So let’s get back to the basics here and answer the above question. Why? Because, I’ve been asked this question far too many times and decided that I’ll be proactive about it and put out a little summary post on what neolithic means, when did it happen, and what exactly happened.
Etymologically speaking, neolithic can be broken down into two parts. One is the “neo” meaning new. And the other is “lithic” which is stone. If you put the two together you get new stone. From that, Neolithic is used to describe an era and way of life in human evolution. Specifically this era was the last of the stone ages.
The first evidence of Neolithic culture popped up about 10,500 years before the present in the Levant, an area currently known as Jericho and/or Palestine. The evidence I speak of is archaeological signs that the first agricultural revolution occurred during this period, a critical transition from nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyles that characterized much of prehistoric humanity to agriculture and settlement and ultimately civilization. This transition also heralded in a massive restructuring in social organization and a new dawn in technology. Roles became more specialized.
This way of life had several characteristic waves, and with each it propagated out of the Near East to other areas of the world. The current classification is as follows:
- Neolithic 1 — Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)
- Major characteristic of PPNA is true farming.
- Neolithic 2 — Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)
- Neolithic 3 — Pottery Neolithic (PN)
- Distinctive cultures
- Pottery technology
The best way I can personally think of documenting how significant the changes that occurred during the Neolithic, is by showing you a comparison of stone tools. The two images you see here are examples of Paleolithic and Neolithic stone tools. While I know these two periods are displaced by thousands of years, little changed up until the short time period that catalyzed the Neolithic. The photograph on the left is Paleolithic stone tools from Nubia and on the right are Neolithic stone tools from the middle east.
So do you see the significant differences between the two technologies? I hope you do. Now imagine how these differences represent an analogy to how entire ways of living changed upon the Neolithic and then you should get a feel for how important this period was.