The start of the next era, known as the Neolithic, marks the appearance among groups of hunter-gatherers of new human communities with a totally different way of life, based entirely on farming. The idea of ‘Neolithisation’ – a term often used to denote the adoption of this new lifestyle – arose some 10 000 years ago in several regions of the Middle East and southern Asia. Neolithic culture spread gradually, reaching even the more remote parts of Europe. This new way of life introduced changes in social economy, based on the ability to produce food through the domestication and cultivation of cereals and other plants, as well as the domestication and husbandry of animals. These major developments brought about changes in social structure and beliefs and, moreover, imposed a settled way of life. This period saw the emergence of many new building techniques (permanent houses with functionally divided interiors) and household innovations. The first pottery was produced new types of flint and stone tools were used (e.g., adzes, axes, chisels and sickles) and the craft of weaving was developed.
The first farmers reached the territories of modern-day Poland during the 6th millennium BC, journeying via the Moravian Gate from cultural centres south of the Carpathian Mountains. These settlers made their homes in areas such as Little Poland (Małopolska), Silesia, Kujavia, as well as in the districts of Chełmno and Pyrzyce, where the land was rich in fertile loess and black soils. Some time later they also penetrated into Greater Poland, probably via Kujavia and Silesia. Although numerous traces pointing to the presence of these early farming communities have been found in the Greater Poland region, the first evidence of permanent settlement dates from the mid 5th millennium BC. Long-term settlement led to reciprocal contacts and cultural exchange between farmers and hunter-gatherers, and hence to the gradual diffusion of Neolithic practices over increasingly larger areas.
Many cultural and social changes took place during the three-thousand-year span of the Neolithic period. Populations inhabiting Greater Poland formed part of the first Neolithic cultural community in northern Europe, extending across a large part of the North European Plain – from Holland to western Ukraine and from southern Scandinavia to Bohemia. Close interregional contacts resulted in cultural processes following a similar pattern throughout this area during the Neolithic. The demand for raw materials such as stone, flint and amber, were a significant factor in the development of these links. Cultural stimulus also reached here from beyond the Carpathians, where contacts with Balkan cultures led to the development of large centres of ancient metallurgy, processing copper and gold.
Cultural influence from various directions and migrations to Greater Poland of people from neighbouring territories resulted in agricultural, pastoral and hunter-gatherer communities living in parallel and exploiting a full range of diverse environments. These communities differed in their social structures and beliefs, which usually stemmed from their main form of subsistence economy. This fact is evidenced by the varied nature and structure of settlements, funerary rituals (megalithic tombs appeared during this period), and in pottery production techniques and styles. The Neolithic period also saw advances in farming technology (the replacement of ‘slash and burn’ cultivation with agriculture based on the use of ox-drawn ploughs), the first use of the cart as a means of transport and the emergence of metallurgy.