Neolithic period

Neolithic period

Neolithic period or New Stone Age. The term neolithic is used, especially in archaeology and anthropology, to designate a stage of cultural evolution or technological development characterized by the use of stone tools, the existence of settled villages largely dependent on domesticated plants and animals, and the presence of such crafts as pottery and weaving. The time period and cultural content indicated by the term varies with the geographic location of the culture considered and with the particular criteria used by the individual scientist. The domestication of plants and animals usually distinguishes Neolithic culture from earlier Paleolithic or Mesolithic hunting, fishing, and food-gathering cultures. The Mesolithic period in several areas shows a gradual transition from a food-collecting to a food-producing culture. The termination of the Neolithic period is marked by such innovations as the rise of urban civilization or the introduction of metal tools or writing. Again, the criteria vary with each case. The earliest known development of Neolithic culture was in SW Asia between 8000 B.C. and 6000 B.C. There the domestication of plants and animals was probably begun by the Mesolithic Natufian peoples, leading to the establishment of settled villages based on the cultivation of cereals, including wheat, barley, and millet, and the raising of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. In the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, the Neolithic culture of the Middle East developed into the urban civilizations of the Bronze Age by 3500 B.C. Between 6000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. Neolithic culture spread through Europe, the Nile valley (Egypt), the Indus valley (India), and the Huang He valley (N China). The formation of Neolithic cultures throughout the Old World resulted from a combination of local cultural developments with innovations diffused from the Middle East. In SE Asia, a distinct type of Neolithic culture involving rice cultivation developed, perhaps independently, before 2000 B.C. In the New World, the domestication of plants and animals occurred independently of Old World developments. By 1500 B.C., Neolithic cultures based on the cultivation of corn, beans, squash, and other plants were present in Mexico and South America, leading to the rise of the Inca and Aztec civilizations and spreading to other parts of the Americas by the time of European contact. The term Neolithic has also been used in anthropology to designate cultures of more contemporary primitive, independent farming communities.

See V. G. Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East (4th ed. 1953, repr. 1968); G. Clark and S. Piggott, Prehistoric Societies (1965); R. J. Braidwood, Prehistoric Men (7th ed. 1967); S. M. Cole, The Neolithic Revolution (4th ed. 1967); A. Whittle, Problems in Neolithic Archaeology (1989).

The Neolithic (from Greek νεολιθικός — neolithikos, from νέος neos, "new" + λίθος lithos, "stone") or "New" Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology beginning about 10,000 B.C. in the Middle East that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. The Neolithic era follows the terminal Holocene Epipalaeolithic periods, beginning with the rise of farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution" and ending when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age (chalcolithic) or Bronze Age or developing directly into the Iron Age, depending on geographical region.

Neolithic culture appeared in the Levant (Jericho, modern-day West Bank) about 8500 BC. It developed directly from the Epipaleolithic Natufian culture in the region, whose people pioneered wild cereal use, which then evolved into true farming. The Natufians can thus be called "proto-Neolithic" (11,000–8500 BC). As the Natufians had become dependent on wild cereals in their diet, and a sedentary way of life had begun among them, the climatic changes associated with the Younger Dryas are thought to have forced people to develop farming. By 8500–8000 BC farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia.

Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of crops, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt and the keeping of dogs, sheep and goats. By about 7000 BC it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery. Not all of these cultural elements characteristic of the Neolithic appeared everywhere in the same order: the earliest farming societies in the Near East did 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, South Asia and Southeast Asia, independent domestication events led to their own regionally-distinctive Neolithic cultures that arose completely independent of those in Europe and Southwest Asia. Early Japanese societies used pottery before developing agriculture.

Unlike the Paleolithic, where more than one human species existed, only one human species (Homo sapiens sapiens) reached the neolithic.

Periods by pottery phase

These are UNCALIBRATED years Before Present (BP). Calibrated Calendar dates are all about 1000 years older. See: Peter Bellwood. First Farmers.

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.

