Yoshinori Yasuda (Ed.). 2002. The Origins of Pottery
New Delhi: Roli Books Pvt. Ltd. Pp. 400. Price not given.
By D.P. Agrawal and Lalit Tiwari
This book is about the origins of agriculture, animal husbandry
and ceramic technology. This is in many ways a revolutionary book as it forces
one to a paradigm shift regarding the origins of agriculture and pottery. To
appreciate the import of the book, it may be useful to introduce some basic
Beginnings of agriculture and husbanding animals involved their
domestication, which itself is a bit of a polemical issue. Some time back Lamberg-Karlovsky,
the well known Harvard archaeologist, had explained these issues. His observations
are relevant even today.
"The definition of food production is in part dependent upon the ambiguous
concept of domestication itself. Domestication is best seen as a continuum
of relationships among human beings, plants, and animals. It is often difficult,
if not impossible, to distinguish morphologically domesticated from wild plants.
For some plants the essential factor in domestication is a shift in adaptation
to new habitats that are modified or destroyed by people; the emphasis is on
ecological rather than morphological change. Some domesticated plants like
maize, dates, bananas, breadfruit are forever tied to people, having lost their
independent power of seed dispersal and germination; others, even if controlled
or manipulated by humans, revert to the original wild state if not constantly
tended…If it is difficult to determine the extent of domestication in past cultural
systems on morphological or ecological bases, it follows that the agricultural
status of a community is often ambiguous. There are degrees of food production,
and the assignment must be an arbitrary one. Anthropologists and archaeologists
can, however, agree on a working definition of domestication that posits, at
a minimum, (1) a reasonably efficient level of food production entailing situations
in which food acquired through direct production amounts to over half of the
community's dietary needs for part of the year; and (2) both plant and animal
domesticates are no longer bound to their natural habitat (Lamberg-Karlovsky
The advent of agriculture was no ordinary event in human evolution. Agriculture
allowed us to sustain very large populations. About 100Kyr ago the population
was only about 10,000 and now very soon we will be crossing the 10 billion mark
- a million-fold increase in just a few millennia! Though we generally regard
hunting-gathering as a primitive stage and attribute civilisation to agricultural
surplus, agriculture brought several problems with it. The easily digestible
food of Homo sapiens gradually led to shrinking of the jaw. Our jaw now
can accommodate only 28 teeth. The wisdom teeth create a variety of problems
when they erupt. About 15% Europeans and 30% East Asians do not grow more than
30 teeth. During the last 10Kyr H. sapiens is shrinking. From Cro-Magnon
man’s 6' height, it has come down to 5'8'' today. Even our brains are shrinking.
Molleson (1994), who studied skeletons from Abu Hureyra (Syria) dating back
to 11.5 –7.5 Kyr, found that daily grinding of grain for several hours resulted
in damaged discs and crushed vertebrae. Maize cultivation, which started 8000
years back by the American Indians, resulted in several fold increase in tooth
cavities, anaemia, TB, yaws, arthritis and syphilis. Almost 1/5th population
died in infancy. Dense populations led to a variety of epidemics. Agriculture
and ceramic technology had a dramatic effect as porridge could now substitute
the breast milk. Regular breast-feeding suppresses ovulation and weaning of
infants from breast milk led to more frequent pregnancies and an increase in
One has then to ask: If agriculture brought such disasters then why did humans
opt for it? The answer is simple. Farming allowed a larger number of people
to sustain themselves over a piece of land than would hunting-gathering. However,
hunting-gathering life-style had its own advantages. The physical exertion of
hunting kept us in good health (Stringer & McKie 1996). Possehl has made
some interesting remarks in praise of hunting gathering life-style: The intensified
foraging strategies of antiquity may have provided a very good, balanced,
reliable food supply with relatively low labour inputs. All of which seems to
suggest that the life of hunter-gatherer might have been quite good: ample leisure
time, a balanced diet, and a reliable food supply.
With this backdrop, we will now discuss in some detail the formidable multidisciplinary
evidence that the book marshals.
A few words about the editor. Yoshinori Yasuda, is a Professor at the International
Research Center for Japanese Studies (IRCJS/(Nichbunken) in Kyoto since 1994.
