Assess the possible consequences of the Neolithic revolution on social structures. When talking about the Neolithic Revolution, we are referring to the time when food production, plant cultivation and animal domestication were developed (circa 11,550 BP). It indicates the first cultural period in a region in which the first signs of domestication are present. This can also be described as the shift from hunting and gathering societies to agricultural and pastoral societies. The change in society had many social ramifications. Mesolithic hunting and gathering societies lived in relatively small kinship groups, moving across the landscape searching for food. They would often move with the seasons to different areas as different foods became available. Their groups would stay small enough to be able to live off the land without having to cultivate extra food. They were nomadic people with little possessions, mainly tools and very primitive shelter structures. It has been argued that women had an equal importance in these societies to men as they contributed an equal amount of food to the group as men did. Due to a combination of factors including climatic change, increase in population and extinction of certain species, their way of life became unsustainable. They were forced to look for other ways to collect food; this led to the Neolithic Revolution. During the Neolithic Revolution, the population grew and developed itself into a more sophisticated society. At the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution, people planted enough food to sustain them and their immediate families. As time went on and people became more skilled agriculturalists, they produced more food than they needed to survive. This surplus they traded for other goods or animals. The secondary products revolution added more possibilities to the population. Not only did animal by-products allow pastoralists to live in arid areas, the traction that domesticated animals provided, allowed agriculturalists to farm other regions where the ground was harder and less yielding. This in turn increased the produce farmers could extract from the land. In doing so, the number of people supported by a certain block of land could grow and in turn allowed the population to grow even more. The early agricultural societies would have decided to live in permanent settings in order to tend their crops. They would have lived in small communities and built permanent dwellings. In order to make sure there was some kind of order in the community, a village chief or head would have been elected. These chiefs were often the larger, wealthier farmers who had a large surplus of produce, thus putting them in a position of power. With the production of surplus, the need for storage would have occurred. In addition to their dwellings, they built storehouses. They would also have had to store their food in something therefor increasing the need for pottery and ceramics. New skills developed as they adapted to their new way of life. Not just pottery and ceramics but, in time, metal work, cotton spinners, scribes and priests. A new way of life was created because there was enough surplus food to support a wealth of specialists who had a trade, which could be bought in return for food. With time, a currency developed which was implemented in a certain area. This means that the value of the currency would have been discussed and agreed upon by a ruling elite. Probably the most significant consequence of the Neolithic Revolution was the concentration of wealth. Land became scarce private property. It no longer belonged to kinship groups but belonged to an individual or family. Food extracted from the land was no longer shared amongst the group but belonged to an individual. This ensured that any surplus would be used to improve the situation of that individual. Those who had large surpluses could buy up more land and become part of an “elite”. This wealth of property would be transmitted through lineages. When wealthy families control a large estate, marriage becomes an important part of creating alliances with other wealthy families. Arranged marriages ensure that property will be contained within a few wealthy families. In the emergence of a number of “elite families”, this resulted in a class structure developing which consists of Nobles, Commoners & Slaves. The creation of a class structure, indicates that there is a central governing body. This implies a complex society with one ruler or a ruling elite, which the rest of the population accepts as their unconditional leader. In return for taxes, the leader would have to provide certain provisions for the people. These provisions include irrigation systems, in times of scarcity, they would regulate the distribution of food and they would also protect the community from outside dangers such as invasions. With the development of agriculture, people became more protective of their land. People found safety in numbers and built protective walls around their settlements. Religion was a key feature in Neolithic times. In Neolithic settlements, clear evidence of temples and large structures where sacrifices took place have been found. They practiced ancestor worship as well as believing in a variety of gods. Burial chambers became more elaborate. They buried their dead with objects, which indicates that they believe in an afterlife. Religion appears to have been very important to the Neolithic people as the largest buildings in their societies are dedicated to gods. The status of women diminished significantly as a result of the Neolithic Revolution. Because farming women do not have to carry their children, and perhaps because farming yields more suitable baby food than hunting and gathering, especially where milk animals are kept, the families of farmers tend to be larger than those of hunter-gatherers, where women try to avoid having more than one child to carry. Women’s place in society shifted from the fields to the home. This led them to develop other skills such as spinning, weaving and textile production. Due to this occupation differentiation, one occupation became more important than the other, which resulted in a power differentiation between sexes. This power differentiation has been in place ever since. In conclusion, there are many possible consequences of the Neolithic Revolution on social structures. The Neolithic Revolution changed the entire composition of human civilisation. These consequences weren’t all immediately visible but took time to develop. First people clustered in permanent dwellings and started farming the land. Then farmers started producing a surplus with which he could trade. Women were forced into the home in order to look after children as agricultural work was physically too strenuous for them. A form of governance would have developed in order to keep order. Due to the production of surplus, an elite was created which was the foundation of the classist society and wealth concentration. Development of other trades, religion, cultural beliefs, formation of states and empires are all ultimately consequences of the Neolithic Revolution and the consequent social structures that were formed. Bibliography
• P Boggucki, The Origins of Human Society (Oxford, 1999) • RW Bulliet, The Camel and the Wheel (New York,1990)
• M Ehrenberg, Women in Prehistory (London, 1989), pp 41-76, from readings • I Hodder, The Domestication of Europe (Cambridge, 1990) • CP Kottak, Anthropology, 7th ed., (New York, 1997), pp.191-201, from readings • JVS Megaw (ed), Hunters, Gatherers and the First Farmers Beyond Europe (Leicester, 1977) • S Mithen, After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 – 5000 BC (London, 2003) • CA Reed (ed), Origins of Agriculture (Chicago, 1977) • N Roberts, The Holocenes: An Environmental History (Oxford, 1989) • IG Simmons, Changing the Face of the Earth (Oxford, 1998) • A Sherratt, ‘Plough and Pasturalism: Aspects of the Secondary Products Revolution’, in Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe (Princeton, 1997) from readings • BD Smith, The Emergence of Agriculture (New York, 1995) • PJ Ucko & GW Dimbleby (ed), The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals (London, 1969) • PJ Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species (London,1988)
What was the Neolithic revolution?
What Social structures existed before the Neolithic Revolution? What were the consequences?
• Agriculture allowed the number of people supported by an area to rise • Land became scarce private property. No longer part of a kin group’s estate, land could be bought and sold • Those who had large surpluses, could buy up more land and become part of an “elite” • This resulted in a class structure developing which resulted in Nobles, Commoners & Slaves • Transmission of property through lineages
• Occupation differentiation, one occupation more important than the other, resulted in power differentiation between sexes. • Women’s place in society shifted from the fields to the home. Led them to develop other skills such as spinning, weaving and textile production. • Importance of marriage. Marriage became organised in order to keep land within the family or a certain elite. Women used as “Land Carriers” A Sherratt, ‘Plough and Pasturalism: Aspects of the Secondary Products Revolution’, in Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe (Princeton, 1997) Why did things change?
 CP Kottak, Anthropology, 7th ed., (New York, 1997), pp.192  M Ehrenberg, Women in Prehistory (London, 1989), pp 60
 A Sherratt, ‘Plough and Pasturalism: Aspects of the Secondary Products Revolution’, in Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe (Princeton, 1997), pp 194  JVS Megaw (ed), ‘The Advantage of Agriculture’, in Hunters, Gatherers and Firsts Farmers Beyond Europe (Leicester 1977), pp 46  A Sherratt, ‘Plough and Pasturalism: Aspects of the Secondary Products Revolution’, in Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe (Princeton, 1997), pp 195