16,000-Year-Old “Hot-Pots” Helped Ancient Siberian Hunters Survive the Ice Age

The new research also suggests the existence of a "parallel innovation" process during a time of major climatic uncertainty where different cultures who were not in direct contact with each other developed similar technologies that allowed them to survive. 

A new archaeological study has shown that ancient hunters living in Siberia crafted intricate heat-resisting pots in order to cook hot meals, and survive extremely harsh temperatures during the last ice age, by extracting nutritious bone grease and marrow from meat.

The new research, conducted at the University of York, also suggests that there was no single point of origin for the world’s oldest considered pottery.

The new research is based on data gathered by experts after extracting and analyzing ancient fats and lipids that had been preserved in pieces of ancient pottery, found at various sites on the Amur River in Russia, ranging in date from 12,000 to 16,000 years ago.

Professor Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Laboratory at the University of York, where the analysis was conducted, revealed in a statement: “This study illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science: we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago.”

“It is interesting that pottery emerges during these very cold periods, and not during the comparatively warmer interstadials when forest resources, such as game and nuts, were more available.”

Why heat-resisting pots were invented for the first time during the final stages of the last Ice Age has been an archaeological mystery for decades, as well as the types of food that were being prepared in them.

The new study also saw experts study pottery fragments found from the Osipovka culture located near the Amur River. The analysis showed that pottery of the region had been used to process fish, probably migratory salmon, which offered local hunters an alternative source of food during periods of greater climatic fluctuation.

The same research group identified a nearly identical scenario in the neighboring islands of Japan.

Results from the new study offer conclusive evidence that some of the oldest cooking pots produced from clay were made in very different ways across Northeast Asia.

This is indicative of a parallel process of innovation where different cultures had no contact between each other, but nonetheless produced similar kinds of technological solutions that allowed them to survive.

“We are very pleased with these latest results because they close a major gap in our understanding of why the world’s oldest pottery was invented in different parts of Northeast Asia in the Late Glacial Period, and also the contrasting ways in which it was being used by these ancient hunter-gatherers,” explained lead author, Dr. Shinya Shoda, of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara.

“There are some striking parallels with the way in which early pottery was used in Japan, but also some important differences that we had not expected. This leaves many new questions that we will follow up with future research,” Dr. Shoda explained.

The new discovery, therefore, implies that there was no single “origin point”, but that similar artifacts were produced by cultures who had not been in contact with each other. In other words, it suggests a process of parallel innovation that took place during a period of major climatic uncertainty.

The study was published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

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