Tracing Pottery Use through Lipid Residue Analysis

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is now accepted that organic residues are widely preserved in archaeological pottery and can provide information on both the use of vessels and wider economic activities, particularly those relating to the procurement of animal products. In relation to this, pottery from Tell Sabi Abyad contributed to an extensive investigation, involving more than 2,200 vessels from 25 Neolithic sites in the Near East and Southeastern Europe, in which organic residues were used to document the early evolution of milk use by prehistoric farmers (Evershed et al., 2008). The investigation included nearly 300 vessels from Tell Sabi Abyad. Herein, we present the detailed results of the organic residue analyses of these same vessels. The results are interpreted in the context of the functional uses of the pottery, dietary habits and culinary practices, and, specifically, the introduction of secondary products into the Late Neolithic economy (Sherratt, 1981, 1983). The latter are compared to interpretations of animal exploitation and herd management based on faunal analyses at the site. We also begin to investigate the factors contributing to the preservation of prehistoric residues, attempting to move towards contextualizing and interpreting their socio-economic context, and making comparisons with the Neolithic in other regions, viz. Northwestern Anatolia (Thissen et al., 2010; Türkekul-Bıyık, 2009; Türkekul-Bıyık and Özbal, 2008), Central Anatolia (Copley et al., 2006; Evershed et al., 2008; Pitter et al., 2013), western Iran (Gregg, 2010) and the southern Levant (Gregg et al., 2009).
To summarize our findings, the overall recovery rate of lipids in sherds is relatively 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 the general region (southern Mediterranean and Near East). Our interpretations indicate the use of specific ceramic categories of vessel for “cooking” while 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. Strong differences in recovery rates possibly reflect differences in use between different pottery types. In particular the Dark Faced Burnished Ware (DFBW) contained the highest frequency of residues (no less than 46 % yielded detectable lipids). Degraded animal fats were detectable, as evidenced by the presence of C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids (with C18:0 in high abundance) and in few cases tri-, di- and monoacylglycerols. The presence of abundant carcass fats is consistent with interpretations based on faunal assemblage of extensive meat exploitation. Finally, four vessels dated to 6,400 to 5,900 cal BC yielded animal fats identified as originating from milk products.1
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRelentlessly Plain
Subtitle of host publicationSeventh Millennium Ceramics at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria
EditorsOlivier P Nieuwenhuyse
PublisherOxbow Books
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781789250855
ISBN (Print)9781789250848
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2018


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