In 1980 Yasuda established the first unit of environmental archaeology in Japan
and has been a pioneer in this field and has worked In West Asia, Mongolia,
Rajasthan (India), China and of course at several sites in Japan. He thus is
perhaps the best suited scholar to undertake this global survey. The articles
present an integrated picture of palaeoclimatic changes, technology, agriculture,
animal husbandry, and of course the human society.
The book gives due importance to high-resolution paleoenvironmental evidence.
The studies of the high-resolution palaeoclimatic reconstruction were carried
out on the glacial annual varve and lacustrine annual varves. Especially in
recent decades, the studies of high-resolution lake sediment have, been conducted
by the European Lake Drilling Program (ELDP) and the Asian Lake Drilling Programme
(ALDP). By these studies of high-resolution analyses for the palaeoenvironment,
we have been able to establish a new chronology based on calendar years and
to get more detailed evidence of palaeoclimate and environment in the Glacial/Post-glacial
transition. These have opened a new field to solve the origins of pottery and
agriculture, which will be discussed in this book, and the age based on conventional
14C dates and calibrated calendar years distinguished. The conventional
14C dates are noted as 14C yrs. BP or yrs. BP, calibrated
calendar years as cal. yrs. BP or BC and varve chronology as varve yrs. BP in
In the Introduction, Yasuda emphatically claims, This book makes it clear
that the origins of pottery and agriculture in the East precede their origins
in the West. The conventional view that the East has been behind the West until
now will be completely reversed in this book at least in terms of the origins
of pottery and agriculture. The difference of the origins and tradition in the
East and the West also brought significant influence to the development of subsequent
Eastern and Western civilizations. It should lead also to rediscovery of value
of Eastern civilization in the history of human civilization, which has been
overlooked for a long time. Being based on a pluralistic view and carrying out
comparative studies of the East and the West, this book takes to the construction
of the new history of human civilization.
Agriculture is one of the most climate-sensitive economic activities of mankind.
The present book discusses the origins of pottery, as well as of wheat and rice
cultivation. It incorporates the results of the most recent research carried
out in eastern and western worlds, in relation to the man-land relationship,
and brings out the basic differences between the East and the West.
This edited volume has five different sections, which contain a total of 24
articles by well-known scholars in different fields. The first section deals
with the origins of agriculture in West Asia and contains 6 chapters. Second
section is Origins of Pottery and Agriculture in East Asia which has nine
articles. Third section Origin of Pottery and Rice Cultivation in Japan contains
six articles contributed by various authors. Fourth section has only three articles.
Section five contains the conclusions drawn by Yasuda, the editor. It’s a multidisciplinary
book synthesizing palaeoclimatic, genetic, archaeological archaeobotanic data.
In recent years no such book has been attempted with such a holistic integration
of multiple evidence covering almost the whole world, though with an emphasis
on East Asia. It is a richly illustrated with a large number of plots and graphs.
In its get up, it looks like a coffee table book.
Yasuda contributes the first article (after the Introduction) of this book
on the topic of origin of agriculture in West Asia. According to Yasuda, the
people of West Asia were the pioneers who began farming wheat and initiated
the Neolithic Revolution in several parts of Asia and Europe. He further emphasizes
that wheat agriculture first appeared in the basins of major river valleys in
the semi arid regions of the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Nile, the Indus, and
subsequently spread gradually to Europe, where this crop was responsible for
the development of Western civilization.
At the end of the Last-glacial period there was a characteristic cold and dry
climatic phase called the ‘Younger Dryas’. Ofer Bar-Yosef, the well known prehistorian
specializing on West Asia, in the next article, discusses the role of the Younger
Dryas in the origins of agriculture in southwestern Asia, specifically in the
Levant. The role of the Younger Dryas in the origin of agriculture was first
recognised by Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen.
The third article of this
section is Holocene Environmental Change and the Transition to Agriculture
in South-west Asia and North-east Asia by Fekri A. Hassan, an Egyptian archaeologist
now working at Institute of Archaeology, London. In this paper, Fekri focuses
light on the emergence of food production in Southwest Asia and the neighboring
areas in northeast Africa. He deals here with the outlines of a model that attempts
to explain the beginning of agriculture in southwest Asia and the subsequent
spread of plant and animal domestication into the Nile valley. He also briefly
discusses the origins of plant and animal domestication in the Nile valley,
suggesting that wheat and barley were favored at the expense of sorghum in Egypt.
