Neolithic Europe


Neolithic Europe is the period when Neolithic technology was present in Europe, roughly between 7000 BCE (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) and c. 1700 BCE (the beginning of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia). The Neolithic overlaps the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe as cultural changes moved from the southeast to northwest at about 1 km/year – this is called the Neolithic Expansion.[1]

Chronology of arrival times of the Neolithic transition in Europe from 9,000 to 3,500 before present
Female figure from Tumba Madžari, North Macedonia

The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place, its end marked by the introduction of bronze implements: in southeast Europe it is approximately 4,000 years (i.e. 7000 BCE–3000 BCE) while in parts of Northwest Europe it is just under 3,000 years (c. 4500 BCE–1700 BCE).

The spread of the Neolithic from the Near East Neolithic to Europe was first studied quantitatively in the 1970s, when a sufficient number of 14C age determinations for early Neolithic sites had become available.[2] Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza discovered a linear relationship between the age of an Early Neolithic site and its distance from the conventional source in the Near East (Jericho), thus demonstrating that the Neolithic spread at an average speed of about 1 km/yr.[2] More recent studies confirm these results and yield the speed of 0.6–1.3 km/yr at 95% confidence level.[2]

Basic cultural characteristicsEdit

An array of Neolithic artifacts, including bracelets, axe heads, chisels, and polishing tools.

Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale, family-based communities, subsisting on domesticated plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and with hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, that is, pottery made without the potter's wheel. Polished stone axes lie at the heart of the neolithic (new stone) culture, enabling forest clearance for agriculture and production of wood for dwellings, as well as fuel.[citation needed]

Ancient Greek Early and Middle Neolithic pottery 6500–5300 BCE. National Museum of Archaeology, Athens

There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000–4,000 people (e.g., Sesklo in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in Britain were small (possibly 50–100 people) and highly mobile cattle-herders.[original research?]

The details of the origin, chronology, social organization, subsistence practices and ideology of the peoples of Neolithic Europe are obtained from archaeology, and not historical records, since these people left none. Since the 1970s, population genetics has provided independent data on the population history of Neolithic Europe, including migration events and genetic relationships with peoples in South Asia.[original research?]

A further independent tool, linguistics, has contributed hypothetical reconstructions of early European languages and family trees with estimates of dating of splits, in particular theories on the relationship between speakers of Indo-European languages and Neolithic peoples. Some archaeologists believe that the expansion of Neolithic peoples from southwest Asia into Europe, marking the eclipse of Mesolithic culture, coincided with the introduction of Indo-European speakers,[3][page needed][4][page needed] whereas other archaeologists and many linguists believe the Indo-European languages were introduced from the Pontic-Caspian steppe during the succeeding Bronze Age.[5][page needed]


Neolithic expansion of Cardium pottery and Linear Pottery culture according to archaeology.
A stone used in Neolithic rituals, in Detmerode, Wolfsburg, Germany.

Archeologists trace the emergence of food-producing societies in the Levantine region of southwest Asia to the close of the last glacial period around 12,000 BCE, and these developed into a number of regionally distinctive cultures by the eighth millennium BCE. Remains of food-producing societies in the Aegean have been carbon-dated to around 6500 BCE at Knossos, Franchthi Cave, and a number of mainland sites in Thessaly. Neolithic groups appear soon afterwards in the Balkans and south-central Europe. The Neolithic cultures of southeastern Europe (the Balkans and the Aegean) show some continuity with groups in southwest Asia and Anatolia (e.g., Çatalhöyük).

In 2018, an 8,000-year-old ceramic figurine portraying the head of the "Mother Goddess", was found near Uzunovo, Vidin Province in Bulgaria, which pushes back the Neolithic revolution to 7th millennium BCE.[6]

Current evidence suggests that Neolithic material culture was introduced to Europe via western Anatolia, and that similarities in cultures of North Africa and the Pontic steppes are due to diffusion out of Europe. All Neolithic sites in Europe contain ceramics,[original research?] and contain the plants and animals domesticated in Southwest Asia: einkorn, emmer, barley, lentils, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle. Genetic data suggest that no independent domestication of animals took place in Neolithic Europe, and that all domesticated animals were originally domesticated in Southwest Asia.[7] The only domesticate not from Southwest Asia was broomcorn millet, domesticated in East Asia.[8][citation needed] The earliest evidence of cheese-making dates to 5500 BCE in Kuyavia, Poland.[9]

Archaeologists agreed for some time that the culture of the early Neolithic is relatively homogeneous, compared to the late Mesolithic. DNA studies tend to confirm this, indicating that agriculture was brought to Western Europe by the Aegean populations, that are known as 'the Aegean Neolithic farmers'. When these farmers arrived in Britain, DNA studies show that they did not seem to mix much with the earlier population of the Western Hunter-Gatherers. Instead, there was a substantial population replacement.[10][11]

