The Neolithic period is characterized by the use of stone tools, which were ground and polished, and by the dependence upon domesticated plants and animals to supplement hunting and gathering subsistence practices. This period of intense development is also associated with climate change and according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia online, the keeping of dogs.
It is suggested that people became less mobile and built permanent settlements because tending crops requires constant care like watering, weeding, and harvesting. Still, they lived in mostly egalitarian small bands or tribes, with little or no social stratification. Staying in a permanent place also led to development of different kinds of shelters, which needed to be more lasting than straw huts. Neolithic peoples made mud into bricks to create shelters to withstand the elements. They began to make pottery, and weave mats and baskets. Building with bricks was only the beginning of creating bigger structures.
The Neolithic peoples built megalithic monuments, which are both puzzling and mysterious. One such monument, which is known the world over is the giant structure of Stonehenge. Stonehenge is but one of many megalithic stone structures built around the world.
The first peoples to enter the European global village were these Neolithic populations, migrated west from Asia by 5,000 BC. Europe, as designated today, gets its earliest cultural influences from the first viable civilization which arose around 2800 BC on the Isle of Crete. The cultural hearth of Crete had social and technological advances lasting for 2,000 years.
About 10,000 years ago human beings decided it would be easier to grow their own food and stay in one place, than to hunt and gather and always have to be on the move. We don’t know why this cultural adaptation wasn’t thought of sooner, but today it is considered the greatest invention of all time!
An even more amazing fact is how the various populations, located in many places, across the planet developed this cultural adaptation, independently, around the same period of time.
People also began to realize that domesticating animals would be a big help to them in many ways, including the growing of food. Animals could be used as beasts of burdens, to be raised for eating, to work in the fields turning over the soil, to help in flooding fields, and to be used as vehicles of travel.
In order to domesticate a plant or an animal, there must be a wild ancestor. The wild ancestors of the first domesticated plants and animals were of different species, depending upon the geographic areas where agriculture began to be practiced.
Without agriculture and the Neolithic Period of growth, there would not be civilization; so agriculture and civilization are co-dependents in the rise of cultural evolution, which is examined in depth in another course entitled, Evolution of Culture and “the Political.”
The video that follows is about the beginnings of the Neolithic Period; and the second one, a podcast, is about the geographic area where it all began.
Beginning of the Neolithic Period
The geography of the Fertile Crescent Area is discussed in the following podcast.
After careful study of the two above film clips, go to the online Outline of the Neolithic Revolution and the Birth of Civilization and click on the green link to follow the chronological timeline from when humans began to take control of their environment, to the social implications that followed.
After studying the Neolithic Period and cultural adaptations, it is easy to see how being able to build a permanent settlement around crops leads to more sedentary lifestyles. When hunting and gathering were the only means of food acquisition, humans were traveling back and forth between “base camps” when hunting; and seasonally moving to the areas where food plants were plentiful. They walked, ran, climbed, and pulled themselves over all kinds of terrains to get to their food supplies. Lack of exercise was definitely not a problem.
We do not yet know the end result of the great Neolithic Period, but we do know that excessive urbanization, lack of population control, depletion of natural resources, and epidemic-size health problems are all consequences of our cultural adaptations over the last 10,000 years.