The Birth of Art – The New Stone (Neolithic) Age

Neolithic Age or the New Stone Age embarked upon a technologically and socially, much more advanced era for humankind than the yesteryears. This period marked the dawn of civilization when people began choosing settlement over wandering. The dwellings of this time included huts made of mud, straw, or brick, which collectively formed permanent villages. The Neolithic Age also witnessed the domestication of animals, the appearance of complex tools for fishing & hunting, and advancements in agriculture & pottery. Religious, architectural, and artistic pursuits became integral to the lifestyle.

Diverse art forms, such as weaving, architecture, Megaliths, and stylized pictographs, emerged during the New Stone Age only. Statuary, painting, and pottery carried down from the Mesolithic period, underwent significant transformations. In Western Europe, the Menhirs (large stone blocks) started being used to demarcate the boundaries between two tribal establishments, sacrificial arena, or places of worship. The artistic inclination of the people in the Neolithic Age, is evidenced by the way these Menhirs were decorated using myriad geometrical figures, like squares, rhombuses, and circles, along with zigzag ray forms carved onto the sides.

Statuettes of the New Stone Age mainly featured ‘Mother Goddess,’ as can be seen from the earliest traces of human figurines, discovered during archaeological excavations. The pottery used during this period also demonstrates the artistic skills of people. These artifacts were decorated with bright colors, including red, brown, and yellow. Paintings were now visible on the walls of domestic establishments, which were mainly used for ornamental purposes. The world’s earliest landscape paintings too came out of the New Stone Age.

The artistic expressions developed in tandem with the people’s requirements. For instance, architecture developed with the increase in demand for permanent dwellings and the places of worship. Similarly, woodcrafts and pottery developed to fulfill the need for furniture and utensils. One of the architectural wonders of the Neolithic period was the use of the Megaliths, the most famous example being the Stonehenge in England. The oldest known Megalithic temple is Gqantija on the Gozo Island. Neolithic paintings and the other art forms have been great aids in the study of human evolution, as they form the crucial link between early man and his environment, the level of development in that era, the cultural practices, and the religious beliefs. Art of this period in fact, laid the foundation for all further artistic forms.

Another interesting characteristic of the Neolithic Age artistry is the depiction of powerful animals, like Bison and Aurochs that men dreaded to hunt because of the sheer threat they posed. The vertical arrangements of animals on pillars and other art works symbolize the sedentary lifestyle of this era. The importance of a hierarchical relationship between human beings and the spirits is portrayed along the vertical axes in these artifacts. This is also significant in proving that long before man started cultivation, he had begun the mental subjugation of animals and established his superiority over them. Therefore, the Neolithic Age Art serves as a guiding post for the understanding of the years of human history and evolution.