The diffusion of these farmers across Europe, from the Aegean to Britain, took about 2,500 years (6500–4000 BCE). The Baltic region was penetrated a bit later, around 3500 BCE, and there was also a delay in settling the Pannonian plain. In general, colonization shows a "saltatory" pattern, as the Neolithic advanced from one patch of fertile alluvial soil to another, bypassing mountainous areas. Analysis of radiocarbon dates show clearly that Mesolithic and Neolithic populations lived side by side for as much as a millennium in many parts of Europe, especially in the Iberian peninsula and along the Atlantic coast.[12]

Investigation of the Neolithic skeletons found in the Talheim Death Pit suggests that prehistoric men from neighboring tribes were prepared to fight and kill each other in order to capture and secure women.[13] The mass grave at Talheim in southern Germany is one of the earliest known sites in the archaeological record that shows evidence of organised violence in Early Neolithic Europe, among various Linear Pottery culture tribes.[14]

End of the NeolithicEdit

With some exceptions, population levels rose rapidly at the beginning of the Neolithic until they reached the carrying capacity.[15] This was followed by a population crash of "enormous magnitude" after 5000 BCE, with levels remaining low during the next 1,500 years.[15]

Transition to the Copper ageEdit

Populations began to rise after 3500 BCE, with further dips and rises occurring between 3000 and 2500 BCE but varying in date between regions.[15] Around this time is the Neolithic decline, when populations collapsed across most of Europe, possibly caused by climatic conditions, plague, or mass migration. A study of twelve European regions found most experienced boom and bust patterns and suggested an "endogenous, not climatic cause".[16] Recent archaeological evidence suggests the possibility of plague causing this population collapse, as mass graves dating from around 2900 BCE were discovered containing fragments of Yersinia pestis genetic material consistent with pneumonic plague.[17]

The Chalcolithic Age in Europe started from about 3500 BC, followed soon after by the European Bronze Age. This also became a period of increased megalithic construction. From 3500 BCE, copper was being used in the Balkans and eastern and central Europe. Also, the domestication of the horse took place during that time, resulting in the increased mobility of cultures.

Nearing the close of the Neolithic, around 2500 BCE, large numbers of Eurasian steppe peoples migrated in Central and Eastern Europe.[18]



Ancient European Neolithic farmers were genetically closest to modern Anatolian and Aegean populations: genetic matrilineal distances between European Neolithic Linear Pottery Culture populations (5,500–4,900 calibrated BC) and modern Western Eurasian populations.[19]

Genetic studies since the 2010s have identified the genetic contribution of Neolithic farmers to modern European populations, providing quantitative results relevant to the long-standing "replacement model" vs. "demic diffusion" dispute in archaeology.

The earlier population of Europe were the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, called the "Western Hunter-Gatherers" (WHG). Later, the Neolithic farmers expanded from the Aegean and Near East; in various studies, they are described as the Early European Farmers (EEF); Aegean Neolithic Farmers (ANF),[11] First European Farmers (FEF), or also as the Early Neolithic Farmers (ENF).

A seminal 2014 study first identified the contribution of three main components to modern European lineages (the third being "Ancient North Eurasians", associated with the later Indo-European expansion). The EEF component was identified based on the genome of a woman buried c. 7,000 years ago in a Linear Pottery culture grave in Stuttgart, Germany.[20]

This 2014 study found evidence for genetic mixing between WHG and EEF throughout Europe, with the largest contribution of EEF in Mediterranean Europe (especially in Sardinia, Sicily, Malta and among Ashkenazi Jews), and the largest contribution of WHG in Northern Europe and among Basque people.[21]

Nevertheless, when the Neolithic farmers arrived in Britain, DNA studies show that these two groups did not seem to mix much. Instead, there was a substantial population replacement.[10][11]

Since 2014, further studies have refined the picture of interbreeding between EEF and WHG. In a 2017 analysis of 180 ancient DNA datasets of the Chalcolithic and Neolithic periods from Hungary, Germany and Spain, evidence was found of a prolonged period of interbreeding. Admixture took place regionally, from local hunter-gatherer populations, so that populations from the three regions (Germany, Iberia and Hungary) were genetically distinguishable at all stages of the Neolithic period, with a gradually increasing ratio of WHG ancestry of farming populations over time. This suggests that after the initial expansion of early farmers, there were no further long-range migrations substantial enough to homogenize the farming population, and that farming and hunter-gatherer populations existed side by side for many centuries, with ongoing gradual admixture throughout the 5th to 4th millennia BCE (rather than a single admixture event on initial contact).[22] Admixture rates varied geographically; in the late Neolithic, WHG ancestry in farmers in Hungary was at around 10%, in Germany around 25% and in Iberia as high as 50%.[23]


Neolithic cultures in Europe in ca. 4000–3500 BCE.

