This chapter discusses the beginnings of the Neolithic period in Britain and Ireland and is concerned with the time between approximately 4000 and 3300 BC. That simple statement raises many problems (Figs. 2.1 and 2.2).
In order to work out when the Neolithic started, it is necessary to establish what that term means today. It is a period label which has been inherited from the past and has had rather different connotations from one generation to another. The adjective ‘Neolithic’ was originally devised to describe a particular kind of technology based on the use of ground and polished stone, although it was soon appreciated that the finished artefacts were often found with ceramics. This definition became less important once it was discovered that these innovations occurred at the same time as the adoption of domesticates. Gordon Childe (1952) even spoke of a ‘Neolithic Revolution’, a term which he intended to evoke the important social and economic changes associated with the development of farming. Still more recently, attention has shifted to the idea that the Neolithic period also saw profound changes in human attitudes to the world and that these were reflected in the construction of monuments and the use of a more complex material culture (Hodder 1990).
Each of these definitions has a certain validity. The problem is how their different components might be integrated with one another.