The phrase Neolithic Period refers to the final stage of the Stone Age. It’s a term given by researchers in the late nineteenth century CE that spans three distinct periods: Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The Neolithic period is notable for its megalithic architecture, agricultural practice expansion, and use of polished stone implements.
The Palaeolithic Era
The earliest people appeared in Africa during the Palaeolithic Era, also called the Stone Age. This period lasted from 2.5 million to 10,000 years. Humans lived in tiny groups as hunter-gatherers throughout this period, with gender differences in labour. The males hunted animals, while the women collected fruit, nuts, and berries from the surrounding region. Throughout time, simple tools made of stone, wood, and bone were utilized. The fire was harnessed, resulting in heat and the ability to cook. During the Palaeolithic era, humans developed from early members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis, to modern humans or Homo sapiens. Palaeolithic people were nomadic and frequently relocated their communities as food grew scarce. Humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago into Eurasia, Southeast Asia, and Australia. They entered Europe 40,000 years ago. By 15,000 years ago, they had entered North America, followed by South America.
The Mesolithic Era
The Mesolithic Period is the time between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic epochs. The years assigned to this period vary by area, but it approximately coincides with the time in Northern Europe when the climate began to warm, and glaciers began to disappear.The transition from large chipped stone tools and hunting in herds of giant herd animals to smaller chipped stone tools and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle characterises the Mesolithic Age. It concludes with the advent of agricultural cultivation and animal husbandry in the Neolithic.
Start of The Neolithic Revolution/Era
The Neolithic Revolution began in several areas, ranging from 8,000 BCE in the Kuk Early Agricultural Site of Melanesia Kuk to 2,500 BCE in Subsaharan Africa, with some believing the innovations of 9,000-7,000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent to be the most significant. This transition is associated with the transition from a mostly nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a more settled, agrarian-based one due to the domestication of various plant and animal species—depending on the species locally available and perhaps also influenced by local culture. Even though more labor-intensive, people might have noticed the link between grain farming and population growth. Domestication of animals supplied a new supply of nourishment in the form of meat and milk and skins and wool for the manufacturing of clothes and other goods.
Theories for Taking Up Agriculture during the Neolithic Period
There are various conflicting hypotheses concerning what motivated people to start farming, the most popular of which are:
The Oasis Theory
The Oasis Theory, introduced by Raphael Pumpelly in 1908 and popularized by V. Gordon Childe in 1928, proposes that when the environment dries up owing to Atlantic depressions migrating northward, populations constrict to an oasis, forcing them to live in close proximity with animals. These animals were later domesticated, along with seed sowing. However, this explanation is no longer widely accepted among archaeologists since later climatic evidence indicates that the area was becoming wetter rather than dry.
According to Carl Sauer’s Demographic Theories, which Lewis Binford and Kent Flannery developed, an increasingly sedentary population surpassed the resources in the local environment. As a result, it required more food than could be obtained. Various social and economic reasons contributed to the increased demand for food.
The Evolutionary/Intentionality hypothesis
According to the Evolutionary/Intentionality hypothesis established by David Rindos and others, agriculture is an evolutionary adaptation of plants and people. Domestication began with preserving wild plants, progressed to site specialization, and then full-fledged domestication.
Changing Modern Culture during the Neolithic Period
Agriculture in the Neolithic Period
The word Neolithic, also known as the New Stone Age, is most commonly associated with agriculture because, during this period, grain cultivation and domesticated animals got introduced. However, there is no one date for the Neolithic’s origins because agriculture evolved at different times in different world regions. Agriculture first appeared in the Near East around 9,000 BCE, then in Southeast Europe around 7,000 BCE, and afterwards in other places. It evolved in various eras, even within a single location. Agriculture, for example, initially appeared in Southeast Europe about 7,000 BCE, Central Europe around 5,500 BCE, and Northern Europe around 4,000 BCE. The Neolithic period in East Asia lasts from 6000 to 2000 BCE.
