Study Reveals the Origins of Pottery: Fishers Used Them At the End of the Last Ice Age

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BioArCh researchers studied some of the earliest pottery remains, finding out that, at the end of the last Ice Age, the vessels were used by fishers.

In the most extensive study of its kind, scientists examined 800 vessels, a majority found in Japan – one of the earliest place for ceramic innovation. Researchers at BioArCh (the University of York) conducted a study for three years to see what the purpose of the ceramic vessels was. They concluded that the hunter-gatherer ancestors stored and processed fish. Later, when fishing intensified, the ancestors used the vessels to place shellfish, freshwater and marine fish and mammals.

“An Every-day Tool For Preparing Fish”

Even after the climate became warmer and the humans could go hunting and gathering plants in the forest, fishing remained a stable source of food.

The team of researchers used chemicals to analyze the organic compounds of the food that remained in the pots after laying underground for almost 10,000 years. The samples analyzed are from the end of the Late Pleistocene to the time when climate started to get warmer, and pottery began being produced in larger quantities.

The chemical analysis showed what prehistoric hunter-gatherers processed the food and consumed it during the glacial and post-glacial period, explains Dr. Alex Lucquin (BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York), who is the lead author of the study:

“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 Jōmon people of Japan but also its resilience to a dramatic change in climate.”

According to the leader of the study, Professor Oliver Craig (Department of Archaeology and Director of the BioArCh Research Centre, U. of York), pottery was associated with processing the fish, no matter the environmental conditions:

“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.”

The study funded by the AHRC included researchers from Japan, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and it was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere