What was life like for a neolithic farmer in ancient Europe?

Dec 2011
2,295
#11
Bronze axes were just as good at chopping down trees as iron ones. The problem with bronze is that it was expensive. Iron was cheaper and more plentiful, enabling a lot more axes for a lot more people. Of course, in the Neolithic, they didn't have bronze axes either. In the Neolithic, chopping down trees would have been extremely time consuming and labour intensive. I think that one of the chieftain's roles would be to ensure that trees were cut down and land cleared to allow his people to expand. It would be a tangible and very visible indicator of his success as a leader.
As I understand it, bronze is softer than iron, so it's harder to make a sharp edge (a sharp edge on a bronze tool quickly gets blunted).

Anyway, as the neolithic people had no metal tools, it's a wonder that they could clear trees. Even with modern high-quality tools it''s a heck of a lot of physical work to do. Did they take a large fallen log and use that as a kind of lever to uproot them? Maybe they had a practice of pulling branches off trees for firewood, thus slowly killing them.

But with their very low population, did they really have to clear land? Could they not just move on to the next valley? I would think that trampling livestock could be a major force in clearing land, or at least keeping existing pasture land clear.

Is there any real evidence that they did clear forests? I guess such evidence would consist of carbon-dated tree pollen samples showing the presence of trees before humans arrived, and none after they came.
 
Mar 2017
75
France
#12
As I understand it, bronze is softer than iron, so it's harder to make a sharp edge (a sharp edge on a bronze tool quickly gets blunted).

Anyway, as the neolithic people had no metal tools, it's a wonder that they could clear trees. Even with modern high-quality tools it''s a heck of a lot of physical work to do. Did they take a large fallen log and use that as a kind of lever to uproot them? Maybe they had a practice of pulling branches off trees for firewood, thus slowly killing them.

But with their very low population, did they really have to clear land? Could they not just move on to the next valley? I would think that trampling livestock could be a major force in clearing land, or at least keeping existing pasture land clear.

Is there any real evidence that they did clear forests? I guess such evidence would consist of carbon-dated tree pollen samples showing the presence of trees before humans arrived, and none after they came.
Neolithic is supposed to be sedentarisation, so not moving from a valley to another but gathering ressource around the town. They did have good axes / scissors and the neolithic industry was really a a top technic (see the industry of Grand Pressigny and exportation all over Europe). People needed more human ressources (strength) but already worked in teams to achieve common goals. The first settlements needed to develop agricultural understanding of the nature and thus organize people's living to fulfill town needs. Spiritual / cultural lives was a very active part of people's living too. Then, commerce of goods from towns to others (and through rivers and commercial roads... see Varna for instance as bneing a trade gate between East and Western Europe...) emerged and other art / cultural / luxurious objects were more and more integrated into indigenous societies.
Before bronze there was copper and then bronze as soon as tin was used (so there had been massive commercial roads for trade purpose for population that had tin & copper mines).
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,296
#13
Francis Pryor is very much of the opinion that life in the Neolithic could be quite good. After all, in Britain not only did people prosper overall, they had time to form a religion that stretched its influence across the British Isles from the Orkneys and led to the creation of such sites as Stonehenge. Sadly, it also meant they had time to organise themselves for war, and the minor but bloody conflicts led to a very violent early Iron Age over resources and rights.

Incidentially, bronze was not only used for practical purposes. It led toward an early form of monetary economy based on the ownership of bronze axe heads, of there were far more created than actually needed. Some believe that they also suffered the first economic collapse as 'inflation' of bronze values got out of control.
 
Mar 2017
75
France
#14
Francis Pryor is very much of the opinion that life in the Neolithic could be quite good. After all, in Britain not only did people prosper overall, they had time to form a religion that stretched its influence across the British Isles from the Orkneys and led to the creation of such sites as Stonehenge. Sadly, it also meant they had time to organise themselves for war, and the minor but bloody conflicts led to a very violent early Iron Age over resources and rights.

Incidentially, bronze was not only used for practical purposes. It led toward an early form of monetary economy based on the ownership of bronze axe heads, of there were far more created than actually needed. Some believe that they also suffered the first economic collapse as 'inflation' of bronze values got out of control.
I rejoin you that bronze was a kind of metal much more for luxury at the beginning but offered a way to obtain good tools for extraction (see giant copper saw from ancient Egypt). Just needed to learn to make good mould (and lost wax technique for more complex forms). Bronze was in fact also a trade currency (as we can see in Heraklion museum with huge rectangular trade blocks) but stone had also been one before neolithic (lithic Industry of Grand Pressigny for instance) but not as raw material.

Ceramic was also a must have (and also explain expansion of commerce during neolithic) to gather and protect harvests as well as trade them for other goods.
Lots of cultural objects were made in ceramics in neolithic (fewer in stone) since it was an easy process that could create massive output (but gold, silver, bronze, amber, bones and so on were still more often used in jewelery). We can also see that some people still used stone tools along with bronze ones.
 
