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The Neolithic: the Start of an Era

By Edited Jan 22, 2014 0 0

The word Neolithic not only indicates the last stage of the use of stone as the main material in the manufacture of tools, but also a radical change in the man’s way of living: the transition from hunting and gathering to herding and agriculture . The sedentary man was an important step in the development of scientific thought as the way of life of nomadic man left no room for innovation. The technology that man had to develop in that lifestyle should be simple so that it could be worn every day, and they did not have the time to specialize in something. Another aspect of this stage of human prehistory is that it opened the way for the rise of civilization and paved the way for the development of a new, more durable form of communication, writing.

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Animal domestication

Most evidence suggests that domestication of animals began somewhere in the Middle East around 8000 BC with the appearance of permanent housing. Man had long before learned to control the movements of animals. In the early Neolithic period, about 11,000 years ago, when men of the Middle East began to settle in permanent communities, they began to keep goats and sheep for use as food reserve, taking the first step towards domestication. The fact that goats and sheep gather in herds led by a leader greatly facilitated the domestication of these animals. The peasants of the Middle East were also the first to domesticate pigs and perhaps even contributed domestication of cattle. Over time, other animals were domesticated, like the horse around 3000 BC.

The invention of agriculture

The transition between harvesting and agriculture was first made by 8000 BC in the Middle East, in an arc of mountains called "Fertile Crescent". The same process between man and the plant species that surrounded him occurred independently, although later, in northern China, Mexico and Peru. Wild wheat fields that arise naturally in the Fertile Crescent are a great grain resource which allowed the establishment of hunter-gatherer bands. They, of course, were not familiar with agriculture but they were in the right place to make the move to agriculture.
In conclusion we can say that agriculture inspired the invention of new tools and techniques and stimulated the development of arts and crafts, but also led to increases in the population, resulting in more complex societies, which in turn encouraged trade and communications and led to the emergence of a system of government.

The first agricultural settlements

The first agriculatural villages in the world appeared around 7000 BC. Early settlements had ancient round houses which were indicated by stone circles. These consisted of a frame of sticks that would have been covered with interwoven layers of some other perishable material. Since this type of huts are relatively easy to build, strong and portable, they must have originated as a nomadic hunters’ retreat and then their sedentary descendants must have continued the tradition.

In some places they started building small huts forming clusters, that can be thought of as a building with several rooms to house a family. Afterwards, it seemed more practical to build rectangular houses. A sedentary lifestyle encouraged the proliferation of private property. The abundance of goods demanded bigger houses to accumulate food supplies, which weakened the traditional custom of sharing. From this point social differentiations emerged and certain families began to dominate the population of artisans and farmers over others.

The development of pottery

At the initial stages, pottery was hybridized with natural elements such as empty pumpkins or wicker baskets layered with clay to retain smaller food like grains (or flours) and keep the water or fluids within the container. It is believed that pottery appeared around 10,000 BC in its earliest forms. At a later stage, pottery was also decorated with carvings or threads.

Sumerian writing
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The birth of writing and the end of prehistory

The invention of writing was a long process that was completed over the years. The sedentary man necessitated the use of a system to permanently impress his everyday situations that should be preserved (food accounting, classification etc ...) which led to the invention of writing. This first arose in Sumerians around the middle of the fourth millennium, being the oldest written language and quickly spread throughout Mesopotamia (Hittites, Persians, Babylonians ...) reaching a remarkable longevity, reaching even used until the first century AD. This first writing is called cuneiform (translation from Latin, wedge), because they were recorded with a reed on clay tablets, being a set of signs that initially are very rudimentary and ideograms that are transcribed only to later move to much more complex signs, formed by arranged lines that transmitted phonograms. Cuneiform signs ranged from 2000 to the oldest period to 600 in the most modern, reaching in many cases equal-word sign, due in large part to the monosyllabic character of the language, which was composed of six vowels and fifteen consonants. It eventually resorted to polyphony and polysemy, under which a word could be read and interpreted in different ways or even different words, concepts, could be recorded with the same sign. The Sumerian language even had dialects.

The Sumerians used the sexagesimal system of base 60 (sixty). Sixty was the first major unit and sixty times sixty (8600) was the highest number conceived and known by them. Hence the name sar (circle, whole).

The mastery of reading and writing in schools was refined in schools known by the name of "Houses of the tablets" or edubbas, which appeared around 3000 BC. There were two types of schools, the schools themselves, focusing on elementary education and technical and "houses of wisdom" that provided a higher stage education and specialized knowledge, being located in temples, palaces, archives or libraries. Only children from wealthy families could benefit from education, which was very demanding, with indiscipline being punished physically.

At first, writing was used for administration and commerce. Towards 2700 C. cuneiform Sumerian language was used in rich literature with varied themes, including religion.

The writing of the tablets was made at first from top to bottom, to later become left to right. At the end of the row, they went to the next and when a tablet was finished, they turned around from right to left and they wrote on the back but this time from bottom to top.

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Phoenix Books)
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Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods
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(price as of Jan 22, 2014)


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