(Chapter IV, section 1)



The word Neolithic has two meanings, one purely technical, and the other of broader implications: (1) the manufacture and use of polished stone implements, in the form of axes, adzes, gouges, chisels, and hoes; (2) the conquest of the procreative forces of the biological world, through agriculture and animal husbandry. These two definitions, implying tools on the one hand and food on the other, do not always overlap, for some peoples may be considered Neolithic in one of the two senses only. Of the two, only the second is of really vital importance in human history. In fact, the change from food-gathering to food-producing was the greatest step in human development since the invention of language.1

The initial adoption of a Neolithic economy occurred, however, at few centers on the earth; one in the Old World and another in the New are all of which we can be sure at present. In the Old World, the plants and animals which were suitable for domestication ranged in a wild state in the highland zone from Anatolia to the Indus, with some species extending out along the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Abyssinia may have been a separate center for the domestication of some grain plants, but probably not of animals. Perhaps when the Yemen shall have been studied by economic botanists, this fertile highland on the other side of the Red Sea will assume a like importance.

In the millennia during which the glacier was retreating to its Scandinavian center and growing thinner, the climatic zones which made a well-watered grassland of this entire plateau belt moved northward, and the regions in which Old World civilization originated grew gradually drier. Afghanistan and Iran, now for the most part nearly desert plateaux, were then fertile; in Egypt the valley of the Nile was a string of swamps and jungly lakes, full of crocodiles and hippopotami.

It is now generally believed, although still unproven, that agriculture and the domestication of animals did not arise in the three valleys of the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus, but in the highlands between them. The river valleys became important as centers of civilization because seasonal flooding and the deposit of fresh alluvium made it impossible for primitive farmers to exhaust the soil, thus permitting sedentary residence; furthermore, the development of irrigation and drainage canals were public works necessitating social solidarity, and kingdoms arose here while the highlanders kept to their villages and fought their feuds, as many of them still do today.

As Childe has pointed out, the acquisition of a new and more productive means of economic life has as one of its first effects an increase in the population. Agriculture and the domestication of animals did not appear in one day. The acquisition of a full Neolithic economy may have taken one or more millennia, and it only very gradually replaced hunting and collecting. The primitive slash-and-burn system, which must have been the first followed, and which was the earliest in Europe, prevents intensive use of the soil and promotes a slow but nevertheless positive type of nomadism.

The desiccation which followed the movement of the rain zones northward resulted initially in the migration of peoples into Palestine, North Africa, and southern Europe, in the form of the Mesolithic invasions, which we have already studied. These movements were not extensive, however, because the new economy of food production permitted a greater utilization of the drying soil on which wild animal and vegetable life, useful to man, had grown scarce. For a while emigration was unnecessary; but when the inevitable population increase had come, western Asia overflowed, and farmers moved into regions where the climate which had formerly blessed their homelands now prevailed.

The desiccation which followed the shifting of the cyclonic storm belts did not become complete until what is called, in northern Europe, Atlantic time, that is, in the neighborhood of 5000 B.C. Only by this time had Europe, south of the newly formed northern forest, really become climatically what the highland belt had been before—a temperate, well-watered parkland, instead of a chilly, treeless plain.

The same general date, 5000 B.C., may be tentatively set as the time of the beginning of agriculture and animal domestication. It was not until almost 2000 years later, however, that the disciples of this new economy were to expand and invade more than the threshold of Europe.

The Neolithic invaders of Europe, seeking new lands for farming and grazing, came as a further result of the same environmental shift which had impelled the earlier Mesolithic invaders, whom they supplemented without a gap, and with whom they blended. But the Neolithic invasion was not as simple as the Mesolithic. As the new economy spread, it affected a number of peoples. whose reactions were not all the same. Europe, the flew Stronghold of a lost climate, was broached in different places and in different ways.


Map 2 will show, in a very general sense, the time scale of Neolithic invasions into Europe, and the routes by which these invasions may have come. It is to be noted that Crete became Neolithic before any of the European mainland, followed by Greece and the land near the Bosporus; eventually these agriculturalists spread into all the northern Mediterranean lands by sea. Meanwhile, other Neolithic farmers had been moving along the coast of North Africa from Egypt, and had crossed over Gibraltar to invade Spain. Hence they migrated northward and eastward, as far as the Swiss lakes and the Rhine.2 Their agriculture, and their pig, sheep, and cattle husbandry, eventually spread over most of western Europe and even into England. At the same time still other farmers, in this case coming from Anatolia, or southeastern Russia, or both, were moving up the Danube, and eventually established themselves in the fertile valleys of Moravia and Bohemia, and even farther westward until they met the stream coming northward over Gibraltar.

These three movements were the primary invasions which brought a new, agricultural population into Europe. Later in the Neolithic there were two other movements of a different character. One was that of the Megalith-builders who sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar and skirted the western shores of Europe to the British Isles and Scandinavia. These seafarers probably introduced the new economy to the northern isles and Scandinavia. Then there were the Corded people, so-called on account of the decoration on their pottery—who came from some mysterious point in southern Russia or the steppes of western Asia north of the plateau, and who were probably less dependent on farming than on pastoral nomadjsm and trade. Just as the Megalithic people carried civilization to the far western corners of Europe by sea, so the Corded people introduced the new enlightenment into the north, where the old hunting and fishing life survived.

Five invasions, then, converging on Europe from the south and east, brought a new population to Europe during the third millennium B.C., and furnished the racial material from which living European populations are to a large extent descended.


1 Childe, V. Gordon, The Dawn of European Civilization; The Most Ancient East; The Danube in Prehistory; New Light on the Most Ancient East; Man Makes Himself.

2 Menghin, O., Weltgeschichte der Steinzeit, pp. 294—302.