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the cultural period that lasted in SW Asia from about 9000 to 6000 bc and in Europe from about 4000 to 2400 bc and was characterized by primitive crop growing and stock rearing and the use of polished stone and flint tools and weapons
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(or the New Stone Age), the latest period of the Stone Age (seeSTONE AGE), characterized by the exclusive use of flint, bone, and stone implements (including those made by grinding, boring, and polishing) and, as a rule, by the widespread distribution of clay pottery. The implements of the Neolithic period represent the concluding stage in the development of stone tools, which were gradually replaced by metal articles.

Based on cultural and economic features, the Neolithic cultures break down into two groups: (1) cultivators and stock raisers and (2) advanced hunters and fishermen.

The first group reflects the consequences of the transition to a fundamentally new form of obtaining food—food production. The new food-producing economy brought about major changes in society, reflected primarily in the development of a settled way of life and a sharp increase in population (the first demographic explosion). Thus, numerous investigators, in the tradition of the British archaeologist V. G. Childe, speak of the “Neolithic Revolution” as the first economic revolution in the history of humanity. The bourgeois literature tends to deny the importance of this turning point and to reduce all development to nothing but gradual quantitative changes in the course of simple evolution.

In the Old World, the most ancient farming cultures in the Middle East, according to the latest findings, date to the eight and seventh millennia B.C. (Jericho in Jordan, Jarmo in northern Iraq, Ali Kosh in southwestern Iran, and Çatalhüyük in southern Turkey). Clay pottery is often absent in these cultures, and for this reason they are regarded as Proto-Neolithic, or Prepottery Neolithic. Such cultures had permanent settlements with pisé houses, sometimes built on stone foundations; encircling walls (Jericho); sanctuaries, often richly decorated with reliefs and frescoes (Çatalhüyük); clay figurines of humans and animals; and various ornaments, including necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. The flat-bottomed painted pottery that appeared in the Neolithic cultures of the Middle East reached its peak in the period when metal articles were first produced (Hassunan and Halafian cultures). Similar Neolithic cultures in southern Middle Asia are represented by Dzheitun (sixth millennium B.C.) and in the Transcaucasus by Shomutepe and Shulaveri (fifth and fourth millennia B.C.). The farming Neolithic in China dates to the fourth or third millennia B.C. (Yangshao).

In Europe, Neolithic farming cultures first appeared in Macedonia at the end of the seventh millennium B.C. (Nea Nicomedia) and then spread between the sixth and fourth millennia B.C. to the Balkans and Central Europe (Starčevo, Karanovo, Vinča, and Körös; the Linear Pottery cultures). The Bug-Dnestr culture in the southern USSR is related to this group and is known from excavations at Soroki and other sites. These cultures were characterized by settlements consisting primarily of surface frame dwellings, by flat-bottomed pottery elaborately decorated with painted and scratched ornamentation, and by diverse anthropomorphic plastic arts.

The Neolithic cultures of advanced hunters and fishermen were widespread in northern Europe, in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Eastern Europe, and in Siberia. Their economies were based on hunting with the bow combined with various forms of fishing. The population in these regions was sparser than in the zone of the farming Neolithic. The hunter-fisher cultures were typified by semisubterranean dwellings, temporary settlements, and round-bottomed and pointed-bottomed clay vessels (the Eastern European cultures characterized by pottery decorated with pit and comb impressions, the Kel’teminar culture in Middle Asia and Kazakhstan, the Neolithic cultures of the Ob’ River basin and Yakutia). In certain areas, intensive fishing sometimes led to the adoption of a settled way of life (the Baikal, Amur, and Primor’e regions); in Japan it also resulted in the early appearance of pottery (tenth to eighth millennia B.C.). The Neolithic Jomon cultures of Japan (eighth millennium to the middle of the first millennium B.C.), which were based on fishing, hunting, and gathering the “gifts of the sea,” were characterized by a high level of development, fine pottery, and anthropomorphic terra-cotta art; there were also signs of social differentiation. In the sixth millennium B.C. pottery also appeared in Southeast Asia (the Cave of the Spirits in Thailand), where the gathering of plants was widely practiced, evidently because of the need to cook food. However, only the farming Neolithic provided the proper conditions for overall progress and development, and it was precisely in the zone where the farming Neolithic was widespread that the most ancient class formations and states arose.

There are two groups of Neolithic cultures in the New World: (1) hunters and fishermen and (2) cultivators. In Peru the latter date to the fifth to second millennia B.C. (Chilca, Huaca Prieta, Guañape). In Mesoamerica, according to archaeological periodization, we may classify the Mayan civilization as Neolithic, since metal articles became common among the Mayans only in the ninth century A.D.


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Titov, V. S. Neolit Gretsii. Moscow, 1969.
Masson, V. M. Poselenie Dzheitun (Problema stanovleniia proizvodiashchei ekonomiki). Leningrad, 1971. (Materialy i issledovaniia po arkheologii SSSR, no. 180.)
Khlobystin, L. P. “Problemy sotsiologii neolita Severnoi Evrazii.” In Okhotniki, sobirateli, rybolovy. Leningrad, 1972.
Childe, V. G. Man Makes Himself. London [1948].
Mellaart, J. Earliest Civilization of the Near East. London, 1965.
Müller-Karpe, H. Handbuch der Vorgeschichte, vol. 2: Jungsteinzeit [part 1]; Text [part 2]. Munich, 1968.
Tringham, R. Hunters, Fishers, and Farmers of Eastern Europe. London, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The period of prehistoric culture in which people made some of their stone tools by grinding the edges to create smooth surfaces; frequently defined as the time interval following the Paleolithic, beginning about 11,000-8000 years ago.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.