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In this lesson, we explore some of the technologies invented, innovated, and changed by Neolithic people as well as the way it improved their lives and lessened their workload.

Neolithic Technology

Today, technology is all around us. Indeed, the very computer (or tablet, or mobile device) that you are watching this video on right now is the product of decades of technological development and likely thousands of hours of research, innovation, and invention. While it seems just about everything in our lives today is in some way touched by human technology, this was not always the case. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries is what truly made all these goods today possible. In this lesson, we’ll explore technological innovation even farther back, at the dawn of human civilization in the Neolithic Period.

Agriculture

Without this first technology developed by Neolithic people, the modern world you and I inhabit today would be unsustainable! This vital technology is agriculture. Though farming and herding cattle are likely one of the last things to pop into your head when you think of ‘technology’ today, in the ancient past, it was one of the first and likely the most meaningful large-scale manipulations of the environment by humankind.

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Around 12,000-10,000 years ago (about 10,000-8,000 B.C.E.

), humans first began domesticating animals and plants.The development allowed for humans to begin settling in sedentary societies, whereas previously they had lived in primarily nomadic, hunter-gatherer enclaves. This gave birth to small communities of permanent settlements surrounded by farmland;the first villages. Furthermore, humans no longer had to live hand-to-mouth as they had previously, when they were continuously hunting and foraging. Through agriculture, humans could grow large quantities of crops and tend large herds of animals, producing more food than any individual or family could eat in a day. Over the centuries as humans became better and better farmers, Neolithic civilization could support larger enclaves of humans, giving birth to cities with their own sophisticated economies and political systems.

Pottery and Tools

The birth of agriculture also spurred other innovations.

For example, with less time spent gathering food every day, more time could be spent developing cultural pursuits and inventing tools to make their sedentary lives even easier. Most immediately, humans now needed somewhere to store all this excess food! While in later centuries, city-states developed complex granaries and storehouses, earlier Neolithic people simply needed some household containers. The invention of pottery filled this need.The earliest forms of pottery, completed soon after the advent of agriculture, were earthenware.

These were vessels made out of some form of malleable earth, most often clay. After they were formed into the correct shape, these pots were then fired at a low temperature to harden them and make them suitable as storage containers. Another technology, which benefited from nearly the same process, was brick making. Bricks were often made of mud, clay, or other earthen materials and fired at a low temperature or left to harden in the sun in order to make them suitable as building materials.Other forms of technology developed during the Neolithic period were often tools or early machines invented to improve the efficiency or productivity of agricultural work.

Perhaps the most important of these is the ard. The ard consisted of a single curved piece of wood, which could be controlled by a human from behind, and driven by domesticated oxen up front. Used to cut long, shallow ravines in order to plant grains and other crops, the ard was essentially the earliest form of plow used by humankind.Many other Neolithic tools were made out of stone. The stone axe, for example, helped Neolithic farmers clear trees to increase their farmland and simultaneously fell lumber for the building of houses and shelter. Likewise, stone adzes helped these early proto-lumberjacks shape the wood to their purposes, whether it was building houses, fences, or boats. These stone tools were created through an arduous process where one stone was continually pounded or ground against another stone of a different consistency, forming the softer stone until it reached the shape and function the toolmaker desired.

Weapons and Wool

As Neolithic people grew more successful and their cities expanded, competing cultures necessarily clashed with one another. In consequence, Neolithic weaponry grew more technologically advanced, as well. Daggers, axes, and arrowheads were all used by Neolithic warriors.

These were primarily made of stone through the same methods as stone tools, and then mounted on wooden handles and shafts. These tools were usually sharpened with flint, a particularly hard rock, which could also be used to create sparks and start campfires.Another technology, which likely originated in the Neolithic Period, was textiles and the advanced weaving of clothing, rugs, and other cotton-based materials. It’s harder to date and know exactly when and where this practice started, as textiles waste away quicker than stone and few examples from the period remain. However, what few specimens paleontologists have found suggest that rudimentary looms were likely crafted in Mesopotamia, which wove the cotton, which was grown in both the Fertile Crescent and in areas to the east.

Lesson Summary

After millennia of following herds of animals across the landscape, humankind first began settling into sedentary societies about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry. The technology was incredibly important—agriculture allowed humans to grow more food than they could eat in a day or week for the first time in history.

This gave Neolithic people extra time to do other things, and often they spent their time crafting and inventing tools to make their new sedentary lives even easier. For example, the ard was the first variation of a plow created by humans, and stone axes were also created to help clear farmland. Additionally, Neolithic people invented pottery in order to have places to store all that excess food, and advanced stone and bone weapons were crafted to help Neolithic humans protect their bounty from others. Finally, Neolithic people were also the first civilization to begin weaving cotton and using rudimentary looms to craft clothing.

Learning Outcomes

The purpose of this lesson is to get you ready to:

  • Realize the importance of agriculture to Neolithic development
  • Name and describe some of the earliest tools of the Neolithic Period
  • Point out some of the Neolithic advances in weaponry and textiles

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