Timeline of environmental history
The timeline lists events in the external environment that have influenced events in human history. This timeline is for use with the article on environmental determinism.
For the history of humanity's influence on the environment, and humanity's perspective on this influence, see timeline of the history of environmentalism.
See List of periods and events in climate history for a timeline list focused on climate.
Pre-Holocene (1.5 Mya)
The time from roughly 15,000 to 5,000 BC was a time of transition, and swift and extensive environmental change, as the planet was moving from an Ice age, towards an interstadial (warm period). Sea levels rose dramatically (and are continuing to do so), land that was depressed by glaciers began lifting up again, forests and deserts expanded, and the climate gradually became more modern. In the process of warming up, the planet saw several "cold snaps" and "warm snaps", such as the Older Dryas and the Holocene climatic optimum, as well as heavier precipitation. In addition, the Pleistocene megafauna became extinct due to environmental and evolutionary pressures from the changing climate. This marked the end of the Quaternary extinction event, which was continued into the modern era by humans. The time around 11,700 years ago (9700 BC) is widely considered to be the end of the old age (Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Wisconsin Ice Age), and the beginning of the modern world as we know it.
|c. 2,588,000 BC
||c. 12,000 BC
|c. 21,000 BC
||Recent evidence indicates that humans processed (gathered) and consumed wild cereal grains as far back as 23,000 years ago.|
|c. 20,000 BC
||Antarctica sees a very rapid and abrupt 6 °C increase in temperatures|
|c. 19,000 BC
||Last Glacial Maximum/sea-level minimum|
|c. 20,000 BC
||c. 12,150 BC
||Mesolithic 1 period|
|c. 17,000 BC
||c. 13,000 BC
||Oldest Dryas stadial (cool period) during the last Ice age/glaciation in Europe.|
|c. 13,000 BC
||Beginning of the Holocene extinction. Earliest evidence of warfare.
Meltwater pulse 1A raises sea level 20 meters. Missoula floods occur.
|c. 12,670 BC
||c. 12,000 BC
||Bølling oscillation interstadial (warm and moist period) between the Oldest Dryas and Older Dryas stadials (cool periods) at the end of the Last glacial period. In places where the Older Dryas was not seen, it is known as the Bølling-Allerød.|
||Cemetery 117: site of the world's first known battle/war.|
||Natufian culture begins minor agriculture|
|c. 12,150 BC
||c. 11,140 BC
||Mesolithic 2 (Natufian culture), some sources have Mesolithic 2 ending at 9500 BC|
|c. 12,000 BC
||c. 11,700 BC
||Older Dryas stadial (cool period)|
|c. 11,700 BC
||c. 10,800 BC
||Lake Agassiz forms from glacial meltwater. It bursts and floods out through the Mackenzie River into the Arctic Ocean at 11,000 BC, possibly causing the Younger Dryas cold period.|
|c. 12,000 BC
||c. 8,000 BC
||Göbekli Tepe, world's earliest known temple-like structure, is created.|
|c. 10,900 BC (calibrated) or
c. 8900 BC (non-calibrated)
|Younger Dryas impact event suspected at either of these dates.|
|c. 10,800 BC
||Younger Dryas cold period begins.|
|c. 10,000 BC
10th millennium BC
|c. 9700 BC
|c. 9660 to c. 9600 BC
||Younger Dryas cold period ends. Pleistocene ends and Holocene begins. Large amounts of previously glaciated land become habitable again. Some sources place the Younger Dryas as stretching from 10,800 BC to 9500 BC. This cool period was possibly caused by a shutdown of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (Gulf Stream/Jet Stream), due to flooding from Lake Agassiz as it reformed.|
|c. 9500 BC
- Ancylus Lake, part of the modern-day Baltic Sea, forms.
- There is evidence of harvesting, though not necessarily cultivation, of wild grasses in Asia Minor about this time.
- End of the pre-Boreal period of European climate change.
- Pollen Zone IV Pre-boreal, associated with juniper, willow, birch pollen deposits.
- Neolithic era begins in Ancient Near East.
- Evidence of the earliest settlement in Jericho
- In Antarctica, long-term melting of the Antarctic ice sheets is commencing.