There is no direct evidence of the languages spoken in the Neolithic. Some proponents of paleolinguistics attempt to extend the methods of historical linguistics to the Stone Age, but this has little academic support. Criticising scenarios which envision for the Neolithic only a small number of language families spread over huge areas of Europe (as in modern times), Donald Ringe has argued on general principles of language geography (as concerns "tribal", pre-state societies), and the scant remains of (apparently indigenous) non-Indo-European languages attested in ancient inscriptions, that Neolithic Europe must have been a place of great linguistic diversity, with many language families with no recoverable linguistic links to each other, much like western North America prior to European colonisation.[24]

Discussion of hypothetical languages spoken in the European Neolithic is divided into two topics, Indo-European languages and "Pre-Indo-European" languages.

Early Indo-European languages are usually assumed to have reached Danubian (and maybe Central) Europe in the Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age, e.g. with the Corded Ware or Beaker cultures (see also Kurgan hypothesis for related discussions). The Anatolian hypothesis postulates arrival of Indo-European languages with the early Neolithic. Old European hydronymy is taken by Hans Krahe to be the oldest reflection of the early presence of Indo-European in Europe.

Theories of "Pre-Indo-European" languages in Europe are built on scant evidence. The Basque language is the best candidate for a descendant of such a language, but since Basque is a language isolate, there is no comparative evidence to build upon. Theo Vennemann nevertheless postulates a "Vasconic" family, which he supposes had co-existed with an "Atlantic" or "Semitidic" (i. e., para-Semitic) group. Another candidate is a Tyrrhenian family which would have given rise to Etruscan and Raetic in the Iron Age, and possibly also Aegean languages such as Minoan or Pelasgian in the Bronze Age.

In the north, a similar scenario to Indo-European is thought to have occurred with Uralic languages expanding in from the east. In particular, while the Sami languages of the indigenous Sami people belong in the Uralic family, they show considerable substrate influence, thought to represent one or more extinct original languages. The Sami are estimated to have adopted a Uralic language less than 2,500 years ago.[25] Some traces of indigenous languages of the Baltic area have been suspected in the Finnic languages as well, but these are much more modest. There are early loanwords from unidentified non-IE languages in other Uralic languages of Europe as well.[26]

List of cultures and sitesEdit

Excavated dwellings at Skara Brae (Orkney, Scotland), Europe's most complete Neolithic village.


