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The Neolithic, (Greek neos=new, lithos=stone, or "New Stone Age") is traditionally the last part of the stone age. It followed Pleistocene epipalaeolithic and early Holocene mesolithic cultures with the start of farming and ended when metal tools came into widespread use in the following copper (calcolithic) and bronze age or iron age, depending on geographical region. The term "Neolithic" is associated with a suite of specific behavioural characteristics including the use of domesticated animals (from ca. 9000 to 7000 BC this was limited to sheep and goat, but by ca. 7000 BC included cattle), cultivation of domesticated plants, permanently or semi-permanently inhabited settlements and the use of pottery and ground-stone tools like axes. In Southwest Asia and Europe, Neolithic cultures appear at ca. 10000 BC in Mesopotamia and the Levant and from there spread to southeast Europe by 7,000 BC, Central Europe by 5.500 BC cal and from there through a combination of diffusion of ideas and migration of peoples, spreads westward to northwest Europe by 4500 BC. There is little evidence for developed hierarchies in the Neolithic, which is a cultural development more closely associated with the Bronze Age. In some areas of the world not all of these characteristics are present in cultures defined as Neolithic -- e.g. the earliest farming societies in the Near East do not use pottery -- and in Britain it remains unclear what the contribution of domestic plants was in the earliest Neolithic, or even whether permanently settled communities existed.
The advent of farming caused great change in people's lives. Instead of living as nomads and wandering from place to place in search of food, people increasingly stayed in one place, giving rise to towns, and later cities and states. Because of the profound differences in the way humans interacted once agriculture began, the New Stone Age is sometimes called the ''neolithic revolution", a term coined by the Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe.
The Neolithic people of Northwestern Europe built elaborate tombs for their dead. These are particularly numerous in Ireland, where there are many thousand still in existence.
With very minor exceptions (a few copper hatchets and spear heads in the Great Lakes region) the peoples of the Americas and the Pacific remained at the neolithic level of technology up until the time of the European contacts. Technological complexity does not correlate with social complexity. A glance at such cultures as the Iroquois, Pueblo people, Maya civilization and the Maori shows that a culture may be highly socially and politically sophisticated in many ways without knowledge of the use of metals.
Neolithic settlements included:
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