Overview

Pottery was a fundamentally important prehistoric innovation which had revolutionary implications for human diet, health and demography. The emergence of pottery is therefore one of the oldest problems in World Archaeology, and scholars have tended to link its invention to the rise of farming economies and settled village life. With exciting new data from across Eurasia and Africa these explanations are undergoing detailed revision.

It is now clear that the oldest pottery origins extend much further back in time; ceramic vessels appeared among East Asian hunting and gathering societies around 17,000 years ago, millennia before the emergence of farming, as they developed strategies for the processing of new foodstuffs. As climates warmed at the end of the last Ice Age pottery-use intensified, with knowledge of the craft spreading into new regions and across continents. For example, the earliest pottery arrived in Europe via two dispersal streams, one from the South, and one from Eastern Europe, via Siberia and ultimately with origins in East Asia.

While the outlines of this new pottery-origin model are now established, archaeologists need to develop much more detailed explanations of how and why the first pottery was made, what new foods and cuisines it was associated with and why it flourished so quickly among pre-agricultural societies.

This new pilot project is undertaking an analytical pilot-study of early pottery origins and dispersals in the island-chain settings of Northeast Asia and will be running a conference session at the 2013 SAA’s.

(Project funded by the Leverhulme Trust)