Station: [34] The Neolithic

From the middle of the 6th millennium B.C., Europe experienced probably the most sustained major change in human history to date: the move to lifestyle based on agriculture and animal husbandry. This required the establishment and maintenance of permanent, inhabited settlements. In the Middle East, people had been sedentary since the 10th millennium BC. Over the course of the 6th millennium, that way of life found its way via south-eastern and western Europe to the region north of the Alps.

In archaeology, this development is seen in the large number of permanent settlements. It goes hand in hand with a whole range of cultural and technical innovations. From now on, agriculture and animal husbandry provided the main economic basis. Pottery of various shapes and for different purposes was needed and produced for household use. There are signs that carpentry techniques were already quite well advanced. Evidence of that activity is provided by the numerous polished stone axes and adzes found in the settlements. The settled lifestyle also meant that for the first time, people were able to establish permanent burial sites where generations of people were laid to rest.

During this period, people began the long-term transformation of their natural environment into a cultivated landscape by clearing, planting and tilling fields, by keeping livestock and by pasture management. Demand for materials also increased.

The transition from homogeneous communities, involved only in farming, to a society with a clear hierarchical structure was a lengthy process that lasted until the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. Settlements in protected locations bear witness to tensions between different groups. Early regional elites probably won power and influence. Over time, given the need for certain raw materials, these elites created extensive trade networks, across which specialised knowledge was disseminated.