Neolithic Period


Neolithic Period

Final stage of technological development or cultural evolution among prehistoric humans.

It is characterized by the use of stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, the domestication of plants or animals, the establishment of permanent villages, and the practice of such crafts as pottery and weaving. The Neolithic followed the Paleolithic Period (and in northwestern Europe the Mesolithic) and preceded the Bronze Age. Its beginning is associated with the villages that emerged in South Asia с 9000 BC and flourished in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys from с 7000 BC. Farming spread northward throughout Eurasia, reaching Britain and Scandinavia only after 3000 BC. Neolithic technologies also spread to the Indus River valley of India by 5000 BC and to the Huang Ho valley of China by с 3500 BC. The term is not applied to the New World, though Neolithic modes of life were achieved independently there by с 2500 BC.

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also called  New Stone Age 
 final stage of cultural evolution or technological development among prehistoric humans. It was characterized by stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, dependence on domesticated plants or animals, settlement in permanent villages, and the appearance of such crafts as pottery and weaving. The Neolithic followed the Paleolithic Period, or age of chipped-stone tools, and preceded the Bronze Age, or early period of metal tools.

      A brief treatment of the Neolithic Period follows. For full treatment, see Stone Age: Neolithic (Stone Age) and technology: The Neolithic Revolution (technology, history of).

      The Neolithic stage of development was attained during the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years of Earth history). During this time, humans learned to raise crops and keep domestic livestock, and were thus no longer dependent on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Neolithic cultures made more useful stone tools by grinding and polishing relatively hard rocks, rather than merely chipping softer ones down to the desired shape. The cultivation of cereal grains enabled Neolithic peoples to build permanent dwellings and congregate in villages, and the release from nomadism and a hunting-gathering economy gave them the time to pursue specialized crafts.

      Archaeological evidence indicates that the transition from food-collecting cultures to food-producing ones gradually occurred across Asia and Europe from a starting point in the Fertile Crescent. Cultivation and animal domestication first appeared in southwestern Asia by about 9000 BC, and a way of life based on farming and settled villages had been firmly achieved by 7000 BC in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys (now in Iraq and Iran) and in what are now Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. These earliest farmers raised barley and wheat and kept sheep and goats, later supplemented by cattle and pigs. Their innovations spread from the Middle East northward into Europe by two routes: across Turkey and Greece into central Europe, and across Egypt and North Africa and thence to Spain. Farming communities appeared in Greece as early as 7000 BC, and farming spread northward throughout the continent over the next four millennia. This long and gradual transition was not completed in Britain and Scandinavia until after 3000 BC and is known as the Mesolithic Period (q.v.).

      Neolithic technologies also spread eastward to the Indus River valley of India by 5000 BC. Farming communities based on millet and rice appeared in the Huang Ho (Yellow River) valley of China and in Southeast Asia by about 3500 BC. Neolithic modes of life were achieved independently in the New World. Corn (maize), beans, and squash were gradually domesticated in Mexico and Central America from 6500 BC on, though sedentary village life did not commence there until much later, at about 2000 BC.

      In the Old World the Neolithic Period was succeeded by the Bronze Age (q.v.) when human societies learned to combine copper and tin to make bronze, which replaced stone for use as tools and weapons.

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Universalium. 2010.