prehistory, period of human evolution before writing was invented and records kept. The term was coined by Daniel Wilson in 1851. It is followed by protohistory, the period for which we have some records but must still rely largely on archaeological evidence to provide a coherent account. The study of prehistory is concerned with the activities of a society or culture, not of the individual, and is limited to the material evidence that has survived.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.