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Title: Pots for the afterlife : organic residue analysis of British early Bronze age pottery from funerary contexts
Author: Soberl, Lucija
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2011
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This research was undertaken to investigate the extent and nature of absorbed organic residues preserved in British Early Bronze Age pottery. Previous work on prehistoric vessels has shown a good preservation of various lipid classes however the focus of the research was predominantly domestic pottery. The Early Bronze Age was chosen as the main chronological focus due to several crucial developments occurring in the Late Neolithic Early Bronze Age transition, including a more sedentary lifestyle, adoption of individual burials and new practices of ritually depositing pottery together with the deceased. The analysis of absorbed lipid residues included 471 Early Bronze Age potshards from 136 archaeological sites encompassing a variety of burial settings and charactenstic pottery types such as Collared Urns, Food Vessels, Beakers and Trevisker Ware. The overall lipid preservation was good and comparable to previously analysed Bronze Age pottery with 50.3% of potsherds yielding appreciable lipid concentrations (>5 μg g-l). Upon comparison of mean values inter-typologically it was possible to observe higher lipid concentrations preserved within funerary vessels, with the exception of Beakers yielding the lowest recovery rate (41.3%) and low mean concentration. The lowest mean lipid concentration was determined for Trevisker pottery with 59.9 μg g-l and the highest for Food Vessels with 260.8 μg g-l . Highest mean lipid concentrations were also observed in potsherds belonging to upper parts of the vessels, which has been previously observed in archaeological and experimental vessels. Pottery extracts were found to show various stages of lipid degradation with predominantly preserved free fatty acids (C I6:0 and CI 8:0) and less abundantly their aclyglycerol precursors (TAGs, DAGs, MAGs). Other compounds present included long chain fatty acids (C22 to C28), long-chain alcohols (C22 to C30), long-chain ketones (C29 to C3S) and wax esters. Ratios of palmitic vs. stearic acid in a combination with specific TAG distributions and determined Dl3C values concluded the predominant presence of ruminant dairy fats in all pottery types investigated. Food Vessels seem to possess a more specialised use indicated by a very high proportion (79%) of potsherds yielding dairy fats. While Collared Urns and Beakers showed mixing of commodities, including low proportions of porcine fats (10% and 12% respectively), Trevisker Ware displayed preferential mixing of exclusively ruminant dairy and adipose fats. No significant distinctions could be observed in lipid signatures between funerary and non-funerary pottery. Detailed investigation of Beaker vessels in order to address their traditional connection with alcohol consumption, revealed higher occurrence of trace lipid components deriving potentially from degraded epicuticular waxes and only one potsherd with traces of beeswax, thus offering a more mundane interpretation. To further investigate the high occurrence of dairy fats in prehistoric pottery and their potential use as a waterproofing agent has been addressed by a set of cooking experiments. These included waterproofing replica pots with organic milk and subsequently repeatedly boiling various foodstuffs. Absorbed lipid extracts and their respective δl3C values have shown to be retaining their respective molecular and isotopic signatures.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available