Neolithic facts for kids

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European Middle Neolithic
Different colors show different kinds of cultures in the Middle Neolithic

The neolithic is the youngest part of the Stone Age. The word "neolithic" comes from two words in greek meaning "new" and "lithic", meaning "stone".

The neolithic period is the time when farming was invented and when people started caring for animals, such as cows, sheep and pigs.

The neolithic starts at different times in different places, since not everyone started farming at the same time. After the neolithic period comes the Bronze Age.

Periods by region

Western Asia

Fertile Crescent

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'Ain Ghazal Statues found at 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan, are considered to be one of the earliest large-scale representations of the human form dating back to around 7250 BC.

Around 10,000 BC the first fully developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phase Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) appeared in the Fertile Crescent. Around 10,700–9400 BC a settlement was established in Tell Qaramel, 10 miles (16 km) north of Aleppo. The settlement included two temples dating to 9650 BC. Around 9000 BC during the PPNA, one of the world's first towns, Jericho, appeared in the Levant. It was surrounded by a stone wall and contained a population of 2,000–3,000 people and a massive stone tower. Around 6400 BC the Halaf culture appeared in Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Anatolia, and Northern Mesopotamia and subsisted on dryland agriculture.

Southern Mesopotamia

Alluvial plains (Sumer/Elam). Little rainfall makes irrigation systems necessary. Ubaid culture from 6,900 BC.

North Africa

African cave paintings
Algerian cave paintings depicting hunting scenes

Domestication of sheep and goats reached Egypt from the Near East possibly as early as 6000 BC. Graeme Barker states "The first indisputable evidence for domestic plants and animals in the Nile valley is not until the early fifth millennium BC in northern Egypt and a thousand years later further south, in both cases as part of strategies that still relied heavily on fishing, hunting, and the gathering of wild plants" and suggests that these subsistence changes were not due to farmers migrating from the Near East but was an indigenous development, with cereals either indigenous or obtained through exchange.

Europe

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Female figure from Tumba Madžari, Republic of Macedonia
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Map showing distribution of some of the main culture complexes in Neolithic Europe, c. 3500 BC
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Skara Brae, Scotland. Evidence of home furnishings (shelves)

In southeast Europe agrarian societies first appeared in the 7th millennium BC, attested by one of the earliest farming sites of Europe, discovered in Vashtëmi, southeastern Albania and dating back to 6500 BC. In Northwest Europe it is much later, typically lasting just under 3,000 years from c. 4500 BC–1700 BC.

Anthropomorphic figurines have been found in the Balkans from 6000 BC, and in Central Europe by around 5800 BC (La Hoguette).

Among the earliest cultural complexes of this area are the Sesklo culture in Thessaly, which later expanded in the Balkans giving rise to Starčevo-Körös (Cris), Linearbandkeramik, 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 archaeologist Shan Winn believes they most likely represented pictograms and ideograms rather than a truly developed form of writing.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture built enormous settlements in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine from 5300 to 2300 BC. The megalithic temple complexes of Ġgantija on the Mediterranean island of Gozo (in the Maltese archipelago) and of Mnajdra (Malta) are notable for their gigantic Neolithic structures, the oldest of which date back to around 3600 BC. The Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, Paola, Malta, is a subterranean structure excavated around 2500 BC; 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.

After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta. In most cases there are small chambers here, with the cover made of a large slab placed on upright stones.

South and East Asia

The earliest Neolithic sites in South Asia are Bhirrana in Haryana dated to 7570-6200 BC, and Mehrgarh, dated to between 6500 and 5500 BC, in the Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan; the site has evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats).

In South India, the Neolithic began by 6500 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 Nadu.

In East Asia, the earliest sites include Nanzhuangtou culture around 9500–9000 BC, Pengtoushan culture around 7500–6100 BC, and Peiligang culture around 7000–5000 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 adze and axes are used in the present day (as of 2008) 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 2012, news was released about a new farming site discovered in Munam-ri, Goseong, Gangwon Province, South Korea, which may be the earliest farmland known to date in east Asia. Pottery, stone projectile points, and possible houses were also found.

The Americas

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. These cultures are usually not referred to as belonging to the Neolithic; in America different terms are used such as Formative stage instead of mid-late Neolithic, Archaic Era instead of Early Neolithic and Paleo-Indian for the preceding period.

The Formative stage is equivalent to the Neolithic Revolution period in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In the southwestern United States it occurred from 500 to 1200 AD when there was a dramatic increase in population and development of large villages supported by agriculture based on dryland farming of maize, and later, beans, squash, and domesticated turkeys. During this period the bow and arrow and ceramic pottery were also introduced.

