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.
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.
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 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.