Neolithic Art
Chronology, Types, Characteristics of Late Stone Age Arts and Crafts.

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Enthroned Goddess of Catal Huyuk
(c.6,000 BCE) Terracotta sculpture.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
For more about ancient carvings,
see: Prehistoric Sculpture.

Neolithic Art


What is Neolithic Art?
Historical Chronology
Characteristics and Types
Ornamentation and Portable Carvings
Megalithic Architecture
Rock Art
Major Centres of Neolithic Arts and Crafts
- Catal Huyuk (c.7,500-5,700 BCE)
- Mehrgarh (c.7,000-2,500 BCE)
Related Articles

For the earliest 100 artworks, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.

Thinker of Cernavoda
(5,000 BCE)
National Museum of Romania.
A magnificent example of
terracotta sculpture from
the Neolithic era.


Aurignacian Art
(40,000-25,000 BCE)
Gravettian Art
(25,000-20,000 BCE)
Solutrean Art
(20,000-15,000 BCE)
Magdalenian Art
(15,000-10,000 BCE)
Mesolithic Art
(from 10,000-variable BCE)
• Neolithic Art
(Ends about 2,000 BCE)
Bronze Age Art
(c.3500-1100 BCE)
Iron Age Art
(c.1100-200 BCE)

What is Neolithic Art? (Definition)

In Prehistoric art, the term "Neolithic art" describes all arts and crafts created by societies who had abandoned the semi-nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering food in favour of farming and animal husbandry. Not surprisingly therefore, ancient pottery including terracotta sculpture was the major artform of the Neolithic, although human creativity of the age expressed itself in a good many different types of art, including prehistoric engravings and hand stencils, as well as a variety of mobiliary art (sculpted statuettes, personal adornments). In addition, the construction of religious temples, shrines and tombs to serve the new sedentary culture led to the development of megalithic art and a form of monumental stone architecture using megaliths (petroforms).

Historical Chronology

The Neolithic period - which heralded the beginning of civilization - witnessed a massive change in lifestyle across the world. From the time that the Ice Age finished (about 10,000 BCE), the old Paleolithic hunter-gatherer existence started to disappear, as the herds of reindeer and other animals went north. Cave art disappeared as people began to adopt a more settled existence, based on agriculture, the rearing of domesticated animals and the use of polished rather than chipped stone tools. However, there is no single date that marks the beginning of the Neolithic, since agriculture became established at different times in different parts of the world.

• In the Americas, it lasted from 2,500 BCE to about 500 CE
• In Northern/Western Europe, the Neolithic lasted from 4,000 to 1,800 BCE
• In Central Europe, it lasted from 5,500 to 2,000 BCE
• In East Asia, it lasted from 6,000 to 2,000 BCE
• In Southeast Europe, it lasted from 7,000 to 2,500 BCE
• In Africa, Near East, South-East Asia, it lasted from 8,000 to 2,500 BCE

NOTE: The above dates are very approximate only, as disagreement among scholars persists about when exactly the Neolithic started and finished in differing geographical regions. For more dates, please see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).



Characteristics and Types of Neolithic Art

As in all eras of Stone Age art, what happened in everyday life had a major impact on the art of the period. Paleolithic man had focused all his energies on hunting for food and procreation - as illustrated by the Lascaux cave paintings and the fertility symbols known as Venus figurines, respectively. In contrast, Neolithic man found that cultivating crops made life much more secure. Indeed, as Neolithic farming settlements gained control of their food supply and became less vulnerable to predators, several things happened. First, the population expanded significantly: from 8 million to 65 million within 5,000 years. Second, communities became more aware and more protective of their "territory". They frequently merged with others, creating larger settlements and (ultimately) cities. Thirdly, they became more organized and more hierarchical. Lastly, Neolithic man began to develop systems of belief in supernatural deities. Each of these social developments had an impact on the art of the period.


Pottery is still considered to be the diagnostic artifact of the Neolithic, notwithstanding that Japanese Jomon pottery and some Chinese pottery predates the Neolithic by several millennia(!). For the world's earliest ceramic pots, see: Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE), the slightly later Yuchanyan Cave pottery (16,300 BCE) and the Amur River Basin Pottery (14,300 BCE) across the Siberian border in Russia's Far East. For early ceramics in Europe, see: Vela Spila Pottery (15,500 BCE) from Korcula Island, Croatia.

Ceramic art in the Near East is usually separated into four periods: the Hassuna period (7,000-6,500 BCE), the Halaf period (6,500-5,500 BC), the Ubaid period (5,500-4,000 BC), and the Uruk period (4,000-3,100 BC). During the Hassuna period, low-fired pots were made from slabs, undecorated and unglazed. But by the Halaf era, wares were decorated with intricate painted designs, as well as incised patternwork and burnished. With the invention of the potter's wheel in Mesopotamia during the Ubaid period, pottery manufacture was revolutionized, enabling increasingly specialized craftsmen and mould-makers to supply the growing demand for new shapes and new types of vessels. See also: Pottery Timeline (from 26,000 BCE).

