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Neolithic revolution

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Knap of Howar farmstead occupied from 3500 BC to 3100 BC

The Neolithic revolution was the first agricultural revolution—the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering communities and bands to agriculture and settlement.[1] It occurred in different prehistoric human societies at different times. Most societies changed 9–7 thousand years ago.

Early changes

The term refers to both the general time period over which these developments took place and the following changes to Neolithic human societies which are associated with, the adoption of early farming techniques, crop cultivation, and the domestication of animals.[2] The Neolithic Revolution is important for developments in social organization and technology. The changes most often associated with the Neolithic Revolution include an increased tendency to live in permanent or semi-permanent settlements. Because of this fewer people led a nomadic lifestyle. To be able to know who the crops grown belonged to, the concept of land ownership needed to be developed. Modifications to the natural environment, the ability to sustain higher population densities, an increased reliance on vegetable and cereal foods in the total diet, the development of hierarchy in society and of "trading economies" that use surplus production from increasing crop yields are other changes often cited.

General process

Excavated remains of a Neolithic dwelling at Skara Brae on the Orkneys

When humans started to domesticate crops, and certain animals such as dogs, goats, sheep, and cattle, human society changed.[2][3] Because people now grew crops and raised livestock they no longer needed to move around. They could build better settlements. Their diet also changed. It included more oats and vegetables. People also started to keep and manage some foods - it was not advisable to eat all grain seeds, because then there would be no seeds left to plant the next year. Also, as there were surpluses in some years, these could be traded for other goods with other people.

These changes happened in several places of the world, independently. They did not happen in the same order though. The earliest farming societies in the Near East did not use pottery. It is still unclear, to what extent plants were domesticated in Britain, or if permanently settled communities existed at all. Early Japanese societies used pottery before developing agriculture.[4][5][6]

In the Paleolithic there were many different human species. According to current research, only the modern human reached the Neolithic though.

Vere Gordon Childe gave the name Neolithic Revolution to this process in the 1920s. He thought that it was as important as the Industrial Revolution (which happened in the 18th and 19th century).

Theories about the Neolithic revolution

There are different theories why this transition could have happened:

  • Oasis theory: The climate changed, and it got drier. The first humans went to live in or near oases (places where there is more water, in the desert) to be able to survive. Some animals and plants did that too. It was only a small step to domesticate some of the animals that were there. This theory was advocated by Childe himself.[7] Climate data from the period does not support it though.
  • The Hilly Flanks theory. It suggests that agriculture began in the hilly flanks of the Taurus and Zagros mountains, and that it developed from intensive focused grain gathering in the region. It was proposed it in 1948.
  • The Feasting model suggests that agriculture was driven by displays of power, such as throwing feasts to show dominance. This required assembling large quantities of food which drove agricultural technology.[8]
  • The Demographic theories say that the local population grew so much that it was difficult to support it using hunting and gathering alone. More food was needed than could be gathered. Various social and economic factors helped drive the need for food.[9][10]
  • The evolutionary/intentionality theory proposes that agriculture is an evolutionary adaptation of plants and humans. Domestication of wild plants started by protecting them. Later, the location where to grow them was chosen more carefully. Finally they were domesticated.[11]

Reasons why it happened

According to Harland, there are three main reasons why the Paleolithic revolution happened:[12]

  1. Domestication for religious reasons. There was a revolution of symbols; religious beliefs changed as well. Venus figurines which have been found could be a hint for this.
  2. Domestication because of crowding and stress. Many animals died out at the end of the last ice age. The human population had increased to fill all the available land. There was a food crisis. Agriculture was the only way to support the population on the available land.
  3. Domestication from discovery from the food-gatherers. Food-gatherers where those who cared for the young and who kept the fires alive. With the time, they found out which plants were edible, or would help against certain illnesses. They also helped to domesticate animals (which then travelled with the humans).


  1. The term Neolithic Revolution was first coined in the 1920s by Vere Gordon Childe to describe the first in a series of agricultural revolutions to have occurred in Middle Eastern history. This period is described as a "revolution" to show its importance, and the great significance and degree of change brought about to the communities in which these practices were gradually adopted and refined.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Heather Pringle. "The Slow Birth of Agriculture".
  3. ""History 504.02 lecture notes"". Ohio State University.
  4. Habu, Junko (2004). Ancient Jomon of Japan. Cambridge University Press. pp. page 3. ISBN 0-521-77213-3 (HB), ISBN 0-521-77670-8 (PB) .
  5. Japan Echo, Inc. (June 22, 1999). "Jomon Fantasy: Resketching Japan's Prehistory" (html). Trends in Japan. Retrieved 2008-04-14.
  6. Keally, Charles T. (2004). "'Fakery' at the Beginning, the Ending and the Middle of the Jomon Period" (html). Bulletin of the International Jomon Culture Conference 1. Retrieved 2008-04-14.
  7. Gordon Childe (1936). Man Makes Himself. Oxford university press.
  8. Hayden, Brian (1992). "Models of Domestication". In Anne Birgitte Gebauer and T. Douglas Price. Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory. Madison: Prehistory Press. pp. 11-18.
  9. Sauer, Carl, O (1952). Agricultural origins and dispersals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  10. Binford, Lewis R. (1968). "Post-Pleistocene Adaptations". In Sally R. Binford and Lewis R. Binford. New Perspectives in Archaeology. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company. pp. 313-342.
  11. Rindos, David (Dec 1987). The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0125892810 .
  12. Harlan, Jack R. (1992). Crops & Man: Views on Agricultural Origins. Madison, WI.: ASA, CSA.

Further reading

  • Bellwood, Peter. (2004). First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-20566-7

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