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If no sort order is specified in a CQWP, how does SharePoint determine the order to place the items? Is there a default field that it uses to sort if no sorting is specified in the CQWP options?

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The default sort option at CQWP is descending via created column that means the newest item first.

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If you set the sort item by to None at CQWP, it will sort ascending via created column that means the older items first.

To make sure that, I tried to add a CQWP at the same "all items" page for a list , without changing anything at presentations section , so it will sort by default as descending via created column as shown below

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If you set sort item by to None at CQWP it will be the same as default view that sort ascending via created column

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