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Early pottery use across the Baltic – A comparative lipid residue study on Ertebølle and Narva ceramics from coastal hunter-gatherer sites in southern Scandinavia, northern Germany and Estonia

Papakosta, Vasiliki, Oras, Ester, Isaksson, Sven
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2019 v.24 pp. 142-151
animals, archaeology, ceramics, fatty acids, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, manufacturing, raw materials, stable isotopes, traditions, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Scandinavia, Sweden
The Late Mesolithic Ertebølle and Narva cultures (6th – 5th/4th millennium BC) in the southwest and eastern Baltic, respectively, shared similar vessel types, namely pointed-based pots and oval bowls. As a consequence, this phenomenon raised questions about inter-cultural connections across the Baltic and possible influence for the production of pottery from the Narva to the Ertebølle hunter-gatherers. Whereas the two pottery traditions were shown to be different with regards to raw materials and manufacture, in this study we further attempt a comparison on the basis of function using a lipid residue analysis approach. The aim is to examine whether typological analogies were based on common functional requirements. This paper presents new evidence for the use of Ertebølle ceramics in the southwest Baltic from the analysis of pottery samples from a number of coastal sites in southern Sweden (Scania) and eastern Denmark (Lolland). Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC–MS) and gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-c-IRMS) analysis were performed on the absorbed lipid residues to determine their structural characteristics and the stable carbon isotopic composition of selected fatty acids. Results are discussed and compared with analogous published data of Narva ceramics from Estonia. Data from other coastal sites in Denmark and northern Germany are also included for wider comparison. Based on our findings, we conclude that despite little variability in the isotope values of residues, Ertebølle and Narva pots did not serve the same functional demands, and different motives led to their production. Whilst the Narva ceramics appear to have had a specialized role in processing aquatic products, the Ertebølle were more multi-purpose vessels, used also for terrestrial animal and plant resources.