Introduction of Pottery during the Neolithic Period
Another factor affecting the chronology of the Neolithic is pottery. The appearance of pottery is regarded as a symbol of the Neolithic in some regions. Still, this idea makes the term Neolithic even more contentious because the use of pottery did not just occur after agriculture. For example, pottery appeared before agriculture in Japan, whereas agriculture predates pottery production in the Near East.
Effect on Population during the Neolithic Period
The world’s human population was between five and six million at the end of the Palaeolithic Period. Following the Neolithic or agricultural era, the population increased dramatically, reaching roughly 150 million by the year 1000 BCE in a mere 8,000 years. There was little change over the following two and a half thousand years. By the middle of the 17th century, the world’s population had risen to almost 500 million. During this period, any inclination for population growth was penalized by famine and pestilence.
Formation of Communities during the Neolithic Period
The presence of permanent settlements brought forth new types of social structure. As Neolithic communities’ subsistence tactics improved, the population of the various sites grew. We know from anthropological studies that the larger the group, the less equal and more hierarchical a society becomes. Those in the community who were active in the administration and allocation of food supplies were given more social standing. Throughout the early Neolithic, archaeological evidence suggests that houses did not have separate storage facilities: storage and activities connected to food preparation for storage were handled at the community level.
Cattle Farming during the Neolithic Period
The site’s early occupants hunted gazelles, wild asses, and wild cattle. Then there is evidence of a shift: gazelle consumption has decreased while sheep consumption has increased. It was wild in the beginning and domesticated in the end. Sheepherding became the primary source of meat.
Introduction of Warfare during the Neolithic Period
The Neolithic cultures improved their consciousness of territoriality by adopting a sedentary lifestyle. There were further advancements in arrowheads throughout the 9600-6900 BCE era in the Near East. However, human bones with arrowheads buried in them have been discovered. Certain communities, such as Jericho, were encircled by a large wall and ditch during this period. This period’s material appears to be evidence of inter-communal conflicts, which isn’t far from organized warfare. Additional advances in stone tool-making were adopted by various communities in distant places, indicating the existence of major networks of trading and cultural exchange.
Technological Development during the Neolithic Period
The Neolithic people were expert farmers, producing a variety of instruments for crop tending, harvesting, and processing, such as sickle blades and grinding stones and food production. They were also adept makers of various other stone tools and decorations, including projectile points, beads, and figurines. Above all other tools, however, the polished stone axe enabled large-scale forest removal. Together with the adze, they could use their freshly obtained cropland by fashioning wood for shelter, constructions, and boats, for example.
Health Effects of the Neolithic Revolution
Neolithic cultures generally had lower nutrition, shorter life spans, and a more labor-intensive lifestyle than hunter-gatherers. As a result, diseases spread from animals to people, and farmers experienced increased anaemia, vitamin shortages, spinal deformities, and dental diseases.
The Neolithic Revolution’s Impact on Society
According to conventional wisdom, the move to agricultural food production enabled a denser population, which enabled bigger sedentary communities, the accumulation of commodities and tools, and specialization in various types of new work. When resources are more plentiful, a population may grow faster overall. As a result of larger civilizations, new decision-making and political organization types emerged. Food surpluses enabled the formation of a labor-free social elite that controlled their societies and monopolized decision-making. There were strong societal divisions and gender inequities, with women’s standing falling as men assumed increasing leadership and military duties. Farmers and craftsmen were at the bottom of the social scale, while priests and warriors were at the top.
The Neolithic Revolution’s Overall Impact on Modern Life
The achievements achieved during the Neolithic Revolution have directly impacted how we live now. Humans have been irreparably transformed by the turn to sedentary agriculture and animal domestication.We have even transformed from the governments we live under to the specialized tasks people undertake to trade products and food. As a result, the human population has grown from five million to seven billion people.
