The Neolithic, (Greek neos=new, lithos=stone, or "New Stone Age") is traditionally the last part of the stone age. The name was invented by John Lubbock in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system. It followed Pleistocene Epipalaeolithic and early Holocene Mesolithic cultures with the start of farming and ended when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age (chalcolithic), Bronze Age or Iron Age, depending on geographical region. Thus "Neolithic" does not describe a chronological term, but refers instead to the earliest phases of sedentary communities and farming in any given region.
The name "Neolithic" is associated with a suite of specific behavioural and cultural characteristics including the growing of crops and the use of tame animals. From about 10000 to 8000 BC this was limited to simple crops (both wild and domestic) and the keeping of sheep and goats, but by about 7000 BC it included domestic cows, pigs, permanently or semi-permanently inhabited settlements and the use of pottery. Again, the uptake of these skills was not uniform and varied from region to region. Japanese societies used pottery in the Mesolithic for example.
Origins and regional development
In Southwest Asia Neolithic cultures appear soon after 10000 BC, initially in the Levant (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there spread eastwards and westwards. There are early Neolithic cultures in SE Anatolia, Syria and Iraq by 8,000 BC, and food-producing societies first appear in southeast Europe by 7,000 BC, and Central Europe by 5500 BC cal (of which the earliest cultural complexes include the Starčevo-Koros-Cris , Linearbandkeramic, and Vinča). From there, through a combination of diffusion of ideas and migration of peoples, the Neolithic phenomenon spreads westward to northwest Europe by 4500 BC. Not all of the cultural elements characteristic of the Neolithic (e.g., pottery, permanent villages, and the farming of domestic crops and animals) appear in the same order -- e.g. the earliest farming societies in the Near East do not use pottery, and in Britain it remains unclear what the contribution of domestic plants was in the earliest Neolithic, or even whether permanently settled communities existed. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, India and SE Asia, there are independent domestication events leading to regionally-distinctive Neolithic cultures completely independent of Europe. In Mesoamerica a similar set of events (i.e., crop domestication and sedentary lifestyles) occurred at about 4500 BC, although here the term 'Formative' is used instead of 'Neolithic'.
There is little evidence for developed hierarchies in the Neolithic, which is a cultural phenomenon more closely associated with the Bronze Age. Families and household were still largely economically independent. There is, however, good evidence for fortified settlement at Linearbandkeramic sites along the Rhine, as well as evidence for inter-group conflict from Neolithic sites in Britain. Inter-group conflict is characteristic of corporate-level groups (or 'tribal' to use the old-fashioned term), headed by a charismatic individual (e.g., a 'big man ') or lineage head. These sociopolitical entities later developed into the 'chiefdoms ' of the European Early Bronze Age .
The coming of farming began a great shift in people's lives, that eventually, during the Bronze Age, gave rise to towns, and later cities and states. Instead of wandering from place to place seeking food, people increasingly dwelt in one place. Owing to the profound differences in the way humans interacted once agriculture began, the changes associated with the Neolithic have traditionally been called the Neolithic Revolution, a name coined by the Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe.
Neolithic peoples 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 manufactures of a range of other types of stone tool and ornaments, including projectile points , beads, and statuettes. Neolithic peoples in the Levant, Anatolia, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Central Asia were also great builders, utilising 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 for the dead were also built. 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.
With very small exceptions (a few copper hatchets and spear heads in the Great Lakes region) the peoples of the Americas and the Pacific remained at the Neolithic level of technology up until the time of the European contacts. However, it is important to note that technological complexity does not correlate with social complexity. A glance at such cultures as the Iroquois, Pueblo people, Maya civilization and the Maori shows that a culture may be highly socially and politically sophisticated in many ways without knowledge of metalworking.
Neolithic settlements include:
Jericho in the Levant, Neolithic from around 8350 BC, arising from the earlier Epipaleolithic Natufian culture.
Çatalhöyük in Turkey, 7500 BC
Mehrgarh in South Asia, 7000 BC
Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, ca. 9000 BC.
Nevali Cori in Turkey, ca. 8000 BC.
Knap of Howar and Skara Brae, the Orkney Islands, Scotland, from 3500 BC.
around 2000 settlements of Trypillian culture, 5400 BC -- 2800 BC
The World's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track in England also dates from this time.
Neolithic individuals included Ötzi the Iceman.