- Creosote bush – Larrea tridentata clonal colony, named "King Clone", germinates in the Mojave Desert near the Lucerne Valley in California.
|c. 9270 BC
||Greenland sees an abrupt and rapid 4 °C rise in temperatures|
|c. 9000 BC
||First stone structures at Jericho built.|
9th millennium BC
8th millennium BC
7th millennium BC
|c. 6600 BC
||Jiahu symbols, carved on tortoise shells in Jiahu, Northern China|
|c. 6500 BC
||Kurile volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula has VEI 7 eruption. It is one of the largest of the Holocene epoch|
|c. 6400 BC
||Lake Agassiz drains into oceans for the final time, leaving Lakes Manitoba, Winnipeg, Winnipegosis, and Lake of the Woods, among others in the region, as its remnants. The draining may have caused the 8.2 kiloyear event, 200 years later|
|c. 6200 BC
||8.2 kiloyear event, a sudden significant cooling episode|
|c. 6100 BC
||The Storegga Slide, causing a megatsunami in the Norwegian Sea|
|c. 6000 BC
- Climatic or Thermal Maximum, the warmest period in the past 125,000 years, with minimal glaciation and highest sea levels. (McEvedy)
- Rising sea levels form the Torres Strait, separate Australia from New Guinea.
- Increasing desiccation of the Sahara. End of the Saharan Pluvial period.
- Associated with Pollen Zone VI Atlantic, oak-elm woodlands, warmer and maritime climate. Modern wild fauna plus, increasingly, human introductions, associated with the spread of the Neolithic farming technologies.
- Rising sea levels from glacial retreat flood what will become the Irish Sea, separating the island of Ireland from the British Isles and Continental Europe.
6th millennium BC
5th millennium BC
4th millennium BC
- Climatic deterioration in Western Europe and the Sahara as the African humid period ends.
- In Europe Pollen zone VII Sub Boreal, oak and beech.
- Glacial advances of the Piora oscillation, with lower economic prosperity in areas not able to irrigate in the Middle East.
|3500 BC to 3000 BC
||The end of the Neolithic Subpluvial era and return of extremely hot and dry conditions in the Sahara Desert, hastened by the 5.9 kiloyear event and the Piora Oscillation.|
||Gerzeh/Naqada II culture in Egypt|
||Naqada III and Protodynastic Period of Egypt|
||Early Dynastic Period of Egypt. The hallmarks of Ancient Egypt (art, architecture, religion) all formed during this period. This is widely assumed to be the time and place of the first writing system, the Egyptian hieroglyphs (date is disputed, some claim they were used as far back as 3200 BC, while others believe they weren't invented until the 28th century BC).|
|between 3000 BC and 2800 BC
||30 km/19 mi-wide Burckle Crater is formed in Indian Ocean from a possible meteor or comet impact, possibly inspiring most flood myths.|
3rd millennium BC
|c. 30th century BC
- c. 3000 BC: Stonehenge begins to be built. In its first version, it consists of a circular ditch and bank, with 56 wooden posts. (National Geographic, June 2008).
- Sumerian Cuneiform script, considered among the oldest writing systems, is created.
||Floods at Shuruppak from horizon to horizon, with sediments in Southern Iraq, stretching as far north as Kish, and as far south as Uruk, associated with the return of heavy rains in Nineveh and a potential damming of the Karun River to run into the Tigris River. This ends the Jemdet Nasr period and ushers in the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamian cultures of the area. Possible association of this event with the Genesis flood narrative.|
|c. 2880 BC
||Germination of Prometheus (a bristlecone pine of the species Pinus longaeva), formerly the world's oldest known non-clonal organism.|
|c. 2832 BC
||Germination of Methuselah (a bristlecone pine of the species Pinus longaeva), currently the world's oldest known non-clonal organism.|
||Suggested date for an asteroid or comet impact occurring between Africa and Antarctica, around the time of a solar eclipse on May 10, based on an analysis of flood stories. Possibly causing the Burckle crater and Fenambosy Chevron.|
- Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh describes vast tracts of cedar forests in what is now southern Iraq. Gilgamesh defies the gods and cuts down the forest, and in return the gods say they will curse Sumer with fire (or possibly drought). By 2100 BC, soil erosion and salt buildup have devastated agriculture. One Sumerian wrote that the "earth turned white." Civilization moved north to Babylonia and Assyria. Again, deforestation becomes a factor in the rise and subsequent fall of these civilizations.
