8. The Neolithic Expansion

8.1 Southeast Asia

The Mousterian culture developed by the Neanderthals was known in Southeast Asia but always remained at a poor level of craftsmanship. Forty thousand years ago, a “Lignic Period» characterized by the abandonment of stone tools and the use of wooden tools -prepared from stone tools- appeared (fig. 8.1.).

Figure 8.1. Considerable cultural advances were made 40,000 years ago in South East Asia, where the intermediary European-type hunting phase was bypassed. Edge-ground stone tools, characterizing a Neolithic Period, were made there, 10,000 years earlier than in Europe. During that time, Europe developed the remarkable Upper-Paleolithic culture that vanished about 6,000 years ago with the Azilians. In the Near East, an attempt at food control was initiated at Jericho, as an adaptation to worsening climatic conditions, while European Maglomesians developed the Neolithic ax (the celt).


A major change was the development of a technique of polishing and grinding stone tools instead of flaking them. This new method is the essence of the Neolithic way of life. The Lignic Period had lasted 20,000 years when human groups who started domestication of wild plants made their appearance in the middle Hoabindian sites (fig. 8.2).


Figure 8.2. The Hoa-Binh site in North Vietnam contains remains of a hunter and gatherer’s culture. Sea levels 10,000 years ago were much lower than today.

The appearance of horticulture as a way to sustain life arrived about 15,000 years ago. Pottery and animal husbandry appeared at the same time. Domesticated animals were the pig, the chicken and perhaps the dog. The common species of humped cattle from India was to appear later. Numerous species of plants were in use2.

A period of expansion started 10,000 years ago. The first move was from the mountains to the plains. This may have been the time when the presumed initiators of horticulture, i.e. the Melanesians, were driven away from the mainland by Asiatic races. The occupation of the Piedmont permitted an increase in farming activities and an abandonment of hunting that is still not complete today. The raising of the sea level at the end of the Pleistocene period (figure 8.2) caused the second move. It forced people of the coastal plains to retreat towards what would soon become islands (Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes), develop navigational skills and move over water. The colonization of Oceania may have begun then.

In China, hunter-gatherers were dining on wild rice along the banks of the Yangtze River 13,000 years ago. A short cold spell (the Younger Dryas) prevented the growth of the wild rice about 12,000 years ago and the meals ceased. As the chill waned, about 11,000 years ago, people began sowing, harvesting and cultivating rice but these early Chinese cultivators were still feeding mainly on gathered and hunted food. The transition to farming in China must have taken about 4,000 years because domesticated rice became a dietary staple there only about 7,000 years ago.

In South East Asia, rice was cultivated 8,000 years ago, probably by Malaysians. The South East Neolithic evolution was followed by the use of copper (6,000 to 7,000 years BP3) and, thereafter, bronze. It was not followed by a social evolution leading to the building of cities or the creation of strong centralist powers. Even as recent as 3,000 years ago, no fortifications are known to have existed anywhere in that region, making one think that organized warfare was unknown.

During the fourth millennium BP, only North Vietnam and South China might have been under the yoke of a central government independent from that of North China. Centralized states appeared about 2,000 years ago, under the influence of India.


2. Pepper, butternut, almond, candlenut, cucumber, bottle gourds, Chinese water chestnut, peas, beans and perhaps soybeans.

3. B.P. means Before Present time. A.D. means Anno Dei (of the year of God) i.e. time from the birth of Christ. B.C. means Before Christ.

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