Myanmar's prehistoric phase of many thousands of years presents a special challenge because relatively little is known about it, there having been scant archaeological work in recent years. It is agreed that early hominids (Homo erectus) were present in Myanmar as early as 400,000 B.C., but there is then a large gap—at least in present knowledge—before the appearance of Homo sapiens and an identifiable late Paleolithic culture in Myanmar. At least by 10,000 B.C., however, Myanmar does seem to be participating in the cultural developments that pass throughout Southeast Asia—what are generally characterized as Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures. Not until about 200 B.C. will a recognizably distinctive society emerge in this region. Up to this time, however, one element seems clear: the Irrawaddy River is already the backbone of what will one day be known as Myanmar.
400,000–10,000B.C.: This long period, the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of geologists, the Paleolithic of archaeologists, is known as the Anyathian period in Myanmar. The main sites are along the Irrawaddy River but there are also sites in the Kachin Hills in the north and the Shan region to the south and east. At least until the final phase, the hominids who make the stone (and fossil wood) tools of the basic chopper and hand-adze variety are Homo erectus; the limited finds at present do not allow for demonstrating much development of these tool types across the millenniums. By about 100,000 B.C. archaic Homo sapiens and then modern Homo sapiens move in, but their tools are also relatively basic.
10,000–3000B.C.: Tools made of unifacial (one-sided) flaked river pebbles suggest that Myanmar is sharing in the culture complex widespread throughout much of Southeast Asia, the Hoabinhian culture (so named after its prime site in northern Vietnam). A variety of stone tools begin to appear at various sites, most still along the Irrawaddy River Valley but also in other regions of Myanmar. By the final stage, a full-scale Neolithic culture is in place with people practicing at least limited food cultivation, making pottery, and weaving rope and mats.