Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Protohistory is the period between prehistory and written history, during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing, but other cultures that have developed writing have noted the existence of those pre-literate groups in their own writings.

Protohistoric may also refer to the transition period between the advent of literacy in a society and the writings of the first historians. The preservation of oral traditions may complicate matters, as they can provide a secondary historical source for even earlier events. Colonial sites involving a literate group and a nonliterate group are also studied as protohistoric situations.

The term can also refer to a period in which fragmentary or external historical documents, not necessarily including a developed writing system, have been found. For instance, the Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea, the Yayoi[1] and the Mississippian groups, recorded by early European explorers, are protohistoric.

Use of term[edit]

In The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe,[2] an article[3] by Timothy Taylor stated:

Because of the existence in some but not all societies of historical writing during the first millennium BC, the period has often been termed 'protohistoric' instead of prehistoric. Of course, the understanding of the past gained through archaeology is broadly different in nature to understanding derived from historical texts. Having both sorts of evidence is a boon and a challenge.

— Timothy Taylor, The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe

In the abstract of a later paper on "slavery in the first millennium Aegean, Carpatho-Balkan and Pontic regions",[4] Taylor, primarily an archaeologist, stated,

I have taken the rather unusual step of trusting what the classical authors tell us they knew.

— Timothy Taylor, The Archaeology of Slavery

For other examples, see also the writings of Brian M. Fagan on the protohistory of North America[5] and the work of Muhammed Abdul Nayeem on that of the Arabian Peninsula[6]


As with prehistory, determining when a culture may be considered prehistoric or protohistoric is sometimes difficult for anthropologists. Data varies considerably from culture to culture, region to region, and even from one system of reckoning dates to another.

In its simplest form, protohistory follows the same chronology as prehistory and is based on the technological advancement of a particular people with regard to metallurgy:

Civilizations and peoples[edit]

The best-known protohistoric civilizations and ethnic groups are those for whom the term was originally coined: the barbarian tribes mentioned by European and Asian writers. Many protohistoric peoples also feature in prehistory and in history:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bahn, Paul (ed.) The Penguin Archaeology Guide Penguin Books Ltd (29 Nov 2001) ISBN 978-0-14-029308-1 p. 368
  2. ^ Cunliffe, Barry (2001). The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-285441-4.
  3. ^ Taylor, Timothy (1994). "Thracians, Scythians and Dacians". In Cunliffe, Barry (ed.). The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 373–410. ISBN 978-0-19-814385-7.
  4. ^ Timothy Taylor (2001). "Believing the Ancients: Quantitative and Qualitative Dimensions of Slavery and the Slave Trade in Later Prehistoric Eurasia". World Archaeology. 33 (1). World Archaeology, Vol. 33, No. 1, The Archaeology of Slavery (Jun., 2001), pp. 27–43: 27–43. doi:10.1080/00438240120047618. JSTOR 827887. S2CID 162250553.
  5. ^ Fagan, Brian (2005). Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent (4th ed.). London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-28532-9.
  6. ^ Nayeem, Muhammed Abdul, ed. (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula (5 volumes). Hyderabad: Hyderabad Pub.
  7. ^ "Alani". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  8. ^ Herodotus. "The Histories". Sacred Texts.
  9. ^ Sultzman, Lee. "Erie". Dick Shovel.
  10. ^ "Gaul - World History Encyclopedia". World History Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ Van Rhyn, G. A. F. (1879). "Germanic Races and Languages" . The American Cyclopædia. Vol. VII.
  12. ^ Maenchen-Helfen, Otto J. (1973). Max Knight (ed.). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-01596-7.
  13. ^ Kōzō, Yamamura; John Whitney Hall (1997). The Cambridge history of Japan. Cambridge University Press.
  14. ^ "Mid-America : an historical review". Internet Archive. p. 228. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  15. ^ "Where are the Susquehannock". The Susquehannock Fire Ring. Archived from the original on 9 January 2010. Retrieved 13 March 2016.