What Is Pottery And Why Is It So Important?
I spent three weeks in Lanzarote in February 2020. I would hate you to think that I was lounging in the sun doing nothing. In fact, I was caring for myself in accordance with advice from a neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. In his book The Changing Mind – A Neuroscientists Guide to Aging Well he gives advice on when to retire. The answer, you guessed it, was never. So, for 3 weeks Ann and I read (studied!) the book Transcendence by Gaia Vince. It is about how humans evolved through fire, language, beauty and time. What is pottery and why is it so important is not what I expected in the book.
Digging up pots
When an ancient pot is dug up by archaeologists you tend to stare at it in awe. Logically, you consider it in context to their other finds. You consider the period which it reflects. Somebody will suggest what it was used for. What you often fail to do is consider what this meant to their society as a whole. Gaia Vince does that and it can be a revelation. As a science writer she has changed the content of my talks on prehistory as much as any archaeologist.
The health of infants
The first pottery in the UK was made at Windmill Hill, near Avebury, around 4000 BC. What Gaia points out is that, for the first time, food such as soup could be cooked over fire. If that sounds rather mundane then give it further thought. To that point, babies were probably breast fed for up to five years. This avoided them drinking water and contracting infections. At that time, most food was roasted over a fire and was not suited to weaning. Soup meant that the food could be softened and sterile. Consequently, it could be safely used to wean infants. That was a massive leap forward for Neolithic society and for my pagan ancestor Zuri.
What is pottery and why is it so important?
In conclusion, who could imagine that a pot and soup could influence breast feeding. Weaning could be introduced much sooner. Because breastfeeding is a contraception, once stopped, the woman could become pregnant again. More children were born, more children survived weaning and the population grew. More people meant more labour. Life became better. That teacup you are now using evolved from a clever invention, by a very clever ape!