The Stone Age: the Neolithic Period

The New Stone Age, or Neolithic period, varied according to people’s geographical locations. The first is thought to have been in South-western Asia about 8,000-7,000 BCE where the Neolithic culture had evolved from the Natufian.

The Natufian culture is thought to have existed between 13,000 and 9,000 BCE in the Levant Region. It is also thought that the Natufian communities were descendants of the builders of the region’s first Neolithic settlement.

Innovation

Farming gradually spread from the Near East into and across Europe, arriving in Britain about 4,500 BCE. Indeed, both farming and animal domestication were introduced into the West by eastern immigrants and the skills they brought with them were adopted and gradually adapted to the needs of various European cultures.

Cereals and grains changed the human diet radically and with the people becoming more settled they began to live in villages where they cultivated grains and developed household crafts such as carpentry and pottery.

They needed something to contain food and water, so pots were duly made. The basic early-mid Neolithic pots were round bottomed and made with plain clay. However, from around 3,800 BCE different regions began to create their own special decorated pots, whereby, from 2,800 BCE the pots were grooved (pictured).

Indeed, agriculture is associated with numerous innovations. One excellent example is the use of animal skins and wools which, originally, required the invention of spindles and looms to spin and weave textiles for clothing. Even the old hand-axe was redesigned. To enable arable and grazing land, woodland areas needed to be cleared, which required a much stronger axe than the old fashioned hand-axe. The difference was that the flint was polished by rubbing it on sandstone rocks; it was a long arduous operation, but it gave the final shape and a sharp cutting edge, which was then attached to a haft (a handle or hilt).

Houses

With a more settled Neolithic lifestyle, houses were improved by adding walls to their buildings made from woven hazel and willow rods with a mixture of clay, straw and dung, and thatched roofs to provide a warmer, more wind-proof structure. The earlier houses had been mostly rectangular, but around 3,000 BCE they became round. It is suggested that such a change coincided with the arrival of circular ritual monuments, such as passage graves and henges.

Stella Milner

See also Stella’s articles on the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods.

Learn more about the prehistoric ages in Stella’s book, The Prehistoric Ages from the ‘Small but Interesting History Books’ series.

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