Class 03: Early Humans & Forager Societies

Due by the Start of Class


Crash Course World History: The Agricultural Revolution (transcript)

Read: Marking Time in History

The following instructions for “how to tell time in history.” No, this is not the most exciting thing – but it is important. Please read carefully and take the time to test your knowledge at the end.

Forget “BC” and “AD.”

  • These terms privilege a single religion (Christianity).
  • They make a single person’s birth the centerpiece of history (Jesus’s).
    • “BC” means “Before Christ.”
    • “AD” is the Latin phrase “anno domini,” which translates into English as “the year of our Lord.”
  • That person’s birthday was calculated incorrectly anyhow. (Jesus was actually born between 6 and 4 BCE. A monk in the Middle Ages got it a bit wrong…)

In this class, we’ll use “BCE” and “CE.”

  • BCE = “Before the Common Era
  • CE = “Common Era”

The dates are the same though.

  • If you see 1500 BC on Wikipedia, that’s the same as 1500 BCE. Ditto to something like 750 AD. That’s 750 CE, too.
  • The only date that really shifted was Jesus’s birth date…
  • I use this because it’s a more neutral form of notation that does not depend on what any single religion thinks is important.

For BCE, please note that the years count backward toward the year 1 BCE.

  • The larger a date is, the earlier it is. The smaller a date is, the more recent.
  • So 3500 BCE is farther back in time than 3400 BCE…
  • Typically, you’ll see a date range with the larger number listed first: 1510 BCE to 1489 CE.
  • CE just counts up, so nothing complicated there.
  • Think 500 CE to 600 CE and onwards to the present.

There is no year zero.

  • Zero is just a place holder. We could as easily call it year “x” or year “bak kwa.”
  • Instead, dates simply go from 1 BCE to 1 CE.

Other notations to be aware of:

Sometimes historians give dates as centuries instead of listing the date range (e.g., “fourth century CE”)

  • The number of the century is always one more than the date range. Here’s what I mean:
  • 100-199 CE = 2nd century CE
  • 600-699 = 7th century CE
  • 1599-1500 BCE = 16th century BCE
  • 599-500 BCE = 6th century BCE

ca. = “circa” (Latin for “around)

  • You’ll see this before a date: ca. 1600 BCE
  • Historians use this when the date isn’t certain.

c. = “century”

  • You’ll see this after a date: 5th c. CE
  • It’s just shorthand. I don’t usually use it in my slides, but you might run across it in your research for the project.

BP = “Before Present”

  • This will only appear in the Class 03 portion of the class.
  • BP is used for early human history since we aren’t really sure of exact dates and the numbers are massive (e.g., 165,000 BP)

Test yourself

Review what you’ve just read by answering the following questions. Refer to the info above as needed. You can check your answers when you’re done with the Answer Key at the bottom of the page.

Review Activity

Slides for Class

Feel free to download the Class 03 slides as .pptx or make a copy for your Google Drive.

End-of-Class Activity

Answer Key for “Test Your Knowledge”

  1. What are BCE and CE acronyms for?
    • “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era”
  2. What reason did I provide for choosing to use BCE and CE instead of BC and AD?
    • BCE and CE is a more neutral notation for dates because the terms do not privilege a single religion. BC and AD are tied specifically to Christianity.
  3. What is “ca.” and why is it used?
    • “Circa” (around). It is used when a date is uncertain.
  4. What is “c.” and why is it used?
    • “C.” is shorthand for “century.”
  5. What is “BP” shorthand for?
    • “BP” means “Before Present.”
  6. Put the following dates in the correct order (read carefully): 800 CE, 3100 BCE, 20,000 BP, 18,000 BP, 1500 CE, 600 BCE, 750 CE, 775 BCE.
    • 20,000 BP
    • 18,000 BP
    • 3100 BCE
    • 775 BCE
    • 600 BCE
    • 750 CE
    • 800 CE
    • 1500 CE
  7. Translate the following centuries to a date range:
    • 9th century BCE = 899-800 BCE
    • 15th century CE = 1400-1499 CE
    • 1st century CE = 1-99 CE
    • 20th century BCE = 1999-1900 BCE
  8. Translate the following date ranges to centuries:
    • 300-399 CE = 4th century CE
    • 1299-1200 BCE = 13th century BCE
    • 1000-1099 CE = 11th century CE
    • 99-1 BCE = 1st century BCE