From Nomads to Settlers
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
Most anthropologists, biologists and naturists today believe that the discovery of agriculture was the main factor that led to the ultimate settlement of primitive human beings in a given area. The domestication of different species of wild plants which were later cultivated, were two factors of great importance for the settlement of primitive humans on privately owned agricultural lands that would be passed down to future generations without any legal control.
This process would not have been carried out successfully if there had not been a very profound climate change that took place starting from the late Paleolithic age and lasting several millennia. During this climate change there was great improvement in the environment of the Planet, enabling Neolithic man to enjoy a more favorable climate than that of his ancestors, and he was able to obtain a huge variety of food resources. These resources continued to be obtained from nature and little by little they were combined with the first grains that were domesticated and then cultivated.
Another reason that led humans to become sedentary was the domestication and rearing of animals that lived with humans, such as goats, sheep, lambs or oxen, which covered the amount of meat needed to survive and provided them with the material to produce leather, to make clothing and ornaments that differentiated them from other villages.
The domestication of the first plant species prevented Neolithic man from having to ask their gods to make wild plants bear fruit in abundance or animals return to their lands in order to feed themselves without problems. Thanks to these factors, humans could begin to create a type of permanent habitat that unlike the habitat of their ancestors can be pictured almost inside out.
It was not possible for there to be a prototype dwelling for Neolithic man at that time, since its structure would change depending on its geographical location. In the ancient Near East the dwellings were rectangular in shape and the floor was paved to insulate them against moisture, while in Europe they preferred very elongated rectangular dwellings. And despite these differences, in both regions the same materials were used, such as mud, stone and wood found near the settlements.
With regard to the use of building materials, Prehistory is divided into two periods according to the materials that humans used to make tools for in their domestic life: the Stone Age and the Metal Age, two very different periods marked by prehistoric man’s progress from nomadism to sedentarism, the domestication of plants and animals and the discovery of metallurgy.
With the discovery of the Altamira cave paintings, one can see the serious clash between researchers into Prehistory and the Catholic Church which at that time did not value the great discovery made by Sautuola and his daughter, but labeled those paintings as obvious falsifications made by the hand of their discoverer. And they did not realize their mistake until years later when Abbé Henry Breuil discovered that there were cave paintings with similar features at several locations in France and had to bow his head and apologize to the family of Sautuola who had died a decade earlier.
Fortunately, today’s new digital world is very helpful in uncovering the secrets of the oldest civilizations, like the Egyptian civilization, through the collection of images, their temples, tombs and very diverse objects, jewels and constructions such as those found in the ‘Nile River Valley Civilization,’ thanks to the noble efforts of several generations of archaeologists.
I conclude this essay by saying that the Neolithic age was one of the most important periods of prehistory, in which agriculture and the domestication of edible animals were discovered. The Neolithic period falls between 8000 and 3500 BC, where the evidence shows a new way of producing lithic tools by giving them a polished exterior that made them very suitable for the tasks involved in obtaining and preparing farmland.
The origins of the Neolithic age are located in the ancient Near East which today is the Syria-Palestine strip, where one finds the first evidence of the Natufian group that lived in small settlements of circular huts. It was a time when ‘homo sapiens’ was leaving behind life as hunter-gatherers and moving to live in small villages where they would get much of their food due to new crops of edible plants and animals.
Addendum: The paradox of this period of the Neolithic age is that despite having their food problem resolved and having created new tools for war and work, not only did human society not increase the level of welfare and justice, but there was an increase in the level of violence and the creation of a more individualistic, more cruel, more xenophobic and more narcissistic society.
What was experienced was a period of involution in human society, very similar to the one experienced at the beginning of this 21st century.