Few may realize it amid today's swift changes, but the biggest technological shift in human history isn't the Internet. Instead, it was
a process that took place more than 8,000 years ago and involved nothing more sophisticated than some seeds and a few crude hand tools.
That shift was the Agricultural Revolution of the Neolithic Era or New Stone Age, which is what scholars call the time that began with the end of the last massive retreat of the ice caps, about 10,000 years ago.
No written records exist to chronicle this great change in human life, but after taking Professor Jeremy Adams's course on Neolithic Europe, you'll have little doubt that this deep, prehistoric past remains very much alive and with us today in a myriad of ways that affect everything from our diet to the way we think of religion, politics, the family, and human finitude itself; in fact, this era established patterns of livelihood and social and religious order not decisively changed until the Industrial Revolution beginning in the 18th century.
Professor Adams maintains that these are fundamental structures of human life whose origins run so deep that they are scarcely affected by the surface currents of mere "historical events."
"This is a course in the Neolithic prehistory of the West, especially Western Europe, especially Britain," states Professor Adams. "It stretches across nearly 10 millennia of time, from 10000 or 8000 B.C.E. in Western Asia to 1350 B.C.E. in southern Britain, by which time Stonehenge was complete."
To set the stage for this discussion, Professor Adams begins by defining key terms and describing the environmental conditions—often called the Neothermal Climate Change—which supported the invention and maintenance of agriculture and pastoralism around the 8th millennium B.C.E. and produced the basic climate we know today.
Then, we consider the term "Agricultural Revolution" and the alternative (in fact, older) term "Neolithic Revolution."
The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution: Three Case Studies
From the uplands of southwest Asia, agriculture spread slowly up the Danube and along the Mediterranean coast all the way to the Atlantic. Here your learning takes a turn toward the captivatingly detailed as you follow Professor Adams's close examinations of three sites that define the range of early−Neolithic cultural possibilities: Jarmo in present−day Iraq, the famous walled city of Jericho in Palestine, and Çatal Hüyük in Turkey.
These case studies frame the topic of the Agricultural Revolution's movement westward. Among the cultures that grew up along its path, you will focus on the strikingly skillful use of stone that can still be seen in the egg−shaped houses and raised central avenue of Khirokitia; the wooden longhouses of cattle−raising Danubian farmers; and the conclusions that may be drawn from a shrine to the dead in the Cueva de los Murciélagos (Cave of the Bats) in southeastern Spain.
Mysterious Monuments: Stonehenge, Avebury, and Neolithic Britain
In order to get a clear and multidimensional sense of the life of our Neolithic forebears, it is necessary to look at one or two case studies in greater detail. Whoever our genetic ancestors may be, any member of a modern English−speaking society benefits from the cultural legacy of the British Isles.
This course concentrates on the first highly developed Neolithic culture of southern Britain, the Windmill Hill Culture, established in the late 5th millennium B.C.E., which constructed one of the world's most massive and mysterious megalithic monument complexes at a place now known as Avebury in the County of Wiltshire.
The stages of the Windmill Hill Culture's development produced at first distinctive long barrows, then ritual centers of community life now misleadingly called "causewayed camps," and finally "henges," the functions of which are still hotly disputed by professional archaeologists and imaginative speculators alike.
Avebury was—and in terribly ruined condition still is—an extraordinary place. Who built it, and why? How long did it take? To set it in context, Professor Adams surveys rapidly the range of megalithic cultures (a specialized type of Neolithic culture) in Western Europe, from southeastern Spain to Scandinavia, concluding with the navigationally sophisticated megalithic complex at Carnac in Brittany.
While in their megalithic phase, the Neolithic farming and stock−raising communities of Britain interacted with newcomers from the European continent, now called the Beaker People, who brought with them bronze metallurgy, horses to ride and draw vehicles, the art of brewing beer, and a strikingly individualistic lifestyle.
From Stone Age to Bronze Age?
The arrival of the bronze−working Beaker People is traditionally described as marking the "Bronze Age." How accurate is this notion? What do recent studies tell us about the lives of the farming peoples who encountered the Beaker People and their bronze technology?
Does Stonehenge, the most famous of all Neolithic monuments, shed any light here? Though much smaller than Avebury, it is a striking site that has fascinated scholars, antiquarians, and many others for centuries. What explains its creation? How were its builders related to the builders of Avebury?
From the Stone Age to Our Age
Professor Adams closes by reflecting on several aspects of the Neolithic legacy. Did agricultural surpluses lead to such diverse consequences as population explosion despite nutritional impoverishment, inherited differentiation in social standing, and the growing importance of warfare?
As case studies suggesting contrary understandings of the last of those tendencies, you consider two dramatically contrasting Welsh sites, the hill fort of Caer Cadwgan and the peaceful village of Craig Rhiwarth.
Then, in an attempt to summarize and evaluate the legacy that modern Western culture owes the West European Neolithic, you will ask whether the great Oxford anthropologist Gordon Childe and others have been right to see Neolithic culture as the decisive foundation of Western civilization, which continues to shape our own deepest cultural attitudes.
After all, food surplus, the basic and enduring legacy of the Agricultural Revolution, provided the basis for the consequent development of class stratification, specialized warfare, religion, science (both of them now highly specialized and separated from one another), and art.
"Our modern way of life has clearly benefited from the Neolithic Revolution, but has the benefit been free of costs?" reflects Professor Adams.
About Your Teacher
Professor Adams has won numerous awards for teaching and scholarship, including the Danforth Foundation's Harbison Award (1972), the DeVane and Perrine Medals from the Yale and SMU chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, and several outstanding teacher citations.
His publications include Patterns of Medieval Society (Prentice Hall, 1969); The "Populus" of Augustine and Jerome: A Study in the Patristic Sense of Community (Yale, 1971; winner of the National Catholic Book Award for Scholarship, 1972); and Condemned to Repeat It (in collaboration with Wick Allison and Gavin Hambly, Viking Penguin, 1998).
NOTE: This is a personal "thank you" to this site, and I hope to be able to upload more materials. Those who can, please help uploading more TTC or TMS stuff to this site. These materials are wonderful for our listening training and to get more vocabulary (besides learning more and more!). Hope you enjoy!
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