Australia

Australia, in contrast to New Guinea, has generally been held not to have had a Neolithic period, with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle continuing until the arrival of Europeans. This view can be challenged in terms of the definition of agriculture, but "Neolithic" remains a rarely-used and not very useful concept in discussing Australian prehistory.

Cultural characteristics

Social organization

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Anthropomorphic Neolithic figurine
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Anthropomorphic Female Neolithic ceramic figurine

During most of the Neolithic age of Eurasia, people lived in small tribes composed of multiple bands or lineages. There is little scientific evidence of developed social stratification in most Neolithic societies; social stratification is more associated with the later Bronze Age. Although some late Eurasian Neolithic societies formed complex stratified chiefdoms or even states, generally states evolved in Eurasia only with the rise of metallurgy, and most Neolithic societies on the whole were relatively simple and egalitarian. Beyond Eurasia, however, states were formed during the local Neolithic in three areas, namely in the Preceramic Andes with the Norte Chico Civilization, Formative Mesoamerica and Ancient Hawaiʻi. However, most Neolithic societies were noticeably more hierarchical than the Upper Paleolithic cultures that preceded them and hunter-gatherer cultures in general.

Clay human figurine (Fertility goddess) Tappeh Sarab, Kermanshah ca. 7000-6100 BCE Neolithic period, National Museum of Iran
Clay human figurine (Fertility goddess) Tappeh Sarab, Kermanshah ca. 7000-6100 BC, Neolithic period, National Museum of Iran

The domestication of large animals (c. 8000 BC) resulted in a dramatic increase in social inequality in most of the areas where it occurred; New Guinea being a notable exception. Possession of livestock allowed competition between households and resulted in inherited inequalities of wealth. Neolithic pastoralists who controlled large herds gradually acquired more livestock, and this made economic inequalities more pronounced. However, evidence of social inequality is still disputed, as settlements such as Catal Huyuk reveal a striking lack of difference in the size of homes and burial sites, suggesting a more egalitarian society with no evidence of the concept of capital, although some homes do appear slightly larger or more elaborately decorated than others.

Families and households were still largely independent economically, and the household was probably the center of life. However, excavations in Central Europe have revealed that early Neolithic Linear Ceramic cultures ("Linearbandkeramik") were building large arrangements of circular ditches between 4800 and 4600 BC. These structures (and their later counterparts such as causewayed enclosures, burial mounds, and henge) required considerable time and labour to construct, which suggests that some influential individuals were able to organise and direct human labour — though non-hierarchical and voluntary work remain possibilities.

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 an outer ditch. Settlements with palisades and weapon-traumatized bones, such as those found at the Talheim Death Pit, have been discovered and demonstrate that "...systematic violence between groups" and warfare was probably much more common during the Neolithic than in the preceding Paleolithic period. This supplanted an earlier view of the Linear Pottery Culture as living a "peaceful, unfortified lifestyle".

Control of labour and inter-group conflict is characteristic of tribal groups with social rank that are headed by a charismatic individual — either a 'big man' or a proto-chief — functioning as a lineage-group head. 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 was the case in the chiefdoms of the European Early Bronze Age. Theories to explain the apparent implied egalitarianism of Neolithic (and Paleolithic) societies have arisen, notably the Marxist concept of primitive communism.

Shelter and sedentism

Neolithic house
Reconstruction of Neolithic house in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The shelter of the early people changed dramatically from the Upper Paleolithic 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. Stilt-houses settlements were common in the Alpine and Pianura Padana (Terramare) region. Remains have been found at the Ljubljana Marshes in Slovenia and at the Mondsee and Attersee lakes in Upper Austria, for example.

Agriculture

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A Cucuteni-Trypillian culture deer antler plough
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Food and cooking items retrieved at a European Neolithic site: millstones, charred bread, grains and small apples, a clay cooking pot, and containers made of antlers and wood

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 on 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 permanently settled farming 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 coined in the 1920s by the Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe.

One potential benefit of the development and increasing sophistication of farming technology was the possibility of producing surplus crop yields, in other words, food supplies in excess of the immediate needs of the community. Surpluses could be stored for later use, or possibly traded for other necessities or luxuries. Agricultural life afforded securities that nomadic life could not, and sedentary farming populations grew faster than nomadic.

However, early farmers were also adversely affected in times of famine, such as may be caused by drought or pests.

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

Lithic technology

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An array of Neolithic artifacts, including bracelets, axe heads, chisels, and polishing tools. Neolithic stone artifacts are by definition polished and, except for specialty items, not chipped.

