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Phase 2: Continuing CEACB projects (phase 1): Project 039
Use of Ceramics by Old-World Hunter-Gatherers

Peter Jordan (Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen )
Professor Marek Zvelebil (University of Sheffield)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
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The origin of pottery is one of the oldest and most important research topics in Old World Archaeology, and has long been linked to the Neolithic Revolution and the transition to farming in Western Europe during the Holocene. Recent research from across Eurasia has challenged these established models, and suggested more complicated patterns of ceramic innovation and dispersal, with the earliest pottery being invented by hunter-gatherer societies in East Asia towards the end of the Pleistocene. Data also suggest extended periods of limited pottery usage by hunter-gatherers until the start of the Holocene, after which there was a rapid continental-scale dispersal of ceramic technology out of these key East Asian innovation centres, as post-glacial forager societies adopted pottery as one means of adapting to the rapidly changing environments.

This project aimed to: (a) bring together case-studies of early hunter-gatherer ceramics from across Northern Eurasia, examining the chronology and technology of early pottery, and examining the ways in which ceramics became an ‘embedded’ social tradition; (b) integrate regional insights within a synthetic base-line review of current knowledge about early pottery innovations and dispersals across Northern Eurasia; and (c) identify new themes, models and debates to focus further research on this topic.

Results of the project have recently been published as ‘Ceramics before Farming: the Dispersal of Pottery among Prehistoric Eurasian Hunter-Gatherers’ (Jordan and Zvelebil 2009), with further papers on the chronologies of pottery innovations and dispersals to follow in the near future. This project is also being followed up by CECD Project C005, which will examine early pottery sequences in Northeast Asia.

The project involved: (a) organizing two conference sessions (St Petersburg 2003, Sheffield 2005) to bring together international specialists who were working on regional early pottery sequences in Japan, Korea, Russia and Eastern and Western Europe; (b) editing a 21-chapter volume; (c) writing a critical synthesis of current knowledge about early pottery sequences in order to develop models and hypotheses about early ceramic innovation and dispersal mechanisms.

In Europe, earlier work on ceramic innovation had tended to assume rather direct linkages between the emergence of pottery and the transition to agriculture, while early pottery sequences within Eastern Europe and East Asia were generally described within a culture-historical framework. The introduction to the edited volume drew direct inspiration from culture evolutionary theory and aimed to examine pottery as an independent technological innovation, which imposed both costs and also benefits on innovators and early adopters. This approach generated a much fuller and more comprehensive understanding of the social mechanisms of pottery dispersal, and established a range of new research questions, which will be tested in CECD Project C005.

Jordan, P. and Zvelebil, M (eds.) (2009).
Ceramics before Farming: the Dispersal of Pottery among Prehistoric Eurasian Hunter-Gatherers. London: University College London Institute of Archaeology Publications (Left Coast Press).