The NEOMAP Project, which is directed by Professor Junzo Uchiyama, has been researching the effects of Neolithisation on cultural landscapes in East Asia. Archaeologists have long associated the emergence of pottery with coeval the invention of farming and the rise of settled village life in the Middle East. In this way, the emergence of pottery became a key signature of the ‘Neolithic’ transition to farming in Western Eurasia.
Recent research, however, has challenged the validity of this universal model of the ‘Neolithic’, and indicates that pottery has a much older history and saw widespread use in preceding hunter-fisher-gatherer societies in East Asia (Jordan and Zvelebil 2009). New dates from China, the Russian Far East and across Japan now indicate that pottery was invented in the late Pleistocene, and during alternating warm and cold cold phases of sudden environmental change. New theoretical models now suggest that pottery was not a simple 'adaptive tool' for processing new foodstuffs but that it was a ‘prestige’ technology used to prepare exotic food stuffs for use in competitive feasting (e.g. see: Brian Hayden, in Jordan and Zvelebil 2009). Importantly, these models are now testable using a range of new analytical methods
As part of this research initiative, members of NEOMAP have been developing a pilot-study of early pottery innovation sequences at a limited range of sites with long pottery sequences spanning the late Pleistocene/Holocene transition in Japan. They are focusing on understanding environment, subsistence and the changing patterns of pottery production and use through time, enabling them to scientifically test several basic pottery innovation models. Once the pilot study has been completed a more extensive program of research will be developed, and would deliver profound insights into the ways in which humanity has responded with creativity and innovation to periods of sudden and unpredictable climatic and environmental change. Understanding the complex dynamics of these interconnected social and environmental processes will equip us with new ways to think about the environmental challenges of the future, a key goal of RIHN.