until ca. 4000
The "Neolithic Revolution"
During the Neolithic period,
a rapid progression of human culture took place—primarily due to the introduction of agriculture and animal
The new sedentary lifestyle demanded new technologies and shaped
of the modern form of settlement.
The Neolithic period saw a
rapid development in many aspects of human culture,
characterized by 5 man's
attempts to establish independence from the vagaries of the
environment in which he lived. This process was made possible
primarily by the broadening of the diet, which was linked to
agriculture and the domestication of animals and occurred as a
result of sedentary life in 3,
4 houses and communities.
The hunt continued to play a role in providing nutrition, yet
the supply of food was no longer completely dependent on the
success of the hunt as there were now alternative food sources.
4 Early Stone Age family in a hut; 5
Reconstruction of Similaun man "Otzi" found in the Similaun
There was a parallel
technological revolution. The introduction of fired
1, 2 ceramic vessels, initially used for storing food
supplies, defined whole cultural communities, such as the Middle
European "Linear Ceramic Culture." Advances also included the
use of rotating grindstones and mortars for the processing of
plants for food and the construction of houses from clay bricks.
Wood was worked at first with chisels and stone axes. Sickle
tools were used to cut grasses and grains. After 3000 B.C.,
metallurgy (initially with copper), using simple pouring
techniques, appeared in the Near East.
Agriculture demanded long-term planning as well as knowledge of
climatic periods and seasonal cycles. The cultivation of fertile
alluvial land began, particularly in Mesopotamia and along the
Nile. Goats, sheep, pigs, and later cattle were domesticated for
New cults also formed around plants and grains. Many Neolithic
houses had their own cult niche where offerings such as grain,
fruits, and animal remains have been found. The surviving clay,
stone, and metal statuettes are thought to be votive offerings,
as many have raised arms or open hands in an attitude of
supplication. Some represent God.
Most Neolithic settlements had separate cult edifices. In the
Near East, there were early temple complexes. The transition to
advanced civilizations began even before 3000 B.C. in these
regions with the development of script or hieroglyphics and of
1 Painted vase and pottery stemming from
Neolithic cultures; 2
Ceramics stemming from the Funnel Beaker Culture; 3 View
of Stone Age house nterior
The oldest culture of the Paleolithic period in Central and
Southern Europe is known as the Linear Ceramic Culture. It
stretched from eastern France to Hungary in the fifth millenium
B.C. The people lived in closed settlements with nave houses and
pursued agriculture and animal husbandry.
The culture was named after the ribbon-like decorations
typically used on their pottery. These decorations were made up
of solid lines and dashes. The Linear Ceramic Culture tribes
buried their dead positioned toward the sun, on their side, and
with legs drawn up in a sleep-like pose. Some researchers infer
from this that they had the concept of an afterlife. Skeletal
remains have also been found in a supine position with
outstretched arms, reminiscent of certain types of statuettes.
THE ICE RECEDES
that covered much of northern Europe during the Paleolithic
period melted as the climate grew warmer. The reindeer migrated
north, and the woolly mammoth and rhinoceros disappeared. The
Paleolithic gave way to a transitional period, the Mesolithic,
when Europe became climatically, geographically, and
biologically much as it is today. Then, for several thousand
years at different times in different parts of the globe, a
great new age, the Neolithic, dawned. Human beings began to
settle in fixed abodes and to domesticate plants and animals.
Their food supply assured, many groups changed from hunters to
herders, to farmers, and finally to townspeople. Wandering
hunters settled down to organized community living in villages
surrounded by cultivated fields.
The conventional division of prehistory into the Paleolithic,
Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods is based on the development of
stone implements. However, a different kind of distinction may
be made between an age of food gathering and an age of food
production. In this scheme, the Paleolithic period corresponds
roughly to the age of food gathering, and the Mesolithic period,
the last phase of that age, is marked by intensified food
gathering and the taming of the dog. In the Neolithic period,
agriculture and stock raising became humankind's major food
sources. The transition to the Neolithic occurred first in the
ancient Near East.
