Because the appearance of pottery changed the way of life of past societies profoundly, archaeologists took an early interest in this historical phenomenon. Two major centers of the invention of ceramics, from which the technology spread by demic and cultural diffusion, were formerly identified in North-East Africa (Sudan-Egypt) and South-West Asia (Syria and Turkey). Because the Southern Levant is located at the crossroads of these two centers (respectively related to hunter-gatherers vs. farmers), the region represents a key study area to identify the complexity of the historical phenomenon under study. Paradoxically, it has attracted little attention from specialists working on the beginning of pottery production in the Near East.
The scarce studies focused on the emergence of pottery in the Southern Levant have so far suggested a single regional model, be it for the date of appearance (When?), the causes (Why?) or the processes (How?). However, the data currently available on the beginning of the PN make this simplistic view of the historical phenomenon scarcely plausible. Recent research undertaken by Julien Vieugué (scientific leader of the CERASTONE project) on the early pottery productions in the Southern Levant, on the contrary, suggests a much more complex history that seems to be different in the Jordan (Entity A), Jezreel (Entity B), Hula (Entity C) and Besor (Entity D) valleys.
The CERASTONE project aims to shed light on the diversity of paces, causes and processes for the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant. In order to better understand this historical phenomenon, we will undertake a systematic analysis of large assemblages of prehistoric vessels discovered at the key PPN-PN sites: Sha'ar hagolan, Munhata, Nahal Zippori 3, Tel Itzaki, Ein El Jarba, Beisamoun, Tel Roim West, Lod, Nahal Yarmouth and Hagoshrim. We will more specifically perform a stylistic, technical and functional analysis of stone, lime and clay vessels that were used during the 7th millennium cal. BC. This innovative comparative approach will contribute to renewing our knowledge on the emergence of pottery in the Fertile Crescent, which is still the subject of significant debate among the scientific community.
 Gopher, A., 1998. Early Pottery-bearing groups in Israel: the pottery Neolithic period. In: LevyT.E. (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land: 205-221.
The chronology of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic/Pottery Neolithic transition has been fiercely debated among the scientific community. Thus, the date of appearance of pottery in the Southern Levant ranges from 6700 to 6200 cal. BC, depending on a more or less critical review of the available C14 dates. The paces of its adoption are described as rapid or gradual according to the more or less important quantity of pottery sherds discovered in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic/Pottery Neolithic transitional layers. However, the chrono-stratigraphic data currently available for the 7th millennium cal. BC in the Southern Levant do not allow us to establish an accurate date for the emergence of pottery and the pace of its adoption in this region. First, evidence of relative dating described in the monographs is insufficient to allow a detailed reconstruction of the stratigraphic sequences. With the notable exception of the sites of Sha'ar Hagolan and Jebel Abu Thawwab, the overlaps and overlays of archaeological features are generally not described. Their representation in the form of a Harris matrix have at best only been carried out at the scale of excavation squares, which prevents any quantitative seriation. Second, the absolute dates are unable to determine an accurate chronological setting of the historical phenomenon. More than half of the 65 C14 dates available (54%) come from two EPN sites - namely Sha'ar Hagolan and Nahal Zehora II. Almost all (98%) were obtained based on indeterminate charcoals (or even materials) from secondary contexts (waste pits or sediment layers), making any attempt to date the earliest pottery in the region impossible.
