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The Neolithic Revolution and Early Agricultural Societies (10,000 BCE - 600 BCE)


This page discusses the Neolithic Revolution and the resulting changes from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies that profoundly altered patterns of human civilization.

rotating gif.gifFor more on the impact of agriculture on the development of early societies, see

What were the long-term demographic, social, political, and economic effects of the Neolithic Revolution?

The societies that were founded in the Neolithic Revolution were the foundation of the River Valley civilizations.
Indus Valley in Ladakh.
Indus Valley in Ladakh.


How did pastoral societies resemble or differ from early agricultural societies?
Where did pastoralism persist even after the Neolithic Revolution?
Differences:
  • Pastoral societies were smaller and more mobile than early agricultural societies
  • Pastoralism focused more on hunting and gathering, while early agricultural societies depended more on the same soil…
  • Pastoral societies adapted far better to their environment as they could move
Similarities:
  • Both developed animal husbandry
Pastoralism persisted in areas that could not sustain long-term agricultural pursuits, such as areas with unfavorable climates and unreliable sources of pastures, food sources, and water.

* Click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYbDJF_gMtw for the beginning Neolithic Age and here for the comparison between Paleolithic Age and Neolithic Age http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx-IgtxDXbA

Summary of Neolithic Revolution in Broad Historical and Geological Context (Khan Academy)
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https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/world-history-beginnings/birth-agriculture-neolithic-revolution/v/origins-of-agriculture
Khan Academy - Neolithic Revolution

Summarizes major contributions of Neolithic Era - agricultural revolutions - that enabled massive stabilization of human populations, which enabled human population increase on scales previously impossible in the hunter-gatherer Paleolithic Era. More settled agricultural settlements allow for more entrenched communities with specialization and revolutionary patterns in human settlement (ie the emergence of early city-states). This agricultural development meant domestication of certain animal species and plant species that marked a huge turning point in early human history. The video also includes a nice summary of areas where archaeologists believe agriculture first emerged in different parts of the world (as shown in the screenshot below):
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This video is part of a 9-part lesson plan by Khan Academy that goes into detail on different parts of the Neolithic Era, focusing specifically on the agricultural revolution. Useful online resource that can be accessed by anyone for self-paced study and review.

Why did the Neolithic Revolution start ?
There are many theories regarding the origin of Neolithic societies.
  • need for a long-term reliable source of food to nourish a rapidly growing society
  • rose because people experimented with plants out of their own free time
  • the need for political and social organization
  • by accident

Test_hq3x.png Identify the statement that best begins an explanation of the Neolithic Revolution.
A. In Northern Europe, nomadic hunters began to produce more complex stone tools.
B. In East Asia, early settlers began using markings on turtle shells and bones as an early form of record keeping.
C. In the Middle East, people began to settle in small communities and practice agriculture.
D. In Mesoamerica, agricultural settlements saw an expansion of their populations and the beginning of more complex governments.
CORRECT ANSWER: C

I. Beginning about 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic Revolution led to the development of new and more complex economic and social systems


How did the Neolithic Revolution affect human societies economically & socially?
The Neolithic Revolution began the era of permanent societies.
· Due to the closed nature of society, the demographic of farmers was less diverse than of the demographic of herders as they mostly mated within their population
· Gender roles became more prevalent
· The reliance on the limited amount of land they had gave way to political organization
· Less variety in terms of food which affected the overall health of the farming society’s citizens
· Political organization caused social organization which was divided by amount of property and power.


A. Possibly as a response to climatic change, permanent agricultural villages emerged first in the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Agriculture emerged at different times in Mesopotamia, the Nile River Valley and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indus River Valley, the Yellow River or Huang He Valley, Papua New Guinea, Mesoamerica, and the Andes.


Amazon River Basin.  Map on Wikimedia Commons by Gdr.
Amazon River Basin. Map on Wikimedia Commons by Gdr.

Where did the Neolithic Revolution first transform human populations?

