Lipids preserved within the walls of ancient pottery vessels are routinely analysed to reveal their original contents. The provenience of aquatic lipids in pottery is generally connected to vessel function (e.g., for cooking or storing fish, shellfish and aquatic mammals). However, ethnographic reports from early historic Alaska mention the use of aquatic oils for waterproofing low-fired pottery. Results of lipid residue studies on Alaskan pottery reflect an exclusive function of pottery to process aquatic resources. However, can one be sure these residues are the product of vessel function and not a remnant of the manufacturing process? The study presents the results of an experiment where the preservation of aquatic lipids during the firing process at different temperatures was measured. It was found that nearly all lipids were removed at firing temperatures of ≥ 400°C. Petrographic analysis of Alaskan pottery samples indicates that firing temperatures were generally > 550°C but <800°C. The contribution of pre-firing manufacture-derived lipids to samples fired at these temperatures may be regarded as negligible. While the possible presence of aquatic lipids from post-firing surface treatments cannot be excluded, such treatments appear unnecessary for well-fired pottery.
Bibliographical note© 2019 The Authors.
- lipid residue analysis
- firing temperature
- aquatic lipids