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Artificial illumination is a fundamental human need. Burning wood and other materials usually in hearths and fireplaces extended daylight hours, whilst the use of flammable substances in torches offered light on the move. It is increasingly understood that pottery played a role in light production. In this study, we focus on ceramic oval bowls, made and used primarily by hunter-gatherer-fishers of the circum-Baltic over a c. 2000 year period beginning in the mid-6th millennium cal bc. Oval bowls commonly occur alongside larger (cooking) vessels. Their function as ‘oil lamps’ for illumination has been proposed on many occasions but only limited direct evidence has been secured to test this functional association. This study presents the results of molecular and isotopic analysis of preserved organic residues obtained from 115 oval bowls from 25 archaeological sites representing a wide range of environmental settings. Our findings confirm that the oval bowls of the circum-Baltic were used primarily for burning fats and oils, predominantly for the purposes of illumination. The fats derive from the tissues of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms. Bulk isotope data of charred surface deposits show a consistently different pattern of use when oval bowls are compared to other pottery vessels within the same assemblage. It is suggested that hunter-gatherer-fishers around the 55th parallel commonly deployed material culture for artificial light production but the evidence is restricted to times and places where more durable technologies were employed, including the circum-Baltic.
Archaeological fieldwork preceding housing development revealed a Mesolithic site in a primary context. A central hearth was evident from a cluster of calcined flint and bone, the latter producing a modelled date for the start of occupation at 8220–7840 cal bc and ending at 7960–7530 cal bc (95% probability). The principal activity was the knapping of bladelets, the blanks for microlith production. Impact-damaged microliths indicated the re-tooling of hunting weaponry, while microwear analysis of other tools demonstrated hide working and butchery activity at the site. The lithics can be classified as a Honey Hill assemblage type on the basis of distinctive leaf-shaped microlithic points with inverse basal retouch.
Such assemblages have a known concentration in central England and are thought to be temporally intermediate between the conventional British Early and Late Mesolithic periods. The lithic assemblage is compared to other Honey Hill type and related Horsham type assemblages from south-eastern England. Both assemblage types are termed Middle Mesolithic and may be seen as part of wider developments in the late Preboreal and Boreal periods of north-west Europe. Rapid climatic warming at this time saw the northward expansion of deciduous woodland into north-west Europe. Emerging new ecosystems presented changes in resource patterns and the Middle Mesolithic lithic typo-technological developments reflect novel foraging strategies as adaptations to the new opportunities of Boreal forest conditions. While Honey Hill-type assemblages are seen as part of such wider processes their distinctive typological signature attests to autochthonous, regional developments of human groups infilling the landscape. Such cultural insularity may reflect changing social boundaries with reduction in mobility range and physical isolation caused by rising sea level and the creation of the British archipelago.
Foodcrusts, the charred surface deposits on pottery vessel surfaces, provide a rich source of data regarding container function. This article reviews recent applications focusing on the detection of aquatic resources (marine and freshwater) in pottery vessels using a range of analytical approaches including bulk isotope measurements of carbon and nitrogen, lipid biomarker analysis, and compound-specific carbon isotope determinations. Such data can help to evaluate the presence of reservoir effects when undertaking radiocarbon dating of foodcrust samples. In particular, molecular and isotopic analysis can aid in the selection of suitable candidates for 14C where it can be demonstrated that aquatic resources are unlikely to contribute to the residue. Prospects for compound-specific 14C analysis of lipids in foodcrusts and ceramic-absorbed residues are also discussed.