Multimedia.pngThe Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Multimedia.pngBridging World History Unit 4 webpage/readings/video on Agricultural and Urban Revolutions

Multimedia.pngPeter Stearns' Teaching Company world history course annotated by video here and here

For background, go to Neolithic Revolution from the Oswego (New York) City School District.

See also The Neolithic Revolution and the Birth of Civilization from Longman Publishers.
Click here for a short overview of the Neolithic Revolution.

B. Pastoralism developed at various sites in the grasslands of Afro-Eurasia.


Pastoralism defined from Palomar College.

C. Different crops or animals were domesticated in the various core regions, depending on available local flora and fauna.

What various crops & animals were developed or domesticated during the Neolithic Revolution?
  • The trinity: maize, beans, and squash
  • Rye, wheat, barley
  • Potato
  • Teff
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Various marine animals, snails
  • Sheep, goats, yaks, llamas

D. Agricultural communities had to work cooperatively to clear land and create the water control systems needed for crop production.


E. These agricultural practices drastically impacted environmental diversity. Pastoralists also affected the environment by grazing large numbers of animals on fragile grasslands, leading to erosion when overgrazed.

What were the environmental effects of the Neolithic Revolution?
  • Soil was overused.
  • Deforestation occurred to make more land available for agriculture
  • Overgrazing
  • Animals became more suited to human needs due to animal husbandry

II. Agriculture and pastoralism began to transform human societies.


Neolithic stone axe with wooden handle. Photo by JMiall.
Neolithic stone axe with wooden handle. Photo by JMiall.

Multimedia.pngClick here for a short overview of the Neolithic Revolution.

For more on the impact of agriculture, see Massachusetts Curriculum Framework 7.5


Click here for a short overview describing the shortcomings of the so-called Three Age System (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age).

A. Pastoralism and agriculture led to more reliable and abundant food supplies, which increased the population.


What effects did pastoralism & agriculture have on the food supply?
At first the food supply was unreliable due to a lot of energy devoted to crop production
  • The food supply slowly became more reliable and created surplus
  • In certain regions of the world, food options were limited

What were the social effects of the increased food supply caused by increase of agriculture?
  • Created class distinctions, the people with more land and therefore more food were on the higher end of the social hierarchy
  • Increased population
  • More leisure time
  • Feasting increased loyalty to leadership

B. Surpluses of food and other goods led to specialization of labor, including new classes of artisans and warriors, and the development of elites.


What labor adjustments did humans make in order to facilitate the Neolithic Revolution?
  • Increased reliance on female labor
  • Had to produce more crops to make up for the energy used for farming

C. Technological innovations led to improvements in agricultural production, trade, and transportation.

What technological innovations are associated with the growth of agriculture?
  • Preservation of food surplus, created granaries and store houses
  • Irrigation
  • City planning
  • Domestication/animal husbandry

See Special Topic Page on Metallic Advancements Through the Ages

lessonplan.jpg Lesson plan for development of written language in Neolithic period.


[Required examples of improvements in agricultural production, trade, and transportation: Pottery, Plows, Woven textiles, Metallurgy, and Wheels and wheeled vehicles]

D. In both pastoralist and agrarian societies, elite groups accumulated wealth, creating more hierarchical social structures and promoting patriarchal forms of social organization.

  • Due to the nomadic nature of early people, societies were beginning to limit their families by regulating who could mate with whom because large families were unsuitable for their pastoral lifestyle.

  • As nomadic societies began fighting over land and resources, the role of men became enhanced as they not only fought over land but also over mating partners. At the same time, due to this, women were also becoming more valuable in society as more men were being sent off to war.

  • On the whole, male domination was becoming the norm in society. It could have been due to several things including hunting and food distribution, which only males would do. This also created a type of work specialization, since women were almost forced to gather while men hunted.

  • As societies slowly began to focus more on agriculture rather than hunting and gathering, social classes began to develop and solidify, which can be seen through the inequalities in burials during this time. Lower classes often has simple burials with very little in the way of ornamentation while the elites and higher classes had elaborate burials with jewels, carvings and other “expensive” pieces.