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Aug 2014
4,592
Australia
#15
As I understand it, bronze is softer than iron, so it's harder to make a sharp edge (a sharp edge on a bronze tool quickly gets blunted).
That idea is half a century out of date. Bronze is just as hard as medium carbon steel and is superior to a lot of early iron tools and weapons. Iron doesn't begin to surpass bronze until the intricacies of quench hardened steel are understood. Anything written by Tylecote has all the data you need.
 
Mar 2017
75
France
#16
That idea is half a century out of date. Bronze is just as hard as medium carbon steel and is superior to a lot of early iron tools and weapons. Iron doesn't begin to surpass bronze until the intricacies of quench hardened steel are understood. Anything written by Tylecote has all the data you need.
Yep true, but iron was cheaper to make that is why it has overtaken it afterwards... even if not as strong
 
Nov 2018
312
Denmark
#17
In Denmark, the first traces of pollen from cereal varieties appear around 4000 BC. At the same time, elm trees and lime trees are drastically reduced.

Perhaps because of diseases, perhaps because the farmers have used the branches as winter fodder for livestock.

It is also seen that at the start of the Neolithic age appeared pollen from mug wort, wild garlic and narrow-leaved plantain, which today are common on land that lies fallow.

Around the year 3,500 BC appeared pollen from grasses and white clover, showing that cattle were grazing on the fields.

It would be natural to think that the first farmers in Denmark burnt the forest to clear the ground.

The problem is that at that time, Denmark as today had an Atlantic coastal climate that means it's raining, then it’s raining a bit again, and then it rains a lot. (The residents of the British Isles know what I'm talking about)

In addition, the forest was deciduous forest, which consisted of old oak-elm and lime trees mixed with hazel bushes.

Such a forest does not just burn like that.

Danish archaeologists have tried to cut down trees with flint axes, they are actually very effective.

However, the roots is a problem, as everyone knows who has tried to dig up a shrub or tree, the axe is just bunching back when you hit the root.

What happened was probably the largest trees were cut down and were allowed to remain, as a kind of warehouse for larger projects.

Then sheep and goats grazed on the plot for some years, so trees were choked and the roots rotted.

As seen in many places in the world, goats are effective at clearing forests.

Then they could start removing stones and burning off the remaining logs.

Slash and burn agriculture was practiced in Norway, Sweden and Finland from the introduction of agriculture and all the way up to the 1700s.

The whole process took four years, and the ideal plot was a south-facing spruce forest with a natural fire belt with water, meadow or lush and juicy deciduous forest.

The farmers started burning the forest in April where the trees were transformed into charcoal that could be used for firewood.

The wooden crowns were allowed to remain they were pressed down by the snow the following winters.

In Midsummer, the third year the last wood was burnt and midsummer rye was sown the advantage of this cereal is that it has a strong growth and can be harvested as green fodder already in autumn or leave it for the winter and harvest the grain next summer.

This method of cultivation ensures the soil was supplied with nutrients from the burnt wood and the earth was cleared of weeds.
 
Mar 2017
75
France
#18
As far as i know, burning for lots of neolithic people (at least in Old Europe) was a kind of symoblism, for regeneration and mystic purpose. For instance, in Trypillian culture houses are systemtically burnt and rebuild over, over time. Maybe they used it for regeneration in a sense that agriculture was the begininng of the year for them and the equinoxe was very important (one of the most important milestone at the time). They could have use burning for agricultural purpose in a way to donate to Godess & Gods (Nature) and maybe they found that it could give better harvest if done from times to times... i think it wasn't for destruction but for mystical purpose as fire was something that Nature gave to human beeings...
 
Aug 2016
977
US&A
#19
Your question is so incredibly broad, one does not know where to start. It's like creating a thread and asking "How Did the Allies Win WW II".
I sometimes worry if I ask a question too narrow about a specific point in history I won't get any responses at all. At least if it's not something a lot of people here are interested in. AFAIK there aren't a huge amount of people fascinated with prehistory here, unfortunately.
 
Likes: Talbot Vilna
Mar 2015
858
Europe
#20
Was chopping down trees "organized by chieftains" or by individual farmer?
Chopping itself did not have to be made by multiple people: ten people swinging axes separately cut down as many trees as ten people working together. But Neolitic farmers did tend to live in villages, not in single scattered farmsteads.
What were the Neolithic fields like, in terms of size and shape?
Irregularly shaped, around obstacles like stumps and boulders?
Rectangular for ploughing, but different in size, again fitting the surrounding obstacles?
Small plots but of standardized size (Celtic fields) for ease of taxation?
Big open fields, cleared and farmed by whole village working together, rather than smaller plots for separate families?