Neolithic Europe is the time between roughly from 7000 BC (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) to ca. 1700 BC (the beginning of the Bronze Age in northwest Europe). The Neolithic overlaps the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe as cultural changes moved from the south east to north west at about 1km/year. The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place, its end marked by the introduction of bronze implements: in southeast Europe it is approximately 4000 years (i.e., 7000 BC–3000 BC) while in Northwest Europe it is just under 3000 years (ca. 4500 BC–1700 BC).
Basic cultural characteristics
Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale, presumably egalitarian
, family-based communities, subsisting on domesticated
plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and with hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, that is, pottery made without the potter's wheel
. There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000-4,000 people (e.g., Sesklo
in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in England
were small (possibly 50-100 people) and highly mobile cattle-herders.
The details of the origin, chronology, social organization, subsistence practices and ideology of the peoples of Neolithic Europe are obtained from archaeology, and not historical records, since these people left none. Since the 1970s, population genetics has provided independent data on the population history of Neolithic Europe, including migration events and genetic relationships with peoples in South Asia. A further independent tool, linguistics, has contributed hypothetical reconstructions of early European languages and family trees with estimates of dating of splits, in particular theories on the relationship between speakers of Indo-European languages and Neolithic peoples. Some archaeologists believe that the expansion of Neolithic peoples from southwest Asia into Europe, marking the eclipse of Mesolithic culture, coincided with the introduction of Indo-European speakers, whereas many linguists prefer to see Indo-European languages introduced during the succeeding Bronze Age. A few see Indo-European languages starting in Paleolithic times.
Archaeology of the Neolithic
Archeologists believe that food-producing societies first emerged in the Levantine
region of southwest Asia at the close of the Ice Age
around 12,000 BC, and developed into a number of regionally distinctive cultures by the eighth millennium BC. Remains of food-producing societies in the Aegean
have been carbon-dated to around 6500 BC at Knossos
, Franchthi Cave
, and a number of mainland sites in Thessaly
. Neolithic groups appear soon afterwards in the Balkans
and south-central Europe. The Neolithic cultures of southeastern Europe
, and the Aegean
) show some continuity with groups in southwest Asia and Anatolia
Current evidence suggests that Neolithic material culture was introduced to Europe via western Anatolia, and that similarities in cultures of North Africa and the Pontic steppes are due to diffusion out of Europe. All Neolithic sites in Europe contain ceramics, and contain the plants and animals domesticated in Southwest Asia: einkorn, emmer, barley, lentils, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle. Genetic data suggest that no independent domestication of animals took place in Neolithic Europe, and that all domesticated animals were originally domesticated in Southwest Asia. The only domesticate not from Southwest Asia was broomcorn millet, domesticated in East Asia.
Archaeologists seem to agree that the culture of the early Neolithic is relatively homogeneous, compared both to the late Mesolithic and the later Neolithic. The diffusion across Europe, from the Aegean to Britain, took about 2,500 years (6500 BC - 4000 BC). The Baltic region was penetrated a bit later, around 3500 BC, and there was also a delay in settling the Pannonian plain. In general, colonization shows a "saltatory" pattern, as the Neolithic advanced from one patch of fertile alluvial soil to another, bypassing mountainous areas. Analysis of radiocarbon dates show clearly that Mesolithic and Neolithic populations lived side by side for as much as a millennium in many parts of Europe, especially in the Iberian peninsula and along the Atlantic coast.
Genetics in the Neolithic
analysis of samples from the modern population of Europe has suggested that both the male and female parts of the people during Neolithic times were mainly descendants of that of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. There was small immigration from the Middle East during the Neolithic period, ranging from around 30% in the south-east of Europe to perhaps 1% in the north-west.
