Difference Between History and Prehistory

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 13, 2022, 9:39

The Main Difference Between History and Prehistory lies in their sources of study. While prehistory refers to the documentation of past events before the existence of written records, history refers to a narrative study of chronological events of the past affecting a nation or its people. As such, History is the time after prehistory.

Learning about the Difference Between History and Prehistory is an important part of the UPSC Civil Service exam syllabus.

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Difference Between History and Prehistory

Points of difference

History

Prehistory

Time period

The first written records were found during Protohistory—a period between prehistory and history. These writings are not entirely decipherable but are the first recorded writing systems. Scholars believe History began with the 5th and 4th BCE Hellenic Greeks.

The prehistoric age can be traced back to about 3 million years. The Stone Age marks the beginning of prehistory

Writing material

  • Earliest written records were found on leaves, dried animal skins, and papyrus in Egypt.
  • Greeks and Romans used wax tablets.
  • The first evidence of ink can be found in Egypt.
  • Later, the use of quill and ink can be traced back to the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Prehistoric man carved and painted inside cave walls, stone structures, animal bones in the form of symbolic sculptures with stones, twigs, etc. Later, the man began to write on damp clay with incisions made with a stylus.

Information Records

The earliest records of written history exist in form of annals, king lists, cattle lists, lists of property, etc. Such written records can be found in Egypt or the Greek civilization.

Records of prehistory can be found in primitive art discovered in form of wall drawings, paintings, symbols, ideograms, or other artefacts excavated from caves or other stone structures that recorded human existence and their world.

Classification

After the prehistoric age, history can be divided into:

Ancient history:

  • Classical Antiquity

Post-classical history:

  • Middle Ages

Modern history:

  • Early Modern period
  • Late Modern period
  • Contemporary history

The prehistoric ages can be divided into three major time periods:

  • Paleolithic or the Old Stone Age
  • Mesolithic or the Middle Stone Age
  • Neolithic or the New Stone Age

Subject Experts

A person who analyses, examines, and carefully studies past events and patterns is known as a Historian.

A person who studies prehistory and human history through physical remains discovered via excavation and analyses the artefacts, fossils, and other material remains are known as an Archaeologist.

Since historical evidence cannot merely be based on the memory of historians, there has to be a written record and history based on written records came much later in human history.

Thus, to put it simply, the Difference Between History and Prehistory is that whatever comes under the broad term History is recorded or written history; everything that existed before that is to be deemed prehistoric.

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FAQs on the Difference Between History and Prehistory

Q.1. What is the Difference Between History and Prehistory?

The Main Difference Between History and Prehistory lies in the study of records. History studies documented evidence, i.e., written and recorded historical data, whereas pre-history studies physical evidence, i.e., artefacts and fossils.

Q.2. What is the Difference Between History and Prehistory in terms of meaning?

The Difference Between History and Prehistory in terms of meaning is that history is the study of the past that starts from the period when the writing system was introduced and maintained, whereas pre-history is the study of past events when writing was not invented and written records were not maintained.

Q.3. What is the Difference Between History and Prehistory based on the sources of study?

The Difference Between History and Prehistory based on the sources of study is that historians study history based on secondary written sources such as biographies, letters, video or audio recordings, books from libraries, archives, etc., whereas pre-historic sources of study include archaeological remains such as fossils, cave excavations, stone structures, excavated cities, etc.

Q.4. Is there a Difference Between History and Prehistory based on subject discipline?

Yes, there is a Difference Between History and Prehistory based on subject discipline. Pre-history falls under Archeology, a branch of Anthropology, whereas history falls under the broad subject of history that examines a vast time period from Early Civilization to the Middle Ages, extending to Modern and Contemporary History.