The Neolithic period is also known as the New Stone Age and occurred about 9500 BC in the Middle East. It marked the time when people stopped being nomadic hunters and started to use agriculture as a way of life.
The Neolithic period is defined by its behavioural and cultural characteristic which takes into account the natural progression from the use of wild to domestic crops and the use of livestock.
Neolithic people were extremely successful farmers, and particularly adept at producing the tools needed for the tending, harvesting and processing of their crops. Tools such as sickle blades, grinding stones, projectile points, stone axes, axe hammers, flint scrapers and knives were all fashioned from flint or stone.
The earliest signs of farming communities have been found in the Levant, which was seen to spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. Early farmers were limited to what they could grow both types of crops being wild and domesticated, and included einkom, wheat, millet and spelt. The first kind of wild stock tended was was limited to dogs, sheep and goats. By 8000 BC a farm would also include animals such as cattle and pigs, supporting an inhabited settlement that used pottery.
By around the 4000 BC period, the ideas, technology and first kind of livestock arrived in England from across the channel. Farming became quickly established throughout the British Isles and heralded an incredible social change that was to have a monumental effect on everyday life.
The oldest known tool for making flour was found at an ancient settlement on the banks of the river Euphrates at Abu Hureyra in modern Syria. The “quern” is shaped liked a saddle and was fashioned by hammering a piece of basalt into shape. The heavy nature of the tool meant that it would have been used on ground level.
Its shape suggests that the narrow end touched the operator’s knee and signs of wear suggest that it was in heavy use at the time. It was used by placing grain on the surface of the quern which was then rubbed into flour by using an oblong rubbing stone. The resulting flour had many uses such as porridge or bread.
Skeletons found in burials at Abu Hureyra suggest that the job of grinding the flour was left to the women. Tests have revealed injuries to the toes, knees and hip and evidence of osteoarthritis which occurred mostly in the female skeletons found on site.
The pre-pottery Neolithic period is characterized by the appearance of tools such as axes, adzes, and arrowheads. This period also includes sickle heads and can be seen to be a development of tools that already existed in the latter part of the Epipalacolithic period. The use of scrapers, burins and awls is evident, but the fashioning of blades predominated at this time.
Polishing the blade with the use of sand and water became a standard Neolithic procedure for sharpening axes and adzes and also provided a pleasing finish for ornamental or cult objects. A common type of sickle blade is characterized by the heavy indenture ion its active edge.
An adze is a tool for smoothing or carving wood. They are mostly used for squaring up wood or for hollowing out timber. Basalt, amphibolites and Jadeite were typical materials used during the Neolithic period. Commonly known as Shoe-last or celts, they are typically found in the Linear Pottery and Rossen cultures of the early Neolithic.
An anvil was usually a stone that served as a resting place for the tool or object during its fashioning. It is characterized by extensive use and show as a series of indentations and pitting toward the center
A hammerstone was the tool used to knock the flakes from the core of an extremely hard rock such as flint or quartz.
Handaxes are also known as bifaces and were almond or pear shaped and set in a wooden haft. Handaxes were seen to be in common use due to the extensive reworking over large areas of the surfaces and the evidence of flake scars.
Scrapers were a common tool and were used to scrape material such as wood, bone, and hide.
Excavations made from the site of the Yarmukian or Sha’ar Hagolan Culture have shown an abundance of artifacts which help to give a good indication of what life was like then and how tools were made and used. For example studies concluded that flint tools were widely used and were produced from flint cores that were collected as pebbles from the river banks.
The New Stone Age ended when people started to shape their tools from copper and bronze. It was a gradual process and happened at different times in various parts of the world. Even today there are people living in New Guinea, Africa and Ausralia who still use tools made exclusively from stone.
Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land By Avraham Negev, Shimon Gibson Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005
Stone Tools and Society: Working Stone in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain by Mark Edmonds Routledge 1995