Marks and Freidel noted many instances where Upper Palaeolithic
cores were abandoned prior to their exhaustion as potential blade
and bladelet producers. Furthermore, they describe the later Upper- to
Epipalaeolithic trend, where bladelet production was maximised at the
expense of other blank forms, as a slow one. What marks the difference
between the Middle and the Upper Palaeolithic in the Negev is the
selection of particular lithic products in the chaÄ±ne operatoire (Schlanger
2005) to make distinctive tool types. Four major products were selected
from Upper Palaeolithic chaÄ±nes. In order of their sequential removal
from the nodule, these were,
1. large flakes from core shaping
2. large blades
3. core tablets
4. small light blades
In other words, blanks were being extracted from the chaÄ±ne operatoire
at set stages in the sequence, and turned directly, through retouch, into
consistently repeated types. The contrast with the Middle Palaeolithic
is dramatic. Here Marks and Freidel (ibid.:152) found that all classes of
tools in their typology were made on any of the products from the chaÄ±ne
operatoire. Therefore, the selection of blank type by either size or weight
for any given tool class approached randomness. A sidescraper could be
made on any flake and hence be of any size or weight. The only exceptions
were the Levallois flakes which were curated and transferred across
greater distances, a feature noted in the Middle Palaeolithic of Europe
for the same technology (Geneste 1988).
When it came to raw materials Marks and Freidel found a greater use
of non-local materials in the Upper Palaeolithic of the Negev, although
their region is small in size. From this they developed a land use model
of radiating (sedentary) and circulating (nomadic) patterns, summarised
in Table 7.10.
192 Origins and Revolutions
table 7.10. Patterns of land use in the Middle East (after Marks and
Circulating (Upper Palaeolithic
Settlement pattern Palaeolithic) & Natufian)
Mobility Nomadic Sedentary
Curation focus Tools Cores
Blank selection Precise Random
Hence their explanation for repeated shifts from a flake PCT to a blade
PCT, which is also found at locales such as Klasies River Mouth with
the Howiesonâ€™s Poort (Singer and Wymer 1982) and at the Haua Fteah
in Libya with the pre-Aurignacian (McBurney 1967), is that â€˜a general
shift in adaptive strategies from radiating to circulating settlement system(s)
can explain in systemic fashion the transition from flake technology
to blade technology which characterised the Middle Palaeolithic/Upper
Palaeolithic demarcationâ€™ (Marks and Freidel 1977:153). Economic pat-
terns linked to environmental changes selected for change in lithic techno-
logy combined with the additional pressure for more efficient flaking
But is this elegantly constructed example of the standard view a
convincing explanation? If circulating and radiating patterns of land
use were a way of coping with climate change and the re-distribution of
resources then why do blades, after a stuttering start, sweep the board
at some point during the common ground of technological evolution?
The arguments given above that question planning depth as an explanation
for the transition between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic would
also apply to Marks and Freidelâ€™s account. By contrast, a relational view
starts from the premise that there are always a variety of ways of solving
the basics of subsistence through the use of resources, and where, with
whom and for how long to inhabit a locale and a landscape. If, as discussed
in Chapter 4, the primary metaphor of the environment is changed from
a resisting to a giving relationship (Bird-David 1992) then the cores and
tools take on a different interpretation as the proxies for bodily metaphors.
A parentÃ€offspring (coreÃ€flake/blade) relationship is defined not only
through the actions of fragmentation but also through the consumption
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 193
of those actions in different locales. When settlement is circulating,
the enchainment of blanks and people occurs, and identity is distributed.
When radiating (Table 7.10) accumulation has greater authority. There is
no general shift reflecting more efficient use of resources. Instead there
is the active construction of identity that shows only a single trend through-
out the evolution of technology: to experience social life through the
metaphor of containment.
