The Earth was formed about 4 billion years ago, with the first modern humans (Homo sapiens) only evolving between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. If the history of the Earth was represented by one year beginning on 1st January, the appearance of modern humans did not occur until about 20 minutes to midnight on 31st December. In that relatively short space of time however, mankind has rapidly evolved from simple hunter-gatherers to highly sophisticated space travellers.
The evolutionary process can describe much of mans development. Quite simply, those humans which were able to adapt to new environments and had the most resources available to them, were most likely to survive, and were therefore most likely to reproduce. Mankind evolved at different rates across the globe, with some settlements evolving faster than others. In fact many of todays tribes, for example the Mequens in Brazil, have hardly changed at all for thousands of years and still operate as hunter-gatherers. The following picture of human evolution is therefore only an insight into the general history of mankind.
For the first hundred thousand years or so (in fact up until 12,000 years ago), mankind relied upon what it could find within its immediate environment. Known as hunter-gatherers, early mankind did just that, hunting for wild animals and gathering fruit and vegetation. The survival of the group was based upon the availability of resources in the immediate environment. By hunting to excess or by destroying too much vegetation, the group threatened their supply of resources and chances of survival.
During this more gradual evolutionary period of humans, mankind slowly gained knowledge of its environment and began to treat its environment differently. Such knowledge during the last 10,000 years led to a much more rapid development away from hunter-gathering towards agriculture and eventually civilisation and industrialisation. This rapid development has been assisted by the discoveries of new technologies and the consumption of raw materials and energy.
With these developments, mankinds relationship with the Earth changed. Where once mankind relied on the Earth for survival and sustenance, it now regularly attempts to control and exploit it, often without recognising the environmental consequences.