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10.1 The Age of Cultivation Begins

The Neolithic phase of human affairs began in Europe about 10,000 or 12,000 years ago. But probably men had reached the Neolithic stage elsewhere some thousands of years earlier. Neolithic men came slowly into Europe from the south or south-east as the reindeer and the open steppes gave way to forest and modern European conditions.

The Neolithic stage in culture is characterized by:

  1. The presence of polished stone implements, and in particular the stone axe, which was perforated so as to be the more effectually fastened to a wooden handle, and which was probably used rather for working wood than in conflict. There are also abundant arrow-heads. The fact that some implements are polished does not preclude the presence of great quantities of implements of unpolished stone. But there are differences in the make between even the unpolished tools of the Neolithic and of the Paleolithic Period.
  2. The beginning of a sort of agriculture, and the use of plants and seeds. But at first there are abundant evidences that hunting was still of great importance in the Neolithic Age. Neolithic man did not at first sit down to his agriculture. He took snatch crops. He settled later.
  3. Pottery and proper cooking. The horse is no longer eaten.
  4. Domesticated animals. The dog appears very early. The Neolithic man had domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. He was a huntsman turned herdsman of the herds he once hunted.
  5. Plaiting and weaving.

These Neolithic people probably “migrated” into Europe, in the same way that the Reindeer Men had migrated before them; that is to say, generation by generation and century by century, as the climate changed, they spread after their accustomed food. They were not ?nomads?. Nomadism, like civilization, had still to be developed. At present we are quite unable to estimate how far the Neolithic peoples were new-comers and how far their arts were developed or acquired by the descendants of some of the hunters and fishers of the Later Paleolithic Age.

Whatever our conclusions in that matter, this much we may say with certainty; there is no great break, no further sweeping away of one kind of man and replacement by another kind between the appearance of the Neolithic way of living and our own time. There are invasions, conquests, extensive emigrations and intermixtures, but the races as a whole carry on and continue to adapt themselves to the areas into which they began to settle in the opening of the Neolithic Age. The Neolithic men of Europe were white men ancestral to the modern Europeans. They may have been of a darker complexion than many of their descendants; of that we cannot speak with certainty. But there is no real break in culture from their time onward until we reach the age of coal, steam, and power-driven machinery that began in the eighteenth century.

Figure 79

Figure 79: Neolithic Implements

After a long time gold, the first known of the metals, appears among the bone ornaments with jet and amber. Irish Neolithic remains are particularly rich in gold. Then, perhaps 6,000 or 7,000 years ago in Europe, Neolithic people began to use copper in certain centres, making out of it implements of much the same pattern as their stone ones. They cast the copper in moulds made to the shape of the stone implements. Possibly they first found native copper and hammered it into shape.[1] Later — we will not venture upon figures — men had found out how to get copper from its ore. Perhaps, as Lord Avebury suggested, they discovered the secret of smelting by the chance putting of lumps of copper ore among the ordinary stones with which they built the fire pits they used for cooking. In China, Hungary, Cornwall, and elsewhere copper ore and tinstone occur in the same veins; it is a very common association, and so, rather through dirtiness than skill, the ancient smelters, it may be, hit upon the harder and better bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin. Bronze is not only harder than copper, but the mixture of tin and copper is more fusible and easier to reduce. The so-called ?pure-copper? implements usually contain a small proportion of tin, and there are no tin implements known, nor very much evidence to show that early men knew of tin as a separate metal.[2] [3] The plant of a prehistoric copper smelter has been found in Spain, and the material of bronze foundries in various localities. The method of smelting revealed by these finds carries out Lord Avebury’s suggestion. In India, where zinc and copper ore occur together, brass (which is an alloy of the two metals) was similarly hit upon.

So slight was the change in fashions and methods produced by the appearance of bronze, that for a long time such bronze axes and so forth as were made were cast in moulds to the shape of the stone, implements they were superseding.

Finally, perhaps as early as 3,000 years ago in Europe, and even earlier in Asia Minor, men began to smelt iron. Once smelting was known to men, there is no great marvel in the finding of iron. They smelted iron by blowing up a charcoal fire, and wrought it by heating and hammering. They produced it at first in comparatively small pieces;[4] its appearance worked a gradual revolution in weapons and implements; but it did not suffice to change the general character of men’s surroundings. Much the same daily life that was being led by the more settled Neolithic men 10,000 years ago, was being led by peasants in out-of-the-way places all over Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

People talk of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age in Europe, but it is misleading to put these ages as if they were of equal importance in history. Much truer is it to say that there was:

  1. An Early Paleolithic Age, of vast duration;
  2. A Later Paleolithic Age, that lasted not a tithe of the time; and
  3. The Age of Cultivation, the age of the white men in Europe, which began 10,000 or at most 12,000 years ago, of which the Neolithic Period was the beginning, and which is still going on.
[1]Native copper is still found to-day in Italy, Hungary, Cornwall, and many other places.
[2]Ridgeway (Early Age of Greece) says a lump of tin has been found in the Swiss pile-dwelling deposits.
[3]Tin was always known as a foreign import in Egypt under the XVIIIth Dynasty; there is (rare) Mycenaean tin, and there are (probably later, but not clearly dated) tin objects in the Caucasus. But it is very difficult to distinguish tin from antimony. There is a good deal of Cyprus bronze which contains antimony; a good deal which seems to be tin is antimony?the ancients trying to get tin, but actually getting antimony and thinking it was tin. —J. L. M.
[4]In connection with iron, note the distinction of ornamental and useful iron. Ornamental iron, a rarity, perhaps meteoric, as jewelry or magical stuff, occurs in east Europe sporadically in the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty. This must be distinguished from the copious useful iron which appears in Greece much later from the North —J. L. M.

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