The Neolithic (// ( listen)) was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 10,200 BC, according to the ASPRO chronology, in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world and ending between 4500 and 2000 BC.
Traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age or The New Stone Age, the Neolithic followed the terminal Holocene Epipaleolithic period and commenced with the beginning of farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution". It ended when metal tools became widespread (in the Copper Age or Bronze Age; or, in some geographical regions, in the Iron Age). The Neolithic is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated animals.
The beginning of the Neolithic culture is considered to be in the Levant (Jericho, modern-day West Bank) about 10,200–8800 BC. It developed directly from the Epipaleolithic Natufian culture in the region, whose people pioneered the use of wild cereals, which then evolved into true farming. The Natufian period lasted between 12,500 and 9,500 BC, and the so-called "proto-Neolithic" is now included in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNA) between 10,200 and 8800 BC. As the Natufians had become dependent on wild cereals in their diet, and a sedentary way of life had begun among them, the climatic changes associated with the Younger Dryas are thought to have forced people to develop farming.
By 10,200–8800 BC, farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC.
Early Neolithic farming was limited to a narrow range of plants, both wild and domesticated, which included einkorn wheat, millet and spelt, and the keeping of dogs, sheep and goats. By about 6900–6400 BC, it included domesticated cattle and pigs, the establishment of permanently or seasonally inhabited settlements, and the use of pottery.
Not all of these cultural elements characteristic of the Neolithic appeared everywhere in the same order: the earliest farming societies in the Near East did not use pottery. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, independent domestication events led to their own regionally distinctive Neolithic cultures that arose completely independently of those in Europe and Southwest Asia. Early Japanese societies and other East Asian cultures used pottery before developing agriculture.
The term Neolithic derives from the Greek νέος néos, "new" and λίθος líthos, "stone", literally meaning "New Stone Age". The term was invented by Sir John Lubbock in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system.