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article imageInnovation helped ancient Siberian hunters survive the Ice Age

By Karen Graham     Feb 3, 2020 in Science
Heat-resistant pots began to appear in the Amur region in the Russian Far East between roughly 16,000 and 12,000 years ago, as the Ice Age slightly eased. However, research indicates there was no single point of origin for the world's oldest pottery.
Toward the end of the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers began using ceramic cooking containers in three separate geographic regions of East Asia: China, Japan and in the Russian Far East. Pottery shards have been found in all three regions, leading archaeologists to debate about what drove the emergence and very earliest use of ancient pottery.
The pottery finds are unusual because once developed, pottery came into its own with the onset of the warm Holocene period around 11,000 years ago, yet this was long before humans transitioned to farming.
An international team of archaeologists wanted to know why these pots were first invented, as well as the kinds of food that were being prepared in them. What they found out was surprising.
Reconstruction of Osipovka Culture vessel (right) and pot shards found at Gasya and Khummi (left).
Reconstruction of Osipovka Culture vessel (right) and pot shards found at Gasya and Khummi (left).
Vitaly Medvedev, Oksana Yanshina
The study, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, suggests there was a parallel process of innovation, where separate groups without contact all found the same solutions spurred by pressure from the cold climates in which they survived.
An alternative diet
The scientists first extracted ancient fats and lipids from 28 different pot shards that had been found at several sites, including Khummi, Gasya, and Goncharka 1 on the Lower Amur River, and the Gromatukha site on the Middle Amur River, according to the Siberian Times.
They found that the pots used by the Osipovka culture in the lower Amur River, were used to process fish, most likely migratory salmon, offering the hunters an alternative food source, Yet the Gromatukha culture upstream on the Amur had other culinary ideas. Their pots were being used to cook land animals, like deer, roe deer, wild goat, according to the scientists.
Pot shards found at Gromatukha site.
Pot shards found at Gromatukha site.
Oksana Yanshina
Professor Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Lab at the University of York, where the analysis was conducted, said: "This study illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science: we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago."
"It is interesting that pottery emerges during these very cold periods, and not during the comparatively warmer interstadials when forest resources, such as game and nuts, were more available," he added.
Parallel process of innovation
The study also helps to better understand why the world's oldest clay cooking pots were being made in very different ways in different parts of Northeast Asia during that late glacial period, reports Science Daily.
According to the research paper, this indicated a "parallel" process of innovation, where separate groups that had no contact with each other started to move towards similar kinds of technological solutions in order to survive.
File photo of Siberia region. The temperatures can fall as far as minus 52 Celsius (minus 61 Fahrenh...
File photo of Siberia region. The temperatures can fall as far as minus 52 Celsius (minus 61 Fahrenheit).
Yuri Yuriyev, AFP
Lead author, Dr. Shinya Shoda, of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara, Japan said: "We are very pleased with these latest results because they close a major gap in our understanding of why the world's oldest pottery was invented in different parts of Northeast Asia in the Late Glacial Period, and also the contrasting ways in which it was being used by these ancient hunter-gatherers."
Oksana Yanshina, a Senior Researcher at the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg and leader of the Russian team, and a co-author of the research said: "This study resolves some major debates in Russian Archaeology about what drove the emergence and the very earliest use of ancient pottery in the Far Eastern Regions. But at the same time, this paper is just a small but important first step."
He added, "We still need to do many more studies of this kind to fully understand how prehistoric societies innovated and adapted to past climate change. And perhaps this will also provide us with some important lessons about how we can better prepare for future climate change."
More about Ice age, clay pots, Osipovka culture, Gromatukha culture, Lipid residue analysis
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