Food items are not only food ‘for the body’, they are also ‘food for thought’ about our relations to ‘others’ in the world of living people, and to cosmological forces. Ethnographic studies and historical documents show a striking difference between Africa and the Near East with regard to symbolic elaborations of food-related items. This difference is grounded in a contrast between a cooking pot theme in Africa and a baking oven theme in the Near East. It is manifested in differences in the emergence of two fundamental cultural features generally assumed to be linked elements of the Neolithic, namely domestication of cereals and invention of pottery. In the Near East, the material shows that domesticated cereals appeared about 2000 years earlier than ceramics, while in Africa the evidence indicates that pottery appeared around 2000 years earlier than cultivated cereals. This article explores different social and symbolic correlates of the different sequences of Neolithic innovations in the Near East and Africa.
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