• What is the origin of architecture? When, where, and why did humankind begin to design and construct buildings? No one knows, exactly.
  • The story of early architecture, like the story of human evolution, is based on a limited but growing knowledge base.
  • Written records from prehistory are obviously nonexistent, and other forms of evidence are scarce.
  • The 18th century French priest Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier famously speculated that our ancestors learned how to build by imitating nature—so tree trunk becomes column, branch becomes beam, leaf becomes roof.
  • Fields of study that did not exist in Laugier’s time now provide meaningful new information about early shelter.
  • Archaeologists uncover physical remains of prehistoric buildings and artifacts, and anthropologists compare what we know of prehistory with more recent and familiar societies.
  • Now, scholars of the Paleolithic (the time period from 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago, also known as the Stone Age) regularly make discoveries that dramatically change the historical narrative.
  • Our distant hominin relatives took shelter in trees, though fossil remains suggest that some of them were bipedal (walking upright), and therefore lived at least partially on the ground, as much as 7 million years ago.
  • The available evidence shows the first members of our own genus, Homo, living in Ethiopia 2.8 million years ago.
  • Archaic humans migrated around and out of Africa in successive waves, possibly reaching China as early as 2.1 million years ago.
  • Homo sapiens, the modern human species, debuts in the fossil record around 300,000 BC, in Africa.
  • From Africa, Homo sapiens migrated to the rest of the world, interbreeding with archaic human species such as Homo neanderthalensis along the way.
  • By the end of the Paleolithic, around 10,000 BC, Homo sapiens was the only surviving species of the genus Homo.
  • For millions of years, our ancestors lived in the open in small groups, generally roaming within a set territory and where possible taking shelter under cliffs and in caves.
  • Archaic humans and their societies went through developmental processes not unlike those of children, and over thousands upon thousands of years they gained skills that distinguished them from other animals, including how to walk upright, to communicate through speech, to use and make tools, and to work cooperatively.
  • To feed themselves, they foraged edible plants, fished, scavenged and hunted wild animals.
  • They also began to control and make fire for cooking, warmth, and light.
  • The act of forming a ring of stones to serve as a hearth counts among the most primal forms of placemaking.
  • Over time our ancestors also learned to make simple huts using stones, tree branches, bones, and other materials found in nature—humanity’s first step toward the development of architecture.


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