Before the onset of New Stone Age humanity lived in miniscule groupings without permanent homes. Their societies were mobile, endlessly making their way through new terrain as they pursued game and searched for edible plant life.
It is hard to imagine their day-to-day lives; can we even remotely understand the difficulties that would accompany the constant movement and lack of shelter, not to mention how hard it must have been to prepare the evening meal? Or perhaps how much effort went into avoiding having the table turned, in staying safe, in not becoming dinner for the ever-watching prey they hunted.
All in all, day to day survival would have been nothing short of miraculous, and yet, God gifted humans with something no other living animal possesses to such great an extent-intelligence. Intelligence set man apart from the very beginning; the invention of tools, the ability to use the natural environment, the ability to problem solve, and maybe the most important thing of all-the intelligence to be tenacious.
As the climate continued to warm, the needs of the hunter-gatherer societieschanged. Plants flourished, and diets changed due to the abundance of food sources. People began eating more wild grains and possibly small animals; people began settling in areas that were rich in natural resources. This “settling” defines the beginning of the New Stone Age, also known as the Neolithic Era.
Dependence upon nature’s bounty was sometimes risky. The small hunter-gatherer societies faced a multitude of difficulties; extreme temperatures, drought, famine, and disease could easily end the existence or annihilate the majority of their populations, occasionally, their entire population. It is said that “population control” was most likely common, that infanticide may have been practiced regularly to keep the groups small enough to support themselves. These are things we will never know for certain………. but that’s okay; it’s not something I really want to know.
In order to ensure regular food supplies the Neolithic people turned to farming; scholars believe that it was the women who honed the craft of caring for plants. Instead of just gathering them for use, they began to take more notice of the things they gathered; learning their cycles, watching their reaction to both rain and sunlight, and finally nurturing them in order to regulate the food supply. This process took a long period of time, but eventually the need to hunt was lessened by a steadier supply of food, people were able to coexist in larger groups, and the constant need for movement became far less frequent.
Domestication marked the period, plants and animals were trained and made use of, but these societies were independent ones, and the rate at which they came into being was independent as well, these societies began to emerge all over the world. Paleolithic experiments transitioned into agricultural societies, and over time farmers learned which plants were the sturdiest, which wheat would yield the most grain-Vegetables. Peas yams, and okra-all of these became a regular part of the diet. Then there were the animals; sheep bred with the intentions of producing thicker wool, and cattle, which supplied both milk and meat.
Agricultural economies did not come into being on a specific date; they sprang up sporadically, and the idea and process took years of cultivation before this new way of life was truly realized. Agriculture was not a revolution; it was a transition.
The most important change ensuing from the use of agriculture was a large explosion in the population. This change in itself necessitated new forms of social organization; people no longer devoted their time to foraging-they devoted it to cultivation. Because of this, the people of the New Stone Age built permanent shelters in close proximity to their fields, and unlike their predecessors they had no need to continue the migratory lifestyles of their Paleolithic ancestors. Villages were born.
Jericho, established near the Dead Sea is home to one of the earliest know Neolithic Villages. Its inhabitants may possibly have numbered two thousand; they lived in circular mud huts that were eventually surrounded by walls and moats, signaling their consequent transition into a wealthy community. Farmers cultivated both wheat and barley, aided in their endeavor by the nearby oasis.
Jericho’s sheer size allowed for specialization of labor; food surpluses gave some people the opportunity to experiment with other talents, talents that would lead to other enterprises. Jericho soon became more than just an agricultural community; it became a center of trade. Salt was a valuable natural resource, and an abundant volcanic glass called obsidian supplied them with another resource that was used to make knives and blades. Make no mistake, these were not the rudimentary objects of the Old Stone Age; their edges were clean and sharp, and the obsidian was polished to a previously unknown sheen. Craftsmen were born, and a new source of support had arrived.
The information we’ve gained about the Neolithic Era is due in large part to the discovery of a large mound on the banks of the Carsamba River in what is now southern Turkey. Large is likely not an apt description as the measurements of the mound are equal in size to approximately twenty-one football fields. This very large area is one that would easily be passed by unnoticed, a hill on the horizon, but underneath that hill is Catal Huyuk, the largest ancient city ever located by archaeologists.
Somewhere around 8,500 years ago, Catal Huyuk was a bustling city, and home to what is thought to be around 5,000 people. Its inhabitants lived in well-made homes that boasted brick walls which were covered with plaster; roofs were flat, and their wooden beams were strewn with grass. Their homes were also connected (perhaps for protection), had no doors, and the citizens of that city entered their homes through holes in the roof and ladders that awaited their arrivals and departures. The city had no streets.
Visitors to the city would have been impressed by its size, but the buildings themselves held no beauty on the outside. It would have been an invitation into someone’s home that would have changed that impression. Interiors were richly decorated; walls were covered with artistic depictions of cattle, leopards, and various species of plants. Each home was equipped with a fireplace, an oven, and reed covered platforms that served as sofas during the day and beds at night. Each home had a storage room, and the people of the city depended on the things held within it. Clay pots stored enough wheat and barley that a family could subsist on it for an entire year.
Catal Huyuk was not only self-supporting, it created surpluses. Its farmers supplied food for the entire city, a task that left them time for little else, but it was their accomplishments that allowed further specialization to occur. The farmers planted and harvested the crops; others made wheat from what they provided. Houses needed building, bricks needed making, women needed utensils, and everyone was still in need of tools. The community initially thrived economically on this new method of exchange, little did they know that soon their city would be booming with trade.
Catal Huyuk eventually transitioned from a city of independence and self-support to one of trade. Technology was developed that enabled craft workers to create jewelry, and the discovery of copper gave the jewelry a new look. Fine pottery that was ever more intricate in design became commonplace. Wool from domesticated sheep was separated and twisted into thread, and looms were created allowing cloth to be made. This woven cloth is thought to be the first of its kind. The use of obsidian continued; it was valuable, and it was desired. Obsidian not only made the sharpest knives, it also made the most beautiful mirrors. But what did Catal Huyuk need in trade?
That answer is a simple one. Archaeologists have found evidence of an abundance of materials within the mound that would not have been available in the area. The forests were miles and miles away, and yet, Catal Huyuk used wood in the construction of their homes. The copper used in the making of jewelry and tools was not native to the area, but they had obtained it, and someone must have supplied it. Remains of Syrian pottery have also been discovered there, as have seashells from the Red Sea; they didn’t get there by themselves. Who brought them? Who might have traded the sound of the ocean for a copper ring? Who might have bartered a Syrian pot for a mirror of obsidian?
The New Stone Age was a time of discovery and settlement; it was a time when communities prospered and a time when humanity was able to dream of a life different than that of their ancestors. Catal Huyuk is an example of the changes that agriculture brought into the world, but more changes were to come. The first civilizations would soon follow the city under the hill; they grew near rivers-different rivers, and in different countries, but grow they did. Some have even left records of their lives behind, and we will be looking at them soon………… but not today.