Containers/Instruments (N Â¼ 6 Table 7.4)
Six items on the list have a split classification. Most of these are reductive
technologies which produce a container as a result of use; for example the
concave grinding slab, the mortar to the pestle and the dished surface of
the PCT that once held the flake or blade. Ochre was reduced like a crayon
through use while it also covered bodies and walls. Fishing as an activity
can be by net and trap, both containers, as well as hook, line and sinker, that
are all instruments. Stone boring is a composite technology because
many of these artefacts were hafted, such as digging stick weights and stone
maceheads. Metal use is additive and composite since it needs clay moulds
into which gold, silver, copper, bronze and iron are poured. These moulds
produce both instruments such as pins and swords and containers like
buckets and breastplates.
Two further dual items do not appear in Troengâ€™s list (Table 7.4) but
should. The first is the wheel, which is an instrument that first appears on
burial carts in Slovenia 5,500 years ago (Fagan 2004:136). At the same time
the potterâ€™s wheel appears in Mesopotamia. Instruments making contain-
ers are nothing new: for example, adzes that hollowed out tree-trunks
to make log-boats.
The second omission is the plough. This has an even worse record
of preservation than wooden spears, being best known from marks in the
soil and pictograms. The ard, or scratch plough, is an instrument present
in Mesopotamia at least 5,000 years ago (Fagan 2004:96). Both ards and
wheels are instruments/containers because to work they must be composite.
Wheels propel a container such as a chariot or a paddle steamer while
the plough needs a container in the form of humans, oxen or horses to
pull them. Ploughs and wheels are extended material metaphors since like
the domino effect in politics and economics (Gudeman 1986) they
have many implications beyond their initial meaning.
194 Origins and Revolutions
Containers (N Â¼ 21 Table 7.4)
Enough of instruments. They have dominated this account for too long,
as they dominated technologyâ€™s long introduction. Besides, the view that
instruments were original and containers a later technological break-
through needs to be challenged. The lack of recognisable containers
for several million years is not necessarily evidence of their absence.
Two observations suggest this is the case. First, there is the growing body of
data that complements those early finds of wooden instruments with the
repeated use of fire. The hearths at Gesher-Benot-Yaâ€™aqov (Goren-Inbar,
et al. 2004), Schoningen (Thieme 2005) and Beeches Pit (Gowlett 2005)
are by virtue of their contents and construction examples of containers.
Second, earlier hominins regularly sought out containers in their land-
scapes of habit as sleeping sites. For example, the limestone caves and
fissures of the Sterkfontein valley in South Africa (Brain 1981) where
evidence for fire is also present (Brain and Sillen 1988). Caves and
rock shelters are places to accumulate social relationships (Moser 1999;
Parkington and Mills 1991). The caves and rock shelters of the Old
World abundantly testify that in the Palaeolithic such accumulation
involved material culture (Bonsall and Tolan-Smith 1997; Bordes 1972;
The increase in evidence for containers is the hallmark of technologyâ€™s
common ground. For instance, one natural container, ostrich eggshells,
were used for bead manufacture in the Later Stone Age of East and
Southern Africa from at least 40,000 years ago (McBrearty and Brooks
2000Ã€4), and the choice of a container as a source for beads is significant.
But the use of eggshell as a container, long before beads were made,
is known from much older Middle Stone Age locales such as Blombos
(Henshilwood et al. 2001:435). Here two pieces from a small collection had
been thinned by grinding, which is a feature found on contemporary
ostrich egg shell water flasks. Similar finds have been reported from the
Middle Stone Age of Namibia (Vogelsgang 1998).
Textiles; wrapping the body
Additive technologies are also a feature of the common ground. Olga
Soffer et al. (1998) have made a detailed examination of 90 impressions
of cordage and textiles/basketry in the fired clay material from DolnÄ±
Vestonice and Pavlov in the Czech Republic, dated to 30,000 years ago.
The cordage is both unmodified and knotted while the fibre based weaving
technology is particularly fine-gauge. The exact items cannot be specified
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 195
but nets are almost a certainty, as are clothing and baskets. The presence
of clothing as a container for the body is confirmed by the contemporary
well-dressed female figurines (Soffer et al. 2000) which are found at
DolnÄ± Vestonice, Willendorf in Austria and in Russia at Kostenki and
Avdeevo as well as in France at Lespugue and Brassempouy.
