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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Know Your Prehistory (4) --
The Neolithic Revolution, Part 1.
by Joy Saynor.

This fourth article in the series proposes to outline the early stages of Neolithic advancement in that part of the Northern Hemisphere where favourable circumstances allowed it to take place during the relatively short span of some 2,500 years.

The motive power which assisted man to drag himself out of the endless centuries of savagery of the Paleaolithic or Old Stone Age, in which nearly 98% of his life on earth had been passed See reference [1], into the promise of higher and higher achievements, was the controlling of the breeding of plants and animals, - the production of expandable sources of food. It is this concept which Professor Gordon Childe categorised as the "Neolithic Revolution," rather than the concept of a single catastrophic change See reference [2]. No technical advance was possible when the main purpose of life was the constant daily search for an unpredictable source of food.

It is a truism, but none the less important for being so, that new societies develop, by different rates of progression, both within and side by side with, existing groupings, until the right conditions allow them to take over from those less culturally advanced. Thus, later Mesolithic groups, (see article 3), in Europe show influences assimilated from Neolithic peasant cultures, for example at Ertbolle in Jutland, (the use of pottery, elementary agriculture and stock-rearing), and in Southwest Europe, (on the Tagus estuary in Portugal, and in Guyanne in France), where evidence of sheep and goat herding has been found See reference [3].

But plant cultivation and stock breeding which essentially characterised Neolithic advance were not indigenous to Europe: "the wild ancestor of only one species of wheat grew spontaneously on European soil, and that only in the Southern Balkans" -- Gordon Childe. Therefore the beginnings of food production occured in the Near East in an area stretching from Palestine, northwards through Syria, across the foothills of Turkey, across northern Iraq to the shores of the Caspian Sea and to Turkestan. Sufficient rainfall coupled with the wild prototypes of Emmer wheat (still growing wild in the area today), together with wild sheep, provided the necessary stimulus. The settlements of a Neolithic type which first grew out of the Mesolithic groups in this area require still further investigation, and extensive radiocarbon analysis.

The classic definition of Neolithic culture includes the making of pottery and the production of ground stone axes, but it should be appreciated that a pre-pottery or Proto-Neolithic stage led gently to the true Neolithic, as for instance at Jericho, (between 7,000 and 6,000 BC, contempory with Starr Carr in Yorkshire) See reference [4] and at Jarmo in Kurdistan (4,750 BC, radio-carbon dating) See reference [5]. Settlements in Cyprus and Baluchistan were of the same pre-pottery type. The advanced spiritual development of pre-pottery Jericho is clearly indicated by the finely-modelled clay faces built up over the skulls of the dead, perhaps as portraits, to be venerated, or as memorials.

There may also have been family shrines, the houses built of sun-dried bricks, with rectangular rooms and clay floors grouped round courtyards. Equally important in the Jericho of about 6,000 BC is the use of a wedge-shaped quern, with a grinding hollow at the broader end indicating that grain was commonly used as a food. Jarmo was a simpler mixed farming community, using pestles and mortars to crush cereals only just evolving from their wild prototypes, yet the 5% proportion of wild animal bones discovered indicates the possession of domesticated flocks and herds. And domed clay ovens to bake bread, adzes edged by grinding, together with delicate vessels made of stone were possessed by the community. In Cyprus (Khirokitia) and Baluchistan (Kili Gul Mohammed), evidence of this pre-pottery Neolithic stage has also been traced with the additional interest that the Baluchistan community of 3,500 BC had no knowledge of the pot-making which had been practiced by other settlements of western Asia for nearly 1,000 years. Once again, the old and the new existed contemporaneously and overlapped each other.


  1. What Happened in History -- Cordon Childe (1942).
  2. The Prehistory of European Society (1958).
  3. World Prehistory -- An Outline-Graham Clark (1961).
  4. Antiquity -- K Kenyon (1956).
  5. The Near East and the Foundations of Civilisation -- R Braidwood (1952).
Other articles in this series.
Winter 1971 #26 8 Iron Age Progressions
Summer 1971 #24 7 Bronze Age Beginnings
Winter 1970 #22 6 Bronze Age Beginnings
Autumn 1970 #21 5 The Neolithic Period
Spring 1970 #19 4 The Neolithic Revolution
Winter 1970 #18 3 Mesolithic Progress
Autumn 1969 #17 2 The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
Summer 1969 #16 1 The Dawn of Man
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