Skip to main content

Cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and the beginning of pottery production in north-eastern North America

  • Karine Taché (a1) (a2) and Oliver E. Craig (a1)

What benefits were derived from the invention of pottery, and why did ceramics remain marginal for so long? The increasing use of pottery has been seen as a response to large-scale harvesting in a model that favours economic advantage through increased efficiency. This paper challenges that view; combining carbon and nitrogen isotope and lipid analysis, the authors argue that pottery was used selectively for storing or processing valued exchange commodities such as fish oil. Its use can be seen as part of broader developments in hunter-gatherer society, featuring seasonal gatherings, collective feasting and a new articulation of social relations.

Hide All
Ackerman, R.E. 1982. The Neolithic–Bronze Age cultures of Asia and the Norton phase of Alaskan prehistory. Arctic Anthropology 19 (2): 1138.
Belcher, W.R. 1989. Prehistoric fish exploitation in east Penobscot Bay, Maine: the Knox site and sea-level rise. Archaeology of Eastern North America 17: 175–91.
Bouchard, R. 2002. L’Exploration du Saguenay par J. L. Normandin en 1732. Sillery: Septentrion.
Bunker, V. 2006–2007. Time and place: the archaeology of the Eddy site. The New Hampshire Archaeologist 46–47 (1): 1111.
Childe, V.G. 1936. Man makes himself. London: Watts.
Correa-Ascencio, M. & Evershed, R.P.. 2014. High throughput screening of organic residues in archaeological potsherds using direct acidified methanol extraction. Analytical Methods 6: 1330–40.
Craig, O.E., Forster, M., Andersen, S.H., Koch, E., Crombé, P., Milner, N.J., Stern, B., Bailey, G.N. & Heron, C.P.. 2007. Molecular and isotopic demonstration of the processing of aquatic products in northern European prehistoric pottery. Archaeometry 49: 135–52.
Craig, O.E., Steeleb, V.J., Fischer, A., Hartz, S., Andersen, S.H., Donohoe, P., Glykou, A., Saul, H., Jones, D.M., Koch, E. & Heron, C.P.. 2011. Ancient lipids reveal continuity in culinary practices across the transition to agriculture in northern Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108: 17910–15.
Craig, O.E., Allen, R.B., Thompson, A., Stevens, R.E., Steele, V.J. & Heron, C.P.. 2012. Distinguishing wild ruminant lipids by gas chromatography/combustion/isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 26: 2359–64.
Craig, O.E., Saul, H., Lucquin, A., Nishida, Y., Taché, K., Clarkes, L., Thompson, A., Altoft, D.T., Uchiyama, J., Ajimoto, M., Gibbs, K., Isaksson, S., Heron, C.P. & Jordan, P.. 2013. Earliest evidence for pottery use. Nature 496: 351–54.
Crown, P. & Wills, H.. 1995. The origins of Southwestern ceramic containers: women’s time allocation and economic intensification. Journal of Anthropological Research 51: 173–86.
Dudd, S.N., Evershed, R.P. & Gibson, A.M.. 1999. Evidence for varying patterns of exploitation of animal products in different prehistoric pottery traditions based on lipids preserved in surface and absorbed residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 26: 1473–82.
Evershed, R.P., Copley, M.S., Dickson, L. & Hansel, F.A.. 2008. Experimental evidence for the processing of marine animal products and other commodities containing polyunsaturated fatty acids in pottery vessels. Archaeometry 50: 101–13.
Farnsworth, K.B. & Emerson, T.E. (ed.). 1986. Early Woodland archaeology. Kampsville (IL): Center for American Archaeology Press.
Goodyear, A.C. 1988. On the study of technological change. Current Anthropology 29: 320–23.
Granger, J.E. 1978. Meadowood phase settlement pattern in the Niagara frontier region of western New York state. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.
Hansel, F.A., Copley, M.S., Madurai, L.A.S. & Evershed, R.P.. 2004. Thermally produced ω-(o-alkylphenyl)alkanoic acids provide evidence for the processing of marine products in archaeological pottery vessels. Tetrahedron Letters 45: 29993002.
Harry, K. & Frink, L.. 2009. The Arctic cooking pot: why was it adopted? American Anthropologist 111: 330–43.