Next article is Late Glacial and Holocene Palaeoenvironmental Changes and
the Origin of Agriculture in Central Europe by Bernd Zolitschka and Jorg F.W.
Negendank, who have specialized in high-resolution palaeoclimatic research.
The fifth article is The Earliest Agriculture and Pottery in South Asia by
D. P. Agrawal. In this paper Agrawal presents a review of the urbanization processes
in the light of palaeoclimatic data in the Indian subcontinent. According to
the writer the Indian subcontinent has all the ingredients that go into the
making of a civilization in terms of the early Holocene occurrences of domesticated
plants and animals, as also early ceramic technology. According to him, early
agriculture in the Ganga valley goes back to 7000-8000 years BP. He describes
here the multiple data related to early agricultural processes.
Vasant Shinde, an archaeologist from Pune (India), contributes the last article
of this section. He deals with the development and spread of agricultural communities
in South Asia. He tries to establish the chronology of development of the early
agricultural communities in South Asia between 9000-3000 years BP and delineates
how the fertile regions of the Indus and Saraswati basins gave birth to the
first farming communities of India. Shinde illustrates his essay with relevant
Second section of this book is devoted to the origins of pottery and agriculture
in East Asia. This is the most important part of the book as it presents for
the first time an integrated review of the origins of pottery making and rice
cultivation in East Asian regions. In his article Yasuda presents radiocarbon
dates on the early pottery and rice farming sites of East Asia, like the Chinese
sites of Liuzhou Dalongtan Liyuzusi, Miyaoyan, Yuchanyan , Bashidang, Pentoushan;
Russian sites of Khummi, Gasya; and the Japanese sites of Fukuidokutsu, Kamikuroiwa
There are many controversies with regard to the origin of Asian cultivated
rice in terms of its ancestors and phylogenetic relationship. Molecular genetic
analysis suggests multiple parentages of the two major varietal groups of cultivars,
indica and japonica. And a recent archeological study in China
suggested that incipient japonica cultivation was initiated in the middle
and lower basins of the Yangtze River.
In the next article of this section, Yo-Ichiro Sato emphasizes the new hypothesis
on the geographic origin and phylogeny of cultivated rice. And he concludes
that the japonica variety, a type of rufipogon, was probably born
in the middle and lower basin of the Yangtze River about 10,000 years ago.
next article is The Origin of Rice Agriculture, Pottery and Cities by Yan
Wenming. Wenming has three main headings and each of the heading covers a separate
Yuchanyan, popularly known as the frog cave in Chinese, is located in Shouyan
town, Dao Country, Hunan Province. Dao Country sits in a basin surrounded by
high mountains like Nanliang, with limestone hills nearby. Yuan Jiarong describes
the origin of rice and pottery in Yuchanyan, Dao Country, Hunan Province in
his article. He concludes that the cultural deposits found in the Yuchanyan
cave are typical for south China during the early Holocene and characteristics
of the transition period from the Upper Palaeolithic to the early Neolithic.
The AMS and conventional rediocarbon analysis of three different materials at
Yuchanyan cave shows that pottery production began in the Upper Paleeolithic
The next two articles of this book are Rice Paddy Agriculture and Pottery
from the Middle reaches of the Yangtze River and Early Pottery and Rice Phytolith
Remains from Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan Sits, Wannian, Jiangxi Province by
Pei Anpind and Zhang Chi, respectively. These two articles are very detailed
and very informative.
Guo Ruihai and Li Jun present the next paper describing the beginnings of agriculture
and pottery in North China with the special reference to the Nanzhuangtou and
Hutouliang sites. The Nanzhuangtou site is located at the western edge of the
North China plain, 15 km east of the Taihang Mountains and 35 km west of lake
Baiyangdian. And the Hutouliang sites are located in the Nihewan basin of northwestern
Hebei Province. These two archaeological sites are the most important sites
of China. They try to find out the origin of the agriculture and pottery making
in North China with the help of these two sites.
