Neolithic Age

The Neolithic Age was a natural product of the Paleolithic Age. (Some history texts take note of a transition period between the two, commonly referred to as the Mesolithic Age.) It was during the Paleolithic that people began to use tools, to organize themselves, and to pass information from one generation to the next. Without these accomplishments human beings would not have been capable of the next step which involved the invention of agriculture as a means of sustenance.

Tigris-Euphrates River Valley, the Cradle of Civilization

This amazing invention occurred before 7000 B.C. in the Middle East in a twin river valley, the Tigris-Euphrates, also often called the "Fertile Crescent". The region is situated in modern Iraq. The population had become sedentary because of the availability of rock shelters, fresh water, fishing grounds, and plentiful wild grains. It was at some point discovered that collected grains would sprout and form new plants and would populate a cleared field, returning far more grain than was planted.

Suddenly, humans began to decisively control their environment. In the Paleolithic Age people build lean-tos and used tools. But in the Neolithic Age they begin to control the very plants and animals. It is not certain, but conjectured, that agriculture independently developed in Eastern Asia (about 3000 B.C.). While wheat and rye were grown along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, rice and millet were being grown in China. Somewhat later, but still independently, potatoes were cultivated in Peru.

Communities began to grow up in agricultural areas. These most often began as open villages. However, as jealous neighbors were not uncommon, defenses were developed. These began with a ditch and earthen wall and later became high stone walls with towers. A town such as the fabled Jericho is thought to have housed as many as 2000 farmers. The organization and concerted labor required to build and maintain such a city brought about the beginnings of government.

Sedentary life and agriculture necessitated and made possible the growth in the number of possessions either by individuals or the community. Dwellings were needed to house populations. Tools were needed to plow, plant, harvest, thresh, and grind. Containers and buildings were need to store the produce. Laws governing the use and control of these items were then deemed important. The rise of pottery was a boon to these people allowing them to store liquid products, to cook, and to create useful utensils. As pottery was often painted with consistent designs changing slowly over time it proved to be also a boon to archaeologists and historians who could date archeological finds from known pottery designs.

Textiles also appeared in the Neolithic Age. Since cloth could be woven from wool or flax, clothing became more plentiful and there was much less reliance on the skins of animals. Metals began to be worked. First those pieces of metal found on the surface were pounded into shapes with rocks. Soon some limited mining was done and copper was formed into tools using a heat process around 5000 B.C. In the next millennium the wheel was discovered for both transportation and for turning pottery.

The spread of agriculture and its attendant advancements from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley occurred in fits and starts. Many vectors are thought to have been at work. First, traders may have seen the relative wealth growing up around this region. They may have learned and mimicked these developments elsewhere. Another vector of development was the growth in population that came with increased production. People would leave crowded areas for other fertile regions where agricultural techniques could be put into practice. Extra people and resources also made possible the rise of military forces that could be used to dominate other regions for colonization.

Learn about Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia: Cradle of Civilization

Ancient Egypt: The Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms

The Hittites: Kingdom and Empire

Minoan Culture

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