|Three typical Northern European men,
more characteristic of the mesolithic era prior to the
arrival of Arabic agriculture
In this article, I want to briefly go over what it was like to live in neolithic society in Europe and touch upon a broad range of elements from diet and married life to religion and royalty. This is only intended to be a brief primer and I will build upon the topics discussed here in later articles as I deem it necessary.
But first, what is meant by “Neolithic”? The neolithic era refers to the final stages of the stone age in Europe, between circa 7000BC and 1000BC. This is at present the furthest time period I have researched in extensive depth at may, unfortunately, be the latest time period that we can accurately reconstruct without heavy supposition.
The neolithic era was the era in which the European way of life changed forever. Rather than living a hunter gatherer lifestyle, Europeans (particularly in Southern Europe) began to mongrelise with Natufian Arabs who brought agriculture into Europe. It is important to remember that the quality of life during the neolithic era tremendously declined from that of the mesolithic, or “Middle Stone Age” which preceded it. Diet became much poorer and less varied, life expectancy likely declined with it and Europeans were much shorter in stature due to a combination of genetic factors and environmental changes. In my view, Arabic agriculture plunged Europe into a dark age from which we only recovered during the classical era, setting European society back several thousand years.
Despite the detriment of the neolithic era for Europe, I believe it is important to discuss it for several reasons. Firstly, it is the earliest we can reconstruct with reasonable accuracy at the present time and is hence a good place to start before going deeper into our true past. Secondly, it is I believe equally important to learn about where things went wrong so that we can learn not to repeat them but finally, despite their mistakes the neolithic era is still an important part of our European heritage and is in actuality much more interesting and developed than one would first assume.
Without further ado, lets begin.
There were broadly speaking around half a dozen known language families (representing as I wish to call them, Macrotribes) in Neolithic Europe prior to the Indo European expansion from the steppes in present day Ukraine. There were likely also smaller clusters of languages especially in remote areas but these have since been lost to time unless we find new evidence of their existence.
These macrotribes were as follows:
|A painting by Nicolas Poussin that to me really captures the
essence of the neolithic in Southern Europe
- Northern Europeans (who spoke the reconstructed proto-Uralic) that ranged through Scandinavia, Western Siberia and Estonia. The main culture of these people is known as the Corded Ware culture.
- The Iberians, who spoke dialects of the same language which belonged to the same family as Basque, the extinct Iberian language, Tartessian and also Anatolian.
- There were the Caucasians who spoke the ancestor of modern Georgian, proto Kartvelian.
- There were the people of modern day Germany of spoke a language of their own which heavily influenced the languages that came later.
- The people of modern day France, Belgium and Britain appear to have also been broadly one people, sharing a large amount of genetics, culture and possible a Celtic substrate language that influenced Proto-celtic that came later. That is a complicated issue though.
- There were of course the Yamnaya people of Ukraine that spoke PIE; we know the most about this culture as it had taken over most of Europe by the 1st century BC. Most of the observations I will document in the following article are based on study of their culture in particular.
The life expectancy during this era is, despite various “scientific” claims, is not really known. We believe it was less than that of the modern day but this really can’t be confirmed. The main method of estimating the age of a skeleton at death is by looking at bone and enamel wear, but this is obviously not going to be accurate because one can find people who are in their 20s with worn out hip joints and people who are in there 60s with very little, so this method is frankly pseudo-scientific.
Also, looking at enamel wear is really pointless considering that diets could vary drastically between communities of people and even individuals. For example whilst the average tribe member ate mostly grains and bread, the Lord and Lady may have eaten vegetables and boiled meats.
Considering that cultures and languages could be very similar over large geographic areas, it is certain that there was trade and dialogue between neighboring tribes and probably even to a larger extent with geopolitical assemblies especially for important events like selecting a high king or uniting against a common threat.
Size of community:
|An Iberian family during the neolithic era|
Each tribe was essentially a large extended family of no more than several hundred individuals who mostly shared a common ancestor unless they were married into the tribe from and were from a neighboring community. The structure of the household was generally one family per household with the two parents, anywhere from 3-8 children and in some cases an older relative such as a grandparent. Older women took more menial jobs such as stirring food and also became spiritual leaders as they aged and learnt the tales of their ancestors and the religious lore, being responsible for passing it forward. The older men would do the simple jobs in the field like minding the animals while the younger men did the labor intensive work and the children did jobs like egg collecting, finding firewood, or attending military training.
