagmites (Bruniquel Cave, France)
170,000 widespread use of clothing, setting humans apart from all other animals, evidenced in the divergence of clothing lice from head lice (Africa)
115,000 earliest symbolic art, marine shells painted with mineral pigments by Neanderthals (Los Aviones Cave, Spain)
110,000 last appearance of Homo erectus (Ngandong, Java), the longest enduring species of human
100,000 interbreeding of Homo sapiens with Homo neanderthalensis (Siberia)
75,000 earliest jewellery, made from threaded beads of shell (Blombos Cave, South Africa)
65,000 colonisation of Australia by humans (ancient Sahul): maritime exploration by Homo spp
64,800 earliest symbolic cave paintings, by Neanderthals (La Pasiega Cave, Spain)
60,000 burial of dead by Neanderthals (La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France)
57,000 earliest notation, with notched-bone tally marks (Lebombo mountains, South Africa) → record keeping
50,000 earliest use of string, a three-ply cord of bark fibres (Abri du Maras, France)
50,000 earliest eyed needle, made from bone by the Denisovan subspecies of Homo sapiens (Denisova, Siberia), suitable for tailoring garments
50,000 Homo sapiens in Eurasia co-existing with Homo floresiensis (soon extinct) and Homo luzonensis, interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans
46,000 earliest anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, established in Europe (Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria). Out of Africa?
44,000 earliest figurative painting (Sulawesi Island, Indonesia), of therianthropes hunting anoa and pigs: narrative and mythological artwork
42,000 earliest musical instruments, flutes made from bone and ivory (Swabian Jura, Germany) → concept of harmony?
42,000 earliest fishing hooks (East Timor)
40,000 anatomically modern humans replace Neanderthals, our last remaining sibling species. Full language
40,000 earliest figurative sculpture (Hohlenstein, Germany), an ivory figurine of a therianthrope with lion's head and human torso
35,000 earliest fully human sculpture and female imagery: a mammoth-ivory 'Venus' figurine (Hohle Fels, Germany) → fertility totems
33,000 earliest settlements in the Americas (Chiquihuite Cave, Mexico): maritime expeditions from Asia or Europe?
30,000 earliest woven fabrics, made from dyed fibres of wild flax (Georgia) → baskets, textile clothing
29,000 earliest fishing-net sinkers (South Korea) → modern industrial fishing currently in 55% of ocean area ( agricultural area)
28,000 earliest stone statuette: ochre-tinted limestone 'Venus of Willendorf' (Austria)
20,000 earliest pottery vessels (Xianrendong Cave, China), cooking food in pots during the Last Glacial Maximum
20,000 domestication of dogs (Germany) → 700 million dogs by the 21st century, as companion animals or feral populations
15,000 introgression of last remaining Denisovans into the modern human genome? Anatomically modern humans henceforth the only hominin
15,000 colonisation of North America from Asia 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
12,000 extinction of woolly mammoths from America and Eurasia, along with other megafauna, caused by human hunting during a warming climate
11,700 start of the Holocene, the current geological epoch within the Quaternary Period, characterised by a warm and stable climate

2. Agricultural farming and settlements

11,500 cultivation of wild barley and oats around village settlements (Fertile Crescent)
11,000 earliest continuous settlement: Jericho (southern Levant), developing into a walled city of up to 3,000 people → present-day cities of 30 million people
10,500 domestication of sheep and goats (Fertile Crescent and Turkey) → milk, meat, wool, hide and capital from 1.2 billion sheep and 1.0 billion goats by 2018
10,000 domestication of cattle from aurochs (Near East and Indus Valley) → milk, meat, hide and capital from 1.5 billion head of cattle by 2018
10,000 domestication of wheat (Mesopotamia) → 773 million tonnes per year by 2017, using 218 million ha of land
10,000 continental ice-sheets withdraw from Europe and North America
9,500 earliest use of bricks: adobe earth and reeds (Tell Aswad, Tigris) → fired bricks (China, 6,400 years ago)
9,500 domestication of chickens from red junglefowl (Southeast Asia) → meat and eggs from 23.7 billion chickens by 2018, the biomass of all wild birds
9,000 domestication of pigs (Anatolia and China) → meat, hide, bristles, medical research and capital from 1.0 billion pigs by 2018
8,000 domestication of rice (Asia) → 770 million tonnes per year by 2017, using 166 million ha of land
8,000 foraging for honey (Mesolithic painting in the Araña caves, Spain) → 92 million beehives by 2018
8,000 earliest grape wine and viniculture (South Caucasus) → wine as a social lubricant, medicine and commodity throughout western civilisation
7,900 start of the Copper Age (Fertile Crescent), spread of copper smelting for weapons and tools
7,550 flooding of the Black Sea from the Mediterranean Sea: the biblical flood of Noah's Ark

