The use of early pottery by hunter-gatherers of the Eastern European forest-steppe

Blandine Courel, John Meadows, Lara González Carretero, Alexandre Lucquin, Rowan McLaughlin, Manon Bondetti, Konstantin Andreev, Andrey Skorobogatov, Roman Smolyaninov, Aleksey Surkov, Aleksandr A. Vybornov, Ekaterina Dolbunova, Carl P. Heron*, Manon Bondetti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Eastern European steppe and forest-steppe is a key region for understanding the emergence of pottery in Europe. The vast region encompasses the basins of two major waterways, the Don and the Volga rivers, and was occupied by hunter-gatherer-fisher communities attracted to highly productive forest/aquatic ecotones. The precise dates for the inception of pottery production in this region and the function of pottery is unknown, but such information is vital for charting the pan-Eurasian dispersal of pottery technology and whether there were common motivations for its adoption. To investigate, we conducted AMS dating, including a re-evaluation of legacy radiocarbon dates together with organic residue analysis and microscopy. The dating programme was able to clarify the sequence and show that hunter-gatherer pottery production was unlikely in this region before the 6th millennium BC. Regarding use, stable isotope and molecular analysis of 160 pottery samples from 35 sites across the region shows that terrestrial animal carcass fats were preferentially processed in pots at Middle Volga sites whereas aquatic resources dominate the residues in pottery from the Middle and Upper Don basin. This is supported by fragments of fish, legumes and grasses in the available charred deposits adhering to the inside of pottery from the Don basin. Since the sites from both river basins had similar environmental settings and were broadly contemporaneous, it is posited that pottery use was under strong cultural control, recognisable as separate sub-regional culinary traditions. The ‘aquatic hypothesis’, previously suggested to explain the emergence of Eurasian pottery, cannot be substantiated in this context.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107143
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date28 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 695539 , The Innovation, Dispersal and Use of Ceramics in NE Europe). The research was partly supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project 19-78-10001 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Holocene
  • Palaeogeography
  • Russia
  • Middle Don
  • Middle Volga
  • Archaeology
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Early pottery
  • Vessel use
  • Lipid analysis

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