Top 10 Turning Points in Human History

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A Brief History

On July 19, 1588, during the Anglo-Spanish War’s Battle of Gravelines, the ultimately doomed Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel.  The next couple of weeks were among the most harrowing in English and Spanish history.  Indeed, human history is full of exciting and often tragic events. The turning points in world history is an exciting topic for a discussion, but it might take us too long to discuss all of them. So, some of the most prominent events include:

  • Early humans discovering and using fire;
  • The fall of the Roman Empire;
  • The period of the Middle Ages;
  • and The industrial revolution.

But let us have a closer look at the list of ten major turning points in history of the mankind.

Digging Deeper

1. Early Humans Discovering and Using Fire

A diorama showing Homo erectus, the earliest human species that is known to have controlled fire, from inside the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  Photograph by Nathan McCord, U.S. Marine Corps.

Different findings point at different dates that range from some 250,000 to 1.5 million years ago, and we cannot be sure on this matter, but one day, humans realized that fire is not only hot and dangerous but also useful if controlled. Fire allowed people to cook food, which made it more nutritious, safer, and easier to chew and digest.  Fire also allowed early humans to invest more time and efforts into living rather than surviving, which in turn probably caused the development of speech and the increase in brain size.  So, if you are out there looking for someone to help me write my speech, thank fire for that.

2. Neolithic Revolution

Area of the fertile crescent, circa 7500 BC, with main archaeological sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The area of Mesopotamia proper was not yet settled by humans.  Map by Bjoertvedt.

The Neolithic Revolution has been a continuous process that changed humanity forever, turning us from gatherers and hunters into farmers, which meant that people no longer relied on prey and berries they hunted or collected; they could just raise food. This revolution happened in the Middle East in the area called the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago. The ability to basically create food improved the quality of life and allowed people to live in the same place continuously. This development translated into the emergence of the first civilizations, such as Sumer.

3. Humans Learn to Use Metals: Bronze and Iron Ages

Trundholm sun chariot, Nordic Bronze Age.  Photograph by Nationalmuseet.

Somewhere around 9,000 years ago, people learned to use metals. They started with bronze, and it changed the world forever. Those who had access to that metal could make superior weapons and tools. Metal tools gave a powerful push to various civilizations of the Middle East, including Assyrians and Egyptians. About 3,000 years ago, we discovered iron, which was superior to bronze, and this allowed such civilizations as the Roman Empire to thrive and conquer.

4. The Fall of the Roman Empire

Animated map of the Roman Republic and Empire between 510 BC and 530 AD.  Map by Roke (d).

The Roman Empire collapsed under the pressure of European barbaric tribes in 476 AD.  This event was a turning point in history since it spawned the emergence of the European nations as we know them today, but it was also a moment that threw the world into the Dark Age.

5. The Dark Ages, or the Middle Ages

Petrarch, who conceived the idea of a European “Dark Age”. From Cycle of Famous Men and Women, Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla, c. 1450

The Dark Ages lasted since 476 AD until 1300, by some accounts. People were mostly illiterate, medicine was non-existent, and everybody lived like there was no tomorrow. Back then, if you asked somebody to write me a speech, you would most likely end up with nothing but disappointment. The Dark Ages were like the worst time to live in.

6. Renaissance in Europe

David, by Michelangelo (1501–1504), Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence, Italy, is a masterpiece of Renaissance and world art.  Photograph by Livioandronico2013.

The Dark Ages ended around 1300 when Italians started to think about beautiful things in this world. That is when Dante, Boccaccio, and a fistful of other artists looked around them and realized that there is so much more than dirt, death, and sin. That is when the world started to wake up, and people started to open their eyes to the world that had so much beauty in it.

7. Printing Press

Recreated Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum, Carson, California.  Photograph by vlasta2.

Developed around 1439, printing press revolutionized the world allowing people to spread the information much faster than they used to. Johannes Gutenberg used already existing ideas, combined and improved them, and came up with the mechanical device that could print countless copies of particular text or speech faster than anyone could write it. With the help of this device, I could write my speech and then print out thousands of its copies. This way, people could share information much faster, which resulted in the emergence of the press. When you use the printer, remember about Gutenberg and his revolutionary device.

8. Columbus Discovers America

The four voyages of Columbus.  Map by Phirosiberia (talk).

Discovering the new continent back then was like flying to another planet. When back in 1492, Columbus landed in America, he did not even know it was a new continent, but soon enough, people realized it was the land of gold and opportunities for those who had nothing to lose back in the Old World. Today, we cannot imagine our planet without America, thanks to this event in history.

9. Industrial Revolution

A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Textiles were the leading industry of the Industrial Revolution, and mechanized factories, powered by a central water wheel or steam engine, were the new workplace.  Illustration by T. Allom.

The first Industrial Revolution that lasted from about 1760 to 1820 changed the manufacturing processes around the world, making the production of goods faster, and at the same time, leaving millions of people unemployed. This revolution, however, translated into the emergence of new social classes, changed European economies, resulted in several revolutions across European Empires and the Americas, and finally shaped society the way we know and love it. It reshaped our world and gave some of the essential devices we use on a daily basis without even noticing them.

10. The Internet

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet.

Well, that is probably the most notable invention of the 20th century, and we just cannot overlook its importance for modern people. Can you imagine your life without the Internet and all the information it gives you? Probably not, at least I cannot. On any given day, I use the Internet to write speech for me, entertain myself, find information, and communicate with friends. That is why the invention of the Internet is the latest turning point in human history, and we are yet to witness its real impact upon all of humanity.

Surely, these are not the only events that matter when it comes to global history, but these are some of the turning points that changed the contemporary world of respective epochs, as well as the way we live today. So every time you are trying to find the reasons behind your daily routine, some of these events definitely influenced it.  Question for students (and subscribers): What are some other major turning points that have occurred in our world’s history?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Axelrod, Alan.  100 Turning Points in American History.  Lyons Press, 2019.

Noll, Mark A.  Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.  Baker Academic, 2012.

The featured image in this article, an image from The Royal Navy (1907) of the Spanish Armada in the Bay of Biscay in 1588, was taken from Flickr‘s The Commons.  The uploading organization may have various reasons for determining that no known copyright restrictions exist, such as:

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More information can be found at https://flickr.com/commons/usage/.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by Internet Archive Book Images at https://flickr.com/photos/126377022@N07/14589549068. It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions.

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About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland