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On the Origins of Pottery

Prudence M. Rice
Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 1-54
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20177395
Page Count: 54
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On the Origins of Pottery
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Abstract

Renewed research interest in the origins of pottery has illuminated an array of possible precipitating causes and environmental contexts in which pottery began to be made and used. This article is an attempt at synthesizing some of these data in hopes of stimulating further research into this intriguing topic. Following a review of theories on the origins of pottery, discussion proceeds to a survey of geographic and cultural contexts of low-fired or unfired pottery, highlighting the role(s) of pottery among contemporary hunter-gatherers and summarizing data pertaining to varied uses of pottery containers. It is argued that objects of unfired and low-fired clay were created as part of early "prestige technologies" of material representations beginning in the Upper Paleolithic and are part of an early "software horizon." Clay began to be more widely manipulated by nonsedentary, complex hunter-gatherers in the very Late Pleistocene and early Holocene in areas of resource abundance, especially in tropical/subtropical coastal/riverine zones, as part of more general processes of resource and social intensification (such as "competitive feasting" or communal ritual). Knowledge of making and using pottery containers spread widely as "prestige technology" and as "practical technology," the kind and timing of its adoption or "reinvention" varying from location to location depending on specific needs and circumstances.

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