Tuesday 31 July 2012

Ceramic figurines from the Pleistocene of Croatia.

Ceramic artifacts from the Pleistocene are extremely rare. Ceramic hearths from Klisoura Caves in Greece have been dated to between 34 000 and 32 000 years old. The oldest known ceramic objects considered to be artistic rather than functional are 'Pavlovian' figurines from Moravia in the Czech Republic, and neighboring areas, dated to between 31 000 and 27 000 years old. A single anthropomorphic figurine is known from Maina in southern Siberia, which is believed to be about 27 400 years old, another ceramic figurine from Tamar Hat in Algeria is thought to be between 20 600 and 19 800 years old. Fragmentary ceramic objects from Kostenki in Russia have been dated to between 25 300 and 21 930 years old. A number of fragmentary ceramic objects from Yuchanyan Cave in Hunan Province, China, have been dated to between 21 000 and 13 800 years old. Large clay statues from Tuc d'Audoubert and Montespan Cave in France have been dated as 15 000 and 20 000 years old, respectively. 12 000-year-old pottery is known from Japan, the Japanese are considered to have been continuously making ceramic objects from this point.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 24 July 2012, a team of scientists led by Rebecca Farbstein of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge describe the discovery of 36 ceramic objects, believed to be animal figurines, from the Vela Spila archaeological site in Croatia, dated to between 17 500 and 15 000 years old.

Map of Europe showing Pleistocene sites that have produced ceramic objects. Farbstein et al. (2012).

The objects show similar manufacturing styles to the 'Pavlovian' figurines, but the long time interval between the two set of figurines (about 10 000 years) suggests strongly that these were a separate, if coincidental, technological innovation. Ceramic objects are not known elsewhere in the Balkans before the Neolithic, with the next most recent objects being Impressed-ware ceramics dated to between 7000 and 6400 years old, from higher layers at the Vela Spila site.

Artifact C1, from Vela Spila. Interpreted to be the torso and foreleg of a horse or deer. The object weighs 4 g and measures 26.0 × 27.0 × 9.0 mm. The smooth brown texture implies a high, constant, firing temperature. The figurine appears to have been made in several sections which were then pinched together. Farbstein et al. (2012).

Artifact C2, from Vela Spila. Possibly the hindquarters of an animal. Farbstein et al. (2012).

Artifact C34, from Vela Spila. The wight box highlights a fingerprint. Scale bar is 1 cm. Farbstein et al. (2012).

See also Pollen from potshards, and what it can tell us about the ancient climate of northwest ChinaThe origin of domestic dogsDating the Chauvet Cave artThe earliest evidence of fire use from million year old sediments in Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape Province? and Pleistocene rock carving from Brazil; possibly the oldest art in the Americas.

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