Magazine article Science News

Pottery Cooked from the Start: Ancient Hunter-Gatherers Heated Seafood in Vessels

Magazine article Science News

Pottery Cooked from the Start: Ancient Hunter-Gatherers Heated Seafood in Vessels

Article excerpt

Ancient leftovers indicate that the earliest pottery was used by hunter-gatherers for cooking, thousands of years before farming communities began heating their food in vessels.

Chemical analyses of charred food clinging to pottery fragments from sites across Japan indicate that hunter gatherers who lived there between 15,300 and 11,200 years ago cooked freshwater or marine animals in ceramic vessels, say bioarchaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York in England and his colleagues.

Concentrations of a certain form of nitrogen in crusty morsels attached to ceramic vessels from the ancient Jomon culture indicate that these people used the pots for cooking, Craig's team reports in the April 18 Nature. Fatty acids extracted from food remnants on pottery from two Jomon sites confirmed that fish or other aquatic creatures had been cooked.

Fatty acids don't tend to survive in burned crusts, but the scientists worked with what they could find on the ancient containers. "We weren't expecting to get such conclusive results from charred deposits of this age," Craig says.

Previous chemical analyses of pottery stains, which unlike burned deposits often preserve fatty acids, have dated the origins of cheese making to 7,400 years ago in Eastern Europe (SN: l/25/13, p. 16) and of cattle milking to 9,000 years ago in what's now Turkey.

Until the 1990s, researchers traced the origins of pottery in Japan to rice farmers living no more than 2,300 years ago. An excavation in the early 1990s of a large JOmon settlement containing buildings, graves and numerous pottery fragments first challenged that view. …

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