- 1 Neolithic Revolution
- 2 Mentality and Neolithic thinking
- 3 New techniques in the Neolithic age
- 4 Artistic and cultural manifestations in the Neolithic age
Neolithic means “new stone” and defines the second period of the Stone Age. At first, the term seemed to indicate a time when the tools, instead of being made raw, started using a polishing process.
Currently, the Neolithic term designates a period of profound transformation in the development of cattle farms and agriculture. The importance of these new food production systems is such that we often talk about the “Neolithic Revolution.”
The period of the Neolithic Age is not the same for all geographical areas, but it is estimated that it began between 10,000 and 8,000 years BC.
In this age, social life, in terms of traditions and customs, began to stabilize after the adaptation period in the Mesolithic where a progressive removal of the nomadic life of the hunter-collector took place.
Practically there have been grazing practices, domestic animals, textiles, ceramics, and the cultivation of the earth. Undoubtedly, there have been revolutionary lifestyle changes.
The area of Neolithic crop expansion does not correspond to the Paleolithic era, but it is heading south of Europe, around the Mediterranean coasts and especially to the Near East, where it first appears.
The early Neolithic coincides with the end time of the last Ice Age. The withdrawal of the ice to the north meant a substantial change of the fauna, disappearing some almost fundamental species to support the old hunters.
On the other hand, the new milder climate, and a new seasonal rhythm favor the emergence of agriculture.
Farming and livestock practices implied the emergence of a new economic system, that is, a new relationship with the nature in which man stops being a mere exploiter to become a producer.
The change of economy in the Neolithic age also means the occurrence of surpluses, ie a higher production than what can be consumed in a simple subsistence system.
As a result, people in the Neolithic gained the quality of life because they did not need to dedicate their whole time to the pursuit of their existence, being able to use part of their time to other activities, including purely aesthetic ones.
Economy and society in the Neolithic
Considering the climate change and the disappearance of important animals for their food, the prehistoric man was forced to look for other forms of feeding other than hunting and gathering. Agriculture and livestock have emerged in a slow and difficult to locate process.
It seems that in today’s Jordan there were the first villages dedicated to agriculture. It is not known whether it has spread to Europe or Asia or whether the emergence of agricultural practices has been simultaneous in several different outbreaks. In a short time, new production techniques have been used throughout the Mediterranean and in various parts of Asia.
The transition from the prey of the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic producer is the most important change in the Prehistory. New productive activities have brought about new forms and social structures.
With agriculture and animal husbandry, stable settlements, first housing construction, first settlements with a significant number of inhabitants, an authentic division of labor, the emergence of forms of government, class differences based on possession of wealth, trade, military power, and the religious power.
People in the Neolithic who did not hunt, settled in places where the land was suitable for agriculture. Domestication of certain animal species meant ensuring food supply (milk and meat) and raw materials (skin, fat, and bones) without having to change places.
Foods no longer limit the number of people who formed a clan or tribe, and human groups began to be more numerous.
The new communities, both because of the number of their members and because of the different tasks arising from the new productive system, soon need an authority to regulate the activity and organize the village as a full owner of the land and the livestock.
Thus, in the Neolithic age, political power emerged as an organizational necessity that manifested itself differently in each area (governor families, the choice of the most qualified or perhaps the most powerful).
The different capacity to work or the desire to show power could be the cause of the emergence of private property, and thereby the differentiation in classes through the possession of wealth (some excavated and studied villages show remarkable differences between some houses and others, which seems to demonstrate the existence richer families).
The strongest in each city were responsible for property protection (a division of labor), creating a new military power.
Agriculture in the Neolithic Age
The possession of goods, the result of good harvests or of more productive animals must have presumed the need to defend wealth that could be both common and private. In any case, it has become necessary to protect agricultural and zootechnical surpluses from neighbors’ ambitions, perhaps less fortunate in their productive tasks.
Surpluses were soon used to change them for other products owned by other tribes. There are trade and awareness that the more you can, the more you can, so what could have happened by chance happened soon in a premeditated way and meant the start of the surplus-exchange trade.
Agricultural production in the Neolithic era depended on the climatology of the area, and animal health farms frequently attacked by epidemics. Bringing the rain, or protecting the animals from evil spirits, was the task of magicians or wizards, which implied the emergence of the religious power responsible for facilitating the good functioning of community interests.
The process expounded so far has taken place over hundreds of years and not always so deeply, but it can give a very real idea of what the Neolithic Revolution meant.
Mentality and Neolithic thinking
The new living conditions, which led to the emergence of the Neolithic productive economy, brought with it changes in the way of thinking about the existence of the peoples of agriculture and zootechnics. Guarantees to have ensured food do not make survival the main concern of Neolithic man.
Of course, getting food was the dominant task, but this was not done directly. Now the important thing was to produce the land, or watch the animals not get sick and the children grow up. In this way, there is a new concern: that of fertility.
Religious practices in the Neolithic age
Thus, the religious practices of man in the Neolithic were oriented towards the idea of fertility (this idea was already present in Paleolithic but related to women, not to the nature of plants and animals). Thus, magicians, wizards and priests appeared, whose primary mission was to practice fertility enrichment rituals.
The emergence of large-scale communities has made rituals of special importance, involving a large number of individuals. Similarly, the magician or wizard has become a permanent figure whose only mission has been a religious practice.
Fertility rituals had to be protected by the forms or manifestations of nature, which soon received the category of divinity, such as the Earth, the Sun, or the rain. Regarding funerary rituals during the Neolithic period, the custom of burial of the dead has been generalized.
In the eastern Mediterranean settlements, burials were made in the same house or within cities, but in the Western European region, funerals were made away from villages, caves or pits, which, in some areas like Catalonia, were covered with plates.