The prehistoric Beifudi site near Yixian in Hebei Province, China, contains relics of a culture contemporaneous with the Cishan and Xinglongwa cultures of about 7,000–8,000 BC, neolithic cultures east of the Taihang Mountains, filling in an archaeological gap between the two Northern Chinese cultures. The total excavated area is more than 1,200 square meters and the collection of neolithic findings at the site consists of two phases.

Neolithic 1 — Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)

The Neolithic 1 (PPNA) began in the Levant (Jericho, Palestine & Jbeil (Byblos), Lebanon) around 8500 to 8000 BC. The actual date is not established with certainty due to different results in carbon dating by scientists in the British Museum and Philadelphia laboratories.

The major advance of Neolithic 1 was true farming. In the proto-Neolithic Natufian cultures, wild cereals were harvested, and perhaps early seed selection and re-seeding occurred. The grain was ground into flour. Emmer wheat was domesticated, and animals were herded and domesticated (animal husbandry and selective breeding).

Settlements became more permanent with circular houses, much like those of the Natufians, with single rooms. However, these houses were for the first time made of mudbricks. The husband had one house, while each of his wives lived with their children in surrounding houses. The settlement had a surrounding stone wall and perhaps a stone tower (like Jericho). The wall served as protection from nearby groups, as protection from floods, or to keep animals penned. There are also some enclosures that suggest grain and meat storage.

Neolithic 2 — Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)

The Neolithic 2 (PPNB) began around 7500 to 7000 BC in the Levant (Jericho, Palestine). Like the PPNA dates there are two versions from the same laboratories noted above. But this terminological structure is not agreeable for SouthEast Anatolia and Middle Anatolia Basin settlements.

Settlements have rectangular mudbrick houses where the family lived together in single or multiple rooms. Burial findings suggest an ancestor cult where people preserved skulls from the dead, which were plastered with mud to make facial features. The rest of the corpse may have been left outside the settlement to decay until only the bones were left, then the bones were buried inside the settlement underneath the floor or between houses.

Neolithic 3 — Pottery Neolithic (PN)

The Neolithic 3 (PN) began around 6000 to 5500 BC in the Fertile Crescent. By then distinctive cultures emerged, with pottery like the Halafian (Turkey, Syria, Northern Mesopotamia) and Ubaid (Southern Mesopotamia).

The Chalcolithic period began about 4500 BC, then the Bronze Age began about 3500 BC, replacing the Neolithic cultures.

Periods by region

Fertile Crescent

Around 9,000 BC the first fully developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phase Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) appeared in the fertile crescent. Around 8,000 BC during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) the world's first town Jericho appeared in the Levant and was surrounded by a stone and marble wall and contained a population of 2000–3000 people and a massive stone tower. Around 5,500 BC the Halafian culture appeared in the Levant, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Anatolia, Northern Mesopotamia and subsisted on dryland agriculture.

Southern Mesopotamia

Alluvial plains (Sumer/Elam). Little rainfall, makes irrigation systems necessary. Ubaid culture from 5500 BC.


In southeast Europe agrarian societies first appeared 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. The Vinča culture may have created the earliest system of writing the Vinča signs though it is almost universally accepted amongst archeologists that the Sumerian cuneiform script was the earliest true form of writing and the Vinča signs most likely represented pictograms and ideograms rather than a truly developed form of writing. The megalithic temple complexes of Ġgantija on the Mediterranean island of Gozo (part of Malta) and of Mnajdra (Malta) are notable for their gigantic Neolithic structures, the oldest of which date back to c. 3600 BC. At more than 5500 years old, the Ġgantija temples are the world's oldest man-made free-standing structures and the world's oldest religious structures. The Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, Paola, Malta, is a subterranean structure excavated c. 2500 B.C.; originally a sanctuary, it became a necropolis, the only prehistoric underground temple in the world, and showing a degree of artistry in stone sculpture unique in prehistory to the Maltese islands.