In particular heads are covered in a variety of caps while bodies
are bound by a variety of belts and armbands. Mariana Gvozdover
(1989:Figure 8) has shown how the same textile motifs on the figurines
are applied to other bone and ivory objects from the two Russian locales
(Figure 7.6), leading Soffer et al. 2000:522 to conclude that:
What was important and â€˜talked aboutâ€™ some 29,000 to 20,000 (uncali-
brated) years ago across Europe was woven and plaited clothing and
headgear made of plant materials which were associated with one category
of Upper Palaeolithic women.
The textile motifs on ivory objects that serve as a synecdoche for
the figurines (Figure 7.6) raise interesting possibilities for other material
containers which have not survived. For example, at Blombos Cave and
older than 77,000 years there are purposefully engraved ochre pieces
(Henshilwood et al. 2002). These commonly take the form of hatched
net-like motifs set within a rectangular frame (Figure 7.7). At a much
older date the deliberate incisions by earlier hominids on an elephant
foot bone from Bilzingsleben (Mania 1990:Abb.232) also describe a rectan-
gular frame, raising the possibility that containers existed which have
Burying the body
The material metaphor of containment strikes a particular chord that
begins during social technologyâ€™s long introduction. Burials within caves
are widespread among several hominin species and include the ossuary at
La Sima de los Huesos at Atapuerca in northern Spain some 350,000 years
ago where at least 32 bodies were placed (Bermudez de Castro and Nicolas
1997). Towards the end of the long introduction there are burials in caves
in Israel at Tabun (Neanderthals), Skhul and Qafzeh (anatomically
modern humans) (Grun et al. 2005) while Neanderthal burials after
100,000 years ago during technologyâ€™s common ground, such as Kebara,
are well known (Bar-Yosef et al. 1992; Stringer and Gamble 1993:Appendix).
These are often double containments, both within a cave and within
a pit as at La Chapelle aux Saints where an arthritically riddled, nearly
196 Origins and Revolutions
figure 7.6. Textile motifs and their arrangement on figurines and other bone and ivory
objects from Kostenki and Avdeevo that indicate containers (Soffer 1987:Figure 2).
Reproduced with the permission of the author.
toothless man barely 40 years old was interred (Stringer and Gamble
Double containment takes a different form in Europe with the appear-
ance of burials after 40,000 years ago for the first time in open rather
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 197
figure 7.7. Engraved ochre from Blombos Cave, South Africa (Henshilwood, et al.
2002). Ochre when applied to the face and built up in layers on the body must also be
regarded as a container. Reproduced with the permission of the author.
than just cave locales. The double container is indicated by the grave
pit and the clothes the corpse was dressed in. The evidence for clothing
comes from the position of beads and ornaments sewn onto caps and tunics
as at the triple burial of DolnÄ± Vestonice (Klima 1995), the graves of two
children and an adult man at Sunghir (Bader 1978) and the Grimaldi
burials, Italy, studied by Daniela Zampetti and Margherita Mussi (Mussi
2001; 1991). In all three cases ivory arm and ankle bands also encircled
the limbs. The corpses were contained within shallow graves at Sunghir
and Markina Gora (Kostenki 14) (Praslov and Rogachev 1982:Figure 53),
pits at Kostenki sites 14 and 15 (Praslov and Rogachev 1982:Figure 55) and
huts, as with burial XVI on the western slope of DolnÄ± Vestonice 2 (Svoboda
1991). The corpses were often bound in a crouched position; the use of
bonds invoking comparison with the contemporary figurines that had
also been â€˜buriedâ€™ in pits (Gvozdover 1989). An extended burial of a
man in the lunettes at Lake Mungo in the Willandra Lakes of Western
New South Wales, Australia, dispels any idea that this use of a container was
purely an Old World circumstance. Mungo 3 was placed on his back in
a pit and red ochre had been scattered over the body. The clay lunettes
198 Origins and Revolutions
around these former lakes also contain abundant evidence for hearths as
well as the cremation of a young woman, Mungo 1, dated to the common
ground. Her body had been burnt, the bones collected, broken and
then buried in a small pit (Flood 1990:250; Webb 1989).
