The roots of history lie in the pre-human past and it is hard (but important) to grasp just how long ago that was. If we think of a century on our calendar as a minute on some great clock recording the passage of time, then Europeans began to settle in the Americas only about five minutes ago. Slightly less than fifteen minutes before that, Christianity appeared. Rather more than an hour ago people settled in southern Mesopotamia who were soon to evolve the oldest civilization known to us. This is already well beyond the furthest margin of written record; according to our clock, people began writing down the past much less than an hour ago, too. Some six or seven hours further back on our scale, and much more remote, we can discern the first recognizable human beings of a modern physiological type already established in western Europe. Behind them, anything from a fortnight to three weeks earlier, appear the first traces of creatures with some human characteristics whose contribution to the evolution which followed is still in debate. How much further back into a growing darkness we need go in order to understand the origins of man is debatable, but it is worth considering for a moment even larger tracts of time simply because so much happened in them which, even if we cannot say anything very precise about it, shaped what followed. This is because humanity was to carry forward into historical times certain possibilities and limitations, and they were settled long ago, in a past even more remote than the much shorter period of time – 4 ½ million years or so – in which creatures with at least some claim to human qualities are known to have existed. Though it is not our direct concern, we need to try to understand what was in the baggage of advantages and disadvantages with which human beings alone among the primates emerged after these huge tracts of time as change-makers. Virtually all the physical and much of the mental formation we still take for granted was by then determined, fixed in the sense that some possibilities were excluded and others were not. The crucial process is the evolution of human creatures as a distinct branch among the primates, for it is at this fork in the line, as it were, that we begin to look out for the station at which we get off for History. It is here that we can hope to find the first signs of that positive, conscious impact upon environment which marks the first stage of human achievement. The bedrock of the story is the earth itself. Changes recorded in fossils of flora and fauna, in geographical forms and geological strata, narrate a drama of epic scale lasting hundreds of millions of years. During them the shape of the world changed out of recognition many times. Great rifts opened and closed in its surface, coasts rose and fell; at times huge areas were covered with a long-since vanished vegetation. Many species of plants and animals emerged and proliferated. Most died out. Yet these ‘dramatic’ events happened with almost unimaginable slowness. Some lasted millions of years; even the most rapid took centuries. The creatures who lived while they were going on could no more have perceived them than a twenty-first century butterfly, in its three weeks or so of life, could sense the rhythm of the seasons. Yet slowly the earth was taking shape as a collection of habitats permitting different strains to survive. Meanwhile, biological evolution inched forwards with almost inconceivable slowness.