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Illuminating the Late Mesolithic: residue analysis of blubber lamps from Northern Europe

Carl Heron1 , Sren Andersen2 , Anders Fischer3 , Aikaterini Glykou4 , S onke Hartz5 , Hayley Saul6 , Val Steele1 & Oliver Craig6
Shallow oval bowls used on the Baltic coast in the Mesolithic have been suggested as oil lamps, burning animal fat. Here researchers conrm the use of four coastal examples as lamps burning blubberthe fat of marine animals, while an inland example burned fat from terrestrial mammals or freshwater aquaticsperhaps eels. The authors use a combination of lipid biomarker and bulk and single-compound carbon isotope analysis to indicate the origin of the residues in these vessels.

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Keywords: Baltic, MesolithicNeolithic, Erteblle, pottery, blubber lamps, lipid analysis, marine oils Supplementary material OLS13 and www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/heron335 Tables S14 are available online at

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Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Richmond Road, Bradford BD7 1DP, UK Moesg ard Museum, Moesg ard All e 20, DK-8270 Hjbjerg, Denmark The Danish Agency for Culture, H.C. Andersens Boulevard 2, DK-1553 Copenhagen V, Denmark Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology, Christian-Albrechts-Universit at, 24098 Kiel, Germany Arch aologisches Landesmuseum, Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schlo Gottorf, D-24837 Schleswig, Germany BioArCh, Biology, S Block, University of York, PO Box 373, York YO10 5YW, UK Antiquity Publications Ltd. 87 (2013): 178188 http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870178.htm

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Introduction
Pottery is traditionally associated with sedentary farming communities that appear across the globe in the wake of the introduction of agriculture. However, in Eurasia, Africa and North America it is now clear that pottery pre-dates agriculture, sometimes by several millennia (Barnett & Hoopes 1995; Jordan & Zvelebil 2009). Identifying the needs that huntergatherers and farmers had for pottery containers is challenging. A variety of forms and styles is encountered and pottery vessels operated in social, as well as technological and functional domains. In Europe, clear cases of forager pottery manufacture and use are known in the circum-Baltic region. Whilst large cooking pots were used by late foragers and early farmers in this region, one form of vessel is particularly notable by its presence on late forager sites and its absence on all except perhaps the very earliest farming sites: the oval ceramic bowl (Andersen 2010). This type of pottery is found in the Mesolithic Erteblle culture of Denmark and northern Germany from around 5000 cal BC. In a paper entitled Blubber lamps in the Erteblle culture? Mathiassen (1935) described a number of oval bowls from Danish sites drawing on the analogy of soapstone or ceramic lamps among the Inuit in the Arctic. Describing the interior surface of one Erteblle bowl as having a greasy look, Mathiassen concluded that its appearance is exactly like that of ancient Eskimo blubber lamps of soapstone (1935: 145) and he suggested that oil from seal or whale was the most likely fuel. Lamps thought to have been used for lighting and fuelled using deer fat were also observed at inland locations particularly among the Caribou Eskimo to the west of the Hudson Bay (Birket-Smith & Calvert 1929). Although other uses have been suggested (e.g. Hulth en 1977) these distinctive vessels have become known as blubber lamps. The vessels have either rounded or pointed ends and display a great variation in size. The rims are simply rounded by smoothing although some vessels are decorated with ngernail impressions (Andersen 2009, 2010). Experiments conducted by van Diest (1981) using reconstructed vessels lend support to Mathiassens analogy. Using seal blubber for fuel and a moss wick, one lamp burned for 5.5 hours, while a lamp lled with tallow burned for 4.75 hours. When the vessels were used as lamps, van Diest noted patterns of sooting and burnt deposits consistent with those observed on Erteblle bowls.