Once regarded as a material marker of how the Neolithic Revolution
changed human identities, the historical significance of pottery has now
altered. It remains, with the house, the archaeologistâ€™s premier container
since it is abundant, ubiquitous and has a prehistoric pedigree. It also very
obviously contains, whether functionally when holding beverages,
perfumes, foods and poisons, or as a memory box full of ashes and souls.
But our view of pottery has altered in two ways. First, its early history,
as I will show, is decidedly non-functional in the carrying, cooking and
storage sense. Second, even when these tasks are being performed by
clay vessels they are, due to their form and decoration as well as the
techniques of manufacture, widely recognised as symbolically charged.
The ceramicistsâ€™ slogan â€˜Pots are peopleâ€™, has led to them being accorded
agency, as discussed in Chapter 4, and their properties discussed and
related directly to the body (Knappett 2005; Thomas 1996; Tilley 1996).
Even their construction embodies in material ways. For example, the
inclusion of grog, ground-up sherds of pottery, in the clay to act as a temper
during firing can be interpreted as the inclusion of the ancestors in the
next generation of pots (Morris 1994) rather than simply as a functional
trait. The association between women potters, the pots they make, cooking,
storage, pregnancy and childbirth intermingles the corporal and the mate-
rial in very intimate ways that are metaphorically available for reproducing
identity (Sterner 1989). When a potter dies, the person-pot is fragmented
through grinding and then consumed in the process of re-production as
a new pot-person.
David Wengrow (1998) has reminded us of the changing face of clay in
the momentous transitions from the villages to the cities of Mesopotamia.
Clay, he argues, did not just meet functional needs but rather, as J. L. Myers
put it in 1923, prehistoric pots were eloquent â€˜fictionsâ€™ of the pottersâ€™
memory and imagination, â€˜figmentsâ€™ of their will (in Wengrow 1998:783).
In Wengrowâ€™s opinion, the advent of pottery should not be used to mark
a Neolithic Revolution. Instead it illuminates a continuous story through
its changing applications, and these in turn provide access to the interplay
between â€˜symbol and practice, meaning and meansâ€™ (1998:783).
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 199
Such strong support for a metaphorical approach to technology contrasts
markedly with my earlier discussion of stone blades where we saw that
archaeologists only allow functional interpretations. Without doubt an
additive technology such as pottery lends itself more readily to such an
approach since to the archaeologist the act of making is intimately linked
to a model of cultural learning where knowledge is built up, stored and
passed on. Reductive technologies such as stone-working only have the
same resonance to our local models of how things work when they
contribute to a container. Hence stones cut for a house are understood
differently from stone flaked into a handaxe.
And so to the question why pottery? Karen Vittelli (1999:188) has
studied some of the earliest pots in Greece, from Francthi Cave. When she
reconstructed the capacities that these pots held she found that it was
insufficient to store the volume of seed needed to plant even one hectare.
The annual production at Francthi was only some three or four small pots
(Vitelli 1995:60). Neither was there any evidence that these pots had been
used on the fire. So at a stroke storage and cooking can be ruled out.
Her conclusion is that the potters were more interested in the process
of making than the product itself, the recipe rather than the meal. This is
shown by the use of inappropriate temper that made their manufacture
a performance. Vitelliâ€™s conclusion is that functional pots were a by-product
of such significant performances. Moreover, it is only at the end of the
Greek Neolithic that pots and food preparation can be closely associated
A comparable situation has been shown by Olga Soffer and Pam
Vandiver (Soffer et al. 1993) studying the clay animal figurines from DolnÄ±-
Vestonice and Pavlov in the Czech Republic. At 30,000 years old these
are currently the oldest ceramic objects (Table 7.4), and two small kilns are
also known from the locales. The local clays were perfectly sufficient
for making clay figurines but the artisans added temper that resulted
in thermal shock. As a result the pieces exploded during firing. Such
deliberate fragmentation in an additive process produced a memorable
performance for the consumption of all those watching and listening
The history of pottery, as opposed to fired ceramics, is relatively
straightforward. The oldest known pots from Jomon, in Japan (Aikens
1995), and the southern Sahara of Libya-Niger-Chad-Sudan (Barich 1987;
Close 1995:Figure 3.1) have nothing to do with farmers but are predomi-
nantly found among the house structures and in the caves of hunters. In her
survey of the evidence, Angela Close (1995) regards these pots as symbolic
200 Origins and Revolutions
since there are simply not enough sherds to support a functional origin.