Ancient Near East
THE BEGINNING OF AGRICULTURE The remains of the oldest
known settled communities have been found in the grassy uplands
bordering the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia (parts
of modern Syria and Iraq). These regions provided the necessary
preconditions for the development of agriculture. Species of
native plants, such as wild wheat and barley, were plentiful, as were herds of animals (goats, sheep, and
pigs) that could be domesticated. Sufficient rain occurred for
the raising of crops. When village farming life was well
developed, some settlers, attracted by the greater fertility of
the soil and perhaps also by the need to find more land for
their rapidly growing populations, moved into the river valleys
and deltas of the two rivers.
In addition to systematic
agriculture, the new sedentary societies of the Neolithic age
originated weaving, metalworking, pottery, and counting and
recording with tokens. Soon, these innovations spread from
Mesopotamia to northern Syria, Anatolia (Turkey), and Egypt.
Village farming communities such as Jarmo in Iraq and Catal
Hoyuk in southern Anatolia date back to the mid-seventh
все. The remarkable
fortified town of Jericho, before whose walls the biblical
Joshua appeared thousands of years later, is even older.
Archaeologists are constantly uncovering surprises, and the
discovery and exploration of new sites each year is compelling
them to revise their views about the emergence of Neolithic
society. But three sites known for some time—Jericho,
Ain Ghazal, and Catal Hoyiik—
offer a fascinating picture of the rapid and
exciting transformation of human society—and
the Neolithic period.
Great stone tower built into
the settlement wall, Jericho,
JERICHO'S STONE FORTIFICATIONS
agriculture was well established in at least
three Near Eastern regions: ancient Palestine, Iran, and
Anatolia. Although no remains of domestic cereals have been
found that can be dated before 7000 все,
the advanced state of agriculture at that
time presupposes a long development. Indeed, the very existence
of a town such as Jericho gives strong support to this
assumption. The site of
— a plateau in the Jordan
River valley with an unfailing spring—was
occupied by a small village as early as the ninth millennium
underwent spectacular development around 8000 все,
when a new Neolithic town
covering about 10
acres was built.
Its mud-brick houses sat on round or oval stone foundations and
had roofs of branches covered with earth.
As the town's wealth grew and powerful neighbors established
themselves, the need for protection resulted in the first known
permanent stone fortifications. By approximately
the town, estimated to have had a population of
more than 2,000 people, was surrounded by a wide rock-cut ditch and a
5-foot-thick wall. Into this wall, which has been preserved to a
height of almost 13
feet, was built a great circular stone tower,
28 feet high. Almost
in diameter at the base, the tower has an inner stairway leading
to its summit.
Not enough of the site has been excavated to
determine whether this tower was solitary or one of several
similar towers that formed a complete defense system. In either
case, a structure such as this, built with only simple stone
tools, was a tremendous technological achievement. It
constitutes the beginning of the long history of monumental
SCULPTURE AT AIN GHAZAL
revealed another important Neolithic settlement
in ancient Palestine at the site of Ain Ghazal, occupied from
the late eighth through the late sixth millennium
built houses of irregularly shaped stones, but carefully
plastered and then painted their floors and walls red. The most
striking finds at Ain Ghazal, however, are two caches containing
three dozen plaster statuettes
busts, some with two heads, datable to the mid-seventh
Near Amman, Jordan, the
construction of a highway in
appear to have been ritually buried. The figures were fashioned
of white plaster, which was built up over a core of reeds and
twine. Black bitumen, a tarlike substance, was used to delineate
the pupils of the eyes, which are inset cowrie shells. Painters
added orange and black hair, clothing, and, in some instances,
body paint or tattooing. Only rarely did the sculptors indicate
the gender of the figures.
Whatever their purpose, by their size
(as much as three feet tall) and sophisticated technique, the Ain Ghazal statuettes and busts are distinguished from
Paleolithic figurines such as the tiny Venus of Willendorf
even the foot-tall ivory statuette from Hohlenstein-Stadel.
the beginning of monumental sculpture in the ancient Near East.
