During the Late Glacial, hunter-gatherers began using ceramic cooking containers in three separate geographic regions of East Asia: China, Japan and in the Russian Far East. While recent research has clarified the use of early pottery in Japan, very little is known about what led to the emergence of pottery in the other two areas, including the likely environmental, economic or cultural drivers. In this paper we focus on a series of key sites along the Amur River in the Russian Far East, where early pottery has been recovered from securely-dated contexts that span ca. 16,200 to 10,200 years ago (cal BP). Interpreting how these ceramic vessels were used has been difficult because the region’s acidic soils make palaeo-economic reconstructions challenging. To address this gap in knowledge we undertook lipid residue analysis of 28 pot sherds from the sites of Khummi, Gasya, and Goncharka 1 on the Lower Amur River, and the Gromatukha site on the Middle Amur. Our results indicate that pottery was employed to process aquatic oils at sites on the Lower Amur, a pattern of use that aligns closely with studies conducted in Japan, and suggests that fishing – probably of salmonids and freshwater fish – was becoming increasingly important during this period. In contrast, the results from the Middle Amur show a significant contribution of lipids from ruminant animals, indicating that these vessels were being used in different ways. Interestingly, these regional differences in pottery use also map onto contrasting manufacturing techniques, with vessels from the Middle and from the Lower Amur forming distinct pottery-making traditions. These combined insights appear to indicate a greater degree of variability in the development and use of early pottery in East Asia than has hitherto been indicated.
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- Early pottery
- Initial Neolithic
- Lipid residue analysis
- Compound-specific isotope analysis
- Phytanic acid diastereomer
- Osipovka culture
- Gromatukha culture