The Innovation, Dispersal and Use of Ceramics in NE Europe

European Research Council
University of York
The British Museum

What is INDUCE?

A new research project led by the British Museum, University of York and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), Schleswig, Germany, aiming to tackle the origins, adoption and use of pottery vessels by hunter-gatherers in north-east Europe.



Why pottery?

Once viewed, particularly in western archaeology, as a material correlated with sedentary farming life in the Neolithic, pottery technology is now known to have been invented or adopted in many regions of the world long before the domestication of plants and animals.

However, despite this, the recognition of pottery vessels in hunter-gatherer contexts has been regarded as peripheral to mainstream European prehistory. This research project seeks to rebalance the evidence and the debate, placing the innovation, dispersal and use of pottery vessels among hunter-gatherers in north-east Europe at the heart of the enquiry.

Virtually nothing is known of the choices underlying the adoption of pottery vessels or the uses to which they were put. Similarly, there is little understanding of the environmental contexts that led to the emergence of pottery or the timing and dynamics of its apparent westward dispersal across north-east Europe, nor its legacy following the introduction of food production.

Addressing these lacunae is the motivation for this new project.




About the project

Ceramics are frequently associated with agriculture and settled village life. Interestingly however, some of the earliest ceramic vessels in Europe are found far away from Neolithic agricultural villages of South-eastern Europe, on foraging camps of the Russian boreal-steppe.

INDUCE sets out to shed new light on these early pottery using communities of NE Europe by determining how and why they made pottery and the role of this technology within hunter-gatherer economy and society. INDUCE will also examine the environmental contexts that led to the emergence of pottery and the timing and dynamics of its apparent westward dispersal across NE Europe. A final question is to understand what happened to these pottery using hunter-gatherers once they encountered early agriculturalist with different traditions, economies and ancestry.





INDUCE in numbers

We will complete organic residue analysis of over

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pottery vessels to record their function

Record the form, dimensions and manufacture technique of

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vessels

Directly date

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vessels through AMS dating

We will obtain pottery from over

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hunter-gatherer sites covering the 8th to 6th Millennium BC

Sampling

Sampling

Legend: Archaeological sites where vessels, sampled for INDUCE, come from/originate from

Up to now, around 800 vessels have been sampled. The selected vessels originate from a large number of Early Neolithic sites representing various hunter-gatherer ceramic cultures including Ertebolle, Narva, Serteya, Rudnya, Valday, Neman, Upper-Volga, Bug-Dnestr, Dnepr-Donetsk, cultures of European North-East area, Low Volga, Middle Don, Elshanskaya, Middle Volga, Sperrings, Karamyshevo and Rakushechny Yar cultures.

Legend: Drilling of 2 grams of sherd for organic residue analysis

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Typological and technological analysis

Typological and technological analysis

Typological and technological analyses are essential in identification of technological and cultural traditions, all describing cultural milieu, environmental and other choices that led to a creation of a specific ceramic assemblage.

Technological analysis is based on the reconstruction of «сhaîne opératoire», which includes description of raw materials and paste, vessel construction and further modelling, surface treatment, drying, decoration, and firing. Study of morphology, vessels volume allows revealing correlation with specific function of vessels.

Decor brings information about a potter belonging to a particular community. All these features constitute hierarchical system of vessels description, bearing information about changes occurred at different levels. Part of them can be explained by chronological features, some - by cultural one, others can be connected with some inner changes, occurred in ancient society during a long period of time or in the framework of generation.

Application of correspondence analysis allows combination of these features and representing all interconnections among different ceramic assemblages.

Legend: Drilling of 2 grams of sherd for organic residue analysis

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Vessel Function

What was pottery used for?

Studying the vessel function and its contents are fundamental to understand the motivation of the adoption of pottery by people.

How is it done?

During a meal preparation, a part of the food will be absorbed within the porosity of the ceramic vessel. It can also form a “food crust”, a charred deposit that will adhere at the surface of the pot. The food contains organic molecules that are very stable, the lipids. When the condition are good, as protected within the ceramic, they can be preserved for thousands of year. So from a fragment of ceramic vessel discovered in an excavation or from what was left of a food crust, we can extract and analyse ancient biomolecules that will allow us to identify what was cooked in this pot.

Do you want to know more?

Archaeologists are using different techniques to extract the ancient lipids. Here is the one most frequently used in this project.

Application of correspondence analysis allows combination of these features and representing all interconnections among different ceramic assemblages.

  • To extract the lipids from the pottery or food crust, we first reduce it to powder.
  • Then we mix it with organic solvent (methanol) and acid (sulfuric acid) to dissolve the molecules and help them to be released from the mineral matrix. The reaction take several hours at 70°C.
  • Now we add another solvent much less polar. As the lipids are closer in polarity to this solvent they will “migrate” in it. We pipette out this solvent and dry it.
  • We have now a lipid extract that we can analyse.
  • Gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS). It allow us to separate and identify the various molecular compounds. We are notably interested by some molecules that are characteristic of specific food groups, it is what we call a “biomarker”.
  • Gas chromatography - isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-c-IRMS). It allow us to obtain the stable isotopic value of the main compounds of the extract. The values are different between different group of foods. We can for example make the difference between marine and freshwater fishes.
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AMS dating and modelling

AMS dating and modelling

More info coming soon...

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People

Professor Carl Heron (PI)

The British Museum, United Kingdom

Professor Oliver Craig

BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, United Kingdom

Dr. John Meadows

Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), Schleswig, Germany

Dr. Alexandre Lucquin

BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, United Kingdom

Dr. Ekaterina Dolbunova

The British Museum, United Kingdom

Dr. Blandine Courel

The British Museum, United Kingdom

Partners

Manon Bondetti

BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, United Kingdom

Dr. Harry Robson

BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, United Kingdom

Professor Henny Piezonka

Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel, Germany