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This time period is part of the
Holocene epoch.
Lower Paleolithic
Middle Paleolithic
Upper Paleolithic
Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic
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An array of Neolithic artifacts, including bracelets, axe heads, chisels, and polishing tools
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Excavated dwellings at Skara Brae Scotland, Europe's most complete Neolithic village.
Skara Brae Scotland. Evidence of home furnishings i.e. shelves, in Europe's most complete Neolithic village
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Map showing distribution of some of the main culture complexes in Neolithic Europe, ca.4500 BC

The Neolithic (or "New" Stone Age) was a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. The name was invented by Sir John Lubbock in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system. The term is more commonly used in the Old World, as its application to cultures in the Americas and Oceania is problematic.

The Neolithic era follows the terminal Pleistocene Epipalaeolithic and early Holocene Mesolithic periods, beginning with the start of farming and ending when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age (chalcolithic), Bronze Age or Iron Age, depending on geographical region. The term "Neolithic" thus does not refer to a specific chronological period, but rather to a suite of behavioural and cultural characteristics including the use of (both wild and domestic) crops and the use of domesticated animals. Some archaeologists have long advocated replacing "Neolithic" with a more descriptive term, such as Early Village Communities, although this has not gained wide acceptance.


[edit] Dates

In Southwest Asia (i.e., the Middle East), cultures identified as Neolithic began appearing soon after the 10th millennium BC. Early development occurred in the Levant (e.g., Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there spread eastwards and westwards. Neolithic cultures are also attested in southeastern Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia by ca. 8000 BC.

Neolithic sites and traditions in South Asia include Mehrgarh in the Balochistan region from ca. 7000 BC, and Lahuradewa from ca. 6200 BC in the Ganges valley of the Indian subcontinent. Earlier-dated finds (ca. 8000 BC) of charcoal in some Lahuradewa sites provide indications of slash and burn cultivation techniques present in the area (National Seminar on the Archaeology of Ganga Plain, December 2004, Lucknow, India).

In East Asia the earliest sites include Pengtoushan culture around 7500 BC to 6100 BC,Peiligang culture around 7000 BC to 5000 BC.

In southeast Europe cultivational societies first appear by ca. 7000 BC, and in Central Europe by ca. 5500 BC. Among the earliest cultural complexes of this area are included the Starčevo-Körös (Cris), Linearbandkeramic, and Vinča). Through a combination of cultural diffusion and migration of peoples, the Neolithic traditions spread west and northwards to reach northwestern Europe by around 4500 BC.

In Mesoamerica a similar set of events (i.e., crop domestication and sedentary lifestyles) occurred at about 4500 BC, although here the term Pre-Classic (or Formative) is used instead of Neolithic.

Early Neolithic farming is limited to a narrow range of crops (both wild and domestic) and the keeping of sheep and goats, but by about 7000 BC it included the domestication of cows and pigs, the establishment of permanently or semi-permanently inhabited settlements and the use of pottery. Not all of the cultural elements characteristic of the Neolithic (i.e., pottery, permanent villages, and the farming of domestic crops and animals) appear in the same order -- e.g. the earliest farming societies in the Near East do not use pottery, and in Britain it remains unclear to what extent plants were domesticated in the earliest Neolithic, or even whether permanently settled communities existed. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, India and Southeast Asia, independent domestication events led to their own regionally-distinctive Neolithic cultures which arose completely independent of those in Europe and Southwest Asia. Early Japanese societies used pottery in the Mesolithic for example.

[edit] Social organization

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Anthropomorphic Neolithic figurine

There is little scientific evidence for developed hierarchies in the Neolithic; hierarchies are more closely associated with the later Bronze Age. Families and households were still largely economically independent. Excavations in Central Europe have also revealed that early Neolithic Linear Ceramic cultures were building large arrangements of circular ditches between 4800 BC and 4600 BC. These structures (and their later Neolithic equivalents such as causewayed enclosures, burial mounds, and henges) required considerable time and labour to construct, which suggests that some influential individuals were able to organise and direct human labour. There is also good evidence for fortified settlement at Linearbandkeramic sites along the Rhine, as well as evidence for inter-group conflict from Neolithic sites in Britain. Control of labour and inter-group conflict is characteristic of corporate-level or 'tribal' groups, headed by a charismatic individual (e.g., a 'big man', or proto-chief) such as a lineage group head. These sociopolitical entities later developed into the chiefdoms of the European Early Bronze Age. The Iroquois, Pueblo people, Maya civilization and the Māori are examples of stone-tool-dependent cultures with complex social and political systems.

