The Neolithic, or New Stone Age, when men began to grind and polish some of their stone implements after chipping them, began in Europe probably not more than seven or eight thousand years ago. The map of Europe then had nearly the same outlines as to-day.
Great Britain and Ireland were now separated from the Continent by the shallow waters of the North Sea, English Channel,and Irish Sea. Owing to the sinking of the Mediterranean area, Spain and Italy were no longer joined to North Africa by land-bridges. The plants which flourished in colder Paleolithic times gave place to those characteristic of a temperate climate, and forests began to cover what had formerly been treeless steppes. The woolly rhinoceros, woolly mammoth, and cave bear became extinct ; the musk sheep and reindeer retreated to Arctic latitudes, while the hippopotamus, elephant, and other big mammals found their way to tropical zones. The animals associated with Neolithic men represented species familiar to us, except for some survivals, such as the elk, wild boar, and European bison.
We do not yet know what became of the Cromagnons and later Paleolithic men. They may have become extinct; they may have moved toward the northeast into Neolithic Siberia and Arctic America; or they may have Peoples remained in their old locations and intermingled with the invading Neolithic peoples. These newcomers apparently came from western Asia and northern Africa and gradually spread over all Europe. The Neolithic peoples belonged to the Caucasian or White race. Their blood flows in the veins of modern Europeans, who are chiefly their descendants. Our knowledge of the Neolithic Age comes, not from deep-lying or sealed up deposits, such as those in Paleolithic caves, but from remains found on or near the surface of the soil or in rubbish heaps and burial grounds. In Denmark and along the Baltic coast stretch huge mounds of bone and shells, marking the sites of former camping places. These “kitchen middens,” or refuse heaps, are sometimes a thousand feet long, two to three hundred feet wide, and ten feet high; covered with vegetation they look like natural mounds. Implements of stone, bone, and wood, together with pieces of pottery and other things of human workmanship, are found in the “kitchen middens.” Switzerland affords numerous remains of lake dwellers, who, for protection against their enemies, lived over the water in huts resting on sharpened piles driven into the bottom of the lake. The huts have disappeared, but the mud about the piles contains thousands of objects, including animal bones, seeds of various plants and fruits, implements, shreds of coarse cloth, fragments of pottery, household utensils, and bits of furniture. Neolithic men also erected many stone monuments, either single pillars or groups of pillars in losing chambers and circles. The former often marked a grave; the latter usually served as sepulchers for the dead. They are rude memorials of far-off times and vanished peoples.