Dating pottery shards

A combination of molecular and stable isotopic techniques has, for example, allowed the identification of terrestrial animal fats (ruminant carcass and dairy) as proxies for carcass processing and secondary product exploitation () have been identified in connection with a wide range of technological and cultural activities.On a broader scale, lipid residue analyses can provide insight into the domestication of plants and animals, the development of animal husbandry practices and ecological and environmental changes through time (Evershed chemical evidence for commodities processed in ancient vessels and has, on many occasions, been used as a proxy to determine the overall subsistence economies of past communities.Surprisingly, a number of vessels from one site, Naiborkeju Hill, were used to process dairy products.Compound-specific radiocarbon dating of lipids from these sherds suggests that this pottery originated from an earlier period, demonstrating a possible shift in ceramic use by pastoralist communities in this region over time.Twenty-five years later, we are now in a position to examine these questions, through a combined molecular and isotopic approach, to pottery made and used in daily life by a contemporary society, Samburu pastoralists in northern Kenya.A sample of sherds were collected from surface contexts at recently occupied open-air settlement and rockshelter sites whilst simultaneously carrying out ethnoarchaeological field research on Samburu pottery and how its production/use/discard relates to subsistence, mobility, and ideology (Grillo ).A vital question is whether lipid residues can reflect the relative importance of different foodstuffs in ancient communities, particularly in terms of their daily consumption?

Today, though, the consumption of blood in Samburu is quite uncommon (Grillo ; 212) writes about a number of pastoralist groups in eastern Africa, including the Samburu, Maasai and Turkana, “milk is the preferred food among all pastoral groups and is the staple when available in sufficient quantity. Milk can constitute up to 90% of calories for some pastoralists during wetter parts of the year (Little ).Where possible, these data are interpreted in combination with zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical and other archaeological evidence from the relevant site/period.To date, however, there has been little critical reflection on how lipid residues extracted from archaeological ceramics may or may not reflect the potentially complex foodways of ancient peoples more generally.The potsherds derive from vessels thought to have been used by Samburu over the last 50–100 years.Here, we examine relationships between our ethnographically situated knowledge of Samburu foodways and the chemical analysis of absorbed organic residues in Samburu pots.

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In terms of wild foods, Samburu prohibit the consumption of fish, reptiles, birds, and many game animals, despite knowing they are potentially edible.

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