The next two articles are The Bi-Peak-Tubercle of Rice, the Character of Ancient
Rice and the Origin of Cultivated Rice by Zang Wenxu and New Perspectives
on the Transition to Agriculture in China by David Joel Cohen.
It contains articles by well known writers and is devoted to the origin of
pottery and rice cultivation in Japan. First article of this section is The
Meaning of agriculture for Humans by Masaki Nishida. This is a very interesting
paper. The author puts up a few issues in his article:
(1) Why were starchy seeds,
the most common and important food for humans today, not efficiently utilized
as a food resource until around ten thousand years ago?
(2) What is the causal relationship
between the beginning of the use of starchy seeds and the emergence of sedentary
(3) What is the relationship
between the sedentary way of life and the domestication of plants?
(4) What is the relationship
between the domestication of grass, and agriculture, and the emergence of cities
The next article investigates
the origins of pottery and human adaptation strategies during the termination
of the last-glacial period in the Japanese archipelago by Takashi Tsutsumi.
Three points are discussed in this article by the author: (1) a brief outline
of environmental changes during the termination of the Last-glacial period and
archaeological chronology; (2) Origin and types of pottery in each period, and
respective functions; and (3) Changes in the ecosystem and subsistence strategies
such as hunting, gathering and fishing, as well as changes in strategies for
adaptations to cold and warm, establishment of settlements and procurement of
Shuichi Toyama in the next
paper examines the origins and expansion of rice cultivation based on the environmental-archaeological
survey throughout China and Japan, and also discusses the origins and development
of the rice cultivation in Japan.
The next article is The Origin
and Development of Rice Paddy Cultivation in Japan Based on Evidence form Insect
and Diatom Fossils by Yuichi Mori. In this article, the author describes diatom
and insect fossils found at several sites of historical remains, and discusses
how rice paddy cultivation affected the biotic community in Japan.
The next article titled Commentary
on the Productive Capacity of Early Japanese Rice Farming is by Kaoru Terasawa.
And at the last of this section, Yoshiyuki Kuraku discusses the origin and development
of rice cultivation in Japan.
It is given to Global Environmental
and Food Problem in the 21st Century and contains only three articles.
First article of this section is Global Climate Change and Food Problem by
Tsuneyuki Morita and Yuzuru Matsuoka. In this paper authors describe the Asia-Pacific
Integrated Simulation Model (AIM).
Hiroshi Tsujii, in his article
named The Special Characteristics of the International Rice Market and their
implications for rice Self-sufficiency Policy in the 21st Century
describe the rice policies of Asian countries and put up the question that how
can we be able to provide an abundant and sustainable supply of cereals in the
21st Century? Last article of this book is Rice Planting and the
Global Environment Crisis: The Message from Japanese Rice Planting Folk Customs
by Kanichi Nomoto.
At the end of the book, Yoshinori
Yasuda presents the final conclusion, entitled Shift from Monistic to Pluralistic
View of Civilization.
Thus we see that this valuable monograph presents the latest multi-disciplinary
evidence from across the globe on the beginnings of ceramics and agriculture.
The editor asks for a paradigm shift in our thinking regarding the origins of
these technologies and marshals a formidable array of data to prove that the
East (China and Japan) preceded West Asia in the origins of these technologies.
The book doesn’t only deal with the bygone past. It has a relevance to the
future too. Yasuda says, After the agricultural revolution, Homo sapiens
ruled over nature, killed other animals, destroyed the forest, polluted
air and water and created a kingdom suitable only for Homo sapiens on
the earth. His desire for endless expansion caused many environmental problems
on this living earth. Today's environmental crisis on the earth, which is shaking
the very foundation of life, was predicted when Homo sapiens succeeded
in the agricultural revolution. This reminds us the famous saying of Gandhi,
that the nature has enough for everybody’s needs but not for their greed.
We strongly recommend the book for those interested not only in the fields
of world archeology, origins of agriculture and ceramics, but also in the future
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archaeology; Neolithic Villagers and farmers. Scientific American. Pp.85-89
07 June 2003,
Molleson, T.1994. The eloquent bones of Abu Hureyra. Scientific American
Stringer, Chris and Robin McKie. 1996. African Exodus. London: Jonathan