In Neolithic India, pottery was in use during the Mehrgarh Period II (5,500-4,800 BCE) and Merhgarh Period III (4,800-3,500 BCE), as well as during the later Indus Valley civilization (3300-1300 BCE). In Europe, clay-fired ceramics originated during the era of Paleolithic art - see, for instance, the Czech statuette known as the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 BCE) - and thereafter developed in fits and starts. In Africa, the earliest pottery dating back to at least 9,500 BCE was unearthed by Swiss archeologists in Central Mali.

Good examples of Neolithic pottery include:

Chalcolithic Pottery from Persia (5,000-3,500 BCE)
Ceramic pots ornamented with human, bird, plant or animal motifs.
[See also: Art of Ancient Persia (from 3,500 BCE).]

Samarra and Halaf Plates from Iraq and Syria (5,000 BCE)
Ceramic ware decorated with figurative or abstract patterns.
[See also: Mesopotamian Art 4,500-539 BCE.]

Ornamentation and Portable Carvings

A more static domestic existence created a huge demand for aesthetic decoration and embellishment. As a result, crafts were developed as well as various forms of decorative art and design. Murals began to appear in houses; as did small statues, and patterns for pottery and textiles. True, most ancient art remained essentially functional in nature, but Neolithic culture also wanted beauty. Thus new creative techniques were invented to satisfy this primitive urge for ornamentation, as exemplified by Chinese jade carving (from 4900 BCE) and Chinese Lacquerware (from 4,500 BCE). A good example is the Pig Dragon Pendant (3,800 BCE, Liaoning Provincial Institute of Archeology, Shenyang, China), an ancient Chinese jade carving made by artists of the Hongshan Culture. [See also: Neolithic Art in China: 7500-2000 BCE.]

Neolithic culture was also noted for its stone carvings and ceramic sculpture. Fine examples include:

Jiahu Carvings, Yellow River Valley, China (7,000–5,700 BCE)
Tortoise shell carvings, and the 33 Jiahu flutes carved from the wing bones of cranes, which are among the world's oldest musical instruments.
Vidovdanka (5500-4700 BCE)
Terracotta figurine from Vinca-Belo Brdo. Now in National Museum of Serbia.
Thinker of Cernavoda (5,000 BCE)
Extraordinary iconic figurative sculpture made during the Neolithic Hamangia culture. Now in the National Museum, Bucharest, Romania.
Fish God of Lepenski Vir (5,000 BCE)
Sandstone sculpture of a man-god figure, found in the Danubian Settlement of Lepenski Vir, Serbia.
Priest-King of Mesopotamia (3,300 BCE)
12-inch Limestone statuette from the Uruk culture of ancient Iraq. Now in the Louvre Museum, Paris. For other later Mesopotamian cultures, please see: Assyrian art (1500-612 BCE) and Hittite art (1600-1180 BCE).
Kneeling Bull with Vessel (3,000 BCE)
One of the earliest treasures of silver metalwork, crafted by Mesopotamian silversmiths during the Proto-Elamite Period. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. [See also: Mesopotamian Sculpture.]
Ram in a Thicket (2,650-2,550 BCE)
One of the greatest examples of Sumerian art from ancient Iraq.

Megalithic Architecture

As Neolithic settlements grew in size so did the need for rules and social norms. This led to, or coincided with, the development of religious belief systems and the worship of deities. This in turn led to the gradual emergence of monumental religious architecture for shrines and tombs, which evolved alongside the religious beliefs that it celebrated. The most famous examples of such works are the Egyptian Pyramids (c.2650-1800 BCE). For more detailed information, please see: Ancient Egyptian Architecture (3,000 BCE to 200 CE) and Early Egyptian Architecture (3100-2181 BCE).

Other important Neolithic sites include:

Gobekli Tepe (c.9,500-7,500 BCE)
The most important post-Paleolithic structure of the Stone Age. Begun during the Mesolithic era, completed in the Neolithic.
Nevali Cori (c.9,000-7,000 BCE)
Sister site to Gobekli Tepe.
Catal Huyuk, Anatolia (c.7,500-5,700 BCE) [see below]
Large Neolithic and Chalcolithic proto-city in southern Turkey.
Mehrgarh, Pakistan (7,000-2,500 BCE) [see below]
One of the most important archeological sites of the Neolithic period in Southern Asia. See also: Indian Sculpture (3300 BCE - 1850).
Ggantija Temple complex, Gozo (c.3,600 BCE)
Believed to be a fertility cult centre.
Gavrinis Passage Grave, Brittany (c.3500 BCE)
Decorated with spirals, mazes, anthropomorphic "shield" motifs.
Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb (c.3300 BCE)
Extensive necropolis noted for its engraved pictographs, including spiral and rhombus-shaped motifs, as well as concentric circles, herring bone patterns, zig-zags and axes.
Zuschen Tomb Gallery Grave, Germany (c.3300 BCE)
Featuring decorative dots symbolizing cattle, carts and ploughs.
Knowth Megalithic Tomb Complex (c.2500 BCE)
Estimated to contain one quarter of all the megalithic art produced in Europe.
Stonehenge Stone Circle (c.2600 BCE)
The world's most famous assemblage of large upright stones (menhirs).

