Hunter-gatherer social ties spread pottery production far and wide — ScienceDaily

Analysis of more than 1,200 vessels from hunter-gatherer sites has shown that pottery-making techniques spread over large distances in a short time through the continuation of social traditions.

The team, which includes researchers from the University of York and the British Museum, analyzed the remains of 1,226 pottery vessels from 156 hunter-gatherer sites across nine countries in northern and eastern Europe. They combined radiocarbon dating, along with data on the manufacture and decoration of ceramic vessels, and analysis of food remains found inside the pots.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Human behaviorr, suggests that pottery production spread rapidly westwards from 5900 BCE onwards and took only 300-400 years to advance over 3000 km, equivalent to 250 km in a single generation.

Professor Oliver Craig, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “Our analysis of the ways in which pots were designed and decorated as well as new radiocarbon dates suggest that knowledge of pottery spread through a process of cultural transmission.

“By this we mean that the activity spread by the exchange of ideas between groups of hunter-gatherers living in close proximity, rather than through the migration of people or an expanding population as we see for other key changes in human history such as the introduction of agriculture.”

“That methods of making pottery spread so far and so quickly through the transmission of ideas is quite surprising. Specific knowledge may have been shared through marriage or at gathering centers, specific points on the landscape where groups of hunter-gatherers came together perhaps at certain times of the year.”

By studying traces of organic material left in the pots, the team demonstrated that the pottery was used for cooking, so ideas about pottery may have been spread through shared culinary traditions.

Carl Heron, of the British Museum, said: “We found evidence that the vessels were used to prepare a wide range of animals, fish and plants, and this variety suggests that the drivers for making the pottery were not in response to a particular need, for example, detoxifying plants or processing fish, which have previously been suggested.

“We also found patterns that suggest that the use of ceramics was transmitted along with knowledge of production and decoration. These can be seen as culinary traditions that were quickly transmitted with the objects themselves.”

The world’s earliest pottery vessels come from East Asia and may have spread rapidly eastward through Siberia, before being taken up by hunter-gatherer societies across northern Europe, long before the advent of agriculture.

This research is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

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Materials provided by University of York. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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