History Files

Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Asia

Asia as a whole consists of five broad regions which include Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia, and Siberia (less often known as North Asia). The rarely used label of 'West Asia' refers to the Near East. That region aside, it would appear to be South Asia which witnessed the earliest presence outside of Africa of anatomically modern humans in the form of Homo sapiens - between about 70,000-60,000 BC.

FeatureThe region appears to have provided a west-to-east conduit for early migrating groups as they left Africa and the Near East. Small tribes either remained in what is now India or continued to progress along the coastline to reach South-East Asia and Oceania (and especially Australia). Other groups headed north to enter East Asia roughly around 60,000 BC (see the Hominid Chronology feature link for more).

Of these vast regions, Central Asia is hard to define with any real accuracy. The term has different meanings for different writers and nations which have used it, varying from the tight modern Russian focus on those states which are located between the Caspian Sea and the Himalayas, to the much broader usage of western scholars which can see it reach as far as the Urals in the west (the usual border between Asia and Europe) and the limits of what is now China in the east.

In terms of the archaeological evidence which underpins the various cultural designations being used here, the latter, looser territorial coverage is generally applied, although perhaps referring to it as 'Central Eurasia' would be preferable if it wasn't so cumbersome.

East Asia incorporates all of the territory to the east of Central Asia. This includes territory which formed parts of Early China, plus modern Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea (early cultures for the Koreas are covered under East Asia), the islands which formed Early Japan, plus Taiwan and Tibet.

The north-eastern corner of Russia can sometimes also be included in this group, providing a cornerstone between that and Siberia. China and Tibet provide the regional border with the countries of South Asia and South-East Asia. The latter includes cultures which form part of Early Vietnam.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

The origins of 'Asia' as a name appear to lay in a confederacy in western Anatolia known as Assuwa or Assua (Arzawa). Certainly by about 1400-1300 BC this confederacy had already been formed by a number of regional minor states which, collectively, were allied to the Hittite empire which dominated Anatolia at that time. The city of Troy (or Wilusa) was also a member of this confederacy.

FeatureHowever, a far older word could be the basis of the 'Asia' name. This option relates to the Indo-Europeans and their spread from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to dominate Central Asia (see the feature link, right, for a fuller exploration of this theory).

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica.)


King list Palaeolithic Asia
(c.60,000 - 25,000 BC)

Asia's Palaeolithic is a period of gradually encroaching human activity from coasts towards vast inland areas, with India being reached around 70,000 BC.

King list East Asia Cultures
(c.60,000 BC)

Early East Asians found Homo erectus populations still extant, but quickly out-competed them so that this ancient human species was extinct by 30,000 BC.

King list South-East Asia Cultures
(c.60,000 BC)

This region consists of two dissimilar sections: a continental projection and a string of archipelagos to the south and east of the mainland (insular South-East Asia).

King list Siberia Cultures
(c.40,000 BC)

The earliest habitation of Siberia seems to take place around 40,000 BC, with its 'Ancient North Siberians' becoming genetically distinct from general Eurasians.

King list Americas Cultures
(c.40,000 BC)

Evidence exists in New Mexico to support a 40,000 BC arrival of humans in the Americas, thanks to what may be human footprints in volcanic ash in Clovis.

King list Mal'ta-Buret' Culture
(c.22,000 - 13,000 BC)

The site of Mal'ta lies about a hundred kilometres north of Lake Baikal, consisting of subterranean houses made from large animal bones and reindeer antler.

King list Afontova Gora Culture
(c.21,000 - 12,000 BC)

This culture bears clear cultural and genetic links to the Mal'ta-Buret', probably as a northwards expression of that in its core location along the Yenisei river.

King list Shigir Idol People
(c.10,500 BC)

The portable piece of 'mobiliary art' known as the Shigir Idol is the only example of its type to survive, possibly as the forerunner of the North American totem pole.

King list Yangelka Culture
(c.9500 - 6000 BC)

This was a unique culture in its own right, with stone tools which were characterised by obliquely blunted points, but also with several linked cultures to the west.

King list Kel'teminar Culture
(c.6000 - 3000 BC)

With somewhat malleable dates this is largely a Neolithic culture, although it also manages to seen in the start of the Chalcolithic period.

King list Botai-Tersek Culture
(c.3700 - 3100 BC)

The Botai rode horses to hunt horses (for meat), a peculiar arrangement which existed only within this culture and only on the northern steppe of Kazakhstan.

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