Listen to part of a lecture in an anthropology class.
OK, today we're going to be moving on and we're going to be talking about early pottery.
But rather than me just giving you a broad overview of how pots—or ceramic vessels—were developed and used in different regions of the world, we're going to consider a specific example—a case study.
And we're going to focus on ceramic cooking vessels from just one part of the world.
So the question I want to look at today concerns the use of ceramic cooking vessels—clay pots—in the Arctic during ancient times.
Why were they developed and used there?
So, to begin with, we don't know for sure when human beings first started creating pottery, but we have evidence of it from over 15,000 years ago.
And in the Arctic, ceramic cooking pots didn't appear there until some 2,500 years ago.
Now, it's not surprising that they appeared relatively late there.
In fact, what's been something of a mystery is why they were used at all—in the Arctic, I mean. Ken?
Why wouldn't they use pottery?
What would some of the drawbacks of ceramic containers be—for ancient people groups in the Arctic? [Pause, while waiting for an answer that doesn’t come… then hinting]
Ancient Arctic societies were nomadic, right?
I get it. Clay pots are fragile.
So if people were moving around all the time, well, the pots would probably keep breaking.
Precisely. Ceramic cooking vessels can't be transported easily.
That's one thing.
And think of how ceramics are produced.
You need water and clay, of course...you need to make the pot, allow it to dry for a long time—warm, dry locations work best for this, of course—and then you need to fire it... uh, bake it.
So you can see the role that climate would play in whether or not ancient people created and used ceramic cooking pots—and that's why manufacturing pottery would have been a challenge, actually quite difficult for people in the Arctic.
But you're saying they did make ceramic cooking pots.
Yes. So the question is, given all these clear disadvantages, why would Arctic people choose to make and use ceramic cooking vessels. Sue?
I read somewhere that, by cooking food in clay pots, people increased the, uh...well, they made food easier to digest.
Something about making the nutritional components of foods more accessible.
That's definitely true as far as many nutrients are concerned.
But some nutrients, like vitamin C, are destroyed by cooking.
But the ancient Arctic people ate a diet that consisted almost entirely of raw or only minimally cooked meat and fish or shellfish.
I saw something on television once...a documentary that talked about how healthy the diet was—how it provided all the nutrients they needed.
I guess that would include vitamin C as well.
But then what I don't understand is, why would they have cooked their food at all?
Ah, here's where we need to look beyond obvious factors and consider things like culinary preferences.
Although the diet of ancient Arctic people mainly consisted of raw and minimally cooked food, it was carefully prepared.
It was based on an interplay of contrasts—uh, different temperatures...or hard and soft textures.
Sometimes meat was only partially defrosted.
For example, one way of preparing meat was to boil it briefly, leaving the center frozen.
So cooked food...or partially cooked food, for ancient Arctic people, was a matter of social preference.
So again, the question is why did they use ceramic pots to cook their food.
That's not the only way to cook food, and we've already looked at some disadvantages of ceramic pots.
So why use them?
Well, first of all, wood for cooking fires was in short supply.
And because of the extreme climate, food had to be prepared inside, indoors, most of the year.
Therefore, fires had to be small and cooking methods had to be efficient.
So in regions of the Arctic where wood was scarce, and where the houses could not withstand large fires and did not have good ventilation, we do find advantages associated with ceramic pots.