January 1, 2017

Oldest evidence for cooking in pots comes from Libya


Kambiz Karami at Anthropology.net (a most interesting blog to follow) mentioned this week that Libyan pottery remains, maybe as old as 10,000 years ago, have provided the oldest evidence of vegetable cooking of we know of, at least in pots (see below for the disclaimer). The remains indicate cooking of vegetables and meat and are associated to pictures of people gathering plants, as well as grinding stones (hand mills) with remains of such provisions.

Ref. Nature Plants.

Oddly enough, just two days later, he contradicted himself, mentioning that the charred remains of nuts and seeds from Palestine, dated from 780,000 years ago, actually provide the oldest evidence of vegetable cooking, even if it's clearly a more primitive way of cuisine and not yet at all the "refined" stew of ancient Libyans, which won them three stars in the Paleo-Michelin Guide for Nomads and five pitchforks in Popular Mesolithic Cuisine

Ref. PNAS.

Update (Jan 4): origin of Libyan and West Asian pottery could be Sudan

Jm8 mentions it in the comments, referencing to Anthromadness. I would need more data to judge (the ref. paper is behind paywall) but  it does sounds as probably correct to me, being Sudan/Nubia one of the earliest Mesolithic areas in the Western half of the Old World, one that is way too often and unfairly neglected but that definitely influenced the Levant prior to the development of Neolithic proper (what should explain a lot of things both linguistic and genetic).


  1. The oldest pottery in Africa comes from a region more to the south, (but may not have so far shown—or been tested for—plant remains).


    1. That makes some sense to me, as Sudan is one of the oldest Mesolithic (grain-gatherer) areas in the wider West Eurasian area but it is seldom discussed (all the glory goes to the Near East, even if this region was clearly influenced by the Sudan/Nubia Mesolithic, with many implications re. linguistics and genetics).

      Thanks for he info, Jm8. That can explain why Libya has such an early pottery. However I feel that the map underestimates the speed of the spread of pottery from China via the Tundra (proto-Uralic peoples carrying Y-DNA N1 and mtDNA C). Some habituals who know better than me on those matters claim that this would be the first ever pottery in West Eurasia (in this case excluding Africa), although it seems less likely to me that it influenced the Near East than the Sudan core, much closer geographically and more directly related via ethno-cultural flows.

  2. There is much older pottery in Japan and China, and in all likelihood some of it was used for cooking. But the African pottery does pre-date European and Near Eastern pottery which seem to be derived from Eastern examples in a gradual western migration of the technology.

    1. Nobody questions, I believe, that Chinese pottery is the oldest known on Earth (or even that it migrated westward with the proto-Uralic peoples of Siberia), the questions are:

      1. Where did the concept of pottery in West Asia and NE Africa originated exactly (and some are claiming it was Nubia, a likely origin for Mesolithic cereal-gathering too)?

      2. Was this development independent or influenced by ethno-cultural flows from East Asia? I would lean for independent (no known contact) but it's a question worth considering anyhow.

      "European and Near Eastern pottery [seems] to be derived from Eastern examples in a gradual western migration of the technology".

      Does it? I really do not see it. The Eastern Asian pottery may have been the first one to reach Eastern Europe or its Western Siberian fringes but how can we make the connection between the taiga and the Fertile Crescent? It's not at all obvious to me. On the other hand, if there was a distinct independent origin in Nubia, the connection seems much much more obvious and simple, associated to Nile archaeological influence on Natufian, the expansion of Afroasiatic languages (and maybe also Nubian-Vasconic ones), that of Y-DNA E1b and other African lineages we find in Neolithic West Asia and its European offshoot, as well as at least part of the so-called "Basal Eurasian" autosomal ghost (which is African-like).

      It would not be a direct Mesolithic input from Sudan in any case but rather it should respond to secondary cultural interactions between the Levant and the Nile already well into the Neolithic, interactions of which we know little but we do know must have existed. On the other hand the interactions with Siberia and Eastern Europe in the late PPNB stage (when pottery begins in West Asia) seem most unlikely (but please correct me if I'm overlooking some important clue).

    2. OK, checking some online stuff like this:

      → http://individual.utoronto.ca/lisamaher/PotteryNeolithic.pdf

      ... and it would seem that the first pottery begins towards the North of the region, what should in principle exclude the African origin. On the other hand it's clearly 1000 years more recent than some African pottery, so the independent African origin of the craft would seem confirmed, even if it probably did not influence the Near East.

      It remains open the issue of whether the West Asian pottery development is strictly independent (a mere extension of mudbrick work) or has some sort of Siberian influence. I'd lean for independent but feel free to prove me wrong.

  3. The circumstantial case for an East to West origin is summed up in an illustration borrowed from Bell Beaker blogger in this post: http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com/2016/10/oldest-pottery-now-from-china-rather.html

    1. But the illustration seems very misleading UNLESS you can prove early pottery in Central Asia, what does not come from the data points in the original Bell Beaker Blogger entry at all (nor anything else I know of). There is indeed a route of pottery to Eastern Europe via Siberia but there is no clear connection with West Asia or the Aegean (another of the oldest West Eurasian potteries) at all. We cannot fully discard it but we cannot clearly claim it either.


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