10,000 to 8,000 years ago there appeared in the Near East certain societies that cooperated actively with their natural environment. The result was an increase in food supplies – the economy being based on the cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals. This is then the beginnings of a new type of economy indicating a new and higher form of technology. This new food producing economy corresponds with Lewis Henry Morgan’s concept of Barbarism. The archaeological period is known as the Neolithic or New Stone Age, but the period cannot be delimited with regard to time, because, in the economic sense, the Neolithic type of life existed in later forms of society. Furthermore, economies later adopted bronze and iron technologies whilst remaining at the much earlier food producing level.
The course of evolution at this juncture of history was probably the same for the majority of peoples scattered throughout the world. From this stage onwards the various developments of different communities continues at different rates – quite often due to natural conditions afforded by various regions. Humans create their own environment and thereby create themselves. The primitive or lower stage of barbarism saw the Mesolithic peoples commence domestication of animals and cultivation of domestic plants. This was the characteristic feature of lower barbarism. This occurred in Asia Minor some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. A great advance in terms of technology and economy – though plant cultivation was in the main confined to the sub-tropical zones of North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. As we can see , humans have moved forward to a purposeful, determined and active control over their environment, a step towards their ultimate mastery of nature. Syria, Persia, and Turkestan may be dry and barren areas today, but during the Pleistocene epoch they were well endowed with rain. The Old World so-called (Eastern Hemisphere) had most of the animals amenable to domestication, and all but one of the best plants for cultivation. The so-called New World (Western Hemisphere with the Americas) had only the llama and one cultivation plant, albeit the best, which was maize. It was because of the unequal distribution of the raw materials of the basic economy of lower barbaric society that the two continents, and their development, went separate ways.
By the middle stage of barbarism, pastoralism and agriculturalism had become the general rule. Cultivation was initially confined to the Nile Valley and used a system of agriculture known as ‘extensive cultivation’. This type of cultivation relied on continually breaking new ground. Hence it becomes obvious that such a technique means that the settlements are not as permanent as those found among ‘intensive’ agriculturists. The latter system use the continued exploitation of the same areas of land for long periods of time. It should be noted that animal herds were bred and tended simultaneously with agricultural activity. Evidence shows that food was obtained from the seeds of wild grasses. Furthermore, the Mesolithic Mount Carmel peoples – the Natufians who were either progressive Neanderthals or an intermediate from prior to sapiens proper around 6000 BC – have been found to have used elementary sickles made from flints embedded in wooden shafts. This implies they had reached the stage where they could reap certain crops or clear grassland.
The step was eventually taken whereby suitable grass species were grown by the settlement, and that these sowing areas ere deliberately prepared. Primitive grasses such as wild Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) and wild Einkorn were probably the original suitable crop plants used, these being accompanied by the cultivation of wold barley (Hordeum vulgare or hextashium). It was only much later that oats and rye became generalised for food use. Originally these two plants, which are hardy enough for cultivation in the colder northern realms may have been ephemeral weed grasses contaminating Einkorn and Emmer sowings. Other plants and vegetables included Spelt, beans, peas, carrots, pomegranates and lentils.
Initially this agricultural work was probably the responsibility of the women of the settlement. Most of the ancient tribes and peoples worshipped the giver of good bread, the female corn goddess. These goddesses have had many names – Isis, Dindymene, Agdistis, and Cybele. To the Romans she was Ceres, whilst the Greeks gave her the name of Demeter. Such a goddess has left the memory of her role in latter-day folklore and mythology. This goddess is represented by the effigy hoisted onto the waggon carrying home the last sheaves of the harvest.
Syria, Mesopotamia and the Indus valley produced the earliest civilisations, and it is interesting to note that these particular areas were the environments of the ancestral wheat and barley species. From these areas the techniques spread with the crop types. Around the time that cereal cultivation was developing there also developed the use of the domestic animal as a dietary source. Cattle, sheep, pigs and goats were the initial species of domestication. The dog has been the companion of man for a long time prior to agricultural and pastoral activity – as an adjunct to hunting in earlier communal societies. As technology developed so did transport because innovations necessitated better energy sources. Thus progress caused the adoption of the ox, the horse, asses and camels to become embedded in the restless, upward progress being made by these bygone peoples.
Side by side, the cultivation of plants and the domestication of animal herds characterised the early stages of agricultural settlement. These ancient settlements, exemplified by the archaeology of Egypt, Sumer, and Faiyum were the proof of the simultaneous prehistoric practice of crop and animal husbandry. The early Sumerian evidence points to the use of wool from sheep approximately 4,000 years ago. In Mesopotamia again, it was about 1,000 years later that elementary dairying began to develop.
The stone tool technology, the production means associated with the earliest agricultural communities, is known as the Neolithic. The Neolithic is the New Stone Age, and was an epoch that is still remains little known. The most important aspect of the Neolithic stage is the development of agriculture with its larger and more stable, as well as more permanent, communities. The Neolithic settlement possessed the level of subsistence that is the basis of the larger proportion of modern day communities of this level of technology and economy.
Evidence points to the independent appearance of agricultural economies in several distinct regions. Despite the persistent, but unsubstantiated, claims of the ‘diffusionists’ the ancient Egyptians had no hand in encouraging maize and potato cultivation in the Americas. Different regions possessed different natural endowments, varying floral and faunal components, as we can see in ancient barbarian China where millet and pigs were the staple means. It is obvious that the effect upon humans of agricultural technology was monumental. New ways, new techniques were developed, which gave rise to new social relations. The earlier agricultural communities were far larger than their predecessors – the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the stage of savagery. These agricultural communities contained approximately 200 to 300 individuals amongst whom there developed an expanded division of labour. However, the most relevant result of development was the production of a surplus. Barbarism therefore was the era in the history of humanity where they acquired and developed the knowledge of animal and crop husbandry. Further from this humans learned and developed the various techniques of expanding natural productivity, by social labour, by human activity.
During the upper stage of barbarism we can determine the occurrence of large scale cultivation accompanied by the necessity for deforestation to obtain extra arable land. Forest clearance implies a higher level of technology, a more revolutionary means of production, this was the smelting of metal ores. The Bronze and Iron Ages provide evidence of the rapid increase in the means of subsistence and population – aided by the revolutionary bronze tools and the revolutionary iron ploughshare. This period of barbarism passed into the era of civilisations, accompanied by alphabetic scripts, and subsequent written records. Written history had arrived.