The Neolithic

After thousands of years of people being hunter gatherers, between 10,000 and  5000BC (depending on where you were) some interesting things started to happen. This was the start of the New Stone Age or Neolithic.

Around this time in North Africa and the Middle East, people gradually worked out how to farm crops and domesticate animals. This made a huge difference to people lives. They had a stable source of food and started to settle in one place. They started to make pottery to store food in, and ate more cereals and bread. They lived in permanent houses and in much larger settlements like Çatalhöyük, an amazingly preserved town of mud brick houses in Turkey.

The inside of a house at Çatalhöyük. Phototgraph by Stipich Bela, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

The inside of a house at Çatalhöyük. Phototgraph by Stipich Bela, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Eventually, and quite slowly, these ideas started to spread to other parts of Europe and to the British Isles. For the first time people were able to produce more food than they needed, which could then be stored or traded. The neolithic saw the start of trade across the British Isles and the development of new technologies.

It also saw the start of a building boom. Monuments started to appear all over the British Isles like causewayed enclosures (rings of banks and ditches) and henges including the amazing giant stone circles at Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney.

Avebury stone circle. Photograph by Jim Champion, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Avebury stone circle. Photograph by Jim Champion, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

No-one really know for sure what these huge monuments were for, but they were such astounding feats of engineering which must have taken thousands of people, and thousands of hours to build, that they must have been very important. There is no evidence that anyone lived in them, and some of them point in the direction of the rising sun on midsummers day!

What do you think they were used for? Here are some ideas other people have had:

  • – places to hold special ceremonies or rituals?
  • – trade centres?
  • – meeting places for feasting? (though now evidence shows this is most likely to have happened nearby, but not inside the henges)
  • – burial sites, or monuments to the dead? (a lot of cremated human bones have been found at stonehenge)
  • – observatories to look at the stars and moon?

Eventually people worked out how to make metals stronger and use them to make stronger better tools and weapons. In Britain this happened around 2500BC and was the start of the Bronze age.

Want to find out more? Have a look at our resource page which has links to some great sites and Stone age games. Or why not try some Stone age crafts?

If you are interested in Stonehenge have a look at this fantastic book, The Secrets of Stonehenge, by Mick Manning and Brita Granström.

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What a beautiful book! It gives a brief history of the Stone age in Britain and then describes the building of Stonehenge in more detail. The illustrations are colourful and vibrant and really make you feel like you are right there building stonehenge too. It made me realise what a huge undertaking Stonehenge was, involving an enormous number of people in a very organised way. It summarises everything archaeologists know about Stonehenge in a very easy to understand way, which I suspect was no easy task.

and this one…

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The Boy with the Bronze Axe by Kathleen Fidler.

This novel was written in the 1960’s and is the story of the people of Skara Brae seen through the eyes of a boy who arrives in a boat from the mainland. It might be a bit slow moving compared to books like Harry Potter and Alex Rider, but I liked the descriptions of everyday life and it is fun to read someone else’s ideas on how Neolithic stone circles were used.