South and East Asia

The oldest Neolithic site in South Asia is Mehrgarh from 7000 BC on the "Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan It is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats) in South Asia.

One of the earliest Neolithic sites in India is Lahuradewa, at Middle Ganges region, C14 dated around 7th millennium BC.. Recently another site near the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna rivers called Jhusi yielded a C14 dating of 7100 BC for its Neolithic levels.

In South India the Neolithic began by 3000 BC and lasted until around 1400 BC when the Megalithic transition period began. South Indian Neolithic is characterized by Ashmounds since 2500 BC in Karnataka region, expanded later to Tamil.

Comparative excavations carried out in Adichanallur in Tuticorin District of Southern India (now part of Tamilnadu state) have provided evidence of a southward migration of the Megalithic culture The earliest clear evidence of the presence of the megalithic urn burials are those dating from around 1000 BC, which have been discovered at various places in Tamil Nadu, notably at Adichanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli, where archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India unearthed 12 urns with Tamil Brahmi script on them containing human skulls, skeletons and bones, plus husks, grains of rice, charred rice and Neolithic celts, giving evidence confirming it of the Neolithic period 2800 years ago. This proved that Tirunelveli area has been the abode for human habituation since the Neolithic period about 3,000 years ago. Adhichanallur has been announced as an archaeological site for further excavation and studies.,

We have to keep in mind that Adhichanallur is a Megalithic period site, not a Neolithic place.

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

The 'Neolithic' (defined in this paragraph as using polished stone implements) remains a living tradition in small and extremely remote and inaccessible pockets of West Papua (Indonesian New Guinea). Polished stone adzes and axes are used in the present day (2008 AD) in areas where the availability of metal implements is limited. This is likely to cease altogether in the next few years as the older generation die off and steel blades and chainsaws prevail.


In Mesoamerica a similar set of events (i.e., crop domestication and sedentary lifestyles) occurred by around 4500 BC, but possibly as early as 11,000–10,000 BC, although here the term "Pre-Classic" (or Formative) is used instead of mid-late Neolithic, Archaic Era for the Early Neolithic, and Paleo-Indian for the preceding period though these cultures are usually not referred to as belonging to the Neolithic.

Social organization

During most of the Neolithic people lived in small tribes of 150–2000 members that were composed of multiple Bands or lineages. There is little scientific evidence for developed social stratification in the majority of Neolithic societies; social stratification is more closely associated with the later Bronze Age. Although some late Neolithic societies formed complex stratified chiefdoms similar to Polynesian societies such as the Ancient Hawaiians most Neolithic societies were relatively simple and egalitarian although Neolithic cultures were noticeably more hierarchical than the Paleolithic cultures that preceded them and Hunter-gatherer cultures in general The domestication of animals (c. 7000 BC) resulted in a dramatic increase in social inequality as livestock, which were often regarded as a form of capital amongst more complex pastoral Neolithic societies allowed competition between households to result in inherited inequalities of wealth as Neolithic pastoralists who controlled large herds of goats and cows gradually acquired more livestock, which allowed economic inequalities to become more pronounced. Evidence of social inequality is still disputed however, as settlements such as Catalhoyuk reveal a striking lack of difference in the size of homes and burial sites, suggesting more egalitarian societies with no evidence to suggest any concept of capital though some homes appear slightly larger or more elaborately decorated than others. Families and households were still largely economically independent and the household was probably the center of life in the Neolithic. Excavations in Central Europe have, however, revealed that early Neolithic Linear Ceramic cultures ("Linearbandkeramik") 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 could suggest that some influential individuals were able to organise and direct human labour — though non-hierarchical voluntary work remains a strong possibility. There is a large body of evidence for fortified settlements at Linearbandkeramik sites along the Rhine, as at least some villages were fortified for some time with a palisade and outer ditch. An earlier view saw the Linear Pottery Culture as living a "peaceful, unfortified lifestyle. Since then settlements with palisades and weapon-traumatized bones have been discovered, such as at Herxheim, which, whether the site of a massacre or of a martial ritual, demonstrates "...systematic violence between groups." and warfare was probably much more common during the Neolithic than in the preceding Paleolithic period. Control of labour and inter-group conflict is characteristic of corporate-level or 'tribal' groups, headed by a charismatic individual; whether a 'big man', or proto-chief or a matriarch, functioning as a lineage-group head, or whether a non-hierarchical system of organization existed is debatable and there is no evidence that explicitly suggests that Neolithic societies functioned under any dominating class or individual, as has been the case in the chiefdoms of the European Early Bronze Age. Theories to explain the apparent egalitarianism of Neolithic (and Paleolithic) societies have arisen, notably the Marxist concept of primitive communism.