Human figure, from Ain Ghazal, Jordan,
ca. 6750-6250 все.
Plaster, painted and inlaid with cowrie shell and bitumen.
The Tell Cultures
Modern village and city
cultures developed from the Tell (Arabic for "hill") settlements
of the Near East.
These give evidence of a social differentiation between the
inhabitants as well as an organized economic life.
These communities, identifiable mostly through their
demonstrate a fluid transition to early advanced civilizations.
The peoples of the earliest
known village-like hill communities in the Near East are called
Tell Cultures. As a rule, new settlements were built on top of
older ones. However, it is possible to date cultural peaks and
distinctive features by excavating deep shafts through the
layers. 8 Coital Huyuk in
Anatolia proved to be a particularly rich site for excavation.
Many settlements were enclosed by protective stone walls, which
testifies to competition between the sedentary agricultural
communities and roaming nomad peoples.
8 Maternal goddess,
Often the different cultures can be distinguished
by their characteristic pottery forms or ceramic decorations:
The Syrian 9 ,10
Tell Halaf Culture, for example, which dominated the
Mesopotamian area in the fifth and fourth millenium B.C.,
decorated its ceramics with axes or crosses.
Given the importance of ceramics in determining social and
cultural development, a division is made between the "Aceramic
Neolithic" (ca. 8000-6500 B.C.) and the "Ceramic Neolithic"
after about 6500 B.C.
9 Detail from altar, castle of Guzana,
Tell Halaf ruins, Syria, from
ca. 800 B.C.
10 Hill of ruins of Tell Mardich in Syria:
Partial view of the excavation area,
showing what was probably a palace during the Bronze
The Tell Cultures displayed
varied building styles—both round and angular—and pottery forms.
The discovery of 6 seals and
counting markers indicates an early organization and control of
economic life and trade, as well as sophisticated
property-ownership relations, which paved the way for more
advanced civilizations and societies.
The Obed Culture in southern Babylon and Ur (ca. 5000-4000 B.C.)
possessed 7 houses divided
into rooms ("middle room houses"), early pottery wheels, seals,
stamps, and cult and administrative buildings. It is believed
that a cult and administration elite had emerged within the
community—a sign of an advanced early civilization. These people
dug a system of complex and strategically placed irrigation
canals, and signs of a communication net-work and paths linking the communities have been found. The
transition to the metropolitan civilizations of Mesopotamia
began with the emergence of urban cultures in the Uruk period
around 4000 B.C.
6 Stamp, Late Paleolithic period
7 Model of a building with animal skulls on the
roof, Neolithic period
The large city-like complexes in Anatolia of the early
Neolithic period are a treasure trove for archaeologists because
of their size and the variety of artifacts found. The clay brick
houses possess central rooms that are usually decorated with
painted figures, relief figures, and bull heads on the walls.
The houses are so close together that the inhabitants had to
enter them through a hole in the roof. Clay platforms are found
along the walls under which the skeletal remains of the dead
were buried. It is therefore assumed that some of the rooms were
used for ancestor-worship. Numerous small sculpted figures
indicate the worship of two pairs of deities and sacred animals.
The inhabitants used wood and stone vessels but no pottery.
A TOWN WITHOUT STREETS 7000 and
5000 все. Twelve
successive building levels excavated at Catal Hoyuk between
1965 have been dated
between 6500 and
5700 все. On a
single site, it is possible to retrace, in an unbroken sequence,
the evolution of a Neolithic culture over a period of
800 years. (Only
acres had been explored before the
recent resumption of excavations. The new project promises to
expand and perhaps revise the current picture of Neolithic
Remarkable discoveries also have
been made in Anatolia. Excavations at Hacilar, Catal Hoyuk, and elsewhere have shown that the central Anatolian
plateau was the site of a flourishing Neolithic culture between
The source of Catal Hoyuk's wealth was trade, especially in
obsidian, a glasslike volcanic stone Neolithic toolmakers and
weapon makers valued highly because it could be chipped into
fine cutting edges. Along with Jericho, Catal Hoyuk seems to
have been one of the first experiments in urban living. The
regularity of its plan suggests that the town was built
according to some predetermined scheme. A peculiar feature is
the settlement's complete lack of streets.
