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Neolithic Period: Art, Timeline & Facts

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  • 0:00 New Stones
  • 0:48 Starting the Neolithic
  • 2:04 Neolithic Art
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the definition and characteristics of the Neolithic Period, and test your understanding about the ancient world and the development of human civilization.

New Stones

The Neolithic Period, or 'New Stone Age,' is a term to describe a series of changes in human social behaviors and lifestyle. Most important among these changes are the development of agriculture, more complex society, the domestication of animals, and a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle is a non-mobile culture that stays in one place rather than migrating around. The Neolithic Period began in different parts of the world at different times, the first occurring around 10,200 BCE in the Middle East, and it lasted until the development of metal tools around 4,500 and 2,000 BCE. The Neolithic is the last part of the Stone Age, and was replaced by the Bronze Age and use of bronze tools.

Neolithic tools for making grinding grains into flour
Neolithic tool

Starting the Neolithic

The first Neolithic culture is credited to an area around modern-day Jericho, around 10,200 BCE in an area called the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent got its name because of its desirable qualities for agriculture and the shape of the region formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. There was a tradition of harvesting wild grains in this area, which turned into true farming or domesticating grains. These people began domesticating dogs, sheep, and goats, raising new generations in captivity and selectively breeding for desirable qualities. The more sedentary lifestyle of agriculture and ranching helped farmers create a surplus, by producing more food than they could eat, which meant there was a need for storage and the development of pottery.

These are the general characteristics of the Neolithic period, but they did not occur in the same way across the world. For example, Neolithic cultures in Asia developed pottery before agriculture at around 6,000 BCE. This is around the same time that the Neolithic Period began in Europe around modern-day Albania. The Neolithic is identified in Mesoamerica through sedentary lifestyle and crop domestication around 4,500 BCE.

Neolithic Art

Sedentary life and surplus of resources changed society. For the first time, new social organizations could arise based around specialized labor, because the food supply outpaced the number of farmers. Rather than everybody hunting or gathering, specific people could spend all of their time making bricks for homes, pottery, spear points, or even art. The development of art is one of the characterizations of the Neolithic Period. Humans began decorating items, like pottery, with no other apparent reason than for decoration. Humans have been carving and decorating for as long as humans have existed, so the Neolithic Period was not when art was created. However, this period did see a huge explosion of artistic expression and possibly the first professional artists who had no role in society beyond making art.

Decorated Neolithic ceramic vase
Neolithic Vase

Beyond decorating useful objects, the Neolithic also saw a rise in non-functional art. Carvings of human and animal figurines have been found all around the world in this era. Sometimes these were very realistic carvings; other times they were abstract figures.

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