Difference Between History and Prehistory – History vs Prehistory

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

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 no recording tools were accessible during the time frame that the term “prehistory” refers to. Here, we have provided a brief introduction and the difference between history and prehistory.

Difference Between History and Prehistory PDF

The History vs 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 documented events.

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, quill and ink can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

Prehistoric man carved and painted inside cave walls, stone structures, and animal bones as 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 the 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 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:

  • Palaeolithic 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 is an Archaeologist.

History and Prehistory

The period that prior historic times is known as prehistory. There is a difference between history and prehistory in several 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 no written records existed. 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 artefacts, 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 the difference between history and prehistory, there are also a few similarities. 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 existence claims.
  • 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.


Key Difference Between History and Prehistory

The key Difference Between History and Prehistory is that History is the chronological occurrences of the past, whereas Prehistory is the time before handwriting was familiarized. History started when the writing system was presented and documents were preserved, whereas Prehistory was observed between the use of stone instruments and the creation of the writing system.

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