The evidence available for answering questions such as the one we have posed here is hard to find. Morkot argues  that historical times are those based upon the evidence from the written word. These, he says, begin at the time of the Persian Wars, around 490 BC. Before that, the primary source of our knowledge must be archaeology, although evidence from such scientific disciplines as geology, climatology and anthropology, for example, is also required.
The first texts of what one might call ‘literature’ are the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”, both attributed to Homer around 750 BC. These two books record events that are believed to have a basis in historical truth, although they were plainly describing events that occurred perhaps 500 years earlier. Before Homer, we rely upon the evidence collected from artefacts, sometimes decorated with art or symbols that give us clues to the culture concerned. Compared with the study of literature, the science and practice of archaeology is comparatively recent, is time-consuming and develops in spite of centuries of damage to, and theft from, the world’s most precious sites. Conclusions drawn from archaeological excavation are always subject to uncertainty and often a matter of interpretation based upon contemporary received wisdom. Thus, many conclusions formed during the 19th and early 20th century are being revised today. The conclusions of today may well be revised tomorrow when new evidence is uncovered. Fortunately, much remains buried and, if there is ever to be a more definitive answer to the question discussed here, it will surely be provided by future archaeological discoveries.
We have come to rely totally upon the written word and cannot image times when people did not document their activities. As with many things, writing has developed in several ways. During the Egyptian civilisation, a particular form of writing evolved around 3000 BC that we familiarly call hieroglyphs. The principle involved use of pictorial symbols, in contrast to the cuneiform of writing. This latter form is attributed to the Sumer in Mesopotamia and used symbology based on ideas. Another form of writing with two variations was developed on Crete, one called Linear A (1700-1450 BC), the other Linear B (1500 BC). Linear B was largely translated and shown to be an early form of Greek. Linear A has not been decoded so far, but is thought to have been an even earlier Greek. It is thought that both were used in connection with the economic activities of the Cretan palace cultures. When the palaces were eventually destroyed, the writing disappeared with them. Yet another form of writing invented by the Phoenicians was based on assigning symbols to sounds, and having been adopted by the Greeks, forms the basis of the system of writing we use today.
Possibly the greatest advantage we have today is the availability of information, which, thanks to computers and the Internet, has never been so good. We are therefore in a strong position to survey the evidence from both literature and archaeology and to make conclusions that fit the current state of our knowledge and understanding. In so doing, it is important to attempt to distinguish between informed opinion supported by reasoned argument and ‘creative’ writing that cannot be relied upon. The discussion that follows is a review of the evidence about early cultures from reliable sources that might provide an answer to our question.