What spurred the production of pottery in last Ice Age?

London, March 22 (IANS) An international team of archaeologists have revealed that culture played a major role in the significant increase of pottery production at the end of the last Ice Age.

Invented in Japan around 16,000 years ago, production of pottery increased vastly 11,500 years before, coinciding with a shift to a warmer climate.

Increase in production of pottery was previously attributed to changing climate, resurgence in forests and increase in vegetation and animals, which led to new food sources becoming available.

As a result, ancient Japanese developed different cooking and storage techniques for the wider variety of foodstuffs available. The thinking goes that their shifting eating habits demanded new pottery.

However, the results of the study showed that the pottery was used largely for cooking marine and freshwater animal species – a routine that remained constant despite climate warming and new resources becoming available.

“Here, we are starting to acquire some idea of why pottery was invented and became such a successful technology. 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,” said one of the researchers Oliver Craig, director at University of York in Britain.

This functional resilience in pottery use, in the face of climatic changes, suggested that cultural influences rather than environmental factors are more important in the widespread uptake of pottery, the researchers maintained in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team analysed 143 ceramic vessels from Torihama, an ancient site in western Japan and performed molecular and isotopic analysis of lipids extracted from these vessels, which spanned a 9000-year period.

The findings showed that the hunter-gatherer survived mostly on different types of marine and freshwater animal species — fish and shellfish.

Only a little evidence of plant processing in pottery, or cooking of animals such as deer was found.

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

“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,” said Shinya Shoda, a visiting research fellow from Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties who participated in the study.

The last Ice Age peaked about 21,000 years ago and ended around 11,500 years ago.

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