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Prehistoric and Ancient Times

- Arrival of Indo-Europeans -

- Iron Age Cultures -

- Supremacy of Greece -

- Ascendancy of Rome -

- The Great Migrations -

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Modern humans (Homo sapiens) first appeared in Europe during the late Paleolithic Era (the Old Stone Age). Hunters and gatherers, they left behind notable examples of art, dating from approximately 32,000 to 10,000 years ago, that have been found in more than 200 caves, mostly in Spain and France. Some 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch—the most recent of the Ice Ages—the climate began to improve and gradually approached that of the present. In time, Neolithic (New Stone Age) people developed agricultural economies that replaced hunting. During the 6th millennium bc, farming spread over most of western Europe. Some of these Neolithic cultures, beginning about 5000 bc, erected huge stone monuments (megaliths) either as grave structures or as memorials of notable events. Early Neolithic development was especially intense in the Danube and Balkan areas, in the so-called Starcevo (near Belgrade in present-day Serbia) and Danubian cultures. In the southern Balkans the Sesklo culture (in Thessaly, ancient Greece) had developed complex proto-urban forms by 5000 bc. This in turn led to the Dimini culture (also in Thessaly), which was characterized by fortified villages. Excavations in the Balkans have shown that copper was in use in that area about 4000 bc, during the Vinca culture (4500?-3000? bc). By this time, trade, especially in amber from the Baltic, was becoming more and more important. In central Europe (Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic) large deposits of copper and tin facilitated a bronze technology during the 3rd millennium bc. Typical royal or aristocratic burials of this period were covered by barrows or tumuli, but by the late 2nd millennium bc a change occurred; cremation then became common, and burial by urn (in urnfields) became the established custom.

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