The identifying characteristic of Neolithic technology is the use of polished or ground stone tools, in contrast to the flaked stone tools used during the Paleolithic era.

Neolithic people 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 what allowed forest clearance on a large scale was the polished stone axe above all other tools. Together with the adze, fashioning wood for shelter, structures and canoes for example, this 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 were built for the dead. 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.

The peoples of the Americas and the Pacific mostly retained the Neolithic level of tool technology until the time of European contact. Exceptions include copper hatchets and spearheads in the Great Lakes region.

Clothing

Most clothing appears to have been made of animal skins, as indicated by finds of large numbers of bone and antler pins that are ideal for fastening leather. Wool cloth and linen might have become available during the later Neolithic, as suggested by finds of perforated stones that (depending on size) may have served as spindle whorls or loom weights. The clothing worn in the Neolithic Age might be similar to that worn by Ötzi the Iceman, although he was not Neolithic (since he belonged to the later Copper age).

List of early settlements

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Reconstruction of a Cucuteni-Trypillian hut, in the Tripillian Museum, Ukraine
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The Archaeological Site of Çatalhöyük in the Konya Plain in Turkey
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Excavated dwellings at Skara Brae (Orkney, Scotland), Europe's most complete Neolithic village

Neolithic human settlements include:

  • Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, c. 11,000–9000 BC
  • Guilá Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca, Mexico, c. 11,000 BC
  • Tell Qaramel in Syria, 10,700–9400 BC
  • Franchthi Cave in Greece, epipalaeolithic (c. 10,000 BC) settlement, reoccupied between 7500 and 6000 BC
  • Nanzhuangtou in Hebei, China, 9500–9000 BC
  • Byblos in Lebanon believed to have been occupied first between 8800 and 7000 BC,
  • Jericho in West bank, Neolithic from around 8350 BC, arising from the earlier Epipaleolithic Natufian culture
  • Aşıklı Höyük in Central Anatolia, Turkey, an Aceramic Neolithic period settlement, 8200–7400 BC, correlating with the E/MPPNB in the Levant.
  • Nevali Cori in Turkey, c. 8000 BC
CatalHoyukSouthArea
archaeological site of Çatalhöyük in the Konya Plain in Turkey
  • Pengtoushan culture in China, 7500–6100 BC, rice residues were carbon-14 dated to 8200–7800 BC in type site
  • Çatalhöyük in Turkey, 7500 BC
  • Mentesh Tepe and Kamiltepe in Azerbaijan, 7000-3000 BC
  • 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan, 7250–5000 BC
  • Chogha Bonut in Iran, 7200 BC
  • Jhusi in India, 7100 BC
  • Ganj Dareh in Iran, c. 7000 BC
  • Lahuradewa in India, 7000 BC
  • Jiahu in China, 7000–5800 BC
  • Knossus in Crete, c. 7000 BC
  • Khirokitia in Cyprus, c. 7000–4000 BC
  • Sesklo in Greece, 6850 BC (with a 660-year margin of error)
  • Mehrgarh in Pakistan, sometime between 6500 and 5500 BC
  • Porodin in Republic of Macedonia, 6500 BC
  • Padah-Lin Caves in Burma, c. 6000 BC
  • Petnica in Serbia, 6000 BC
  • Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, 5500 BC
  • Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, 5500–2750 BC, in Ukraine, Moldova and Romania first salt works
  • Tell Zeidan in northern Syria, from about 5500 to 4000 BC.
  • around 2000 settlements of Trypillian culture, 5400–2800 BC
  • Tabon Cave Complex in Quezon, Palawan, Philippines 5000–2000 BC
  • Hemudu culture in China, 5000–4500 BC, large-scale rice plantation
  • The Megalithic Temples of Malta, 3600 BC
  • Knap of Howar and Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland, from 3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively
  • Brú na Bóinne in Ireland, c. 3500 BC
  • Lough Gur in Ireland from around 3000 BC
  • Norte Chico civilization, from 3000 to 1700 BC, 30 aceramic Neolithic period settlements in northern coastal Peru
  • Tichit Neolithic village on the Tagant Plateau in central southern Mauritania, 2000–500 BC
  • Oaxaca, state in Southwestern Mexico, by 2000 BC Neolithic sedentary villages had been established in the Central Valleys region of this state.
  • Lajia in China, 2000 BC
  • Mumun pottery period, Neolithic revolution spreads down the Korean Peninsula and permanent settlements are established 1800–1500 BC, Neolithic revolution reaches Japan around 500–300 BC

The world's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track in England, dates from 3800 BC and the world's oldest freestanding structure is the neolithic temple of Ġgantija in Gozo, Malta.

Related pages


Neolithic Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.