Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Origins of Pottery Linked with Intensified Fishing in the Post-Glacial Period



A study into some of the earliest known pottery remains has suggested that the rise of ceramic production was closely linked with intensified fishing at the end of the last Ice Age.

Scientists examined 800 pottery vessels in one of the largest studies ever undertaken, focusing mainly on Japan- a country recognized as being one of the earliest centers for ceramic innovation.

A three year study led by researchers at BioArCh, the University of York, concluded 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.

Scientists say 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.

This is incipient J?mon pottery from Hanamiyama site, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Credit: Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties

The research 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 samples analysed are some of the earliest found and date from the end of the Late Pleistocene - a time when our ancestors were living in glacial conditions - to the post-glacial period when the climate warmed close to its current temperature and when pottery began to be produced in much greater quantity.

The study has shed new light on how prehistoric hunter-gatherers processed and consumed foods over this period - until now virtually nothing was known of how or for what early pots were used.

As part of the study, researchers 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.

Lead author, Dr Alex Lucquin, from BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, said: "Thanks to the exceptional preservation of traces of animal fat, we now know that pottery changed from a rare and special object to an every-day tool for preparing fish.

"I think that our study not only reveals the subsistence of the ancient Jomon people of Japan but also its resilience to a dramatic change in climate.

Professor Oliver Craig, from the Department of Archaeology and Director of the BioArCh research centre at York, who led the study, said: "Our results demonstrate that pottery had a strong association with the processing of fish, irrespective of the ecological setting.

"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.

"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"

"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."

Dr Simon Kaner, from the University of East Anglia, who was involved in the study, added: "The research highlights the benefits of this kind of international collaboration for unlocking some of the big questions about the human past, and the potential of engaging with established research networks as created by the Sainsbury Institute over the years."

The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the study was funded by the AHRC. It was an international collaboration including researchers in Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.


Contacts and sources:
Alistair Keely
University of York

Archaeologists Discover Bread That Predates Agriculture By 4,000 Years



At an archaeological site in northeastern Jordan, researchers have discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago. It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge have analysed charred food remains from a 14,400-year-old Natufian hunter-gatherer site - a site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan. The results, which are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread:

One of the stone structures of the Shubayqa 1 site. The fireplace, where the bread was found, is in the middle.

Photo: Alexis Pantos

"The presence of hundreds of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices. The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking. The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming. The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all," said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, who is the first author of the study.

University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at Shubayqa 1 in Jordan, explained:

"Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change. Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way. But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation. So this evidence confirms some of our ideas. Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later agricultural revolution where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food."

Charred remains under the microscope

The charred food remains were analysed with electronic microscopy at a University College London lab by PhD candidate Lara Gonzalez Carratero (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is an expert on prehistoric bread:


Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area.

Photo: Joe Roe

"The identification of 'bread' or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward. There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record. Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain," said Gonzalez Carratero.

"Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking. That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification," said Professor Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Research into prehistoric food practices continues

A grant recently awarded to the University of Copenhagen team will ensure that research into food making during the transition to the Neolithic will continue:

"The Danish Council for Independent Research has recently approved further funding for our work, which will allow us to investigate how people consumed different plants and animals in greater detail. Building on our research into early bread, this will in the future give us a better idea why certain ingredients were favoured over others and were eventually selected for cultivation," said Tobias Richter.

The Shubayqa project research was funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. Permission to excavate was granted by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.




Contacts and sources:
Dr. Amaia Arranz Otaegui
Postdoc in Archaeobotany
Centre for the Study of Early Agricultural Societies
University of Copenhagen