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Neolithic


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The later part of the Stone Age, characterized by the Neolithic peoples' use of polished stone axes and simple pottery. The discovery of farming and the domestication of animals brought an end to the slow development of the hunting societies of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods and initiated a time of rapid change that soon produced metalworking, cities, states, and empires. The term is thus best applied to the stone-using, farming populations of Asia and Europe, who used polished axes to clear the forests and cooked their grain in pottery vessels. The very first farmers, at sites like Jericho, had not discovered pottery, and are called pre-pottery Neolithic. In the Old World, agriculture began in the Near East by the 8th millennium bc and had spread to northern Europe by the 4th millennium bc.

Western Neolithic refers to the period after 4000 bc during which the indigenous hunting and gathering peoples living along the western coasts of Europe merged with incoming farmers from central Europe (related to the Bandkeramik culture, named after their characteristic pottery that was decorated with incised ribbon-like ornament) to form new groups of farmers with a basically similar material culture. Their simple round-based pottery has sometimes given them the name ‘bowl cultures’, but they are better known for the construction of monumental tombs out of large boulders or megaliths. The Bandkeramik peoples spread up from the Balkans c.5000 bc. They occupied small plots of land on fertile soil near rivers, where they built wooden longhouses for themselves and their livestock, and cultivated cereals, which they introduced to this area. They formed the basis of later Neolithic populations. An important Neolithic settlement is Çatal Hüyük, near Konya in south-central Turkey, which dates from c.6500 bc. Its small houses, built of mud bricks, were so close together that all access had to be by way of the flat roofs. A high proportion of rooms are believed to have been shrines, on the basis of numerous bulls' horns mounted in benches. There were also wall decorations, votive offerings, and richly furnished burials beneath the floors. Only part of the site has been excavated.

Impressed ware culture refers to the farming people who spread round virtually the whole coastline of the western Mediterranean from 6000 bc. Their characteristic pottery consists of round-bottomed bowls decorated with impressed designs, particularly using the crinkled edge of the cockle shell (the so-called Cardial ware). Material comes from both caves and open villages. By the 4th millennium the culture had split into many regional variants.

The Yangshao site in northern Henan province, China, has provided archaeological evidence of the Chinese Neolithic period. There were square and round houses of timber post construction with thatched roofs, in villages up to 5 ha (12 acres) in size. The red burnished pottery, often painted in black, was handmade but finished on a slow wheel. Polished stone axes and knives were in general use. The staple crop was millet, grown on terraces, and pigs and dogs were the commonest domestic animals. This culture was distributed over much of the middle Huang He (Yellow River) valley during the 4th and early 3rd millennia bc. This developed into the Longshan (Lung Shan) later Neolithic culture of the lower Huang He (Yellow River) valley, which flourished between 2500 and 1700 bc. Its economy was based primarily on millet, harvested with polished stone reaping knives, and on pigs, cows, and goats. Its distinctive pottery was the first in the Far East to be made on the fast wheel, and was kiln-fired to a uniform black colour.

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Subjects: World History.


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