Hart, J.P., Brumbach, H.J. & Lusteck, R.. 2007. Extending the phytolith evidence for early maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) and squash (Cucurbita sp.) in central New York. American Antiquity 72: 563–83.
Hayden, B. 1995. The emergence of prestige technology and pottery, in Barnett, W.K. & Hoopes, J.W. (ed.) The emergence of pottery: technology and innovation in prehistoric societies: 257–65. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.
Heckenberger, M.J., Petersen, J.B., Basa, L.A., Cowie, E.R., Spiess, A.E. & Stuckenrath, R.E.. 1990. Early Woodland period ceremonialism in the far northeast: a view from the Boucher cemetery. Archaeology of Eastern North America 18: 109–44.
Heidke, J. 1998. Cienega phase incipient plain ware from southeastern Arizona. Kiva 64: 311–38.
Jackson, H.E. 1991. The trade fair in hunter-gatherer interactions: the role of intersocietal trade in the evolution of Poverty Point culture, in Gregg, S.A. (ed.) Between bands and states: 265–86. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Jordan, P. & Zvelebil, M. (ed.). 2009. Ceramics before farming: the dispersal of pottery among prehistoric Eurasian hunter-gatherers. Walnut Creek (CA): Left Coast.
Kuhnlein, H.V., Chan, A.C., Thompson, J.N. & Nakai, S.. 1982. Ooligan grease: a nutritious fat used by native people of coastal British Columbia. Journal of Ethnobiology 2 (2): 154–61.
Martin, S.R. 1999. Wonderful power: the story of ancient copper working in the Lake Superior basin. Detroit (MI): Wayne State University Press.
Ozker, D. 1982. An Early Woodland community at the Schultz site 20SA2 in the Saginaw Valley and the nature of the Early Woodland adaptation in the Great Lakes region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.
Rice, P.M. 1999. On the origins of pottery. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 6: 154.
Ritchie, W.A. & MacNeish, R.S.. 1949. The pre-Iroquoian pottery of New York state. American Antiquity 15: 97124.
Roosevelt, A. 1995. Early pottery in the Amazon: twenty years of scholarly obscurity, in Barnett, W.K. & Hoopes, J.W. (ed.) The emergence of pottery: technology and innovation in prehistoric societies: 115–31. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.
Sassaman, K.E. 1993. Early pottery in the Southeast: tradition and innovation in cooking technology. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Sassaman, K.E. 1999. Southeastern perspective on soapstone vessel technology in the Northeast, in Levine, M.A., Sassaman, K.E. & Nassaney, M.S. (ed.) The archaeological Northeast: 7595. Westport (CT): Bergin & Garvey.
Saunders, R. & Hays, C.T.. 2004. Introduction: themes in early pottery research, in Saunders, R. & Hays, C.T. (ed.) Early pottery: technology, style, and interaction in the lower Southeast: 122. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Scarry, M.C. 2008. Crop husbandry practices in North America’s Eastern Woodlands, in Reitz, E., Scarry, M.C. & Scudder, S.J. (ed.) Case studies in environmental archaeology: 391404. New York: Springer.
Taché, K. 2005. Explaining Vinette 1 pottery variability: the view from the Batiscan site, Québec. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 29: 165233.
Taché, K. 2011. Structure and regional diversity of the Meadowood interaction sphere. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.
Taché, K. & Hart, J.P.. 2013. Chronometric hygiene of radiocarbon databases for early durable cooking vessel technologies in northeastern North America. American Antiquity 78: 359–72.
Versaggi, N.M. 1999. Regional diversity within the Early Woodland of the Northeast. Northeast Anthropology 57 (1): 4556.
Wu, X., Zhang, C., Goldberg, P., Cohen, D., Pan, Y., Arpin, T. & Bar-Yosef, O.. 2012. Early pottery at 20,000 years ago in Xianrendong Cave, China. Science 336: 1696–700.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Taché and Craig supplementary material
Taché and Craig supplementary material 1

 PDF (334 KB)
334 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed