Prehistoric Fermentation, Delayed-Return Economies, and the Adoption of Pottery Technology

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Pottery production, like fermentation, is a highly skilled technology that requires the careful selection and transformation of raw ingredients under controlled conditions. Although the precise drivers for the invention and dispersal of ceramic containers are uncertain, it is clear that even the earliest pottery had a culinary role for processing foods. We now know from organic residue analysis that early pottery was used to process only a relatively limited range of the foodstuffs available, with biases, for example, toward fish among some hunter-gatherers or dairy products by early farmers. One reason for such selection might have been that pottery is well suited for the transformation of perishable fresh produce, such as milk and fish, to long(er)-life products that could be stored, exchanged, or accumulated. Such fermented products would be particularly useful for maximizing the return from seasonally abundant foods, thereby facilitating sedentism and greater investment in pottery production. Notwithstanding the fact that direct chemical evidence for fermentation is difficult to obtain, here it is proposed that the early uses of pottery and fermentation and the accumulation of storable surpluses are interrelated technologies that emerged in early sedentary or semi-sedentary societies during the final Pleistocene and start of the Holocene.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-241
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number24
Early online date28 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

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