Rock Art

In Africa, Oceania and Australia, the Neolithic era is characterized by outdoor rock art, including petroglyphs and a diminishing amount of cave painting, notably hand stencils and other pictographs and petrograms. Here is a short list of the most famous examples of rock art created during the Neolithic period.

Burrup Peninsula Rock Engravings
One of the world's largest collections of petroglyphs dating from Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Pilbara, Western Australia.
Ubirr Rock Paintings
Aboriginal paintings created throughout the Stone Age up to the modern era. Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
Bradshaw Paintings
Different styles of human-figure paintings (Tassel, Sash, Elegant Action Figures and later Clothes Peg Figures) in the Kimberley area of Australia, created throughout the Late Stone Age.
Coldstream Burial Stone (6,000 BCE)
Rock engravings on quartzite stone, found by the Lottering River, Western Cape Province, South Africa.
Sydney Rock Engravings (5,000 BCE)
Figurative rock carvings of people and animals incised into sandstone, in NSW, Australia. [See also: Aboriginal Rock Art.]
Dabous Giraffe Engravings (4,000 BCE)
Taureg Culture petroglyphs of elephants, antelopes, crocodiles and cattle, discovered in Agadez, Niger. [See also: Tribal Art.]
Elands Bay Cave (4,000 BCE)
Famous for its collages of several hundred hand stencils, in the Western Cape, South Africa.
Niola Doa (Beautiful Ladies) (3,000 BCE)
Monumental engraved paintings of female figures on the Ennedi Plateau, Chad. [See also: African Art.]

Major Centres of Neolithic Arts and Crafts

Catal Huyuk (Catalhoyuk) Archeological Site (c.7,500-5,700 BCE)

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an estimated population of around 10,000 and composed entirely of mud-brick buildings, is the most extensive and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. Excavations showed that all rooms had been kept meticulously clean, while the dead were buried in pits beneath the floors and hearths. Colourful murals were painted on interior and exterior walls throughout the settlement. Some one hundred clay figurines of women - such as "The Enthroned Goddess of Catal Huyuk" (c.7,000 BCE), a Mother Goddess figure about to give birth while seated on a throne - were sculpted in marble, blue and brown limestone, alabaster, calcite, basalt and terracotta. Another 1900 figurines were sculptures of animals. Although no temples have been identified, heavily decorated chambers may have been shrines or public places of worship. Mural paintings featured hunting scenes, aurochs and stags, as well as images of men with erect phalluses. A painting of the village, against a scenic background featuring the twin mountain peaks of Hasan Dag is reputed to be the world's first example of landscape painting. The inhabitants of Catal Huyuk cultivated crops and domesticated sheep and cattle, although hunting continued to be a major food-gathering activity.

Mehrgarh Archeological Site (c.7,000-2,500 BCE)

Situated on the Kacchi Plain of Balochistan, Pakistan, this 495-acre site is one of the oldest known centres of Neolithic farming and animal husbandry in South Asia, from which some 32,000 artifacts have been excavated to date. It is also a significant producer of Neolithic pottery. Scientists have classified the occupation of the site into several different periods, as follows. Mehrgarh Period I (7000-5500 BCE) was Neolithic and aceramic (devoid of pottery). Ornaments made from limestone, lapis lazuli, sandstone, turquoise and sea shells have been discovered, along with statuettes of women and animals. The discovery of these statuettes is highly significant: it means that Mehrgarh was responsible for the oldest known ceramic cult figurines in South Asia, made even before the site's first pottery. It was only in Mehrgarh Period II (5500-4800 BCE) and Mehrgarh Period III (4800-3500 BCE) that craftsmen began making pottery. During Period II the potter's wheel was introduced. Mehrgarh craftsmen also made glazed faience beads and terracotta figurines decorated with paint and ornaments, as well as button seals in bone and terracotta and bone, embellished with geometric designs. Further cultural and artistic developments occurred during Period IV (3500-3250 BCE), Period V (3250-3000 BCE) and period VI (c.3000-2600 BCE). By 2,000 BCE, the quality of Mehrgarh's pottery appears to have suffered due to mass production, and also because of a growing interest in bronze and copper.

Related Articles

• For early tomb art, see: Early Egyptian Architecture of the Old Kingdom.
• For early Chinese culture, see: Xia Dynasty Culture (c.2100-1600 BCE).
• For Iron Age crafts, see: Celtic Hallstatt Culture (c.800-450 BCE).


• For more information about Late Stone Age arts and crafts, see: Homepage.

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