Some of the oldest pieces of pottery in the world, dating back to the prehistoric Jomon period 15,000 years ago, were found in Japan by a team of scientists. In the clay pots, they discovered well-preserved traces of fat from marine and freshwater fish and shellfish. The traces show that people who lived during those times used to stew their fish, going against the stereotype of Stone Age humans as hunters and gatherers.
“It is the oldest example of cooking in pottery,” said Oliver Craig, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of York, who is the lead author of a research paper on the pots.
The researchers analyzed up to 30 milligrams of burnt remains from 101 vessels that were found at 13 different sites, the international press reports.
“It seems like pottery in Japan was innovated during the coldest periods, which is what you might expect,” Craig says. Because the oldest pots from the Jomon sites are rare, he guesses that fish stewing may have been part of a feasting ritual. They may also have had the role of bringing people together.
“I would say that through most of human history, eating has always been an important social activity,” said Simon Kaner, head of the Center for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.
But the pots may not have been saved only for special occasions. “The use of pots would have facilitated such communal meals, as well as experimentation with all sorts of different ways of cooking based on aquatic resources like fish stews,” Peter Bogucki, an archaeologist at Princeton University, said.