Gone to seed? Early pottery and plant processing in Holocene north Africa

Julie B Dunne*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Plant foods play an important role in the human diet and the ability to grow, store and extract nutritive potential from plants has had a transformative role in human history. During the Holocene, the invention of thermally resistant ceramic vessels, regarded as a crucial step in human technological progress, provided new opportunities to boil plants such as wild grasses, fully unlocking the potential of such plants as foodstuffs. This allowed a broadening of subsistence bases, increased dietary diversity, a greater variety of nutrients and more stable and palatable foods. Pottery was invented early in north Africa, at c. 12000 cal BP, where it was first made by semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers, raising questions as to what this early pottery was used for. Combined molecular and isotopic techniques revealed the presence of diagnostic plant lipids, including leaf waxes and seed oils, in pottery from Holocene sites in the Libyan Sahara and Mediterranean north Africa, suggesting the processing of grasses, seeds and aquatic plants. In combination with archaeobotanical evidence from sites across these regions, these data provide insights into the wide range of plants exploited in Holocene north Africa, providing information on dietary and subsistence practices of human groups across north Africa and confirming the importance of plant processing in the earliest pottery vessels in both regions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Feb 2021


  • Organic residue analysis
  • pottery
  • plants
  • processing
  • Holocene
  • North Africa

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