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The Neolithic Revolution and Social Change

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The Neolithic Revolution is called such because it marked the transition from small nomadic hunter gatherer people to larger, more permanent, horticultural settlements. It began approximately 10,000 years ago, people learned to cultivate crops instead of relying solely on nature to provide them with all they needed. They also began breeding certain types of animals for food and domestication. There is no exact factor that led to the Neolithic Revolution. There are a few theories for why it started, these factors may also have varied from country to country.

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The revolution began after the last Ice Age so many scientists have thought it began due to climate change. In areas like the Fertile Crescent, wild wheat and barley began to grow and the people residing there consumed these cereals. It has also been theorised that developments in the human brain led to them settling. Archaeologists found religious artefacts and artistic imagery created by some of the earliest Neolithic people. These findings would be considered ‘ancestors’ of human civilisation. The Neolithic Era began when humans gave up the hunter gatherer lifestyle completely for farming. It started out with small gardens to feed their families but grew into large crops to feed not only themselves but other villagers.

People did not just settle in dozens; they were able to settle in groups of hundreds due to the storage of crop surplus in things like baked clay pots. This was because they accumulated quite a lot of knowledge about plants over the many years of living off the natural vegetation. They also created a range of advanced stone tools. The transition from wanderers to settlers caused them to cooperate with each other to look after the land (weeding, watering etc.), storing of crop produce and rearing of children. Not only did the Neolithic revolution cause a agricultural change, it also caused a social change. People relied more on each other and created new social patterns. Which was expressed in storytelling, myths, ceremonies and rituals. Social class and any authoritative state remained absent in the years 4000BC and 3000BC. There was also no evidence of male supremacy. In fact, there were statues of women suggesting a high status for them. One development that did not go unnoticed is the weapons for warfare and hunting became more developed.

The land on which the people worked was not privately owned, each household or linage (a group of people related by blood or marriage). was responsible for certain areas but it was owned the entire village. Private property did not really exist at this time. Everyone was expected to share food; this was to ensure that no one would starve. Especially those with a lot of small children. “Prestige came not from individual consumption, but from the ability to help make up for the deficiencies of others.” In other words, no one starves unless they all do. Households with less mouths to feed provided assistance to families with many mouths to feed, especially if they had small children. Much like today, children represented the future labour force, so families with the greatest number of children were protected the most from dying out. Typically, woman could not afford to have more than one toddler at a time. She could have another when the others have all began walking. Birth rates were spaced out to every 3 to 4 years. Populations grew steadily and quadrupled over 2 millennia. The Neolithic era began with approximately ten million and grew to about 200 million.

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Disputes faced by previous hunter gatherers were dealt with by the group slitting or individuals leaving. In a settled community, there was a threat to their food stores which was more likely to be raided from other villages. War was now an issue faced by people. This led to a council of sorts made up of senior figure of each linage. Once agriculture was established all over the world, trade began. They found that it could radically improve their lives. Fish, game, animal skins, cloths or drinks were most commonly traded with others. Breeding and herding of animals became increasingly popular. These changes led to one final social change – the first development of social ranks. ‘Chieftainships’ arose with some groups or individuals enjoying more status than others. However, it is not like the higher classes as we know today. A chieftain must supervise the surplus of food, tools, weapons and other belongings. They also must provide with whatever the families or individuals need. These chiefs had to work harder than anyone else to keep the village happy and healthy.

The effects of the Neolithic Revolution that remain still to this day are the domestication of certain plants. In the Fertile Crescent, wheat and barley were the firsts, but they were also responsible for lentils, chickpeas, peas and flax. Domestication also led to genetic manipulation, in plants or animals. This allowed farmers to select more desirable traits. This is quite clear when you look at an animal or plant today and then look at its ancestors. For example, wheat falls and shatters when it is ripe. Early humans bred it so it would stay on the stem for easier harvesting. Around the same time, people in Asia started to grow rice and millet. Scientists have discovered archaeological fragments of Stone Age rice paddies in Chinese swamps dating back at least 7,700 years. In Mexico, squash cultivation began about 10,000 years ago and maize/corn crops emerged around 9,000 years ago.

The first livestock were domesticated from animals that Neolithic humans used to hunt for meat. Domestic pigs were bred from wild boars, for instance. The first farm animals also included sheep and cattle. These originated in Mesopotamia between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. Water buffalo and yak were domesticated shortly after in China, India and Tibet. Oxen, donkeys and camels appeared much later — around 4,000 B.C. — as humans developed trade routes for transporting goods.

Due to a rise in population and natural events such as droughts, floods or frosts, people had to resort to different methods of maintaining their settled lives. One was to invade other villages and the other was to create more intensive and productive forms of agriculture. Such as the invention and use of the plough, draining of marshlands and digging of wells. This increased the division of work between males and females as women could not perform labour intensive work while nursing or baring a child. It also created a divide between those who did the work and those who supervised. Those who supervised distributed the surplus and gained a sense of power of the rest of society. This could only be achieved by the obedience and praise of the people. Which was received as these ‘supervisors’ had all the food. Storehouses turned into temple and supervisors into priests.

They controlled the ins and outs of stockpiles and they also made marks on the stone or clay the food was kept in to keep a record of the incomings and outgoings. These markings were later expressed vocally. This began the start of reading and writing. Once writing had been developed by civilisations in Mesopotamia and Meso-America, it was adopted by any other people who came into contact with them. It was varied by these other groups of people to create their own languages.

Detailed observations were made of the night sky, along with the movements of the sun, moon and stars which led to the invention of calendars based on the moon. This allowed people to figure out the best of year to plant crops. This was also the basis for mathematics and astronomy.

To conclude, The Neolithic Revolution was indeed a very important transition to civilisation as we know today. It was a gradual process that took place over many years. Like every change in social history, it has negative and positive effects. Such as the initial spark of social status, which slowly developed into slavery and a rich minority. However, we have to be grateful for the agricultural, astronomy, language and mathematic developments we utilise and study.

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