PACES, CAUSES AND PROCESSES FOR THE LATE ADOPTION OF POTTERY IN THE SOUTHERN LEVANT (7TH MILLENNIUM CAL. BC)
In the Near East, the Neolithic corresponds to a period of profound economic, social and symbolic changes that particularly affected the food habits of prehistoric groups. The gradual introduction of domesticated plants (wheat, barley, lentils) and animals (goats, sheep, cattle) into the diet was accompanied by a diversification of kitchen recipients (made of stone, lime and clay) used for storing, preparing and serving foodstuffs. Formerly consisting of wooden vessels, the sets of prehistoric containers were enriched with stone vessels in the Natufian (12th millennium cal. BC), white ware in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (8th millennium) and ceramic vessels in the Early Pottery Neolithic (7th millennium cal. BC). Pottery appeared in Western Mesopotamia around 6900 cal. BC, before spreading to the rest of the Fertile Crescent during the following centuries by cultural or demic diffusion. Because pottery appears late in the Southern Levant (second half of the 7th millennium cal. BC), the region has so far remained on the fringe of research regarding the first pottery productions in the Near East. This corridor, located at the crossroads of Asia and Africa, was characterized by a patchwork of cultural entities at the beginning of the Pottery Neolithic, of which the Yarmukian (Entity A), the Byblos (Entity B), the Korenian (Entity C) and Jericho IX (Entity D) are the most emblematic (Fig. 1). Despite the scarcity of studies undertaken on the earliest pottery in the Southern Levant, several historical scenarios have been considered to explain the emergence of ceramic technology in this part of the Fertile Crescent. While some specialists have argued in favor of a rapid introduction of utilitarian pottery due to a migration of pottery-making populations from the Northern Levant, others have supported the hypothesis of a gradual adoption of pottery with high symbolic value by the local pre-ceramic populations in the Southern Levant. However, the assumptions made so far remain highly speculative owing to the lack of consistent data on prehistoric vessels from the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (1st half of the 7th millennium cal. BC) and the Early Pottery Neolithic (2nd half of the 7th millennium BC).
The CERASTONE project aims to shed light on the paces, causes and processes involved in the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant (Work Package 1). In other words, when did the populations in the Southern Levant adopt pottery (Work Package 2)? Why did they start to use fired clay containers (Work package 3)? How did they integrate the practice of pottery (Work package 4)? To answer these three anthropological questions, we have chosen to focus our analysis on the remains from the ten key stratified sites dated in the 7th millennium cal. BC within the EPN's four main cultural entities: Sha'ar hagolan and Munhata located in the Jordan Valley (Entity A), Nahal Zippori 3, Tel Itzaki and Ein El Jarba in the Jezreel Valley (Entity B), Beisamoun, Hagoshrim and Tel Roim West in the Hula Valley (Entity C), and Lod and Nahal Yarmouth in the Besor Valley (Entity D) (Fig. 1). All these open-air settlements have provided large and diverse assemblages formed by hundreds of pottery, white ware and stone vessels. Because these three categories of vessels show stylistic (copying of certain shapes and decorations), technical (e.g. shaping on a basketry mold) and functional (e.g. use for service) affinities, it is sensible to undertake a combined study of these vessels (Fig. 2). This comparative approach, which is quite innovative, will be possible thanks to the use of common methodologies between specialists in stone vessels, white ware and pottery. Thus we will be able to explore in depth the stylistic, technical and functional transfers that may have occurred between the three categories of vessels and, beyond that, to better grasp the paces, causes and processes for the emergence of ceramic technology during the 7th millennium in this part of the Mediterranean.