Physical Anthropology

A Guide to the Anthropology of the Neolithic Period



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When discussing Neolithic anthropology, we should first define it. Quite simply, we can break down the words. "Neo" is Greek for "new", "lithic" is Greek for "stone", "anthro" is Greek and means "man" or "human", and "ology" is Greek and means "the study of". So Neolithic anthropology is the study of humans in the New Stone Age. The New Stone Age refers to the last stage in the Stone Age before evolution went further into the Bronze Age.

Okay, so we've literally defined Neolithic anthropology. What does that mean and where is the line drawn on what's Neolithic and what's not? The Neolithic period is distinguished by the use of stone tools, the domestication of plants and animals, the institution of permanent villages, and the exercise of such crafts such as pottery and weaving. The modernization of urban civilization or the introduction of metal tools and writing denotes the end of the era.

Shelter Overview
The Neolithic people were the first to construct and live in permanent dwellings. The houses were made of mud bricks and coated with plaster. The houses were then painted with intricate scenes of humans and animals. Beams supported the roofs of the houses and there were doorways on the roofs of the dwellings with ladders situated on the inside and outside of the houses.
Tombs for the dead were also built in this era. In fact, there were prominent in Ireland and there are still thousands still in existence today. In the British Isles, long barrows and chamber tombs were built.

Technology Overview
The Neolithic people were accomplished farmers. In order to be successful, they developed tools for tending to and harvesting their crops, such as grinding stones and cycle blades. Also they developed tools to assist in the preparation of food such as pottery and bone implements. They also developed ornaments and decorative type items, which included projectile points and beads. Their technology also extended to developing relatively airtight containers to preserve food.

Clothing Overview
There have bee findings of a lot of bone and antler pins which were ideal for fastening leather and not cloth. This is a strong indication that the clothing was made from animal skins. However, in the British Isles there have been findings of perforated stones, which could have been used as loom weights. This could also suggest that cloth was also used for clothing.

The Three Stages of the Neolithic Age
There were three main stages of the Neolithic age: Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), which is also called Neolithic 1; Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), which is also refereed to as Neolithic 2; and Pottery Neolithic (PN), which is referred to as Neolithic 3.

Neolithic 1 began in the Levant (refers to a large area in the Middle East) around 8500 BC to 8000 BC. The major accomplishment of these people was farming. Grains were ground into flour and animals were herded. Permanent circular dwellings were being built out of mud bricks.

Neolithic 2 began in the Levant around 7500 BC to 7000 BC. There were actual settlements of the people and the permanent dwellings were rectangular rather than circular, but were still made out of mud bricks. They also showed signs of certain rituals such as preserving skulls.

Neolithic 3 began around 6000 BC to 5500 BC. By this point well-defined cultures were emerging. Of course the largest accomplishment of this stage was pottery.

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