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What Was the Neolithic Period?

The Neolithic Period, also known as the New Stone Age, marked a profound transformation in human history, where societies transitioned from nomadic hunting and gathering to settled agriculture and village life. This era ignited advancements in tool-making, farming, and art, laying the foundations of modern civilization. How did these changes impact our ancestors' daily lives and social structures? Explore with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Neolithic period or New Stone Age was a period in human history when humans were still using stone tools, but they had started to settle in permanent encampments. The exact dates of this period vary, depending on which culture is under discussion, but it is generally dated to around 10,000 BCE. Several features differentiate it from the Paleolithic period or Stone Age, which directly preceded it. This period marked a dramatic transition in the ways that humans lived, and it is sometimes called the “Neolithic Revolution,” in the spirit of other radical events in human history, like the Industrial Revolution.

While Neolithic cultures used stone tools like their earlier ancestors, these tools tended to be more complex and refined, and people were beginning to explore metals, albeit informally. More importantly, the period was marked by a transition from hunting and gathering culture to settled farming, which allowed people to create permanent towns and villages, and it paved the way to a more complex culture.

Stonehenge in England, from the middle-Neolithic period.
Stonehenge in England, from the middle-Neolithic period.

During the Neolithic Period, people began experimenting with crafts like pottery, weaving, and other forms of artistic expression. Because they were settled in agricultural communities, they could invest more time in these activities, since they weren't living a hand-to-mouth lifestyle as hunter-gathers. In addition to growing crops, these early humans also started domesticating animals to work for them and to serve as sources of food.

Prehistoric tools included spears with stone heads that were chipped to gain a sharper edge.
Prehistoric tools included spears with stone heads that were chipped to gain a sharper edge.

The creation of fixed settlements brought about some other major changes. The idea of private or personal property and land ownership began to become more widespread, and people also started to accumulate artifacts and objects that might not have an immediate use or value. The concept of money began to emerge, and some societies started keeping slaves as well, as cultural roles began to emerge for various people in society.

The neolithic tombs at Newgrange are a popular tourism spot in Ireland.
The neolithic tombs at Newgrange are a popular tourism spot in Ireland.

The practice of religion and politics also became more complex during the Neolithic period, since people had more time to invest in thinking about the mysteries of life. Humans also began to trade with each other and to develop complex uses for animal products like wool and milk. These events set human culture up for various metal ages, in which humans learned to utilize and work an assortment of metals.

There were some interesting consequences to the period. The diversity of the human diet radically decreased due to farming, and some archaeologists believe the Neolithic people actually had a worse diet than hunter-gatherers did. The period also sparked a number of epidemics and the evolution of serious diseases, because humans were living in close proximity to each other and to a range of animal species.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Neolithic Period and when did it occur?

The Neolithic Period, also known as the New Stone Age, was a transformative era in human history that began around 12,000 years ago and lasted until approximately 3,000 BCE. It marked the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to settled agricultural communities and the rise of civilization. During this period, humans developed farming, domesticated animals, and created more sophisticated tools and pottery, leading to significant social and technological advancements.

How did the Neolithic Revolution change human societies?

The Neolithic Revolution, which occurred during the Neolithic Period, fundamentally changed human societies by introducing agriculture. This shift allowed people to produce surplus food, leading to population growth and the establishment of permanent settlements. As a result, complex societies emerged with social stratification, specialized labor, and trade. The ability to store and distribute food surplus also paved the way for the development of writing, advanced technology, and the formation of states and civilizations.

What were some of the technological advancements of the Neolithic Period?

Technological advancements during the Neolithic Period were pivotal for human progress. People developed polished stone tools, which were more efficient than their predecessors. They also invented the plow, which revolutionized agriculture, and the wheel, which facilitated transportation and pottery making. Additionally, the construction of megalithic monuments, such as Stonehenge, demonstrated significant advancements in architecture and communal organization.

What role did domestication play in the Neolithic Period?

