Advances made by Man in New Stone Age

About 8000 B.C. another period in man’s progress toward civilization began. This was the Middle Stone Age, or the Mesolithic period. Before the beginning of this age, the glacial ice retreated and the forests expanded to the north. A few important inventions appeared. One was the microlith, a small, pointed blade of stone used for knives, arrow points, and spearheads. The microlith was a crowning achievement in stone tools made by chipping because it was so light that hundreds of microliths could be made from a single pound of stone.

Another notable Mesolithic advance was the first crude pottery made of sun-baked clay, pots were used to store food and water. The bow and arrow, invented either late in the Paleolithic period or in the Mesolithic period, served hunters and fighters until the firearm took its place in the 14th century a.d. Probably during Mesolithic times, wild dogs, such as jackals, attached themselves to human settlements. They became valuable to men in hunting and in guarding property. Since many Mesolithic peoples lived along the shores of rivers, lakes, and seas, fish was their main food. They invented the fishhook, numerous types of nets, and learned how to hollow out logs to make boats.

About 6000 B.C. the Middle Stone Age gradually gave way to the New Stone Age, or Neolithic period, which lasted until about 3000 B.C. New Stone Age peoples learned to sharpen stone tools and weapons by grinding them against gritty stones instead of by chipping or flaking them. This skill gave the period its name, but it is only one of many which distinguish New Stone Age peoples from their Old Stone Age ancestors.

Man began to farm

Of the important discoveries made in the New Stone Age, the most far-reaching were new ways of getting food. In addition to hunting and gathering, man learned to tame animals so that they would be near when he needed meat. Neolithic man learned to tame such animals as sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle. When herds and flocks of these domesticated, or tamed, animals ate most of the grass supply near a camping place, the herdsmen and their families moved on to fresh grazing lands.

This way of life is called pastoral, or nomadic, and the people who wander from pasture to pasture are called nomads. About this same time man made one of the greatest discoveries of all time when he found that seeds planted in the earth would grow into plants and furnish many seeds. Thus, man became a food grower— a farmer. With this new knowledge of herding animals and raising plants, man could produce his food supply, and he no longer needed to depend on luck in hunting animals or in finding edible fruits, roots, and seeds. He and his family became safer from starvation. New Stone Age man developed other skills. During the New Stone Age, man learned to spin and weave. Goats’ hair could be woven directly into cloth. Later, man learned to spin the fleece from sheep and the fibers of flax to make thread and to weave threads into cloth.

During this period, man probably learned to press and roll animal hairs together to make warm felt blankets. Man kept on making important discoveries at an ever faster rate. The development of agriculture led to the invention of hoes and other stone tools for cultivating the soil and to the use of milling stones for grinding grain. He improved pottery making by heating the clay in a fire, so that the pots were more substantial. In time, potters learned to make a wide variety of cups, bowls, and plates and to decorate them with paint.

Man learned to live in communities

During the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages, men learned to help each other in hunting and fishing. Groups of families joined together for this purpose and formed a simple type of community. When men began to farm, they established permanent settlements. Farmers began to think of the land they farmed as belonging to themselves or to their own group, and not to other people. To protect their fields and animals, groups of farmers formed villages or small towns as strongholds against enemies.

As people began to live together in larger groups, they had to make rules or laws regulating conduct and to create governments to enforce these laws. Scholars believe that in the earliest food-producing societies the government was controlled by a small group of arms-bearing men, each of whom had a voice in the government. In the more advanced food producing societies, the government usually came under the control of wealthier members of the group.

Often a chief became recognized as the ruler, and he made the decisions for the entire group. Anthropologists believe that behaviour among Stone Age men was regulated by custom. Different groups of Stone Age people formed their own rules for marriage, for the treatment and education of children, for the distribution of food, and for other relationships that existed among the members of the group.

One who violated a custom was considered a wrongdoer. Throughout much of the Stone Age, punishment for wrongdoing probably took the form of simple ridicule. A man who cheated or injured one of his fellows was subject to the scorn of all the members of his group. For people living in small bands in which everyone knew everyone else intimately, unpopularity was a severe form of punishment. Even within small groups, however, certain offenses, such as treason, were subject to formal punishment. The wrongdoer, if found guilty, could be executed or outlawed from the group. When men became farmers and when groups became larger, more and more offenses became subject to group punishment. Laws developed which specified the punishment to be given for each offense.

The Code of Hammurabi, represents an advanced stage in laws regulating group living. Such laws had their beginnings in the Stone Age. Religion, too, became more elaborate as men learned to live in groups. Religion and magic were closely associated. People turned to medicine men to ward off droughts, famines, floods, and plagues. To gain favor with the spirits of nature, people of the New Stone Age developed religious ceremonies, particularly dances. These ceremonies often were carried out for the purpose of bringing good crops. In some groups the powers of nature were believed to be gods. To gain favor with the gods, men prayed to them and offered them gifts.

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