Neolithic or the new Stone age, was a period of refinement of human tools techniques. It began about 10,000 BC, and lasted for next 6000 to 8000 years, or the onset of metals (Bronze and Iron) ages. The start and end periods are varied in different geological and climatic regions, and the defining parameters. Its beginning however, matches the global warming at the end of the ice age.
The global warming of the climate led to many changes in world landscapes. Large parts of coastal areas were submerged due to the rise in sea levels. It closed many of the intercontinental land links and bridges. Melting of glaciers created new water reservoirs like rivers and lakes. Yet receding ice made very large area habitable. The change in the climate gave rise to a variety of plants, especially cereal grasses. Neolithic age people changed their lifestyles and nature of the livelihood. Hunter-gatherers now became farmers. The agriculture productivity was high enough to sustain the ever growing population and also feed the domesticated animals. Many of the ice age animals such as the mammoth, mastodon, and woolly rhino became extinct due to climate change.
Small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers moved to alluvial lands and established high density settlements. Peoples’ longevity increased due to better living conditions and lesser dangers. The village provided safety and security with centralized administration and political structure of participatory democracy. Livelihoods shifted from far-off jungles and mineral resources to local agrarian activities, labour diversification and trading activities. Local Material resources were now intensively exploited using refined tools and techniques.
Wall craft forms -materials and techniques
Settlements of the Neolithic period were culturally and politically better organized then the groups of hunters during Palaeolithic era. Neolithic age individuals had unique means of livelihood and manner of subsistence and yet this has ensued to a variety of architectural entities, societal structures and technologies.
Structures that reflect the environmental, political, economic and social changes taking place in the Neolithic age, were the megaliths, Stonehenge, Stone circles, burial barrows and chamber tombs, Dolmens, Causeway Camps, Ditch Rings, water wells and irrigation systems, stilted dwellings, temples and buildings for unknown (possibly religious or astronomical) purpose. Many of these must have been multi community endeavours requiring huge expense of man power effort and time. The larger of the communities were populated by 6000 persons and to be viable must have required very large resources’ area.
Inter community projects were well sited to take maximum advantage of the topographical features for transportation of raw materials, location and operations.
Causewayed enclosures or Camps were Castles like inter community facilities for defensive, offensive and many other purposes. These were located on a high ground or a hill, encircled by one to four concentric ditches with an internal bank, and often close to a river or sea front. Unlike the causewayed enclosures the Ring ditches were smaller in size and served only funerary function. These enclosures were rarely permanently occupied, rather visited occasionally by Neolithic groups. The sequential addition of second, third and fourth circuits of banks and ditches may have been to meet the ever growing populations. These were community interaction places, trading posts, animal compounds and defence retreat against intruders or invasion from other groups. Environmental archaeology suggests that the surroundings of the Causewayed enclosures were heavily forested (then), and required frequent clearings and ditch excavation for maintenance. Causewayed enclosures have very little built structures of non perishable materials like stones or adobe bricks.
For further reading: Introduction to Heritage Assets Causewayed Enclosures http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/iha-causewayed-enclosures/causewayedenclosures.pdf
Dolmens are Neolithic period structures of a single chamber or shaded area. Many different uses are ascribed for it, and the most plausible one is being a funerary place, portal tomb, grave or quoit. It is formed of one very large capstone which was hollowed out at bottom to insert three or more upright stones to support it. Dolmens were often covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow. Dead bodies were placed here till their degeneration into bones.
|A crucuno dolmen, in Plouharnel (Morbihan, Brittany, France). This is thought to bea burial chamber. It has a 40-ton cap stone on the top. It is dated 4000BC.|
Burial practices indicate that the dead or their bones were buried under the floors of houses. Skulls, separated from the bodies were plastered with mud and painted to remake the facial features. The neolithic age represents advancements over the stone age for the tools and implements had well designed and connected handles, providing greater efficiency. Hand tools were better fashioned, and had often polished finish. However, the skill and zeal for refinement are absent from the structures of Neolithic community, such as the Causewayed enclosures or Dolmens.
Materials of construction were mostly of local origin like mud, twigs, grasses, etc. At places stones were hauled via rivers from long distances for construction of megaliths. Dwellings were of adobe or mud bricks, where the surfaces were coated with mud plaster and rendered with white or lighter colour coats. The walls were reinforced with twigs and grasses. Dwellings had designed storage places for seasonal farm and animal products, both in interior and exterior sections. At places house entrances were from the roof.
Wattle and daub is a wall making material composite formed with a woven lattice of twigs or grasses, called ‘wattle’ which is daubed with mud or mineral clay mixed with sand, hair straw, and animal dung. It is similar to technique like lath and plaster. ‘At Çatal höyük, an ancient village in modern Turkey, the neolithic houses were plastered and painted with elaborate scenes of humans and animals as well as geometric motifs.’
Wall craft of neolithic period, was restricted to renderings on the walls personal dwellings. Megalithic stone works were of unfinished stones, perhaps because technologically stone tools were inadequate for fashioning a smooth finish. Though many new crafts emerged such as clay pottery and moulding of statuettes, clay firing, pottery painting, weaving, architecture, devising storage utilities of movable and fixed nature. Writing with pictographs and abstract signs, on walls and clay tablets was becoming a great engagement. Metallurgy was beginning as source of material that required heating and beating, rather then sculpting (wood, stone) or moulding (clay).