The houses adjoin one another and have no
doors. Openings in the roofs provided access to the interiors.
The openings also served as chimneys to ventilate the hearth in
the combination living room and kitchen that formed the core of
the house. Impractical as such an arrangement may appear today, it did offer some advantages. The attached
buildings were more stable than freestanding structures and, at
the limits of the town site, formed a perimeter wall well suited
to defense against human or natural forces. Thus, if enemies
managed to breach the exterior wall, they would find themselves
not inside the town but above the houses with the defenders
waiting there on the roof.
The houses, constructed of mud brick strengthened by sturdy
timber frames, varied in size but repeated the same basic plan.
Walls and floors were plastered and painted, and platforms along
walls served as sites for sleeping, working, and eating. The
dead were buried beneath the floors. A great number of decorated
rooms have been found at Catal Hoyuk. The excavators called
these rooms shrines, but their function is uncertain. Their
number suggests that these rooms played an important role in the
life of Catal Hoyuk's inhabitants.
The "shrines" are distinguished from the house structures by
the greater richness of their interior decoration, which
consisted of wall paintings, plaster reliefs, animal heads, and
bucrania (bovine skulls). Bulls' horns, widely thought to
be symbols of masculine potency, are the most common motif in
these rooms. In some cases they are displayed next to plaster
breasts, symbols of female fertility, projecting from the walls.
Many statuettes of stone or terracotta (baked clay) also
have been found at Catal Hoyuk. Most are quite small
8 inches high) and
primarily depict female figures. Only a few reach
is reflected also in wall paintings,
where, in the older decorated rooms, hunting scenes predominate.
In style and concept, however, the deer hunt mural at Catal
is worlds apart from the wall paintings the
hunters of the Paleolithic period produced. Perhaps what is most
strikingly new about the Catal Hoyuk painting and others like it
is the regular appearance of the human figure—not
only singly but also in large, coherent groups with a wide
variety of poses, subjects, and settings. As noted earlier,
humans were unusual in Paleolithic cave paintings, and pictorial
narratives have almost never been found. Even the "hunting
scene" in the well at Lascaux
is doubtful as a narrative. In Neolithic
paintings, human themes and concerns and action scenes with
humans dominating animals are central.
drawing of a section
of Level V Catal Hoyuk, Turkey,
Although at Catal Hoyuk animal husbandry
was well established, hunting continued to play an important
part in the early Neolithic economy. The importance of hunting
as a food source (until about
In the Catal Hoyuk hunt, the group of hunters—and
no one doubts it is, indeed, an organized hunting party, not a
series of individual figures
shows a tense exaggeration of movement and a
rhythmic repetition of basic shapes customary for the period.
The painter took care to distinguish important descriptive
details — for
example, bows, arrows, and garments—and
the heads have clearly defined noses, mouths, chins, and hair.
The Neolithic painter placed all the heads in profile for the
same reason Paleolithic painters universally chose the profile
view for representations of animals. Only the side view of the
human head shows all its shapes clearly. However, at Catal
Hoyuk the torsos are presented from the front—again,
the most informative viewpoint—while
the profile view was chosen for the legs and arms. This
composite view of the human body is quite artificial because
the human body cannot make an abrupt 90-degree shift at the
hips. But it is very descriptive of what a human body is—as
opposed to what it looks like from a particular viewpoint. The
composite view is another manifestation of the twisted
perspective of Paleolithic paintings that combined a frontal
view of an animal's two horns with a profile view of the head.
The technique of painting also changed dramatically since
Paleolithic times. The pigments were applied with a brush to a
white background of dry plaster. The careful preparation of the
wall surface is in striking contrast to the direct application
of pigment to the rock face.
Deer hunt, detail of a wall
painting from Level III, Catal Hoyuk, Turkey, ca.
