Tracing pottery use and the emergence of secondary product exploitation through lipid residue analysis at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad (Syria)

Olivier P. Nieuwenhuyse, Melanie Roffet-Salque, Richard Evershed, Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Anna Russell

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

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Late Neolithic settlements dating to around 7000 cal. BC are widespread in Upper Mesopotamia, however, the site of Tell Sabi Abyad is unique in the scale and quality of excavation, revealing an extensive architecture, huge numbers of domesticated animal bones, stone tools and potsherds. A previous study reported lipid residues in nearly 300 potsherds as part of a wider investigation of the origins of dairying in the Near East and Southeastern Europe. The aim of this paper is to interpret the organic residue findings in more detail, addressing such factors as the association of lipids in pottery with particular phases, ware types, and the faunal record. Overall, the recovery rate of lipids in sherds is low (14 % of the sherds investigated in this study yielded detectable lipids) and the mean lipid concentration for sherds containing lipids is ca. 82 µg g-1. These results are typical of sites from this period and general region (southern Mediterranean and Near East). Our interpretations indicate: (i) the use of specific ceramic categories of vessel for “cooking”, (ii) clear evidence of the extensive heating of vessels is deduced from the presence of ketones, formed from the condensation of fatty acids, in some vessels, (iii) strong differences in recovery rates possibly reflecting differences in use between different pottery types, (iv) in particular the Dark Faced Burnished Ware (DFBW) contained the highest frequency of residues (46 % yielded detectable lipids), (v) degraded animal fats weredetectable, as evidenced by fatty acids with C18:0 in high abundance and in few cases tri-, di- and monoacylglycerols, (vi) the presence of abundant carcass fats is consistent with interpretations based on faunal assemblage of extensive meat exploitation, and (vii) four vessels dated to 6,400 to 5,900 cal BC yielded milk fat residues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54–66
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date8 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Near East
  • Prehistoric pottery
  • vessel use
  • organic residues
  • herd management
  • culinary practices


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