world population of humans passes 5 million

6,200 domestication of maize (Mexico) → 1.2 billion tonnes per year by 2017 using 197 million ha; with wheat and rice accounting for half of all human calory intake, and using 4% of global land area


domestication of horses (Central Asian steppes), revolutionising mobility, economy, warfare → transport, meat and capital from 58 million horses by 2018
5,400 earliest wheeled wagons (north Germany, Slovenia, Carpathians, southern and western Caucasus, Mesopotamia)
5,300 start of the Bronze Age (Egypt, Indus Valley), bronze replacing copper for weapons, tools, utensils
5,300 earliest numeral systems: pictograms of economic units (Uruk, Mesopotamia) → hieroglyphs for powers of ten (Egypt) by 5,100 and cuneiform sexagesimal (Babylonia) by 4,000 years ago
5,200 full writing (cuneiform in Mesopotamia, hieroglyphics in Egypt) using the rebus principle → bookkeeping, instruction, commemoration, prayer, historical records
5,150 earliest organic medicinal remedies: herbal wines (Egypt)
5,100 development of systems of governance, with the beginnings of the Old Kingdom (Egypt); Sumer civilisation and Ur, city of 30,000 people (Mesopotamia); Indus cities (India and Pakistan)
5,000 domestication of oil palms (Egypt) → 71 million tonnes of palm oil per year by 2018 using 19 million ha, largely converted tropical forest
5,000 global agricultural land use per person peaks at 2.72 ha → 0.76 ha by 2003 with improvements in yield
4,700 earliest monuments: pyramids (Egypt)
4,500 earliest writing on papyrus (Diary of Merer, Wadi al-Jarf, Egypt) → parchment by 2,200 years ago in Pergamon, Greece; paper from pulp by 1,800 years ago in China
4,400 earliest use of a calculating tool: the abacus (Mesopotamia) → nanoscale abacus (1996) using individual molecules to store numerical information
4,200 first code of law, applying general principles to particular cases (Ur-Nammu, King of Ur)
4,100 earliest fictional story: Epic of Gilgamesh (in cuneiform, from Ur, Mesopotamia)
4,000 invention of ice-cream (China) → joyful indulgence
3,900 earliest alphabet (West Semitic, Sinai and Egypt) → economy of signs

3. Empires and conquests

3,800 beginnings of the Shang dynasty (China); Middle Kingdom (Egypt); Babylonian civilisation (Mesopotamia)
3,800 earliest manufacture of steel, for ironware (Kaman-Kalehöyük, Turkey)
3,800 earliest records of contraception
3,570 reckoning with fractions and geometry (Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Egypt)
3,500 earliest alphabet, Proto-Sinaitic phonetic script (Sinai peninsula, Egypt)
3,500 earliest planetary observations, of the motions of Venus (Babylonians of Mesopotamia)
3,400 earliest notated music: Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal (in cuneiform, from Ugarit, Syria)
3,400 earliest concrete (Mycenaeans), bonding rock aggregates with lime mortar → dominant building material of modern times
3,200 sea-going trade, in dyes (Phoenicians, Mediterranean)
3,100 start of the Iron Age (Aegean), iron replacing bronze for tools and weapons

