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English Language & Linguistics

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Pre-history Timeline

The origins of Man and Language

3.3 million years ago

Fossil of Australopithecus afarensis (known as Selam or LIttle Lucy) suggests anatomical adaptations to walking on two legs while also well adapted to living in trees. A unique tongue bone suggests speech was unlikely.

read more at Nature magazine

"An interesting feature is the hyoid or tongue bone, never found before in a species older than Neanderthal man. It influences the voice box and is important to the debate about the origins of human speech. Selam’s hyoid is much more similar to that of modern apes than humans, suggesting that A. afarensis was not capable of language." Read the rest of the article here.
500,000-350,000 Study of ear bones suggest simple speech may have evolved
230,000 BC

Neanderthals evolve. Though there may have been some interbreeding, homo sapiens and nenderthal man are separate species with a common ancestor of homo erectus.

View The Evolution of Man (BBC)

200,000 BC
Homo sapiens appears in Africa, descending from Homo erectus
40,000 BC
Homo sapiens into Europe, Australia
Some authorities believe language emerged at this time, in parallel with a surge in the creation of cultural artifacts. It is not likely to have emerged later than this period.
35,000 BC
scattered hunter gatherers begin to create symbols of themselves and their environment
28,000 BC
Neanderthals last known (Gorham's cave, Gibraltar)
24,000 BC
Oldest known carvings

Ice ages, mammoth hunting ...

23,000 BC
bird bone flute found from this time suggesting advanced cultural developments
15,000 BC
cave paintings at Lascaux  
10,000 BC
Asiatics into North America
8,000 BC

Australian cave paintings


Probable first Indo-European speakers in Turkey

5000 BC First writing system - Sumerian script, which develops into cuneiform
4000 BC
Kurgans in steppes of Russia
3000-1100 BC
Egyptian Pharoahs
2000 BC

Phoenicians in Eastern Mediterranean

First alphabetic script developed by Semitic workers in Egypt

1500 BC
Oldest surviving Sanskrit texts
400 BC
Celts spread to England
55 BC
Roman military expedition lands in England

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