- Some of the first laws protecting the remaining forests decreed in Ur.
|c. 2630 BC
||Construction of the Egyptian pyramids.|
||Sahara becomes fully desiccated, and conditions become largely identical to those of today. Desiccation had been proceeding from 7500 to 6000 BC, as a result of the shift in the West African tropical monsoon belt southwards from the Sahel, and intensified by the 5.9 kiloyear event. Subsequent rates of evaporation in the region led to a drying of the Sahara, as shown by the drop in water levels in Lake Chad. Tehenu of the Sahara attempt to enter into Egypt, and there is evidence of a Nile drought in the pyramid of Unas.|
||Neolithic period ends in China.|
||Beginning of a severe centennial-scale drought in northern Africa, southwestern Asia and midcontinental North America, which very likely caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt as well as the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. This coincides with the transition from the Subboreal period to the subatlantic period.|
|21st century BC
||Construction of the Ziggurat of Ur.|
2nd millennium BC
|c. 2000 BC
||c. 1000 BC
||Continued mountain formation in the Himalayas contributes to the drying up of the Sarasvati River and the desertification of the Thar Region. This contributes to the decline of the Harappan civilization.|
||The Atra-Hasis Epic describes Babylonian flood, with warnings of the consequences of human overpopulation.|
|Around 1600 BC
||Minoan eruption destroys much of Santorini island, but does not destroy (contrary to what was previously believed) the Minoan civilization on Crete. This may have inspired the legend of Atlantis.|
||Minoan civilization in the Mediterranean declines, but scholars are divided on the cause. Possibly a volcanic eruption was the source of the catastrophe (see Minoan eruption). On the other hand, gradual deforestation may have led to materials shortages in manufacturing and shipping. Loss of timber and subsequent deterioration of its land was probably a factor in the decline of Minoan power in the late Bronze Age, according to John Perlin in A Forest Journey.|
||Evidence of major droughts in the Eastern Mediterranean. Hittite and Ugarit records show requests for grain were sent to Egypt, probably during the reign of Pharaoh Merenptah. Carpenter has suggested that droughts of equal severity to those of the 1950s in Greece, would have been sufficient to cause the Late Bronze Age collapse. The cause may have been a temporary diversion of winter storms north of the Pyrenees and Alps. Central Europe experienced generally wetter conditions, while those in the Eastern Mediterranean were substantially drier. There seems to have been a general abandonment of peasant subsistence agriculture in favour of nomadic pastoralism in Central Anatolia, Syria and northern Mesopotamia, Palestine, the Sinai and NW Arabia.|
1st millennium BC
- Sub-Atlantic period in Western Europe.
- Pollen Zone VIII, sub-Atlantic. End of last Sea Level rise.
- Spread of "Celtic fields", Iron Age A, and Haalstadt Celts.
- Increased prosperity in Europe and the Middle East.
||Axial age, a revolution in thinking that we know as Philosophy, begins in China, India, and Europe, with people such as Socrates, Plato, Homer, Lao Tzu, Confucius, among others, alive at this time.|
||Ancient Rome begins, with the founding of Rome. This marks the beginning of Classical antiquity.|
||Democracy created in Athens, Ancient Greece|
||Alexander the Great|
||Reign of Ashoka the Great, and the beginning of propagation of Buddhism|
|c. 225 BC
||The Sub-Atlantic period began about 225 BC (estimated on the basis of radiocarbon dating) and has been characterized by increased rainfall, cooler and more humid climates, and the dominance of beech forests. The fauna of the Sub-Atlantic is essentially modern although severely depleted by human activities. The Sub-Atlantic is correlated with pollen zone IX; sea levels have been generally regressive during this time interval, though North America is an exception.|
|c. 200 BC
||Sri Lanka first country in the world to have a nature reserve, King Devanampiyatissa established a wildlife sanctuary|
1st millennium AD
||Rome reaches its greatest expanse in terms of territory, stretching from the Sahara desert, to England and Belgium, along the Danube River and Black Sea to Mesopotamia and modern-day Kuwait.|
||Hatepe eruption in New Zealand turns the skies red over Rome and China.|
||535–536: global climate abnormalities affecting several civilizations.|
||Start of the Little Ice Age, a stadial period within our interglacial warm period|
||Catastrophic eruption of Samalas in Indonesia, with climate effects comparable to that of the 1815 Tambora eruption. This contributed to the cooling seen in the Little Ice Age.|
|end of the 13th century
||beginning of the Renaissance era in Italy, gradually spreads throughout Europe.|
||Huaynaputina erupts in South America. The explosion had effects on climate around the Northern Hemisphere (Southern hemispheric records are less complete), where 1601 was the coldest year in six centuries, leading to a famine in Russia; see Russian famine of 1601–1603.|