Demographical Changes during the Neolithic Period
The Ethiopian highlands, the Sahel, and West Africa are the only three regions on the African continent that produce agriculture independently. The early Egyptian Sebilian and Mechian civilizations left behind a multitude of grinding stones. These are signs of a 7,000-year-old neolithic domesticated crop-based economy. Bananas and plantains were first domesticated in Southeast Asia, most likely in Papua New Guinea, and may have been re-domesticated in Africa as early as 5,000 years ago. The most well-known crop farmed in Ethiopia’s highlands is coffee. In addition to khat, ensete, noog, teff, and finger millet, the Ethiopian highlands saw the domestication of khat, ensete, noog, teff, and finger millet. Other crops grown in West Africa include African rice, yams, and oil palm. From the first century BCE to the first millennium CE, agriculture extended across Central and Southern Africa.
At Knossos, Franchthi Cave, and many mainland Thessaly sites, food-producing civilizations have been carbon-dated to around 6500 BCE. Soon after, Neolithic tribes arrive in the Balkans and south-central Europe. All Neolithic sites in Europe had pottery, plants and animals cultivated in Southwest Asia. They were einkorn, barley, lentils, pigs, goats, sheep, and cows. According to genetic evidence, there was no separate domestication of animals in Neolithic Europe, and all domesticated animals originated in Southwest Asia. Broomcorn millet was domesticated in East Asia and not in Southwest Asia. From the Aegean to Britain, the spread across Europe took around 2,500 years. Radiocarbon dating clearly shows that Mesolithic and Neolithic people coexisted in various regions of Europe.
Archaeologists date the formation of food-producing communities in southwest Asia’s Levantine area around 12,000 BCE, which evolved into several geographically diverse cultures by the seventh millennium BCE. The oldest Neolithic sites in South Asia include Bhirrana in Haryana, which dates to 7570–6200 BCE. Another old Neolithic site, Mehrgarh in the Kachi plain of Baluchistan, Pakistan, dates to between 6500 and 5500 BCE and shows signs of cultivation and herding. Mehrgarh’s Neolithic domesticated crops contain more than just barley and a little bit of wheat. There is strong evidence for the local domestication of barley and zebu cattle at Mehrgarh. However, wheat types are thought to be of Near-Eastern origin, as the current distribution of wild wheat varieties is confined to the Northern Levant and Southern Turkey. Both Mehrgarh and several Mesopotamian sites had pottery manufactured via successive slab building, circular fire pits filled with charred stones, and enormous granaries.
Northern & Southern China
Northern China and Southern China are the two areas where agriculture took place in Neolithic China. The homelands of the early Sino-Tibetan-speaking peoples associated to the Houli, Peiligang and Xinglongwa civilizations, which were centred on the Yellow River valley, are regarded to represent the agricultural heartland in northern China. It was the hub of domestication for foxtail millet and broomcorn millet around 8,000 years ago and extensive cultivation around 7,500 years ago. Rice domestication can occur in one of two locations. The first is in the downstream Yangtze River, believed to be the pre-Austronesian homeland. The other is in the central Yangtze River, where it is thought that the first Hmong Mien speakers lived. Around 5,500 to 4,000 BCE, there was an increase in migration into Taiwan from the early Austronesian civilization, bringing rice and millet farming technology.
Squash dates back to 6000 BCE, beans to 4000 BCE, and maize to around 4000 BCE, making them some of Mesoamerica’s earliest crops. In South America, potatoes and manioc were cultivated. Native Americans grew sunflower, sump weed, and goosefoot approximately 2500 BCE in what is now the eastern United States. Sedentary village life centred on farming did not emerge until the “formative phase” in the second millennium BCE.
The End of the Neolithic Era
Copper metallurgy was introduced during the end of the Neolithic era. This signals the beginning of the Bronze Age, also known as the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic Era. Bronze is a copper-tin alloy with higher hardness than copper, superior casting qualities, and a lower melting point. As a result, bronze could be used to make weapons, while copper could not, since it is not hard enough to withstand fighting conditions. Over time, bronze replaced stone as the dominant material for tools and weapons. Because most stone technologies became outdated, it signaled the end of the Neolithic and the Stone Age.
The Neolithic period is a very important time for understanding us humans. It is the transition period when we changed from nomads to social beings. Our social skills evolved as we started farming and raising cattles. We also started using tools and utensils for cooking and eating. The skills humans picked up during this era are still carving our culture and society.