Around 7200 years ago, Stone Age hunter-gatherers in Finland and North-East Russia adopted pottery technology that spread towards the west in the Northern boreal zone. According to the prior hypotheses, the adoption of pottery technology was strongly connected with the intensified exploitation of aquatic resources.
In a study at the Department of Archaeology, University of Oulu, the ingredients cooked in the oldest pottery vessels found in Finland and North-West Russia were investigated by analyzing the stable isotope contents of organic foodcrusts attached on pottery sherds. The age of the analyzed samples was determined by radiocarbon dating, which allowed the examination of temporal changes in the origins of substances processed in the ceramic vessels. The study was conducted by PhD Teemu Mökkönen and PhD Kerkko Nordqvist.
Processing of aquatic resources in pottery vessels started later
According to the results, aquatic species started to be processed in ceramic vessels only ca. 500 years after the adoption of pottery, i.e. around ca. 4600 BC. Vessels older than this did not produce any signs of aquatic products.
“If aquatic resources really played a key role in the adoption of pottery, their isotopic signals should be visible in the charred foodcrusts”, says Teemu Mökkönen, the corresponding researcher.
Even if bone material found at the settlement sites suggests that aquatic resources formed an important part of the subsistence, the new study found no evidence of preparing these resources in the oldest ceramic vessels.
”Radiocarbon-dated samples are the strength of our study, and we are able to track quite closely the changes in the use of pottery. It seems, that the processing of aquatic products in ceramic vessels started in wide areas of Northern Europe from 4700–4600 BC onwards”, Mökkönen argues.
”Based on the present results, the first pottery traditions spreading in the northern boreal zone were used to cook terrestrial products, and this habit continued also several centuries after the ceramic technology had arrived to the lake- and seashores. Fish and seals were not processed in the oldest pottery found in the coasts of the White Sea, Lake Onega or the Gulf of Finland and the Bothnian Bay of the Baltic Sea.”
The current research was the first study of stable isotopes of Finnish Stone Age pottery. The study was implemented within the project ”The use of materials and the Neolithisation of north-east Europe (c. 6000–1000 BC)”, financed by the Academy of Finland.
The study was published online in Radiocarbon, 11 April 2019.
Photo: Foodcrust attached to a sherd of Säräisniemi 1 Ware from the northernmost Baltic Sea dating ca. 4600 BC. Collections of the Finnish National museum. Photo T. Mökkönen.
Last updated: 18.4.2019