London, July 17 (IANS) The origins of ceramic production can be traced to Japan and closely linked with intensified fishing at the end of the last Ice Age, finds a study, shedding light on how prehistoric hunter-gatherers processed and consumed foods over this period.
The findings showed that the ceramic vessels were used by our hunter-gatherer ancestors to store and process fish, initially salmon, but then a wider range including shellfish, freshwater and marine fish and mammals as fishing intensified.
This association with fish remained stable even after the onset of climate warming, including in more southerly areas, where expanding forests provided new opportunities for hunting game and gathering plants.
“Our results demonstrate that pottery had a strong association with the processing of fish, irrespective of the ecological setting,” said lead author Oliver Craig, a professor in Britian’s University of York.
“Contrary to expectations, this association remained stable even after the onset of warming, including in more southerly areas, where expanding forests provided new opportunities for hunting and gathering,” he added.
The team were able to determine the use of a range of ceramic vessels through chemical analysis of organic food compounds that remained trapped in the pots despite ca. 10,000 years of burial.
“The results indicate that a broad array of fish was processed in the pottery after the end of the last Ice Age, corresponding to a period when hunter-gatherers began to settle in one place for longer periods and develop more intensive fishing strategies,” Craig said.
“We suggest this marks a significant change in the role of pottery of hunter-gatherers, corresponding massively increased volume of production, greater variation in forms and sizes and the onset of shellfish exploitation,” he said.
For the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team examined 800 pottery vessels, focussing mainly on Japan — a country recognised as being one of the earliest centres for ceramic innovation.
The researchers also recovered diagnostic lipids from the charred surface deposits of the pottery with most of the compounds deriving from the processing of freshwater or marine organisms.