The objective of WP2 is to clarify the pace of the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant. In other words, when did the populations in this part of the Fertile Crescent adopt pottery? Did they integrate it quickly or gradually? In order to determine the accurate temporality of the historical phenomenon, we will carry out a comparative study of the quantity of stone, lime and clay vessels during the PPN-PN transition (WP2). This quantitative approach will be based on the comprehensive preliminary analysis of artefacts from the ten key stratified sites dated in the 7th millennium cal. BC that have been selected within the framework of this scientific project: Sha'ar hagolan, Munhata, Nahal Zippori 3, Tel Itzaki, Ein El Jarba, Beisamoun, Tel Roim West, Lod, Nahal Yarmouth and Hagoshrim. The chronological setting of the earliest pottery in the region, with regard to the climatic event 8.2 cal. BP, will be carried out according to the study method established by Philippe Lanos (WP2 scientific manager) in other historical contexts. It will involve the construction of a high-resolution chrono-stratigraphic framework that combines relative (task 2.1.) and absolute (task 2.2.) chronologies. The stratigraphic sequences of the key sites will be reconstructed by the thorough analysis of excavation archives. The sorting and digitization of the field documentation (in particular that of the major site of Munhata) will be carried out by Elisabeth Bellon and her team in the archives department of the Institute of Archaeology & Ethnology in Nanterre (Fr). At the same time as the archives are being sorted and scanned, the registration sheets of the Stratigraphic Units, the plan and section surveys of the Neolithic structures, the notebooks and excavation reports of the selected sites will be analyzed by Anna Eirikh-Rose and Michal Birkenfeld in the Prehistory Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority (Is). This important work will collect evidence of relative chronologies such as the overlaps and overlays of archaeological features observed during the excavations. Once reconstructed, the stratigraphic sequences of the main 7th millennium cal. BC Levantine sites will be placed on a time scale by radiocarbon dating of short-lived samples (human and animal bones, charred seeds, pottery residues) from well-defined contexts (burials, dwelling floors, firing structures). Knowing that bone collagen is poorly preserved in the open-air settlements of this period, FTIR tests will be carried out beforehand by Matthieu Lebon at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (Fr). The bones most likely to be dated will then be prepared by Christine Oberlin at the Radiocarbon Dating Centre in Lyon (Fr). The charred seeds and pottery residues will be prepared by Lucile Beck at the LMC14 in Saclay (Fr). Once the preparation of the samples is completed, the C14 content of the samples will be measured by AMS which will provide reliable absolute dates. The evidences of relative (task 2.1.) and absolute (task 2.1.) chronology collected in this scientific project will finally be combined by Philippe Lanos and his team using the Chronomodel application (http://www.chronomodel.fr/). The Bayesian statistical analysis of the chronological data will allow more precise positioning of the different archaeological features and occupation phases at the sites on the time scale. Above all, it will determine the date for the emergence of pottery in the Southern Levant and the pace of its adoption, compared to what happened in other regions of the Fertile Crescent.
The causes for the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant have surprisingly generated little debate among the scientific community. In the 1990s, Avi Gopher and Yuval Goren mentioned social factors to explain the appearance of pottery in this region. According to these two specialists, the earliest pottery recipients in the Southern Levant were primarily used as symbolic goods because of the high proportion of decorated pottery made from limestone clays that have low thermal-shock resistance. In contrast, Yosef Garfinkel and Anna Eirikh-Rose put forward economic factors to explain the emergence of pottery in this part of the Fertile Crescent. According to these two specialists, the earliest pottery in the Southern Levant was primarily a utilitarian object due to the presence of various shapes and sizes of pottery that show use-wear. However, the data currently available on the function of the earliest pottery in the Southern Levant seem too fragmentary to establish with certainty the reasons for the widespread adoption of pottery in this part of the Fertile Crescent. The typometry of the Neolithic vessels, which is nevertheless vital to understand their actual use, has so far not been analyzed in this perspective. Only typological classifications for chronological purposes have been suggested for the most complete ceramic vessels at Sha'ar Hagolan, Munhata and Nahal Zehora II. Because these classifications were based on the stylistic criteria most likely to evolve rapidly (such as the profile of the pottery), they have not led to solid functional interpretations. Similarly, the use-wear that represents the most discriminating evidence for identifying the actual use or function of prehistoric containers has rarely been characterized thoroughly. Only chemical analyses of organic residues have been undertaken on 29 cooking pots from Sha'ar Hagolan and Munhata. Moreover, the tests carried out on this limited series of pots were negative due to the application of a conventional lipid extraction protocol using an organic solvent which subsequently proved inoperative on the pottery assemblages in the Fertile Crescent.
The goal of WP3 is to shed light on the causes for the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant. In other words, why did the population in this region start to use fired clay containers? Did they do so in response to a new economic or symbolic need? To establish the reasons that led to the emergence of ceramic technology in this part of the Fertile Crescent, we will conduct a comparative study of the function of stone, lime and clay vessels dated in the 7th millennium cal. BC (WP3). Given that the evidences linked to the function of Neolithic vessels are particularly difficult to characterize due to the fragmentation and alteration of the prehistoric remains, the research will focus on the largest and best-preserved assemblages of vessels from each EPN cultural entity: Sha'ar hagolan, Munhata (Entity A), Nahal Zippori 3 (Entity B), Lod (Entity C) and Hagoshrim (Entity D). The actual uses of stone, lime and clay vessels from the Levantine sites dated in the 7th millennium cal. BC will be the subject of a comprehensive analysis following the study method defined by J. Vieugué (WP3 leader) in other historical contexts. This innovative multi-proxy approach will combine the typometry (task 3.1.) and use-wear (task 3.2.) of Neolithic vessels. The morphometric study of the vessels will focus on the accurate estimation of their capacity, which represents an essential clue for establishing their specific use. The 3D reconstruction of the stone vessels, white ware and ceramic vessels will be carried out by Leore Grosman and her team at the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (IS). It will provide information on the quantity of food that was stored, transported, cooked, served and consumed during the Neolithic period. The use-wear analysis of the containers will focus on the characterization of organic residues linked to the primary contents of prehistoric vessels. The lipids will, on one hand, be analyzed with GC-MS (Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry) and GC-C-IRMS (Gas Chromatography-Combustion-Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry) by Martine Regert and her team at the CEPAM (FR). Phytoliths and starches will, on the other hand, be tracked under an optical microscope by Monica Ramsey in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge (UK). The residue analyses undertaken within the framework of this scientific project will shed light on the type of animal and plant substances that were originally contained in the stone vessels, white ware and ceramic vessels. The typometry (task 3.1.) and use-wear (task 3.2.) of prehistoric vessels will finally be combined by J. Vieugué and his team in order to establish their actual uses. The comparison of the use-range of stone, lime and clay vessels will make it possible to specify their respective place within Neolithic tableware. It will shed light on the possible transfers of functions from one category of prehistoric containers to another during the PPN-PN transition. The research undertaken in WP3 will thus enable a better understanding of the economic and/or symbolic factors that led the populations of the Southern Levant to adopt pottery.
