Collaboration, not competition: A geoarchaeological approach to the social context of the earliest pottery

Ilaria Patania, Yitzchak Jaffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The invention of pottery by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups is often associated with the development or introduction of new social practices. While some studies connect pottery, especially in glacial environments, to broadening of hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies, in Eastern Asia a number of studies suggests that the earliest pottery is connected to the appearance of hierarchy through self-aggrandizement and feasting in trans-egalitarian societies. In this paper, we assess this hypothesis using the early pottery site of Yuchanyan (China) as a case study. Geoarchaeological studies at Yuchanyan have confirmed the hunter-gatherer context of the pottery (18.3 cal ky BP) and also reconstructed the site's stratigraphy and human occupation of the cave. Here we reconstruct the pyrotechnology and cooking practices at Yuchanyan with the goal of better understanding labor commitments. We argue that humans used several techniques to increase cooking efficiency to make bone soup and render grease. This multifaceted activity would have required large-scale efforts and collaboration, and consequently, we argue that the end product could not have been monopolized by a single individual. If feasting did in fact take place, it was probably yet another activity inducing group cohesion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101297
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Chinese palaeolithic
  • Early pottery
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Social context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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