The shelter of the early people changed dramatically from the paleolithic era to the neolithic era. In the paleolithic, people did not normally live in permanent constructions. In the neolithic, mud brick houses started appearing that were coated with plaster. The growth of agriculture made permanent houses possible. Doorways were made on the roof, with ladders positioned both on the inside and outside of the houses. The roof was supported by beams from the inside. The rough ground was covered by platforms, mats, and skins on which residents slept.


A significant and far-reaching shift in human subsistence and lifestyle was to be brought about in areas where crop farming and cultivation were first developed: the previous reliance upon an essentially nomadic hunter-gatherer subsistence technique or pastoral transhumance was at first supplemented, and then increasingly replaced by, a reliance upon the foods 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 labor in tending crop fields required more localized 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 onset of early 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 development and increasing sophistication of farming technology was an ability (if conditions allowed) to produce a crop yield that 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. The storage site might need to be defended from marauders, increasing the cultural investment in a particular site.

However, it should be noted that early farmers were also adversely affected in times of famine, 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 an extent that otherwise may not have been routinely experienced by prior hunter-gatherer communities. Nevertheless, agrarian communities generally 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. Pre-agrarian diets varied by region, season, available local plant and animal resources and degree of pastoralism and hunting. Post-agrarian diet was restricted to a limited package of successfully cultivated cereal grains, plants and to a variable extent domesticated animals and animal products. Supplementation of diet by hunting and gathering was to variable degrees precluded by the increase in population above the carrying capacity of the land and a high sedentary local population concentration. In some cultures there would have been a significant shift toward increased starch and plant protein. 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.

In addition, increased population density, decreased population mobility, increased continuous proximity to domesticated animals, and continuous occupation of comparatively population-dense sites would have altered patterns of disease and sanitary needs.


Neolithic peoples were skilled farmers, manufacturing a range of tools necessary for the tending, harvesting and 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 tools and ornaments, including projectile points, beads, and statuettes. But it was the polished stone axe above all other tools that made forest clearance on a large scale feasible. Together with the adze, fashioning wood for shelter, structures and canoes for example, that enabled them to exploit their newly won farmland.

Neolithic peoples in the Levant, Anatolia, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Central Asia were also accomplished builders, utilizing 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 limited exceptions (a few copper hatchets and spear heads in the Great Lakes region), the peoples of the Americas and the Pacific retained the Neolithic level of tool technology up until the time of European contact. There are numerous examples (Inca, Maya, Native Hawaiians, Aztec, Iroquois, Mississippian, Maori), however, of development of complex socio-political organization, building technology, scientific knowledge and linguistic culture in these regions that parallel post-neolithic developments in Africa and Eurasia.


Finds of large numbers of bone and antler pins (ideal for fastening leather, but not cloth) indicate that most clothing was manufactured from animal skins — although finds of perforated stones, which (depending on size) may have served as spindle whorls or loom weights, might suggest that woolen cloth and linen became available during the British Neolithic. Though obviously not British and not Neolithic (Ötzi the Iceman belonged to the later Copper age) , Ötzi the Iceman may give an idea of the kind of clothing worn in the Neolithic Age.

Early settlements

Neolithic human settlements include:

The world's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track in England, dates from 3800 BC.

See also



External links

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