PONTE- POttery iNnovation and Transition in East Asia: bridging expertise across continents


Jōmon and beyond

Pottery is one of humanity’s most important and enduring innovations, a milestone in human achievement that paved the way for sophisticated cooking, storage and many other technologies. Recent archaeological research tells us that this innovation happened in East Asia towards the end of the Pleistocene. However very little is known about how and why pottery first appeared, as well as when and where the innovation subsequently spread. Knowing how early pottery was used provides the strongest indication of why it was used, and this is the rationale for this research. PONTE aims to unite the state-of-the-art expertise in organic residue analysis, with knowledge of East Asian prehistoric archaeology.

Pottery sherd from the Sejuk site with a foodcrust including aquatic biomarkers

PONTE is asking the following research questions:

  1. Did the large increase in pottery production at the start of the Holocene relate to a more specialised or less specialised function?
  2. Did the use of early pottery change according to the climatic and palaeoenvironmental conditions?
  3. Were the foods prepared in pottery representative of commonly available local resources or was pottery being used selectively to process specific foodstuffs?
  4. Were pots with different forms and stylistic attributes used differently in the different phases?
  5. Are patterns in the use of the earliest pottery in Japan also observable in other areas of East Asia?

To answer these questions, PONTE has three main objectives as follows:

  1. To develop methods suitable for the rapid screening and extraction of lipids from small samples of pottery and carbonised deposits.
  2. To use methods in organic residue analysis to examine the transition from the Late Pleistocene to the Early Holocene in Japan.
  3. To conduct pilot studies of early pottery use in other regions of East Asia including China, South Korea and Russia.


From 2014-2016, the Pottery Innovation and Transition in East Asia project will be carried out by Shinya Shoda under the supervision of Oliver Craig.