Prehistoric Cultures

The Neolithic (New Stone) Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 B.C.and followed the Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age.

The transition from Old to New Stone Age had as a marking point the beginning of crop planting and harvesting. This early age of agriculture eventually produced metal tools which became widespread in the Copper and Bronze Age which in turn produced the Iron Age.

The New Stone Age is marked specifically by the use of wild and domestic crops and the domestication of cattle, dogs and beasts of burden.

Neolithic peoples became more and more dependent on cereals in their diet, thus causing a sedentary lifestyle rather than nomadic.

Radical climate changes forced people to develop farming. Early Stone Age farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of dogs, sheep, goats, cattle and pigs, and marked the establishment of settlements. Pottery was developed at this time, both wheel-turned and rope-built.

Only one human species (Homo sapiens) survived into the Neolithic, or New Stone Age. All the other species of humans died out before that time.

The prehistoric Beifudi site near Yixian in Hebei Province, China, produced relics of a culture that existed alongside the Cishan and Xinglongwa cultures -- 5,000–6,000 B.C.

The Neolithic Age began in the Near East around 9500 B.C.

At Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, a temple site was excavated that had been used by nomadic hunter-gatherers. We know they were not yet settled, because there is no permanent housing dating to that time. This may be the oldest known man-made place of worship. Seven stone circles covering 25 acres contain limestone pillars carved with animals, insects and birds. Stone tools were utilized to carve the pillars which undoubtedly supported wooden beams and thatched roofing.

One major advance of the New Stone Age was true farming. Grains were harvested, seed selection and re-seeding certainly was practiced among these early agricultural tribes. Grain was ground into flour, as evidenced by grinding equipment found at the sites. Wheat was domesticated, and animals were herded and domesticated and animal husbandry and selective breeding were employed in a formal and practical manner.

Remains of hybrid figs that cannot be pollinated by insects, were found at a site in Jericho that dates to 9400 B.C. which clearly indicates that these figs were among the first cultivated crops, centuries prior to the first known hybrid cultivation of grains.

Circular mudbrick huts marked the beginning of permanent settlements, such as those made by the Natufians, with single rooms. The husband had one house, while each of his wives lived with her own children in surrounding houses. The settlement had a protective stone wall and a stone tower, presaging the invention of the mott & bailey castles of medieval Europe. The wall served to stave off invasion by other tribal groups, protection from floods, and to keep tribal animals penned in. Some enclosures also existed for the storage of grains.

During the later New Stone Age, Neolithic 2, around 8,000 B.C. -- the time at which the Great Pyramids were being constructed -- Settlements featured rectangular mudbrick houses where the family lived together. Burial findings provide evidence of the typical ancestor cult in which the skulls of the dead were plastered with mud formed into facial features.

The first fully developed Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) culture appeared around 9400 B.C., forming the world's first actual city, now called "Jericho", which had at its cultural center and marketplace a high stone tower surrounded by stone walls decorated with cut marble, which boasted a very large population of several thousand people.

The earliest evidence for domestic plants and animals in the Nile valley is not until Protodynastic times -- the early fifth millennium B.C. in northern Egypt. Southern Egypt did not show evidence of this until the fourth millenium, a thousand years later. These cultures relied heavily on fishing, hunting, and the gathering of wild plants.

During most of the Neolithic age, people lived in small tribes that were composed of multiple bands or lineages. Neolithic societies were more hierarchical with social levels being in evidence than the Paleolithic cultures that preceded them and Hunter-gatherer cultures in general. The domestication of animals resulted in a dramatic increase in social inequality. Possession of livestock allowed competition between households and resulted in inherited wealth. Neolithic pastoralists who controlled large herds gradually acquired more livestock, and this made economic social levels far more pronounced in much the same way that cattle barons created wealth in the Old West of the United States during the 1800s.

As we see in Beowulf and other early epics of prehistoric life, families were mostly economically independent and isolated, and the hearthfire and household cookery was undoubtedly the center of life.

Protected villages indicate a social order and hierarchy that did not exist in the Early Stone Age. Causeways, roads, ditches and storage towers are built by a number of individuals working cooperatively. This is always a result of someone assuming the role of chieftan or boss.

Early human shelters changed dramatically from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic. The roof was supported by beams and the rough ground covered by pallets on which skins were heaped, upon which inhabitants ate, drank some sort of fermented beverage, sang, talked, slept and made love.

Common items found at Neolithic sites are deer antler ploughs, food and cooking items such as millstones, charred bread, grains and small apples, clay cooking pots, and storage containers made of antlers, wood and clay.

Cooperative agriculture and storage of grains and other produce created a surplus beyond the immediate needs of the community, which could be preserved for use in seasonal shortfalls, traded with other communities and traded as money or commerce between families, allowing a much larger population to persist.

Early farmers were profoundly affected by famine, drought, vermin and pests.

Pre-agrarian diets varied according to daily resources. Post-agrarian diet was restricted to a limited package of grains, plants and domesticated animals. Hunting of meats and gathering of wild plants died out due to an increasing sedentary disposition of the population, leading to a shift toward easily procured starches.

Population density, decreased mobility and close living with domesticated animals along with hundreds or thousands of years of continuous occupation of small closed-in homes created sanitation problems and an increasing pattern of infections and diseases.

New Stone Age farmers could manufacture a wide range of tools necessary for the tending, harvesting and processing of crops, such as sickle blades and grinding stones, and food production which required sophisticated production of baked clay pottery and fire-hardened bone implements. They were skilled makers of stone tools and ornaments, including projectile points, beads, and votive statuettes, but the single invention that allowed them to clear entire forests was the polished stone axe. Together with the adze, which they used to make their wooden shelters, the axe made it possible for these early peoples to survive in a sedentary style and to retire from nomadic existence.

In Europe, elaborate tombs were built for the dead, and such 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 causeways exist to this day connecting their camps, henges, flint mines and monuments. They were also able to fashion airtight containers, and commonly used salt as a preservative.

Stone Age clothing was largely made of animal skins and furs and woolen cloth and linen was certainly available during the Neolithic, indicated by excavated spindle whorls and loom weights such as those found in Western Europe, the Near East, Lung Shan and Shaotung, and Protodynastic Egypt.