||It has been posited that 1610 marks the beginning of the Anthropocene, or the 'Age of Man', marking a fundamental change in the relationship between humans and the Earth system.|
||Beginning of Industrial Revolution, which eventually turns to use of coal and other fossil fuels to drive steam engines and other devices. Anthropogenic carbon pollution presumably increases.|
||Great Lisbon earthquake occurred in the Kingdom of Portugal on Saturday, 1 November, the holiday of All Saints' Day, at around 09:40 local time; subsequent fires and a tsunami almost totally destroyed Lisbon and adjoining areas, accentuating political tensions in the kingdom and profoundly disrupting Portugal's colonial ambitions.|
||Failure of the monsoons in the late 1760s contribute to the Bengal famine of 1770 where 10 million people die. This forces a change in tax policy in the British Empire, which was a cause of the American War of Independence.|
||The volcano Laki erupts, emitting sufficient sulfur dioxide gas and sulphate particles to kill a majority of Iceland's livestock and cause an unusually cold winter in Europe and Western Asia.|
||A recent study of El Niño patterns suggests that the French Revolution was caused in part by the poor crop yields of 1788–89 in Europe, resulting from an unusually strong El-Niño effect between 1789 and 1793.|
||Thomas Robert Malthus publishes An Essay on the Principle of Population, thus beginning Malthusian economics.|
||The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 hits Galveston, Texas and reverses the city's previously rapid growth.|
||San Francisco earthquake causes collapse of insurance markets and the Panic of 1907.|
||Tunguska Explosion decimates a remote part of Siberia.|
||World War I, which involves heavy bombardment, explosions, and poison gas warfare.|
||Spanish flu kills between 20 and 50 million people worldwide shortly after World War I.|
||World human population reached 2 billion mark.|
||Exceptional precipitation absence in northern hemisphere exacerbated by human activities Dust Bowl drought of the US plains and the Soviet famine of 1932-1933 (harsh economic damage in US and widespread death in USSR). causes the |
||World War II, with heavy bombardment, genocide, and explosions. Towards the end of the war, nuclear warfare occurs for the first and only time when Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bombed.|
||Nuclear tests are performed by the United States, Soviet Union, India, Pakistan, China, North Korea, the United Kingdom, and France. Above-ground detonations continue until the Partial Test Ban Treaty is signed in 1963, causing fallout and spreading radiation around the explosion sites.|
||Gilbert Plass submits his seminal article "The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change".|
||Sputnik is launched, becomes first man-made object to orbit the earth, and triggers the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating with the first man in space in 1961, and the Moon landing, humanity's first ventures to the Moon in 1969.|
||World human population reached 3 billion mark.|
||The Clean Air Act is passed in the United States, with subsequent amendments in 1970, 1977 and 1990.|
||World human population reached 4 billion mark.|
||Deindustrialization occurs in the Midwest and then much of the United States, as manufacturing industries (and their pollution) move to China, India, and other countries.|
||Mount St. Helens erupts explosively in Washington state.|
||Chernobyl meltdown and explosion, contaminating surrounding area, including Pripyat.|
||World human population reached 5 billion mark.|
||The Montreal Protocol comes into effect, phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other substances responsible for ozone depletion.|
||The Earth Summit is held in Rio, attended by 192 nations.|
||The Kyoto Protocol is signed, committing nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.|
||World human population reached 6 billion mark.|
- Earthquake causes large tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, killing nearly a quarter of a million people.
- Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma cause widespread destruction and environmental harm to coastal communities in the US Gulf Coast region, especially the New Orleans area.
- Cyclone Nargis makes landfall over Myanmar, causing widespread destruction and killing over 130,000 people.
- 150 nations meeting at the UNEP summit in Rwanda agree to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as an extension to the Montreal Protocol.
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- http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=11165 Larrea tridentata – King Clone
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- Science Daily: World's Oldest Living clonal tree, 9550 years old, Discovered In Sweden
- Cambridge Conference Correspondence
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