Often the bodies are placed in a resting position as if they were sleeping, and in the Near East, the dead were put in a mortuary position. All these circumstances suggest that the funeral cult was developed throughout the Neolithic to reach the end of the period in the megalithic (large stones) construction that indicated the cemeteries.
New techniques in the Neolithic age
The Neolithic term originally designated a type of technique for the manufacture of tools: polishing. Already in the Mesolithic, this technique has been used, whose functional significance is not significant.
The perfect finish of a polished ax does not represent a remarkable difference in its usefulness, compared to a similar piece that worked with the sculpture system.
However, the appearance of the polishing technique is likely to represent a certain desire to give the tools aesthetic value.
The perfect symmetry of many pieces, as well as the fact that their producers took care not only to polish the edges but also to the complete instrument, at least shows that their authors felt aesthetic when they did.
Many of these tools were new tools for agriculture. Much more important than the polishing technique is the look of ceramics, the value of which makes many of the Neolithic cultural classifications made of their different styles and shapes.
Ceramics is disseminated as a logical consequence of agriculture and the new life system it imposes. Grain cereals (the first crops were grains) required adequate storage to prevent damage due to moisture or sunlight.
The harvesting periods were times when the farmer was confronted with a large amount of grain that would last a long time for consumption even without surplus, and ceramics was the solution to the problem of grain conservation.
The development of the kitchen, as well as the large agglomerations, have also improved the look of ceramics. This occurs in the Near East around 6000 BC. The first forms were rough and devoid of decoration.
Manually formatted, since the potter’s wheel did not appear until the end of the Neolithic age, the first types of decoration were simple incisions made with fists, fingers or with different objects, of which the sea shells are highlighted.
Geometric shapes soon emerged among decorative methods and, over time, painting happened to be the most common ornamental method.
Houses in Neolithic
In terms of habitation, the Neolithic involves the emergence of cities that sometimes reunited to more than a thousand inhabitants, and especially the appearance of houses, ie solid buildings in which the walls differ from the roof.
The types of houses and the materials used varied widely depending on the area, but in all cases, the remains found to prove the existence of stable buildings, the result of new sedentary life.
If the climate was not very rainy, we used the usual roof, flat roof, but in the European area, the roofs of two vegetal materials were predominant.
The most common forms were the square and the rectangular ones, although the circular ones inherited from the old huts did not disappear.
Other techniques in the Neolithic age
The Neolithic age is the time when the first wheels appear, although nothing is known about the realization of the invention and its dissemination cannot be confirmed. However, in places where it was first used, it had to favor trade in an important way.
Also, navigation has a dark origin, but in the Neolithic age, it has suffered an impulse that could be motivated by the commercial wishes of the first economically productive peoples.
The inability to navigate through the stars allowed only coastal voyages.
The emergence of agriculture meant the need to produce tools for agricultural tasks. Most of these tools were made of wood and not preserved.
However, it is obvious that it was necessary to develop the plow that originally had to be a simple stick that allowed the seed to be introduced into the ground. Among the few surviving agricultural tools, there are pointed woodcuts with small stones embedded with sharp edges.
Artistic and cultural manifestations in the Neolithic age
Artistic production in Neolithic meant a rupture of Paleolithic art. The painting of this new period has no relationship, style, theme or location with, the Magdalenian culture. Sculpture, which occurred more frequently during the Neolithic period, can not be considered as an evolution of primitive Venus.
Neolithic painting is fundamentally situated in two well-defined geographical areas: North Africa and the Spanish Levant. In both areas, pictorial styles have been developed that have many common aspects.
North African Neolithic painting
North African paintings are characterized by group representations in ceremonial or work hunting scenes. From a technical point of view, they were made with flat (red, black, yellow) colors that reproduce silhouettes; In some cases, the white color was used to highlight some details.
The support of these paintings continued to be stone, but this time not on the walls of the caves, but in the natural shelters. In terms of human forms, a certain naturalism was common, although schematic representations appeared. The most important locations are Hoggar, Tassili, and Fezzan.
Neolithic painting of the Spanish Levant
The Neolithic painting of the Spanish Levant is more important, more widespread and more varied. These predominate scenes of groups with topics similar to those in North Africa, although it highlights those dedicated to ceremonies or rituals.
From a technical point of view, these representations were made in a single color (monochrome), resulting in silhouettes that are sometimes very expressive. The Spanish Levant Paintings have always been made in rock shelters or on an exposed rock in the daylight.
Unlike the painting in North Africa, the Levant always represented the human figure in a schematic fashion, with a remarkable tendency to prolong the figures. Generally, painting from the Neolithic Age had a clear narrative trend of the collective.
The artists of this period seemed very interested in capturing the activities of groups of people as if the idea of community prevailed over that of individuality.
This concern for the human figure understood as a collectivity seems to coincide with a period when the population grew and the first settlements were made. In any case, it was obvious that there was less interest in isolated animals, typical of the Paleolithic.
Sculpture in the Paleolithic Age
The other important artistic manifestation of the Neolithic is sculpture. Sculptural shapes are very varied and vary greatly from one location to another. Female figurines that seem to be heirs of the Paleolithic Venus.
These works are very widespread and their meaning is not always clear.
Funeral sculptures in the Middle East
These are sculptures that seem to be devoted to skulls because they are clay heads or often use genuine skulls as the basis for clay.
Female figurines with children in their arms
These works are the first manifestations of what will be called a sculptural group (more than one figure). They appear in different areas.
Figures from the European area
These works for the first time show bare spaces between their shapes (the space between the arm and the foot on which it rests).
The Neolithic is perhaps the most important period in human evolution. That is why we can say that the Neolithic age is the gate of civilization.