The processes underlying the emergence of pottery in the Southern Levant were questioned very early but were hardly debated. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, some researchers explained the introduction of pottery by the arrival of pottery-making populations from the Northern Levant. The hypothesis of a demic diffusion is particularly based on the discovery of mass production of pottery at the very beginning of the PN (as in Munhata). In the 1990s, other specialists advocated the adoption of pottery by local Pre-Pottery Neolithic populations. The hypothesis of cultural diffusion is notably based on the discovery of some poorly-fired pottery in LPPN layers (as in Ain Ghazal). The data currently available on the manufacture of the earliest pottery in the Southern Levant do not however make it possible to establish with certainty the processes underlying the learning of ceramic technology in this part of the Fertile Crescent. The technical macro-traces linked to the shaping and finishing of pottery have so far not been systematically analyzed. Only a limited assemblage of pottery from the EPN site of Nahal Zehora II has been studied from a technological point of view, revealing the diversity of techniques (shaping by coiling and modeling techniques, pre-forming by beating) and surface treatments (smoothed, slip, polished) of the vessels produced at this open-air settlement. The petro-fabrics revealing the preparation of ceramic pastes have hardly been the subject of more thorough analyses. The few petrographic studies undertaken only concerned 197 vessels from the EPN sites of Sha'ar Hagolan, Munhata, Nahal Zehora II and Lod, and demonstrated the local origin of the clays.
The objective of WP4 is to reconstruct the processes underlying the widespread adoption of pottery in the Southern Levant. In other words, how did the populations in this region integrate the practice of pottery? Did they learn it by contact with migrant potters or by borrowing the idea? In order to determine the importance of both local and exogenous traditions in the development of this new technology, we will carry out a comparative study of the manufacture of stone, lime and clay vessels dated in the 7thmillennium cal. BC. Knowing that the identification of technical traces is particularly difficult due to the fragmentation and alteration of the prehistoric remains, the research will focus on the largest and best-preserved assemblages of vessels from each EPN cultural entity: Sha'ar hagolan, Munhata (Entity A), Nahal Zippori 3 (Entity B), Lod (Entity C) and Hagoshrim (Entity D). The manufacturing processes of stone vessels, white ware and ceramic vessels from the 7th millennium cal. BC Levantine sites will be the subject of comprehensive analysis based on the study protocol established by Valentine Roux (WP4 leader) in other historical contexts. This study protocol, developed between Archaeological and Geochemical Sciences, consists of combining the analysis of technical (task 4.1.) and petrographic (task 4.2.) groups. The technological study of pottery will be carried out by Valentine Roux, while the analysis of stone vessels and white ware from the same sites will be carried out by Laure Dubreuil. The technical macro-traces observed using stereomicroscopy and eventually radiography will allow a detailed reconstruction of the techniques used for shaping, preforming and finishing prehistoric vessels. The petrographic and chemical characterization of the raw materials used for the manufacture of stone, lime and ceramic vessels at Levantine sites in the 7th millennium BC will be undertaken in parallel by Carine Harivel and Yvan Coquinot. This part of the research will make it possible to specify the nature and treatment of the raw materials used to produce the different categories of prehistoric vessels. The technical macro-traces (task 4.1.) and the petro-fabrics (task 4.2.) will finally be combined by Valentine Roux and her team in order to reconstruct the manufacturing processes of the different categories of prehistoric containers (from the procurement of raw materials to the firing of the objects). The comparative analysis of production techniques for stone, lime and ceramic vessels will make it possible to establish technical changes and continuities during the 7th millennium cal. BC, as well as the possible transfers of knowledge from one type of material to another. The research undertaken in WP4 will thus contribute to a better understanding of the processes for the emergence of pottery in this part of the Fertile Crescent.