The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, νέος (néos, "new") and λίθος (líthos, "stone"): or New Stone era, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 10,200 cal. BCE according to the ASPRO chronology in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age. The Neolithic followed the terminal Holocene Epipaleolithic period, beginning with the rise of farming, which produced the "Neolithic Revolution", and ending when metal tools became widespread in the Copper Age (chalcolithic) or Bronze Age or developing directly into the Iron Age, depending on the geographical region. The Neolithic is a measured progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and the use of domesticated animals.
The beginning of the Neolithic culture is considered to be in the Levant (Jericho, modern-day West Bank) about 10200-8800 cal. BCE. 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 was between 12000-10200 cal. BCE and the so-called "proto-neolithic" is now included in the PPNA between 10200-8800 cal. BCE. 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 10200-8800 cal. BCE, farming communities arose in the Levant and spread to Asia Minor, North Africa and North Mesopotamia. 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 cal. 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 independent of those in Europe and Southwest Asia. Early Japanese societies used pottery before developing agriculture.
Unlike the Paleolithic, when more than one human species existed, only one human species (Homo sapiens sapiens) reached the Neolithic. Homo floresiensis may have survived right up to the very dawn of the Neolithic, about 12,200 years ago.
The term Neolithic derives from the Greek νεολιθικός, neolithikos, from νέος neos, "new" + λίθος lithos, "stone", literally meaning "New Stone Age." The term was invented by Sir John Lubbock in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system.