world population of humans passes 50 million

3,000 earliest use of coal as fuel (Fushun, China), for smelting copper → peak global coal production of 8.2 billion tonnes/year in 2013
2,950 first Jewish temple (Jerusalem), King Solomon and rise of Judaism
2,800 first Olympic games (Greece)
2,700 earliest use of metalic money (Lydians of Anatolia): stamped gold and silver coins
2,650 earliest library, the Library of Ashurbanipal (cuneiform tablets, Nineveh, Iraq)
2,600 peak of Greek civilisation: democracy (508 BC), ethics, poetry, drama, philosophy
2,550 earliest professional army (Sparta, Greece)
2,500 collection of the Torah and other Hebrew scriptures into the Hebrew Bible → Christian Old Testament
2,500 earliest use of natural gas (Sichuan, China), to boil water for salt production → exceeding 3.7 trillion m³/year globally by 2017
2,500 earliest cast iron artefacts (Jiangsu, China)
2,500 Confucius (551 to 479 BC, China) lays the foundations of Confucianism
2,450 Siddhārtha Gautama (~480 to 400 BC, Ancient India), later known as Buddha, lays the foundations of Buddhism
2,400 fusion of Indian cultures and traditions into Hinduism → third most populous religion of the modern era, after Christianity and Islam
2,400 earliest in-patient hospitals (King Pandukabhaya, Sri Lanka) → professional care for the sick
2,400 formal schooling, in Plato's academy of philosophy (Greece)
2,350 earliest watermills (Persian Empire)
2,350 concept of time-velocity space applied to the motions of Jupiter (Babylonia)
2,300 development of formal systems of reasoning using logic (Aristotle, Greece) → scientific disciplines
2,300 postulation of Euclidean geometry (Euclid of Alexandria, Greece), the geometry of flat surfaces
2,250 first estimation of π within known limits (Archimedes, Greece), describing circles, discs, loops, orbits, spheres, spirals, waves → method of calculus
2.250 invention of Archimedes' Screw for pumping water uphill
2,200 Great Wall of China (Emperor Qin Shi Huang) 1,900 km → 21,196 km by the Ming dynasty to 1644
2,200 invention of the architectural arch, invention of the first accurate calendars (Egypt)
2,100 earliest positional system of decimal fractions, for algorithmic calculations with counting rods (China)
2,100 earliest promisory notes (on leather, Han dynasty, China) → banknotes
2,100 establishment of Silk Road overland trade routes between East Asia and Southern Europe
2,050 rise of the Roman Empire (Europe), engineering of efficient road and aqueduct systems
AD 50 beginnings of Christianity in Europe with the death of Jesus of Nazareth and transcribing of his life in the New Testament
100 use of porcelain (China)
300 use of the magnetic compass (China) for geomancy, later for navigation
347 earliest oil wells (China, 347), to fire water evaporation plants for salt production → 5.0 billion tonnes/year of global oil extraction by 2018
600 rise of Islam in Arabia with the death of the prophet Muhammad (Mecca, 632) and transcribing of his revelations in the Quran
628 introduction of zero into number systems (Brahmagupta, India, Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta 628)
800 earliest block printing on paper (China)
841 earliest use of statistical inference (al-Kindi, Iraq, 841)
904 first use of explosives in warfare: gunpowder (China, 904)
900 earliest windmills (Khorasan, Iran-Afganistan)
1065 first hospice, dedicated to palliative care (Malta, 1065) → professional care for the dying
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, UK, 1283)
1337 accretion of personal wealth from gold: Mansa Musa I (c. 1280-1337), Emperor of Mali and richest person in history → peak of inequality amongst individuals
1347 plague caused by the Black Death bacillus Yersinia pestis carried by rats kills half of the human population across much of Europe, 1347-51
1400 birth of the Renaissance (Italy), rise of individuality, imagination, innovation, capitalism
1415 accurate geometrical perspective in painting (Filippo Brunelleschi, Italy, c. 1415; codified by Leon Battista Alberti, Italy, De Pictura 1436)
1470 first moveable-type printing (Europe)
1492 European mariners reach the Americas (Christopher Columbus from Spain, 1492) and India (Vasco da Gama from Portugal, 1498) → global sea trade
1510 technical drawing of anatomical features, mechanisms and engineering designs (Leonardo da Vinci, Italy, c. 1510)
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)

