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Is there an 'Aquatic' Neolithic?

new insights from organic residue analysis of early Holocene pottery from European Russia and Siberia
PhD ceremony:Ms M. Bondetti
When:February 01, 2021
Supervisors:P.D. (Peter) Jordan, PhD, prof. dr. O. Craig
Where:Academy building RUG
Is there an 'Aquatic' Neolithic?

This thesis investigates the function of early Holocene hunter-gatherer ceramic vessels in northern Eurasia. It presents the first systematic application of organic residue analysis (ORA) to Early Neolithic pottery from European Russia and Siberia. During the early Holocene (ca. 9,700 to 5,000 cal BC) pottery was widely produced by hunter-gatherers across Eurasia. One existing theory suggests that the advent of pottery was linked to an intensification of aquatic resource exploitation; the so-called “Aquatic” Neolithic (Gibbs et al. 2017). This theory is supported by recent ORA of early pottery from eastern Asia and northern Europe, where lipid markers derived from aquatic resources were frequently encountered, absorbed in the pots themselves. One area neglected by ORA is the vast territory of what is now Russia where the arrival of pottery marks the start of the Neolithic period, predating agriculture by several thousand years. Despite its importance in defining the Neolithic in this region, little is known about how early pottery was used and what drove its adoption during the early Holocene. Here, ORA was applied to 417 samples, representing 314 ceramic vessels, recovered from three important early Neolithic sites: the East Siberian site of Gorelyi Les, and Rakushechny Yar and Zamostje 2 in the southern and northern part of European Russia respectively. Overall, the results generated by this thesis indicate much greater diversity in the use of early pottery than predicted from the “Aquatic” Neolithic theory. While aquatic products were indeed prevalent at many sites, lipids derived from terrestrial plants and animals were also common and, overall, the initial use of pottery seems to have varied according to the regional context. These results challenge the idea that the widespread adoption of pottery by Holocene Eurasian foragers was driven primarily by the need to process aquatic resources.