Anatolian Civilization, Ankara
THE FIRST LANDSCAPE? that generally has been acclaimed as the world's first landscape (a
picture of a natural setting in its own right, without any
narrative content). As such, it remained unique for thousands of
years. According to radiocarbon dating, the painting was
executed around 6150 все.
In the foreground is a town, with rectangular
houses neatly laid out side by side, probably representing Catal
Hoyuk itself. Behind the town appears a mountain with two
peaks. Many archaeologists think that the dots and lines issuing
from the higher of the two cones represent a volcanic eruption,
and have suggested that the mountain is the 10,600-foot-high
Hasan Dag. It is located within view of Catal Hoyuk and is the
only twin-peaked volcano in central Anatolia. The conjectured volcanic eruption shown in the mural does not necessarily
depict a specific historical event. If, however, the Qatal Hoyuk
painting relates a story, even a recurring one, then it cannot
be considered a pure landscape. Nonetheless, this mural is the
first depiction of a place devoid of both humans and animals.
More remarkable still is a painting in
one of the older rooms at Catal Hovuk
The rich finds at Catal Hoyuk give the impression of a
prosperous and well-ordered society that practiced a great
variety of arts and crafts. In addition to painting and
sculpture, weaving and pottery were well established, and even
the technique of smelting copper and lead in small quantities
was known before 6000 все.
The conversion to an agricultural economy
appears to have been completed by about
Landscape with volcanic
eruption(?), detail of a watercolor copy of a wall painting
Level VII, Catal Hoyuk, Turkey, ca.
Aerial view of Stonehenge,
Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, ca.
Circle is 97'
trilithons approx. 24'
MEGALITHS AND HENGES
the local Neolithic populations in several areas
developed a monumental architecture employing massive rough-cut
stones. The very dimensions of the stones, some as high as
17 feet and
weighing as much as 50
prompted historians to call them megaliths (great stones)
and to designate the culture that produced them megalithic.
In western Europe, where Paleolithic
paintings and sculptures abound, no comparably developed towns
of the time of Catal Hoyuk have been found. However, in
succeeding millennia, perhaps as early as
Although megalithic monuments are plentiful throughout
Europe, the arrangement of huge stones in a circle (called a cromlech
or henge), often surrounded by a ditch, is
almost entirely limited to Britain. The most imposing today is
on the Salisbury Plain in southern England.
Stonehenge is a complex of
rough-cut sarsen (a form of sandstone) stones and smaller
"bluestones" (various volcanic rocks). Outermost is a ring,
almost 100 feet in
diameter, of large monoliths of sarsen stones capped by lintels
(a stone "beam" used to span an opening).
Next is a
ring of bluestones, which, in turn, encircle a horseshoe (open
end facing east) of trilithons (three-stone
constructions) — five lintel-topped pairs of the largest sarsens, each weighing
50 tons. Standing apart
and to the east (outside our photograph at the lower right
corner) is the "heel-stone," which, for a person looking outward
from the center of the complex, would have marked the point
where the sun rose at the summer solstice.
Stonehenge probably was built in several phases in the
centuries before and after 2000 все.
It seems to have been a kind of
astronomical observatory. The mysterious structures were
believed in the Middle Ages to have been the work of the
magician Merlin of the King Arthur legend, who spirited them
from Ireland. Most archaeologists now consider Stonehenge a
remarkably accurate solar calendar. This achievement is
testimony to the rapidly developing intellectual powers of
Neolithic humans as well as to their capacity for heroic
The first sculptures and paintings antedate the invention of
writing by tens of thousands of years. No one knows why the
first "artists" began to paint and carve images of animals and
humans or what role those images played in the lives of
Paleolithic hunters. All that is certain is that the statuettes,
reliefs, and mural paintings were not created as "art" in the
modern sense of the word. But the Paleolithic artists were
the first to represent the world around them in stone and
paint, initiating an intellectual revolution of enormous
consequences. They and their Neolithic successors also invented
many of the techniques and established many of the conventions
that would characterize sculpture and painting for millennia.