4. Scientific Revolution

1543 theory of Earth revolving around the Sun (Nicolaus Copernicus, Poland, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium 1543)
1582 introduction of the Gregorian calendar (Pope Gregory XIII, Italy, 1582) → de facto international standard for civil calendars
1608 invention of the refracting telescope (Hans Lipperhey, Netherlands, 1608)
1610 inversion of the refracting telescope to create a compound microscope (Galileo Galilei, Italy, 1610)
1612 concept of a universal clock, calibrated on orbital periods of Jupiter's moons (Galileo Galilei, Italy, Sidereus Nuncius 1612) → determination of longitude, birth of modern science
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, UK, The Anatomy of Melancholy 1621), the author speaking directly to his reader
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)
1656 first pendulum clock (Christiaan Huygens, Netherlands, 25/12/1656), developing on an idea by Galileo Galilei → precision timekeeping
1660 world population of humans passes 500 million
1665 identification of organismal cells (Robert Hooke, UK, Micrographia 1665), the smallest unit of structure and function for all life forms
1676 concept of Gross Domestic Product: annual value of produce or income (William Petty, UK, 1676) → standard index of regional economic growth
1676 first determination of the speed of light (Ole Rømer, Denmark, 1676) → 299,792 km/s, astronomical distance of 1 light-year = 9.46 trillion km
1687 formulation of laws of motion and gravitation (Isaac Newton, UK, 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 and India by Europeans from the early 1700s
1735 cataloguing of organisms by genera and species (Carl Linnaeus, Sweden, Systema Naturae 1735-1768) → taxonomic classification of all organisms
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 steam engine (James Watt, UK, 1769) → powered machinery, steamships, industrial revolution
1770 invention of the spinning jenny (James Hargreaves, UK, 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
1776 independence of North American colonies (1776) → economic superstate of the USA
1778 first national nature reserve (Bogd Khan Uul, Mongolia, 1778)

