The interpretation of recorded history often relies on historical method, or the set of techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility, of an effective method for interpreting recorded history is raised in the philosophy of history as a question of epistemology. The study of different historical methods is known as historiography, which focuses on examining how different interpreters of recorded history create different interpretations of historical evidence.
Prehistory traditionally refers to the span of time before recorded history, ending with the invention of writing systems. Prehistory refers to the past in an area where no written records exist, or where the writing of a culture is not understood. Since the 20th century, the study of prehistory is considered essential to implicit exclusion of certain preliterate civilizations, such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America, Australian Aboriginals and New Zealand Māori.
Protohistory refers to the transition period between prehistory and history, after the advent of literacy in a society but before the writings of the first historians. Protohistory may also refer to the period during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing, but other cultures have noted its existence in their own writings.
More complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing. Early examples are the Jiahu symbols (c. 6600 BCE), Vinča signs (c. 5300 BCE), early Indus script (c. 3500 BCE) and Nsibidi script (c. before 500 CE). There is disagreement concerning exactly when prehistory becomes history, and when proto-writing became "true writing" However, invention of the first writing systems is roughly contemporary with the beginning of the Bronze Age in the late Neolithic of the late 4th millennium BCE. The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BCE with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BCE.
The earliest chronologies date back to the earliest civilizations of Early Dynastic Period Egypt, Mesopotamia & Sumerians which emerged independently of each other from roughly 3500 B.C. Earliest recorded history, which varies greatly in quality and reliability, deals with Pharaohs and their reigns, made by ancient Egyptians. Much of the earliest recorded history was re-discovered relatively recently due to archaeological dig sites findings. A number of different traditions have developed in different parts of the world as to how to interpret these ancient accounts.