How long has civilisation been going?

I didn’t re­al­ise how short hu­man his­tory was. Some­where around 130,000 years ago we were stand­ing up­right as we are to­day. Some­where around 50,000 years ago we broadly ar­rived at:

the fully mod­ern ca­pac­ity for Cul­ture *

That’s roughly when we started, “rou­tine use of bone, ivory, and shell to pro­duce for­mal (stan­dard­ized) ar­ti­facts”. Agri­cul­ture and hu­mans stay­ing still to grow plants hap­pened at about 10,000BCE (or 12,000 years ago).

Writ­ing started hap­pen­ing around 6600BCE* (8600 or so years ago).

This year is 5777 in the He­brew cal­en­dar. So some­one has been count­ing for roughly that long.

The pyra­mids are es­ti­mated to have been built at around 2600 BCE (4600 years ago)

Some­where be­tween then and zero by the chris­tian cal­en­dar we sorted out a lot of met­als and how to use them.

And some­where be­tween then and now we finished up all the tech­nolog­i­cal ad­vances that lead to pre­sent day.


But it’s hard to get a feel for that. Those are just some num­bers of years. In­stead I want to re­late that to our lives. And our gen­er­a­tions.

12,000 years ago is a good enough point to start pay­ing at­ten­tion to.

If a hu­man gen­er­a­tion is nor­mally be­tween 12* and 35* years. Con­sid­er­ing that fur­ther back the gen­er­a­tions would have been closer to 12 years apart and to­day they are shift­ing to be­ing more like 30 years apart (and up to 35 years apart). That means the bounds are:

12,000/​12=1,000
12,00035 = 342

342-1000 gen­er­a­tions. That’s all we have. In all of hu­man­ity. We are SO YOUNG!

(if you take the 8600 year num­ber as a start­ing point you get a range of 717-242.)


Let’s make it personal

I know my grand­par­ents which means I am a not-neg­ligible chance to also know my grand­chil­dren and maybe even more (de­pend­ing on med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy). I already have a liv­ing niece so I have already ex­pe­rienced 4 gen­er­a­tions. Without be­ing un­rea­son­able I can ex­pect to see 5 and dream to see 6, 7 or in­finite.

(5/​1000)->(7/​342) = be­tween a half a per­cent and two per­cent of hu­man his­tory. I will have lived through 1/​2% − 2% of hu­man gen­er­a­tions (ig­nor­ing longevity es­cape for a mo­ment) to date.

Com­pared to other life num­bers:

Days in a year * 100 year = 36,500 days in a 100 year lifes­pan.

52 weeks *100 = 5200. Or one week of a 100 year lifes­pan is equiv­a­lent to one gen­er­a­tion of hu­mans.

12,000 years /​ 365 days = 32.8 years. Or when you are 32 years old you have lived more days than hu­mans have been col­lect­ing arte­facts of worth.

8600 years/​365 = 23.5 years. Or when you are 24 years old you have lived one day for ev­ery year hu­mans have had writ­ten records.


Discrete hu­man lives

If you put an olden day dis­crete hu­man life at 25 years—maybe more, and a mod­ern day dis­crete life at 90 years and com­pare those to the num­bers above

12,00025 = 480 dis­crete hu­man lifetimes

12,000/​90=133 dis­crete hu­man lifetimes

8600/​25=344 dis­crete hu­man lifetimes

8600/​90=95 dis­crete hu­man lifetimes

That’s to say the en­tire of recorded his­tory is only about 350 in­de­pen­dent hu­man lives stacked end on end.

Every­thing we know in his­tory has been done on some­where less than 480 dis­crete life­time run­throughs.


Hu­man­ity is so young. And we for­get so eas­ily that 500 life­times ago we were noth­ing.

Meta: Thanks billy for hang­ing out and think­ing about the num­bers with me. This idea came up on a whim and took a day of think­ing about and about an hour to write up

Origi­nal post: http://​​bear­lamp.com.au/​​how-long-has-civil­i­sa­tion-been-go­ing/​​