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Why Was Pottery Invented?


A new study conducted by archaeologists from the University of York shows that pottery use and production did not increase to accommodate new techniques for cooking and storing new food items. Instead, it was mostly due to cultural changes and to maintain its use for cooking different marine and freshwater animals despite new food sources.

“Interestingly, the reason seems to be little to do with subsistence and more to do with the adoption of a cultural tradition, linked to celebratory occasions and competitive feasting, especially involving the preparation of fish and shellfish,” says Oliver Craig, the director of BioArCh in York’s Department of Archaeology. “The endurance of this transition means it was embedded in East Asian foragers’ social memory for hundreds of generations, perhaps reflecting the need for a dependable method to exploit a sustainable food in an uncertain and changing world.”

 Preparing Clay sand for pottery. Photo from Wikipedia/Pp391

Preparing clay sand for pottery. Photo from Wikipedia/Pp391

The research team set out to Japan, where pottery is believed to have started 16,000 years ago. The researchers studied 143 ceramic vessels from the ancient site Torihama located in western Japan.

Pottery production and use increased at the end of the last Ice Age, around 11,500 years ago. However, this was not due to environmental factors such as the increase climate temperature and the increase of food sources.

Their molecular and isotopic analysis of 9,000-year-old lipids from the pots revealed that these pots were mainly used to cook fish and other marine or freshwater animal species. They did not find any proof that showed pottery was used to cook other animals like deer despite the vegetation and animal source increase.

“The preservation of lipids on ceramic material of this antiquity is remarkable,” asserts study first author Alexandre Lucquin, BioArCh’s research associate. ”The analysis provides the first insights into how pottery use changed during massive climate change at the end of the last Ice Age.”

They figured culture influenced pottery production and use more than previously thought.  Nevertheless, the researchers say that this means more research is still needed to further understand this.

“The findings prompt a new phase of ceramic research in East Asia, highlighting the need for widespread organic analysis of our long, rich and varied pottery records,” adds Shinya Shoda, a researcher from the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Japan.

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