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The Neolithic revolution (New Stone Age) was the first agricultural revolution. It was a gradual change from nomadic hunting and gathering communities and bands to agriculture and settlement. This period is described as a "Revolution" because it changed the way of life of communities which made the change. It occurred in different prehistoric human societies at different times. Many societies changed 9–7 thousand years ago
The term refers to the general time period over which these developments took place. It also applies to the changes which took place: the adoption of early agriculture techniques, crop cultivation, and the domestication of animals. The Neolithic Revolution is important for developments in social organization and technology.
The Neolithic revolution led to living 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 was developed. The natural environment was changed, population densities grew, and people ate more vegetable and cereal foods in their diet. Hierarchies developed in society. Grain was stored, and could be traded. Surplus production from good crop yields helped societies survive bad years.
With domesticated animals such as dogs, goats, sheep, and cattle, and crops, human society changed. Now, having crops and 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, there were surpluses in some years and 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.
Theories about the Neolithic revolution
There are different theories why this transition could have happened:
- Oasis theory: Climate changed, and there was less rain. Humans went to live in or near oases where there is more water, 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. 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Reasons why it happened
According to Harland, there are three main reasons why the Neolithic revolution happened:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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