[edit] Farming

A significant and far-reaching shift in human subsistence and lifestyle was to be brought about in those areas where crop farming and cultivation were first developed, then gradually improved. In these areas, the previous reliance upon a more nomadic hunter-gatherer subsistence technique was at first supplemented, and then increasingly replaced by, a reliance upon the yield produced from cultivated lands. These developments are also believed to have greatly encouraged the growth of settlements, since it may be supposed that the increased need to spend more time and labour in tending crop fields required more localised dwellings. This trend would continue into the Bronze Age, eventually giving rise to towns, and later cities and states whose larger populations could be sustained by the increased productivity from cultivated lands.

The profound differences in human interactions and subsistence methods associated with the early onset of agricultural practices in the Neolithic have been called the Neolithic Revolution, a term first coined by the Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe.

One potential benefit of the increasing sophistication and development of farming technology was an ability (if conditions allowed) to produce a crop yield which would be surplus to the immediate needs of the community. When such surpluses were produced they could be preserved and sequestered for later use during times of seasonal shortfalls, traded with other communities (giving rise to a nascent non-subsistence economy), and in general allowed larger populations to be sustained.

However, it should be noted that early farmers were also adversely affected in times of crop failures, such as may be caused by drought or pestilence. In instances where agriculture had become the predominant way of life the sensitivity to these shortages could be particularly acute, affecting agrarian populations to a sometimes dramatic extent which otherwise may not have been routinely experienced by former hunter-gatherer communities. Nevertheless, despite what must have been periodic setbacks in general agrarian communities proved successful, and their growth and the expansion of territory under cultivation continued.

Another significant change undergone by many of these newly-agrarian communities was one of diet. This diet included up to 65% cereal grains or other plant matter, and 35% meat. Whereas hunter-gatherer communities typically have diets with a larger proportion of animal protein and associated fat calories, those farmers whose opportunities and motivation for hunting likely derived their food intake from the proceeds of their plant cultivation. The relative nutritional benefits and disadvantages of these dietary changes, and their overall impact on early societal development is still the subject of some debate.

[edit] Technology

Neolithic peoples were skilled farmers, manufacturing a range of tools necessary for the tending, harvesting, processing of crops (such as sickle blades and grinding stones) and food production (e.g. pottery, bone implements). They were also skilled manufacturers of a range of other types of stone tool and ornaments, including projectile points, beads, and statuettes. Neolithic peoples in the Levant, Anatolia, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Central Asia were also accomplished builders, utilising mud-brick to construct houses and villages. At Çatalhöyük, houses were plastered and painted with elaborate scenes of humans and animals. In Europe, long houses built from wattle and daub were constructed. Elaborate tombs for the dead were also built. These tombs are particularly numerous in Ireland, where there are many thousand still in existence. Neolithic people in the British Isles built long barrows and chamber tombs for their dead and causewayed camps, henges flint mines and cursus monuments. It was also important to figure out ways of preserving food for future months, such as fashioning relatively airtight containers, and using substances like salt as preservatives.

With very small exceptions (a few copper hatchets and spear heads in the Great Lakes region), the peoples of the Americas and the Pacific remained at the Neolithic level of technology up until the time of European contact.

Neolithic settlements include:

Franchthi Cave in Greece, epipalaeolithic (ca. 10,000 BC) settlement, reoccupied between 7500-6000 BC
Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, ca. 9000 BC
Gobustan in Azerbaijan, ca. 5000-8000 BC
Jericho in the Levant, Neolithic from around 8350 BC, arising from the earlier Epipaleolithic Natufian culture
Nevali Cori in Turkey, ca. 8000 BC
Çatalhöyük in Turkey, 7500 BC
Pengtoushan culture in China, 7500-6100 BC
Dispilio in Greece, ca. 5500 BC
Jiahu in China,7000 to 5800 BC
Mehrgarh in Pakistan, 7000 BC
Knossus on Crete, ca. 7000 BC
Lahuradewa in India, 6200 BC
Porodin in Republic of Macedonia, 6500 BC [[1]]
Vrshnik (Anzabegovo) in Republic of Macedonia, 6500 BC [[2]]
Hemudu culture in China, 5000-4500 BC, large scale rice plantation
around 2000 settlements of Trypillian culture, 5400 BC -- 2800 BC
Knap of Howar and Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland, from 3500 BC
Brú na Bóinne in Ireland, ca. 3500 BC

The world's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track in England, also dates from this time.

The wheel was invented in the late Neolithic (5th millennium BC), and writing emerged from proto-writing at the period's end, in the 4th millennium BC.

[edit] References

  • Bellwood, Peter. (2004). First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-20566-7

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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