Members of the community who did not contribute and became parasitic (excluding the elderly who normally took on respected roles) were normally either exiled from the community or in extreme cases where the individual had severely damaged the community (such as damaging the community’s reputation, promoting immorality, or engaging in degeneracy) were executed. Typically, kings who became incompetent were executed in the same manner as it was impossible for a new king to be selected while the old king was still alive.
Royalty and Leadership:
On the death of the old King and Queen, a new king was selected from the best candidates in the community. As all people in the tribe were related it would not have made sense for the title to be inherited as everyone was in line! The challenges involved rhetoric, debating, riddles, physical feats, animal husbandry, and spiritual power. Once selected, the new King would then usually selected the lady he wanted to be his wife and Queen from among the unmarried women in the village as, typically, the king was a young man when chosen and had not yet married (men normally married after engaging in several military campaigns first, which could take years after their 13th birthday when they were eligible for militar
y service. The lady was normally significantly younger than the King but was no younger than 13.
Rather often, the King would select his wife from another tribe (we know this from genetic evidence) which was actually useful as it helped keep the gene pool of the tribe from stagnating and it prevented the spread of recessive disorders.
Often, the king would also have several wives. Typically this behavior would be frowned upon but in neolithic society the ratio of men to women was normally around 2:3 and hence there was a surplus of women who could not provide for themselves. The king would be expected to provide for these women himself either by marrying them or arranging a marriage with the leader of another tribe. Ergo, polygamy was acceptable under very specific circumstances.
Varg Vikernes did an excellent video on this topic:
Housing, Health and Community Maintenance:
Houses varied drastically from culture to culture, but were normally wattle and daub in the neolithic era as well as stone houses, and sometimes tent-like structures canvassed with animal skins. It would depend vastly on factors such as the availability of materials, the climate and cultural sophistication, not to mention the amount of time one had available. Below is an example of a rather luxurious wattle and daub house constructed in the Neolithic style:
Communities were normally built on a hill and/or near a water supply.
|The previous habitat range of the gray wolf in red|
The biggest threat to communities in the neolithic era was actually not war from what we can gather, but was actually wolf attacks. At one time, all of Europe was populated with wolves who would typically live at a distance from human encampments. However, under certain circumstances wolves would attack people. One instance would be wolves eating the livestock of a neolithic farmer and attacking a farmer who attempted to protect his flock of animals. If wolves had success in picking off livestock they would return and in greater numbers which could be threatening for the community’s livelihood. Wolves could also eat children who strayed too far from home or who were unattended. Wolves are generally too intelligent to risk attacking men directly and normally attempt to pick of the weakest prey possible.
Clothing was one pleasure in a generally simple life. People owned a variety of outfits which were changed and washed regularly, normally on a weekly basis. It was typically part of a woman’s job to weave new clothing which would vary drastically in style from culture to culture but was often very well adorned. The best wives were normally selected from the women who had the best handicraft. Men and women alike wore bone and in some cases pewter jewelry including necklaces, brooches, torcs and bracelets that were sometimes inherited or collected during war as well as crafted locally.
|A couple found in Brittany dated to circa 6000BC (early Neolithic)
wearing ancestral bone jewelry and shells
The day to day life was dull but there were regular religious festivals to keep people in good spirits and evenings after dark were typically free to have an evening meal, gather together to hear music, old stories and make tribute to the Gods. There would be festivals where dancing and drinking took place for the end of winter, start of summer, Easter month (no, Easter is not Christian) midsummer, end of summer, harvest (normally at Halloween) and midwinter (Christmas/shortest day of the year) just to name a few.
Hobbies including composing poetry, playing musical instruments, physical exercise and competitions, debating, listening to stories, and also even board games. Most board games were of course not built to last thousands of years but we can assume from evidence found in other areas of the world that Europe would be no exception in having board games such as Senet, Draughts, Go and Chess.
Hunting in neolithic Europe was rather rare, as agriculture had taken over making the practice rather obsolete. It was much easier to domesticate animals and slaughter them in captivity. However, competitions in hunting would often take place for the purpose of entertainment or for proving one’s worth and position in the tribe.
There is even evidence starting to emerge that ball games may have existed in the neolithic era, and sport certainly existed as a precursor to the Olympic games of classical history.