5. Industrial Revolution

1780 mass production of spun textiles, mechanised by water power; steam powered production of iron and steel (UK, c. 1780) → economies of scale, rising polarisation of rich and poor nations
1783 first piloted flight by humans, in a hot-air balloon created by Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (France, 1783)
1789 spread of Republicanism (French Revolution, 1789-1799)
1799 first electrochemical battery (Alessandro Volta, Italy, 1799) → mobile energy storage
1808 discovery of atoms, uniquely defining each chemical element of ordinary matter (John Dalton, UK, 1808) → atomic masses of Earth's 94 elements
1817 invention of the bicycle (Karl von Drais, Germany, 1817) → pedals (1860s) and chain (1880s); the most efficient human-powered land vehicle
1821 first demonstration of an electromagnetic rotary device (Michael Faraday, UK, 1821) → dynamo, electric motors
1822 first prediction of Earth's greenhouse effect (Joseph Fourier, France, 1822) → empirical measurements (John Tyndall, Ireland, 1859)
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 first permanent photograph taken by a camera (Nicéphore Niépce, France, 1826)
1834 invention of the Analytical Engine (Charles Babbage, UK, 1834), functional yet unbuilt → computers (1930s), programmable computers (1940s)
1838 first scheduled trans-Atlantic steamer (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, UK, Great Western 1838) → globalisation of economies
1848 scale of absolute temperature (Lord Kelvin, UK, 1848): fundamental limit to degree of coldness at 0 K = -273°C
1850 principles of conservation of energy and gain of entropy (Rudolf Clausius, Germany, and Lord Kelvin, UK, 1850) → laws of thermodynamics
1859 theory of evolution by natural selection (Charles Darwin, UK, On the Origin of Species 1859), a law unique to biological systems → genes as units of heredity, 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) → vehicular transport, electricity generators
1876 invention of the telephone (Alexander Bell, USA, 1876) → telecommunications
1877 invention of the phonograph (Thomas Edison, USA, 1877), first practical sound recording → record player
1879 invention of the electric light bulb (Thomas Edison, USA, 1879), providing cheap and safe illumination
1880 invention of the photophone (Alexander Bell and Sumner Tainter, USA, 1880), transmitting sound on a beam of light → fibre-optics
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
1882 first hydroelectric power station (Jacob Schoelkopf, USA, 1882) → 16% of global (and 98% of Norway's) electricity generation by 2017
1884 first rooftop photovoltaic solar array (Charles Fritts, USA, 1884) → 2% of global electricity generation by 2017, rising 10-fold every 6 years from 1992
1886 first car powered by internal combustion engine (Karl Benz, Germany, 1886) → global production of passenger cars exceeds 70 million per year by 2016
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
1887 first wind-powered turbine for production of electricity (James Blyth, UK, 1887) → 4% of global electricity generation by 2017
1890 centralised sewage treatment plants (UK and USA), preventing spread of diseases
1893 first self-governing democracy to grant women the vote (New Zealand, 1893) → equality enrshrined in the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals
1895 first wireless transmission of telegraph signals by radio waves (Guglielmo Marconi, Italy, 1895) → global radio communication (1901), radar detection
1895 first commercial screening of motion-picture films (Auguste and Louis Lumière, France, 1895) → birth of cinema
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 (Max Planck, Germany, 1899), natural units for length, time, mass and temperature → fundamental limit to 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 fraction of global population living in poverty, on less than US$2/day (2005 prices), drops below 50% by 1900 → 13% by the year 2000, amid rising geopolitical concentrations of wealth
1903 first powered flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft (Orville and Wilbur Wright, USA, 1903) → 4.7 billion airline passengers per year by 2020
1904 first quantification of dark bodies (Lord Kelvin, UK, 1904) → dark matter with gravitational influence but no electromagnetic interactions; most of the matter in the universe
1905 theory of special relativity (Albert Einstein, Switzerland, 1905): energy-mass equivalence, length-contraction of moving objects, time-dilation of moving clocks → nuclear physics
1907 first fully synthetic organic polymer, bakelite plastic (Leo Baekeland, USA, 1907) → large-scale production of plastics from 1950
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)
1914 World War I (1914-18), 32 nations participate, 20 million killed
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), explaining the mechanism of gravity as a distortion of spacetime by massive objects → unresolved incompatibility with quantum mechanics
1917 Russian Revolution (1917) → first communist state (USSR, 1922-1991)
1918 Spanish flu pandemic (multiple waves 1918-20), H1N1 influenza virus infects one third of the global population and kills 50-100 million, mostly in the 2nd wave
1924 first aerial circumnavigation of the globe (US Army Air Service, 1924) → globalisation of human mobility
1924 every quantum entity has dual nature, as both wave and particle (Louis de Broglie, France, 1924, Erwin Schrödinger, Switzerland, 1926) → complete explanations of all ordinary matter and light
1926 first working television system (John Logie Baird, UK, 1926) → nationwide television broadcasting by 1929
1926 Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery (League of Nations, 1926) → commitments from 99 of 195 countries by 2013
1927 a car outpaces a race horse (La Chapelle, France, 1927) → dominion of the automobile for land transport and haulage
1927 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 isolation of the first antibiotic: penicillin (Alexander Fleming, UK, 1928)
1929 Great Depression, symbolised by the Wall Street Crash of 29/10/1929 and the North American Dust Bowl of the 1930s → 15% 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
1932 discovery of neutrons (James Chadwick, UK, 1932), with protons constituting the nuclei of atoms → atomic energy, nuclear fission (1938), nuclear chain reactions, atomic bombs and nuclear energy
1935 concept of the ecosystem (Arthur Tansley, UK, 1935), a community of organisms that interact with each other and their environment → value of nature
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 first binary-logic digital programmable computer: Z3 (Konrad Zuse, Germany, 1941)
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