The aim of this article is to discuss radiocarbon dating offsets due to freshwater and marine reservoir effects (FRE and MRE, respectively) in the southeastern Baltic. Thirty-six 14C dates from Lithuanian coastal and inland Subneolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age sites as well as two Mesolithic-Neolithic cemeteries are presented here. Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates, sometimes paired or tripled, have been obtained on samples of various origin, foodcrusts, or visible charred deposits adhering to the surfaces of ceramic vessel walls were also dated and investigated for stable isotope signals. The results argue for a significant freshwater component in the food processed in ceramic vessels during the Subneolithic and Neolithic. Paired dating of ungulate and human bones at the Spiginas and Donkalnis cemeteries (6300–1900 cal BC) does not suggest an FRE, although stable isotope data on human bone collagen strongly suggest a large input of freshwater food in the diet. An FRE in the order of 320–510 yr was estimated for the Šventoji paleolagoon around 3000 cal BC. At the same time, the FRE of the Curonian Lagoon could be larger as implied by large apparent 14C ages of modern pike-perch (981 ± 30 BP) and bream (738 ± 30 BP) bones as well as “foodcrust” offsets (650–530 yr) at Nida (3500–2500 cal BC). An MRE of 190 ± 43 yr was estimated for the southeastern coast of the Littorina Sea according to offsets between dates of seal bones and terrestrial samples at Nida and Šventoji. Any FRE at Lake Kretuonas remains uncertain due to the limited work to date.
Shallow oval bowls used on the Baltic coast in the Mesolithic have been suggested as oil lamps, burning animal fat. Here researchers confirm the use of four coastal examples as lamps burning blubber—the fat of marine animals, while an inland example burned fat from terrestrial mammals or freshwater aquatics—perhaps eels. The authors use a combination of lipid biomarker and bulk and single-compound carbon isotope analysis to indicate the origin of the residues in these vessels.
A log-coffin excavated in the early nineteenth century proved to be well enough preserved in the early twenty-first century for the full armoury of modern scientific investigation to give its occupants and contents new identity, new origins and a new date. In many ways the interpretation is much the same as before: a local big man buried looking out to sea. Modern analytical techniques can create a person more real, more human and more securely anchored in history. This research team shows how.
Excavations were carried out intermittently between 1982 and 2005, by various excavators, in advance of quarrying activity at Upper Largie, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll & Bute. They revealed abundant evidence of prehistoric activity, dating from the Mesolithic to the Middle Bronze Age, on a fluvioglacial terrace overlooking the rest of the Glen, although some evidence was doubtless destroyed without record during a period of unmonitored quarrying. Several undated features were also discovered. Mesolithic activity is represented by four pits, probably representing a temporary camp; this is the first evidence for Mesolithic activity in the Glen. Activity of definite and presumed Neolithic date includes the construction, and partial burning, of a post-defined cursus. Copper Age activity is marked by an early Beaker grave which matches counterparts in the Netherlands in both design and contents, and raises the question of the origin of its occupant. The terrace was used again as a place of burial during the Early Bronze Age, between the 22nd and the 18th century, and the graves include one, adjacent to the early Beaker grave, containing a unique footed Food Vessel combining Irish and Yorkshire Food Vessel features. At some point/s during the first half of the 2nd millennium bc – the oakbased dates may suffer from ‘old wood’ effect – three monuments were constructed on the terrace: a pit, surrounded by pits or posts, similar in design to the early Beaker grave; a timber circle; and a post row. The latest datable activity consists of a grave, containing cremated bone in a Bucket Urn, the bone being dated to 1410–1210 cal bc; this may well be contemporary with an assemblage of pottery from a colluvium spread. The relationship between this activity and contemporary activities elsewhere in the Glen is discussed.
Although the origins of domestic animals have been well-documented, it is unclear when livestock were first exploited for secondary products, such as milk. The analysis of remnant fats preserved in ceramic vessels from two agricultural sites in central and eastern Europe dating to the Early Neolithic (5900-5500 cal BC) are best explained by the presence of milk residues. On this basis, the authors suggest that dairying featured in early European farming economies. The evidence is evaluated in the light of analysis of faunal remains from this region to determine the scale of dairying. It is suggested that dairying—perhaps of sheep or goats—was initially practised on a small scale and was part of a broad mixed economy.
The authors discuss the first evidence for the use of birch-bark tar on Late Neolithic pottery from Greece. This appears to have been used for two different purposes, to seal a fracture and to line the interior walls. The authors also discuss other possible uses.