Domestication of plants and animals was a cornerstone of the Neolithic Period. The domestication of crops like wheat and barley provided reliable food sources, while the domestication of animals such as sheep, goats, and cattle offered meat, milk, and labor. This process allowed humans to exert control over their food supply, leading to more stable communities, the ability to support larger populations, and the development of complex societies.

How did the Neolithic Period contribute to the development of human culture?

The Neolithic Period was instrumental in the development of human culture. The establishment of permanent settlements fostered the growth of art, religion, and social structures. People had more time to engage in non-subsistence activities, leading to the creation of pottery, weaving, and other crafts. Religious practices became more elaborate, with the construction of temples and the development of rituals. These cultural developments laid the foundation for the diverse and complex societies that followed in human history.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Brii123

What was the most important change to human society during the neolithic period?

anon285073

I'm doing this world history homework. I was wondering if you guys could help me. The question is " what changes did hunter-gatherers make to their lifestyle during the nr?" The article helped me with my other questions but this one I'm stuck on. I would really appreciate it if you guys could help me! Thanks.

anon264094

I found this a very interesting article about the neolithic period and it was well written too. Well done!

anon208954

the neolithic age was very important simply because it allowed all of us to have change in our life. it also let us change from being roaming hunting people to settlement-building people. this stage was the beginning of a new age, and without it we would probably still be running around behind animals chasing them for food. How weird would that be? now you can just run to the store and get your food there and it's already cooked for you! how great is that?

anon119367

This is very interesting. I would like to know more things about the neolithic and paleolithic eras. I think it's very interesting from back in the days. i really like it. they should post more things about this. -Ashely c.

anon115315

It is important to put in order the eras to create good theories to establish the present and form good future about population.

Glasshouse

@ aplenty- I would like to add that I have seen a documentary on the discovery channel about a search for the living remnants of the species Homo Floresiensis, but I am not sure if scientists from the expedition team ever discovered any evidence to prove or disprove the claims.

The island of Flores is still dense jungle at high elevations. The forest is still unexplored for the most part, but a growing population has pushed the islands residents deeper and deeper into the forests. Many villagers claim they have seen hobbit like hominids that walk upright through the high mountain forests of Flores Island. The stories claim that the hominids steal food from nearby gardens and occasionally cross paths with hunters, farmers, and children wandering around in the forest. It was a very interesting story...I wish I could remember what the outcome of the special was.

aplenty

The neolithic era is a very important era of human evolution. This era was right around the time that Homo Sapien became the only hominid species on the planet. Homo Sapien had officially become the dominant species on earth, no longer having any other species that could pose a significant danger to the species as a whole.

The last known Homo Neanderthalensis had died off about 10,000 years earlier, and the hobbit like Homo Floresiensis had perished on the Flores Island of Indonesia about 1000-2000 years earlier.

musicshaman

Which came after the neolithic period, the bronze age period or the iron age period?

zenmaster

This article really helped me with my research paper on neolithic anatolia. I was supposed to write about neolithic technology, especially as the the technology was connected to neolithic burials.

This totally helped me out -- thanks!

CopperPipe

I found this article to be very informative. I think that many people, myself included, tend to think of any civilization that is that old as extremely primitive.

After reading this, I know so much more about the neolithic period than I ever thought I would. I mean, who knew there were so many difference in paleolithic vs. neolithic times?

And neolithic domestication -- crazy! I would have never thought that such an old society was so advanced.

Thanks for enlightening me.

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    • Stonehenge in England, from the middle-Neolithic period.
      By: imacture
      Stonehenge in England, from the middle-Neolithic period.
    • Prehistoric tools included spears with stone heads that were chipped to gain a sharper edge.
      By: Erica Guilane-Nachez
      Prehistoric tools included spears with stone heads that were chipped to gain a sharper edge.
    • The neolithic tombs at Newgrange are a popular tourism spot in Ireland.
      By: phtphoto
      The neolithic tombs at Newgrange are a popular tourism spot in Ireland.