Europe is the planet's 6th largest continent AND includes 47 countries and assorted dependencies, islands and territories. Europe's recognized surface area covers about 9,938,000 sq. km or 2% of the Earth's surface, and about 6.8% of its land area. In exacting geographic definitions, Europe is really not a continent, but part of the peninsula of Eurasia which includes all of Europe and Asia. However, it's still widely referred to as an individual continent. The European continent, bordered by numerous bodies of water, is separated from Asia by Russia's Ural Mountains and by the Caspian and Black Seas. It is separated from Africa by the Mediterranean Sea.
The history of Europe covers the people inhabiting the European continent since it was first populated in prehistoric times to present, with the first Homo sapiens arriving between 45,000 and 25,000 BC. The earliest settlers to Prehistoric Europe came during the Paleolithic era. The arrival of agriculture around 7000 BC ushered in the Neolithic age. Neolithic Europe lasted for 4000 years, overlapping with metal-using cultures that gradually spread throughout the continent. Technological advances during the prehistoric age tended to arrive from the Middle East, spreading gradually to the northwest. Some of the best-known civilizations of prehistoric Europe were Minoan and Mycenaean, which flourished during the Bronze Age until they collapsed in a short period of time around 1200 BC.
Europe lies mainly in the temperate climate zones, being subjected to prevailing westerly. The climate is milder in comparison to other areas of the same latitude around the globe due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is nicknamed "Europe's central heating", because it makes Europe's climate warmer and wetter than it would otherwise be. The Gulf Stream not only carries warm water to Europe's coast but also warms up the prevailing westerly winds that blow across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean.
As a continent, the economy of Europe is currently the largest on Earth and it is the richest region as measured by assets under management with over $32.7 trillion compared to North America's $27.1 trillion in 2008. In 2009 Europe remained the wealthiest region. Its $37.1 trillion in assets under management represented one-third of the world's wealth. It was one of several regions where wealth surpassed its pre-crisis year-end peak. As with other continents, Europe has a large variation of wealth among its countries. The richer states tend to be in the West; some of the Eastern economies are still emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.