Difference Between History and Prehistory

By K Balaji|Updated : November 28th, 2022

The difference between history and prehistory is that history can be defined as the documentation of previous occurrences. However, prehistory does not document events since there were no recording tools accessible during the time frame that the term "prehistory" refers to. Here, we have provided the difference between history and prehistory and a brief introduction about them. 

Difference Between History and Prehistory PDF

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. Let us check the difference between history and prehistory.

Difference Between History and Prehistory

There are written documents, which is the main difference between history and prehistory. Therefore, we might define prehistory as the era before writing was invented and history as the era of events that were documented.

History vs Prehistory

Difference Between History and Prehistory

Points of difference



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.


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, and 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 artifacts, fossils, and other material remains are known as an Archaeologist.

History and Prehistory

The period that prior historic times is known as prehistory. There are difference between history and prehistory in a number of ways. The written records are one of the main differences between these two periods. History is the time period during which events were documented. Prehistoric time, on the other hand, refers to the time before the invention of writing systems.

What is History?

History is the study of the past, particularly the past of individuals and societies. Nevertheless, while discussing the past, we often refer to it as history. History is a study or a field that focuses on the past that can be proven through written documents. This indicates that history relates to a period of time after the invention of writing. Thus, history is a subject that deals with the past's written records.

What is Prehistory?

Prehistory means "before history." Prehistory is the era before writing systems were developed or during which there were no written records. It covers the time span between the emergence of human-like creatures on Earth and the introduction, development, and widespread use of writing.

Even though there may not be any written documents from this period, one can still learn more about it by studying old artifacts, carvings, drawings, etc. Prehistory can be separated into three distinct eras: the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. 

Similarities Between History and Prehistory

Apart from various differences between history and prehistory, there are a few similarities as well. The similarities between history and prehistory are given below.

  • The study of past events and people covers both prehistory and history.
  • Factually verifiable aspects of the past include history and prehistory. Both academic areas rely on standardized or fossilized facts to support their claims of existence.
  • Both prehistoric and historical events influenced and evolved into modern times. Historical events were an evolution of prehistoric occurrences.
  • Both eras begin in the same year, according to academic doctrine. The main variation is in the forward or backward numbering.
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FAQs on Difference Between History and Prehistory

  • The difference between History and Prehistory lies in the study of records. History studies documented evidence, i.e., written and recorded historical data, whereas prehistory studies physical evidence, i.e., artifacts and fossils

  • 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

  • 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 prehistory is the study of past events when writing was not invented and written records were not maintained

  • Prehistory is the study of the eras and occasions that took place before recorded history. It examines the period of time between the use of stone tools and the development of writing systems

  • The major difference between History and Prehistory is 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.

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