The earliest modern humans — Homo sapiens sapiens
— to enter Europe did so perhaps around 50,000 years ago in the Paleolithic
, during a long interglacial
period of particularly mild climate, when Europe was relatively warm, and food was plentiful. Some of the oldest works of art in the world, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux
in southern France
, are datable to shortly after this migration. The Neanderthals
are thought to have already been there for about 150,000 years, but seem to have died out by about 30,000 years ago, presumably out-competed by the modern humans during a period of cold weather. To what extent modern humans interbred with Neanderthals – if at all – is still a matter of debate. The last ice age
plunged Europe into a much colder and harsher environment, and covered much of the north of it with inhospitable glaciers. As the glaciers began to retreat, about 20,000 years ago, humans migrated northward again. It was this population that was in situ
in Mesolithic Europe in the 7th millennium BC when the Neolithic culture first began to enter Europe from Anatolia.
If the Neolithic immigrants to Europe were indeed Indo-European, then populations speaking non-Indo-European languages are obvious candidates for Mesolithic remnants. The Basques of the Pyrenees present the strongest case, since their language is related to none other in the world, and the Basque population has a unique genetic profile. It has also been suggested that in North-Eastern Europe, Uralic speaking peoples (such as the Finns) represent remnants of Mesolithic populations. The other current non-Indo-European languages of Europe—Turkish, Maltese, and Hungarian—were introduced in historical times. Some extinct European languages appear to be non-Indo-European (e.g. Etruscan), but it is not known whether these are Mesolithic remnants or the result of later migrations.
Language in the Neolithic
There is no direct evidence of the languages spoken in the Neolithic. Some proponents of Paleolinguistics
attempt to extend the methods of historical linguistics
to the Stone Age, but this has little academic support.
Discussion of hypothetic languages spoken in the European Neolithic is divided into two topics, Indo-European languages and "Pre-Indo-European" languages.
Early Indo-European languages are usually assumed to have reached Europe in the Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age, e.g. with the Corded Ware or Beaker cultures (see also Kurgan hypothesis for related discussions). The Anatolian hypothesis postulates arrival of Indo-European languages with the early Neolithic. The Old European hydronymy is taken by Hans Krahe to be the oldest reflection of the early presence of Indo-European in Europe.
Theories of "Pre-Indo-European" languages in Europe are built on scant evidence. The Basque language is the best candidate for a descendant of such a language, but since Basque is a language isolate, there is no comparative evidence to build upon. Theo Vennemann nevertheless postulates a "Vasconic" family, which he supposes had co-existed with an "Atlantic" or "Semitidic" (i.e. para-Semitic) group. Another candidate is a Tyrrhenian family which would have given rise to Etruscan and Raetic in the Iron Age, and possibly also Aegean languages such as Minoan or Pelasgian in the Bronze Age.
List of cultures and sites
- Early Neolithic
- Middle Neolithic
Some Neolithic cultures listed above are known for constructing megaliths
. These occur primarily on the Atlantic coast of Europe, but there are also megaliths on western Mediterranean islands.
- Circa 5000 BC: Constructions in Portugal (Évora). Emergence of the Atlantic Neolithic period, the age of agriculture along the western shores of Europe.
- Circa 4800 BC: Constructions in Brittany (Barnenez) and Poitou (Bougon).
- Circa 4000 BC: Constructions in Brittany (Carnac), Portugal (Lisbon), France (central and southern), Corsica, England and Wales.
- Circa 3700 BC: Constructions in Ireland (Knockiveagh and elsewhere).
- Circa 3600 BC: Constructions in England (Maumbury Rings and Godmanchester), and Malta (Ġgantija and Mnajdra temples).
- Circa 3500 BC: Constructions in Spain (Málaga and Guadiana), Ireland (south-west), France (Arles and the north), Sardinia, Sicily, Malta (and elsewhere in the Mediterranean), Belgium (north-east) and Germany (central and south-west).
- Circa 3400 BC: Constructions in Ireland (Newgrange), Netherlands (north-east), Germany (northern and central) Sweden and Denmark.
- Circa 3200 BC: Constructions in Malta (Ħaġar Qim and Tarxien).
- Circa 3000 BC: Constructions in France (Saumur, Dordogne, Languedoc, Biscay, and the Mediterranean coast), Spain (Los Millares), Sicily, Belgium (Ardennes), and Orkney, as well as the first henges (circular earthworks) in Britain.
- Circa 2800 BC: Climax of the megalithic Funnel-beaker culture in Denmark, and the construction of the henge at Stonehenge.
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