6. Technological Revolution

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) → integrated circuit (1960s), microprocessor (1970s), 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
1951 genocide becomes a crime under international law (UN, 1951)
1953 chemical structure of DNA revealed (James Watson and Francis Crick, UK, 1953) → access to the genetic code of relatedness, form and function for all organisms
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, nuclear disasters (Chernobyl, Ukraine, 26/4/1986)
1955 first accurate atomic clock (Louis Essen and Jack Parry UK, 1955) → establishment of the atomic standard of time interval
1956 first shipment of freight in standardized intermodal containers (Malcom McLean, USA, 1956) → globalisation of commerce
1957 first orbiting space satellite (Sputnik 1, USSR, 4/10/1957) → the space age; global telecommunications, Global Positioning System (GPS), Earth observation
1957 first living being to leave Earth for outer space: stray mongrel dog Laika in Sputnik II (USSR, 3/11/1957), deceased en route
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 laser beam (Theodore Maiman, USA, 1960) → reading/writing data; precision surgery, cutting, welding, printing; trapping atoms; 21st Century interferometry
1960 first government-approval of oral contraceptives for use by the public (US FDA, 1960)
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
1964 origin of mass explained by interactions with Higgs quantum field (Peter Higgs, UK, and others, 1964) → Standard Model of particle physics
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
1969 first astronaut on the Moon (Neil Armstrong in Apollo 11, USA, 20/7/1969), safely returning to Earth 4 days later
1970 proof of the beginnings 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 creation of first recombinant DNA, from a polyomavirus and a bacteriophage (Paul Berg, USA, 1972) → creation of the 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
1973 global average human life expectancy exceeds 60 years by 1973 → 70 years by 2008 and rising for all countries
1975 fraction of global population overweight or obese (BMI > 25 kg/m²) rises above 20% by 1975 → 38% by 2014
1975 first global commitment to cross-border environmental protection: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1975)
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 from in vitro fertilisation (IVF, UK, 1978)
1978 first human born on the Antarctic mainland (Esperanza Base, Argentina, 1978) → continuous human settlement of every continent on Earth
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 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 (Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, France, 1983), global epidemic killing 32 million, continuing health risk
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)
1985 discovery of a man-induced hole in the stratospheric ozone layer (1985) → increase in UV-B radiation at Earth's surface, damaging crops and marine phytoplankton, and causing skin cancers
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

world population of humans passes 5 billion, with strengthening relation of fertility to poverty

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 → partial recovery of stratospheric ozone
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
1988 first assessment that global climate warming has begun (James Hansen, Senate testimony to US Congress, 23/6/1988) → creation of the IPCC
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, and exoplanet atmospheres
1990 invention of the World Wide Web information system (Tim Berners-Lee, UK, 1990) → birth of the Information Age
1992 first detection of exoplanets, orbiting a neutron star 2,300 light-years from the Sun (Arecibo Observatory and National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA, 1992)
1992 global commitment by nation states to conservation of biodiversity, and sustainable use and equitable sharing of its benefits (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992) → 2011 Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020
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 peak of global marine fishery catch, at 130 million tonnes during 1995 → thereafter diminishing catch from a still expanding fishery
1996 first cloned mammal (Dolly the sheep, Roslin Institute, UK, 1996)
1997 first robotic rover lands on Mars and transmits measurements of its surface composition (NASA's Sojourner, 4/7/1997)
2000 undernourishment due to calory deficit afflicts 15% of the global population in the year 2000 → 11% by 2018
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
2001 launch of Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, USA, 15/1/2001), open to editing by registered users → world's largest work of general reference
2001 first draft sequence of the human genome: ~25,000 genes in 3 billion base pairs (Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, USA, + 23 institutes, 2001)
2004 launch of online social networking service Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, USA, 2004) → 1 billion users by 2012
2007 human urban population exceeds half the world population during 2007
2008 first smartphone apps (iPhone App Store, 2008) → establishment of social media, 100 billion app downloads per year within 10 years
2008 global Internet traffic exceeds 1 trillion megabytes for the year 2008, rising 10-fold every 3 years from 1990 → withdrawal of journalism behind paywalls, expansion of disinformation
2009 Great Recession (2008-9), free-fall of developed economies synchronised by global integration of markets

evidence of humanity overstepping three of nine planetary boundaries to a safe operating space: climate change, biodiversity loss, nitrogen cycle (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, + 26 institutes, 2009)


creation of first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell (The J. Craig Venter Institute, USA, 2010)

