Evidence The Sophisticated Carpentry Developed Alongside Agriculture During Neolithic Period
August 10, 2012
A new study from Tel Aviv University reveals that the transition from hunting to agricultural societies parallels development of woodworking tools.
Early man evolved from hunter-gather to farmer and agriculturalist during the Neolithic Age, from approximately 10,000 — 6,000 BCE. Neolithic man also began living in larger settlements with a variety of domesticated animals and plant life. This transition brought about significant changes in the economy, architecture, man’s relationship to the environment, and more.
Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, along with a team of colleagues, has shed new light on this milestone in human evolution. The study demonstrates a direct connection between the development of woodworking tools and an agricultural society.
Prior to the Neolithic period, no evidence has been found to suggest that tools were powerful enough to cut and carve wood, let alone fell trees. New evidence suggests that as the Neolithic age progressed, sophisticated carpentry developed alongside agriculture.
“Intensive woodworking and tree-felling was a phenomenon that only appeared with the onset of the major changes in human life, including the transition to agriculture and permanent villages,” says Dr. Barkai, whose research was published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Working at the archeological site Motza, in the Judean hills, Dr. Barkai and his fellow researchers, Professor Rick Yerkes of Ohio State University and Dr. Hamudi Khalaily of the Israeli Antiquity Authority, unearthed evidence that increasing sophistication in terms of carpentry tools corresponds with increased agriculture and permanent settlements. This is the first time the use of functional tools in relation to woodworking in the Neolithic age has been studied in detail.
The early stage of the Neolithic age is divided into two distinct eras — Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Agriculture and the domestication of plants and animals only appear in PPNB, so the transition between these two eras is a watershed moment in human history. Dr. Barkai and his team say that these changes can be tracked through the woodworking tools of each period.
Humans in PPNA remained gatherers, but started to live in more permanent settlements for the first time. Axes associated with this period are small and delicate, suited for light carpentry, but not for felling trees or other massive woodworking projects. PPNB tools, in contrast, evolved into much larger and heavier axes, formed by a technique called polishing. In depth analysis of these tools shows that they were used to cut down trees and complete various building projects. The team also identified a trial and error phase between the two during which humans tried to create an axe strong enough to undertake larger tasks. Eventually, they succeeded in creating a massive ground stone in PPNB.
“We can document step by step the transition from the absence of woodworking tools, to delicate woodworking tools, to heavier woodworking tools,” Dr. Barkai says, and this follows the “actual transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture.”
It is unknown whether the transition to an agricultural society led to the development of major carpentry tools, or vice versa. At this point, it is rather the question of the chicken and the egg with no definitive answer. Whatever the catalyst, the parallel changes led to a revolution in lifestyle.
Along with the change to an agricultural economy, new architecture emerged which required the felling of trees in large quantities. Permanent villages with distinctively different housing took shape during this transition, changing from round or oval shapes to rectangular structures with limestone-based plaster floors. Both of these changes required more tree felling and stronger tools.