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.
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).
The word Mesolithic derives from the Greek: Mesos ‘middle’ and Litho (stone). It is an archaeological concept defining groups and cultures falling between Palaeolithic and Neolithic; a kind of stepping stone, helping to neatly connect the earlier and later periods of the Stone Age.
Indeed, the Mesolithic period began as the last glacial era came to an end. Mesolithic humans enjoyed the warmer climate and a greater range of food. As such, they tended to stay longer in fixed places and so began the birth of agriculture as people started to raise crops and domesticate animals:
About 8,500 BCE – goats;
8,000 BCE – sheep;
7,000 BCE – pigs and cattle.
Those animals began as controllable sources of food, skin and bone, and later the animals provided milk, manure and wools and were eventually used for drawing ploughs and carts, replacing the need for human labour.
However, the adoption of any form of agriculture was a very gradual process spanning two to three millennia. Yet, although agriculture was expanding it did not follow that settlements were permanent. The system of nomadic agriculture continued, whereby soil-exhausting methods such as slashing and burning, or ‘swidden’ were used.
Stone is the earliest example of prehistoric human culture that mankind has identified with some certainty. The period described as the Stone Age has been calculated as beginning about 2,000,000 BCE. During the Stone Age human society experienced the most fundamental changes, the most important of which was the massive yet lengthy transition from cave and rural dwelling and later to the more organised communities in towns and cities.
Along the way mankind evolved and in so doing gradually created and improved numerous technological developments. Whether we can refer to early creations such as spears as technological is debatable but they were certainly clever inventions for the time. However, whether clever or merely necessity, it was inevitable that society and technology did eventually evolve alongside each other.
The Stone Age was later perceived as being enormously long, and so was further sub-divided into three periods:
1. Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age (2,000,000 – 10,000 BCE)
2. Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age (10,000 – 5,500 BCE)
3. Neolithic or New Stone Age (5,500 – 2,500 BCE)
The world is familiar with the well documented cultures and structures that existed in Peru and Guatemala; the world is aware of the societies that existed there – the Maya, the Inca or the Aztec. But the outstanding cultures found in the present-day US are often neglected. The prehistoric Americans subsisted and constructed cultures from the freezing Alaskan tundra to the Pacific Northwest. The Natives established societies that braved the aridity of the South and made the best of the fertile valleys of the Southeast. Archaeological findings show how the Native Americans acclimatized to the diverse conditions of the US and settled to form cultures and societies resourcefully.
Of the most advanced setups, findings reveal a migrated group, The Hohokam, in the Arizona region that had built irrigation systems to man the aridity of the desert and convert it into farmable land. Archaeologists have found signs of well construction, ponds and dams as means of collecting rainwater. Traces of canals and ditches have also been discovered, highlighting how the group was well ahead of its time and made great leaps in setting up an effective irrigation setup. Some of the earliest societies and cultures probably developed around the Southwest, according to the widely held opinion amongst archaeologists.