Significantly, both Jomon and early North African pottery is decorated with
cord impressions, making them look like baskets and suggesting some
continuity with earlier perishable containers. In Africa pottery is at least
a thousand years older than the first pottery in the Near East (Moore 1995)
while Jomon pottery extends back to 16,000 years ago (Fagan 2004).
But is this also a misrepresentation of the technological process?
Why should a symbolic, experimental phase precede a functional one?
Was the Pre-pottery Neolithic of the Near East more symbolic than the later
ceramic Neolithic because of its lack of a functional set of clay vessels?
Such a two-stage process is an example of the standard view at work.
If pottery cannot run closely with the invention of agriculture then it must,
it seems, be explained as non-rational and hence the insistence on sym-
bolism and ritual. However, pottery is a container irrespective of how many
or few were made. What is more, most regions in the world experienced
at some time in either their prehistory or written history an aceramic phase,
just as we saw with those older â€˜trueâ€™ blades that they came and went.
For example, after rich traditions of Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery,
many areas of Wales abandoned pottery altogether in the Iron Age. At a
much smaller scale anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon (1977:100) asked
Yananamo villagers in the Amazon region of Venezuela why they did not
make pottery when their neighbours did. They replied they had never
made pottery and did not have either the raw materials or the skills, relying
instead on exchange to obtain pots. Chagnon records his surprise when
hostilities broke out between these villages and that the â€˜aceramicâ€™ village
suddenly â€˜rememberedâ€™ how to make sophisticated pottery again.
Pots as material metaphors
The way to understand containers such as pottery and how they relate
to change is therefore as material metaphors. An example is provided by
archaeologist Paul Rainbird (1999) who has analysed changing practices
towards those universal but culturally highly varied activities, disposing of
the dead and incorporating the ancestors with the living. His case study
from the Pacific presents archaeologists with a typical example of change
through time. On the island of Pohnpei, Micronesia, people arrived with
pottery and then stopped making and using it. At the same time as they
became aceramic they started building megalithic tombs in the landscape.
Traditionally, archaeologists would have seen such culture change as dif-
fusion and population replacement. Today, a cognitive approach might
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 201
well associate tombs with more settled life, the demarcation of territories,
possibly as a response to population increase on a small island, that led to
an expected, and hence explained, expansion in symbolic diversity.
Rainbird proposes an alternative using a relational analogy between
bodies and material culture. He suggests continuity rather than a change
in function for the different types of material evidence, pots and tombs.
The highly decorated Lapita pots have â€˜tattooedâ€™ surfaces (Figure 7.8)
similar to the surface treatment of bark cloth and the human body. They are
more than just pots to hold liquids, they are embodied containers. They
may not have held the cremated remains of the dead but they did hold the
symbolic force of the deceased individual (see also Sterner 1989) since at
this time burial was at sea. Tombs were also embodied containers which
later held the physical remains of the deceased. Therefore, in Rainbirdâ€™s
(1999:222) opinion, pots basically became tombs. They had analogous roles
as containers and homes for the ancestors. How to embody the ancestors
remained the social question irrespective of what happened to their corpses.
This question was resolved because people were engaged in hybrid
networks that gave symbolic force to the different material solutions.
Consequently, the decision to put the dead in tombs should be regarded on
an archaeological time-scale as continuity rather than an innovative change
in social practices with a shift from pots to stone tombs. What has changed
is the use of material culture to construct identity.