The Innovation, Dispersal and Use of Ceramics in NE Europe


A new research project led by the British Museum, University of York and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), Schleswig, Germany will tackle the origins, adoption and use of pottery vessels by hunter-gatherers in NE Europe. Once viewed, particularly in western archaeology, as a material correlated with sedentary farming life in the Neolithic, pottery technology is now known to have been invented or adopted in many regions of the world long before the domestication of plants and animals. However, despite this, the recognition of pottery vessels in hunter-gatherer contexts has been regarded as peripheral to mainstream European prehistory. This proposal seeks to rebalance the evidence and the debate, placing the innovation, dispersal and use of pottery vessels among hunter-gatherers in NE Europe at the heart of the enquiry.

Pottery sherd from Zamostje 2.

Virtually nothing is known of the choices underlying the adoption of pottery vessels or the uses to which they were put. Similarly, there is little understanding of the environmental contexts that led to the emergence of pottery or the timing and dynamics of its apparent westward dispersal across NE Europe, nor its legacy following the introduction of food production. Addressing these lacunae is the motivation for this new project. The research team will explore these important challenges with an integrated approach to reconstructing the contextual life histories of over 2000 pottery vessels, enhancing chronological control of early pottery horizons through 600 radiocarbon dates, investigating the typology of several thousand vessels from across the study region, creating spatio-temporal models for the spread of different pottery traditions and documenting the impact of the introduction of farming on the use of vessels for resource utilisation. This new understanding of pottery manufacture, dispersal and use across NE Europe will inspire a fundamental re-evaluation of later hunter-gatherer prehistory.

Funded by the ERC.

Objective 1: When, and under what circumstances, did pottery vessels emerge in NE Europe? Were pottery vessels independently invented in NE Europe or did the knowledge derive from elsewhere?

Objective 2: How, and when did early pottery spread from its first occurrence and what factors stimulated or hindered its dispersal?

Objective 3: To what degree did pottery transform prehistoric economy and societies?

Objective 4: How did pottery use change through space and time, especially following the introduction of farming, and as pottery was introduced into new regions with markedly different ecological and environmental regimes?


Funded by the European Research Council, the project will be undertaken under the direction of Carl Heron, Oliver Craig and John Meadows.