Pottery came to Europe from Siberian hunter-gatherers

(ORDO NEWS) — Previously, scientists believed that ceramics were a sign of settled and agricultural groups. Now it turned out that not only their creation, but also their rapid spread, was the work of completely different societies.

The earliest examples of human-made ceramics belong to the Gravettian culture – they are dated 29-25 millennia BC, Upper Paleolithic. Then, already in the Mesolithic, the use of ceramics was also noted.

Usually these are figurines (Paleolithic venuses, products of the Jomon period, etc.), although some fragments could refer to dishes.

In the Mesolithic, ceramics are very rare, and there is no connection between the products, they do not look alike – that is, each time these are technologies of a particular human community that it did not share with anyone.

Pottery became an integral feature of the Neolithic, with the exception of some Pre-Pottery Neolithic communities in the Near East.

It is believed that this happened when hunters and gatherers changed their way of life to a settled way of life and began to develop agriculture.

The authors of which argue that the spread of ceramics in Eastern Europe happened in a completely different way – thanks to hunter-gatherers.

Pottery came to Europe from Siberian hunter gatherers 1
The map shows the places from which samples of ceramics were taken. Nearby are examples of the reconstruction of products

Previous studies have examined the spread of agriculture in Europe, but paid less attention to the hunter-gatherer societies that have lived on the continent since the beginning of the Holocene (about 12,000 years ago).

And this is quite understandable: sedentary communities are much easier to study than nomads.

After all, people who made their living by hunting, gathering and fishing left behind relatively meager archaeological data compared to early agricultural societies.

The authors of the new work analyzed the remains of 1226 pottery vessels from 156 hunter-gatherer sites in Eastern Europe.

They combined radiocarbon dating, data on the shape and decoration of ceramic vessels, and analysis of organic remains found inside the pots. This is the first comprehensive study on such a large sample.

The results obtained suggest that pottery traditions originated in Central Asia or Western Siberia, that is, most likely among hunter-gatherers.

And it was these communities that spread them further west. However, the direction of distribution is not new here – similar assumptions were made earlier.

The speed with which people transferred new technology was amazing. The earliest pottery fragments from the Caspian hunter-gatherer sites are dated to around 5900 BC.

And in just 300-400 years, such products moved three thousand kilometers to the west. This is approximately 250 kilometers per generation.

Scientists have analyzed the shapes and decorations of the pottery and concluded that it spread through cultural transmission, meaning it wasn’t just some group of hunter-gatherers moving west and bringing technology with them, as they did in the Mesolithic.

No, obviously there were inter-regional exchange systems, possibly based on kinship.

Pottery came to Europe from Siberian hunter gatherers 2
The connections between different communities of hunter-gatherers turned out to be much more complicated than previously thought

The researchers noted that although the ceramics of different groups of hunter-gatherers are similar to each other, there are still regional differences.

This may be due both to the element of creativity in different communities, and to the different functions of the vessels in different places.

After all, Neolithic ceramics are not figurines of gods, these are pots in which they cook, store food and from which they eat.

Having studied the lipid residues on the fragments of ceramics, the researchers also established quite serious regional differences in culinary traditions.

These differences are geographically based and depend on the resources that were easier to obtain in a given locality.

For example, off the coast of the Baltic there were more traces of fish cooking, and in the Don steppes they preferred to cook local ungulates.

The authors believe that they have proved not only the continuity of the process of settlement of hunter-gatherer communities in the direction from east to west, but also a significant demographic rise.

After all, those groups that shifted to the west did not leave an empty place behind them.

Scientists note that more research is needed to help us understand the exchange systems between communities of this period: they turned out to be much more advanced than previously thought.

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