Back To CourseMajor Eras in World History Study Guide
21 chapters | 224 lessons
As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.Try it risk-free
Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.
The Neolithic Age, or New Stone Age, is the third period of the Stone Age. During this period, the climate became warmer, which allowed for a whole series of changes. Historians disagree on the duration of the Neolithic period. One of the most extensive ranges given indicates that the Neolithic period occurred between 10,000 B.C. and 3,000 B.C.
Dates differ because the Neolithic Age is considered a cultural rather than a temporal age. The Neolithic Era commenced with the beginning of farming and settling and ended when metal tools appeared. However, the beginning of farming and the appearance of metal tools did not occur exactly at the same time in different geographical areas. Therefore, the Neolithic Age developed at different times and with different characteristics.
During the Neolithic Age, man became more sedentary. When humans settled in fixed places, they began to cultivate the earth and raise animals. In this way, humanity changed and hunter-gatherers became rancher-farmers. By changing their way of life, they also changed their social rituals and, little by little, their religious beliefs. In this lesson, we'll look at Neolithic religious beliefs and burial rituals. Keep in mind that there was no such thing as a single Neolithic religion, but instead several religions that, in many cases, shared some characteristics.
Paleolithic man had many hunting-related rituals and believed in the influence of the wild animal spirit on men. In the Neolithic Era, people focused more on the importance of fertility, or productivity and reproductivity. The fertility of the land needed to grow crops, the domestic animals that fed the people and the reproductive abilities of women, so that children could care for the fields and for their parents in old age, were all major concerns during this time.
Neolithic people worshiped the Mother Goddess of earth fertility, who also represented the life cycle of plants. She died and disappeared when the weather turned cold only to be reborn in the spring. The Mother Goddess was the mistress of nature and the protector of animals and crops. She typically took the form of a small clay statue in the shape of a girl or a woman giving birth.
People of the Neolithic age were animists. They believed that all the elements of the natural world, like animals, forests, mountains, rivers, and stones, had self-consciousness. We do not know exactly what properties Neolithic men attributed to natural elements. However, by studying the animist religions that survived, we can suppose that Neolithic people assumed that the elements found in the natural world had a soul and that they could benefit or harm people.
Because they followed the migrations of animals, nomadic peoples had no need to measure time. Sedentary individuals, on the other hand, needed to know what time was the best time to plant or harvest crops. For this reason, the first calendars were developed. The simplest astronomical cycles to observe were those of the moon. That is why the first calendars were lunar. Later in the era, solar calendars began to appear. Neolithic artifacts that may have been lunar calendars have been found in France's Dordogne River valley. A lunar calendar made of tusk found in Serbia may have been used by farmers around 8,000 years ago.
During the Neolithic Age, there were numerous religious rites related to the climate and crops. Neolithic peoples performed rituals when they wanted it to rain or the sun to rise, or so that pests would not affect their crops. The first temples, or places of worship, and the first priests appeared during this time.
One very interesting aspect that allows us to study the religion of primitive peoples are funerary rites, which involve burying, cremating or other forms of interring the dead. Funerary rites already existed during the Paleolithic period. During Neolithic times they continued and evolved.
In the Neolithic Age, people buried the dead under their houses with their heads in a certain orientation. The bodies were buried with objects of daily use, which allows us to suppose that the Neolithic people believed in life after death. Funerary rites varied depending on the geographical area and time. In some cases, bodies were buried with pottery, food, or even small animals that Neolithic people believed the deceased needed in the afterlife.
In addition to these funeral rituals, there are other ways that allow us to learn more about Neolithic beliefs and practices. One such way is the use of funeral masks, or skulls covered with clay masks found under period houses. As reproductions of the facial features of the deceased, they consisted of painted faces and shells in place of the eyes. It seems that the Neolithic people worshiped and wanted to remember their ancestors.
The dolmens, or collective tombs, were created near the end of the Neolithic Age. The dolmens were constructed by placing large blocks of stone first vertically and then horizontally. In this way, small rooms were created in the interior. Groups of dolmens were sacred enclosures that served as cemeteries or temples.
The most famous Neolithic monument is certainly Stonehenge. This large enclosure estimated to have been built toward the end of the Neolithic Age is located in the southern United Kingdom. It was most likely formed by grouping together numerous dolmens and other megalithic constructions, or prehistoric stone constructions. It consisted of many metamorphic rocks, pathways, and avenues.
Even today we do not know for sure what Stonehenge was and what role it played in the Neolithic world. Surely, it functioned as a cemetery, as human remains were found buried there. It's very difficult to calculate the number of people buried in Stonehenge because only certain bones, rather than complete skeletons, remained, and they belonged to several historical eras. According to one theory, this cemetery may have been used exclusively for certain important figures instead of as a general burial ground. On the other hand, given its orientation and alignment with the stars, especially in the solstices, Stonehenge could also have been used as an astronomical observatory or a temple dedicated to certain religious rites. Whatever its purpose was, what remains is its capacity to still fascinate visitors.
In this lesson, we learned about the religious beliefs of the Neolithic Age, the third period of the Stone Age, which occurred between 10,000 B.C. and 3,000 B.C. Neolithic peoples were animists who believed that all of the elements of the natural world, like animals, forests, mountains, rivers, and stones, had self consciousness. Once people became more sedentary, temples, or places of worship served by priests, began to appear. Hunting-related rituals were abandoned and the cult of the Mother Goddess of fertility developed. Funerary rites during this time became more sophisticated, with the dead buried alongside food and pottery underneath houses. Funerary masks of the deceased were also made.
Dolmens were built during this era, which functioned as collective tombs. One of the most famous Neolithic constructions is Stonehenge, a sacred enclosure composed of dolmens and megalithic constructions that may have functioned as an astronomical observatory, cemetery, or temple.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseMajor Eras in World History Study Guide
21 chapters | 224 lessons
Next LessonNeolithic Age: Pottery & Artifacts