April 10, 2013
Ice Age Hunter-Gathers Had A Taste For Fish
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
While many people today try to shy away from fish -- even on Fridays -- over fears of contaminants, including mercury, many health experts note that fish are packed with healthy vitamins and minerals that could reduce the risks of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.
Ice Age era hunter-gathers probably didn´t eat fish to be healthier, and probably also had greater concerns than heart disease, but new research indicates that they still had a taste for fish.
In fact, according to a new study led by the University of York, hunter-gathers living in glacial conditions may have even produced pots for cooking fish. This could be the earliest direct evidence for the use of the ceramic vessels and certainly even predates the British method of wrapping fish and chips in newspaper.
Scientists from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan with support from the Leverhulme Trust and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science conducted what could be the first study to directly address the often-asked question of why humans made pots in the first place?
The research was published in Nature.
“Foragers first used pottery as a revolutionary new strategy for the processing of marine and freshwater fish but perhaps most interesting is that this fundamental adaptation emerged over a period of severe climate change,” said Dr. Oliver Craig, of the Department of Archaeology and Director of the BioArCh research center at York. “The reliability and high abundance of food along shorelines and river-banks may well have provided the initial impetus for an investment in producing ceramic containers, perhaps to make the most of seasonal gluts or as part of elaborate celebratory feasts and could be linked to a reduction in mobility.”
The researchers carried out chemical analyses of food residues in pottery that was some 15,000 years old and may have dated to the late glacial period. This was the oldest pottery so far investigated and the research team was able to determine the use of a range of hunter-gather “JÅmon” -- or “cord pattern” -- ceramic vessels through chemical analysis of organic compounds that were extracted from the charred surface deposits. The charred samples that were analyzed are some of the earliest found in Japan, which has been recognized as one of the first centers of ceramic innovation.
The JÅmon period was named after the characteristic surface patterns made with twisted cords on the pottery from this era. It is dated to the end of the Late Pleistocene era, when humans may have been adjusting to changing climates and new environments.
What makes this study so notable is that ceramic container technologies have long been associated with the arrival of farming, but this research indicates that ceramic vessels were a much earlier hunter-gatherer adaptation. The reasons for the emergence, as well as the subsequent widespread adoption, have not been discovered or fully understood.
The researchers believe that these first ceramic containers may have provided prehistoric hunter-gathers with a new means for processing and consuming foods. Until recently, virtually nothing was known of how or even what these early pots had been used for. Researchers now believe that these charred deposits, which were analyzed across Japan, may have been derived from high trophic level aquatic foods.
“The reliability and high abundance of food along shorelines and river-banks may well have provided the initial impetus for an investment in producing ceramic containers, perhaps to make the most of seasonal gluts or as part of elaborate celebratory feasts and could be linked to a reduction in mobility,” Craig added. “This study demonstrates that it is possible to [analyze] organic residues from some of the world's earliest ceramic vessels. It opens the way for further study of hunter-gatherer pottery from later periods to clarify the development of what was a revolutionary technology.”