2011 number of liberal and elected democracies in the world peaks at 101 in 2011, encompassing 55% of the global population
2012 discovery of Higgs boson (CERN Large Hadron Collider, 4/7/2012), a fundamental force-carrier particle → validation of the Standard Model of particle physics
2012 more than half the world's population tune in to television coverage of the London Summer Olympics (27/7 to 12/8/2012)
2012 discovery of Crispr-Cas9 technology (Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, USA, 2012) → accurate, fast and cheap gene editing of any organism

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, continuing an accelerating rise (NOAA, Hawaii, 5/2013)


7. Sustainability Revolution

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)
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 (0.1%); 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 destruction of more than 6 million ha (60,000 km²) of tropical primary forest during 2016, an unprecedented annual loss
2016 global land and ocean temperature anomaly for 2016 reaches 1.0°C above the long-term average for 1901-2000
2016 loss of ice-sheet mass triples in Antarctica and doubles in Greenland from 2006 to 2016, accelerating sea-level rise
2017 accumulation of plastic waste since 1950 exceeds 5 billion tonnes in landfills and the natural environment, more than 10× global human biomass (University of California at Santa Barbara, USA, + 2 institutes, 2017)
2018 humans and our livestock achieve respectively 9× and 14× the biomass of all wild mammals (Weizmann Institute, Israel, + 2 institutes, 2018)
2018 first commercial taxi service of fully-automated self-driving cars (Google-Waymo minivans, USA, 5/12/2018)
2018 wood production from plantation and natural forests exceeds 2 billion m³ globally in 2018, for construction, packaging, paper, pulp, fuel → forest covering 26% of global land area by 2018, and diminishing
2019 first picture of a black hole (Event Horizon Telescope, 10/4/2019), a supermassive black hole of 7 billion solar masses
2019 first global assessment of biodiversity finds 1 million of Earth's 8 million species threatened by an accelerating rate of extinctions (IPBES, 6/5/2019) → Earth's sixth mass extinction, imperiling humanity's life support systems
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 86% of global primary energy
2019 first global climate strike, led by school children and joined by millions of people (20/9/2019)
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
2020 One Trillion Tree Initiative (World Economic Forum, 2020), supporting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2020-2030 → nature-based solutions
2020 launch of first commercial space taxi (SpaceX, 30/5/2020), taking NASA astronauts to the International Space Station
2020 highest recorded temperature on Earth: 54.4°C in Death Valley (California, USA, 16/8/2020), followed by dry lightning and wildfires burning 400,000 ha of Californian forests

Quantities: 1 million = 10⁶; 1 billion = 10⁹; 1 trillion = 10¹² → 150 million km to the Sun from Earth; 1 billion grains of sand in 1 m³; 10 trillion km travelled by light in 1 year

Areas: 100 × 100 m = 1 ha; 100 ha = 1 km² → 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 = 1 km³; 1 trillion m³ = 1,000 km³ → 2.5 trillion m³ (2,500 km³) of water in Lake Victoria

Masses: 1,000 kg = 1 tonne → 100-tonne mass of a blue whale; 500 million tonnes of global human biomass

Information sources: inline links, Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica

Inspiration: "Das ewig Unbegreifliche an der Welt ist ihre Begreiflichkeit [The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility]." Albert Einstein (1936)

C. Patrick Doncaster, 21 October 2020, one of the then 7,691,762,070 (rising by 148 per minute, 77 million per year)