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BBC - h2g2 - The Neolithic Revolution
How has the Neolithic Revolution affected us all? What would have it been like if we continued to be small groups of hunter-gatherer cultures, rather than sedentary state-level societies?[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]This is the story of a revolution. It's not as well known as the French Revolution, or the Industrial Revolution, or the Information Revolution. Neither did it take place quite so quickly. No records were kept, so there is still much we do not know about it. Even so, it stands alone as the greatest revolution in the history of mankind. Were it not for the Neolithic[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]1[/FONT] Revolution, society as we know it today would be vastly different, and none of these other revolutions mentioned would have ever taken place.
[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Hunter-gatherer Life[/FONT]
For most of our time on Earth[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]2[/FONT], we humans lived as hunter-gatherers. Every day, groups of people would trap and kill wild animals, while others collected and prepared wild plants, nuts, fungi, and berries. If they were lucky and food was abundant, they were able to provide enough food for themselves and their children. If they were unlucky, they starved and died. In order to stay close to their food sources, hunter-gatherers needed to be mobile. They set up temporary camps, lived there for a while, and moved on when the food supply began to dwindle. For mobility, tribal units were small — just a few families, all of whom worked hard to keep themselves and their children alive. Because of the vagaries of weather, animal migrations, and the long seasons[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]3[/FONT], starvation was always just one step away. People had precious little time to do anything other than find food, warmth, and shelter for themselves and their families[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]4[/FONT].
[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif][FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]The Dawn of the Neolithic Age[/FONT]
Fourteen thousand years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, a new lifestyle, known to archeologists as the Natufian culture, began to emerge in the Middle East. The Ice Age was coming to an end and temperatures were warming very quickly. Food became available in relative abundance for the first time in thousands of years. Instead of having to travel long distances to find food, some groups were able to live in the same place all year round. People started to build permanent dwellings. By 10,000 BC, the end of the Younger Dryas period, they were discovering that certain animals, such as goats, sheep, cattle and pigs, had temperaments and dispositions that made them easy to manage within close proximity to their dwellings. They selected and cultivated certain grasses, such as oats, wheat and barley, which provided nourishment to larger groups of people. These plants became common anywhere there was human settlement, eclipsing all other plant-food sources. They discovered how to store and preserve food over the harsh winter months. Thus, farming began and a new age, the Neolithic Age, was ushered in.
[FONT=Trebuchet MS, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]The Effects of the Neolithic Revolution[/FONT]
The move from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary farming lifestyle did not take place overnight. Neither was it unique to the Middle East: Latin America and China experienced totally independent Neolithic Revolutions at later periods in time. In fact, it can be argued that in the beginning, it was in many ways an inferior lifestyle to hunter-gathering, since settled people were easier targets for attack, their nutrition undoubtedly suffered due to lack of a balanced diet, and they were more likely to suffer diseases. However, by 7000 BC, it was the dominant occupation in the Middle East, and it was already taking hold in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. For those people affected, the change that had taken place was enormous. The changes were so profound they live on with us today.