Klekkende Høj passage grave, Denmark, c. 3500-2800 BC

Some Neolithic cultures listed above are known for constructing megaliths. These occur primarily on the Atlantic coast of Europe, but there are also megaliths on western Mediterranean islands.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ammerman & Cavalli-Sforza 1971.
  2. ^ a b c Original text published under Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0: Shukurov, Anvar; Sarson, Graeme R.; Gangal, Kavita (2014). "The Near-Eastern Roots of the Neolithic in South Asia". PLOS ONE. 9 (5): e95714. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...995714G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095714. PMC 4012948. PMID 24806472.   Material was copied from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
  3. ^ Renfrew 1987.
  4. ^ Bellwood 2004.
  5. ^ Anthony 2007.
  6. ^ "Discovery of 8,000-year-old veiled Mother Goddess near Bulgaria's Vidin 'pushes back' Neolithic revolution in Europe". Archaeology in Bulgaria. 27 October 2018.
  7. ^ Bellwood 2004, pp. 68–9.
  8. ^ Bellwood 2004, pp. 74, 118.
  9. ^ Subbaraman 2012.
  10. ^ a b Paul Rincon, Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders. BBC News website, 16 April 2019
  11. ^ a b c Brace, Selina; Diekmann, Yoan; Booth, Thomas J.; van Dorp, Lucy; Faltyskova, Zuzana; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Olalde, Iñigo; Ferry, Matthew; Michel, Megan; Oppenheimer, Jonas; Broomandkhoshbacht, Nasreen; Stewardson, Kristin; Martiniano, Rui; Walsh, Susan; Kayser, Manfred; Charlton, Sophy; Hellenthal, Garrett; Armit, Ian; Schulting, Rick; Craig, Oliver E.; Sheridan, Alison; Parker Pearson, Mike; Stringer, Chris; Reich, David; Thomas, Mark G.; Barnes, Ian (2019). "Ancient genomes indicate population replacement in Early Neolithic Britain". Nature Ecology & Evolution. 3 (5): 765–771. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0871-9. ISSN 2397-334X. PMC 6520225. PMID 30988490.
  12. ^ Bellwood 2004, pp. 68–72.
  13. ^ Roger Highfield (2008-06-02). "Neolithic men were prepared to fight for their women". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235.
  14. ^ "German mass grave records prehistoric warfare". BBC News. 17 August 2015.
  15. ^ a b c Shennan & Edinborough 2007.
  16. ^ Timpson, Adrian; Colledge, Sue (September 2014). "Reconstructing regional population fluctuations in the European Neolithic using radiocarbon dates: a new case-study using an improved method". Journal of Archaeological Science. 52: 549–557. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2014.08.011.
  17. ^ Rascovan, Nicolás; Sjögren, Karl-Göran; Kristiansen, Kristian; Nielsen, Rasmus; Willerslev, Eske; Desnues, Christelle; Rasmussen, Simon (2019-01-10). "Emergence and Spread of Basal Lineages of Yersinia pestis during the Neolithic Decline". Cell. 176 (1): 295–305.e10. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.11.005. ISSN 0092-8674. PMID 30528431.
  18. ^ Haak, Wolfgang; Lazaridis, Iosif; Patterson, Nick; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Llamas, Bastien; Brandt, Guido; Nordenfelt, Susanne; Harney, Eadaoin; Stewardson, Kristin; Fu, Qiaomei (2015-06-11). "Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". Nature. 522 (7555): 207–211. arXiv:1502.02783. Bibcode:2015Natur.522..207H. doi:10.1038/nature14317. ISSN 0028-0836. PMC 5048219. PMID 25731166.
  19. ^ Consortium, the Genographic; Cooper, Alan (9 November 2010). "Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities". PLOS Biology. 8 (11): e1000536. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000536. ISSN 1545-7885. PMC 2976717. PMID 21085689.
  20. ^ Lazaridis et al., "Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans", Nature, 513(7518), 18 September 2014, 409–413, doi: 10.1038/nature13673.
  21. ^ Lazaridis et al. (2014), Supplementary Information, p. 113.
  22. ^ Lipson et al., "Parallel palaeogenomic transects reveal complex genetic history of early European farmers", Nature 551, 368–372 (16 November 2017) doi:10.1038/nature24476.
  23. ^ Lipson et al. (2017), Fig 2.
  24. ^ Ringe 2009.
  25. ^ Aikio 2004.
  26. ^ Häkkinen 2012.


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  • Zvelebil, Marek (2009). "Mesolithic prelude and neolithic revolution". In Zvelebil, Marek (ed.). Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic Societies of Temperate Eurasia and Their Transition to Farming. Cambridge University Press. pp. 5–15. ISBN 978-0-521-10957-4.
  • Zvelebil, Marek (2009). "Mesolithic societies and the transition to farming: problems of time, scale and organisation". In Zvelebil, Marek (ed.). Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic Societies of Temperate Eurasia and Their Transition to Farming. Cambridge University Press. pp. 167–88. ISBN 978-0-521-10957-4.

Further readingEdit

  • Bellwood, Peter (2001). "Early Agriculturalist Population Diasporas? Farming, Languages, and Genes". Annual Review of Anthropology. 30: 181–207. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.30.1.181. JSTOR 3069214. S2CID 12157394.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca; Menozzi, Paolo; Piazza, Alberto (1994). The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-08750-4.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca (2001). Genes, Peoples, and Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22873-3.
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1989). The Language of the Goddess. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-250356-5.
  • Fu Q, Posth C, Hajdinjak M, Petr M, Mallick S, Fernandes D, et al. (June 2016). "The genetic history of Ice Age Europe". Nature. 534 (7606): 200–5. Bibcode:2016Natur.534..200F. doi:10.1038/nature17993. hdl:10211.3/198594. PMC 4943878. PMID 27135931.

External linksEdit

  • Hofmanová, Zuzana; Kreutzer, Susanne; Hellenthal, Garrett; et al. (2016). "Early farmers from across Europe directly descended from Neolithic Aegeans". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113 (25): 6886–6891. doi:10.1073/pnas.1523951113. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4922144. PMID 27274049.
  • The genetic structure of the world's first farmers, Lazaridis et al, 2016
  • Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe, Haak et al, 2015
  • Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia, Allentoft et al, 2015
  • Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe, Mathieson et al, 2015
  • "The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007
  • General table of Neolithic sites in Europe
  • Mario Alinei, et al., Paleolithic Continuity Theory of Indo-European Origins
  • Life along the Danube 6500 years ago