Lipid analysis
The potential of lipid analysis to characterise organic residues and provide assessments of food and non-food products in pottery vessels has emerged as a powerful tool in recent years (see Evershed 2008 for a review). Lipid analysis has been applied to putative lamps from diverse archaeological contexts. Analysis of stone lamps from Upper Palaeolithic cave sites in France (De Beaune 1987: 170), many of which retain evidence of burning, recovered fatty acids of animal origin (composition similar to that of Suidae or Bovidae). Other notable applications include the detection of both animal fats and plant oils used to fuel lamps (dated to AD 6001500) from Qasr Ibrim, Egypt (Copley et al. 2005); Brassicaceae seed oils in lamps from Antinoe, Egypt, dating to the fth to seventh centuries AD (Colombini
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et al. 2005); the presence of beeswax in Minoan conical cups thought to have been used as lamps (Evershed et al. 1997); possible olive oil in Roman to early Byzantine ceramic lamps from Sagalassos, south-west Turkey (Kimpe et al. 2001); bovine/ovine adipose fats in ceramic lamps from Olbia, Ukraine, dating from the fth century BC to the fourth century AD (Garnier et al. 2009); and ruminant adipose fats in medieval lamps from Leicester, UK (Mottram et al. 1999). Recent investigation of the small cups fashioned from chalk and recovered from excavations at the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age int mine at Grimes Graves, UK, failed to recover lipid residues and could not conrm whether these vessels had served as lamps (Tanimoto et al. 2011). Of relevance to the present study is the detection of marine mammal oil in soapstone lamps collected from a coastal Inuit community dating to c. AD 1750 (Solazzo & Erhardt 2007). Ethnographic analogy and experimental archaeology aside, there is no direct evidence that blubber lamps were used for burning marine oils. In an appendix to Mathiassens 1935 paper, Biilmann and Jensen report on the analysis of solvent extracts of 20g of crushed ceramic from a lamp from the inland site of Godsted Bog, Denmark. Although lipids were detected, with mid-chain fatty acids predominating, the results gave no basis for positive conclusions thought to be the result of transformations in the course of time (1935: 152). Murawski, in van Diest (1981), analysed lipids from a lamp from the Mesolithic Neolithic coastal site of Rosenhof in northern Germany using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The increased sensitivity of the technique demonstrated the presence of unsaturated fatty acids (C18:1 and C20:1 ) although these data are insufcient to conrm an aquatic source for the lipid. The identication of aquatic products in pottery is not straightforward. In the past their presence was suggested on the basis of the presence of long-chain (>C18:1 ) unsaturated fatty acids although other archaeological evidence was also deployed (Morgan et al. 1984, 1992; Patrick et al. 1985). Since then, developments in analysis have enabled the recognition of lipid biomarkers, such as isoprenoid fatty acids, present in very low abundance in original tissues as well as degradation products of fatty acids including those deriving from aquatic organisms (e.g. Copley et al. 2004; Hansel et al. 2004; Evershed 2008; Olsson & Isaksson 2008; Hansel & Evershed 2009; Heron et al. 2010; Hansel et al. 2011). In addition, determination of the carbon isotope ratios of fatty acids has enhanced interpretative possibilities, including differentiation between marine and freshwater resources (Craig et al. 2007, 2011). As part of a wider investigation into pottery use among late foragers and early farmers in the Baltic region, we conducted lipid biomarker, bulk and single-compound isotope analysis on seven blubber lamps from Denmark and Germany. Given the ethnographic evidence, vessels from coastal locations might be expected to retain evidence of marine oil whereas those from inland locations could, in principle, contain any fat or oil capable of burning with a wick. Specically we aim to conrm whether the analytical data are consistent with the use of these vessels as lamps.

Procedure
The samples were collected from wetland sites and cultural layers in submerged marine locations. The generally oxygen-free sediments of such sites are known to have favourable
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Results
Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry showed that there was good preservation of longchain mono-unsaturated fatty acids in many of the samples. All but three show preservation of fatty acids of chain length > C18:1 . In several cases carbon chains up to C24:1 and C26:1 are present. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (C18:2 and C20:2 ) are also preserved in several samples. Long-chain unsaturated fatty acids (> C18:1 ) are commonly concentrated in the tissues of aquatic animals. The presence of the isoprenoid fatty acids 4,8,12-trimethyltridecanoic acid (4,8,12-TMTD) and 3,7,11,25-tetramethylhexadecanoic acid (phytanic acid) is consistent with aquatic resources. Experimental investigations have resulted in criteria that should be met in order to conrm the presence of aquatic lipids in pottery vessels, namely the presence of -(oalkylphenyl)alkanoic acids of carbon length C18 , C20 and C22 together with at least one of three isoprenoid fatty acids (Evershed et al. 2008). Only one vessel meets these criteria both the absorbed lipid extracted from the sherd and lipid from the surface deposit from the Teglgaard-Helligkilde lamp (Figure 3). Lipid biomarker data in the majority of the remaining samples, although not meeting the experimental criteria, provide some indications of aquatic resources (see OLS3, Table S2). The bulk isotope measurements obtained on the visible surface deposits are shown in Table S3. The low levels of nitrogen (%N) indicate that the majority of nitrogen isotope values may be unreliable. Charred surface deposits may contain carbon and nitrogen from different types of biomolecules, which will vary considerably in their isotopic values. In addition these deposits may not be homogeneous and have been subject to degradation, thermal alteration and contamination during use, discard and burial (Craig et al. 2007). The bulk carbon isotope values are plotted in Figure 4 alongside values previously obtained on charred surface deposits recovered from putative cooking pots: 17 pointed-base vessels
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conditions for the preservation of organic materials. In this study, samples were collected from four sites and included vessels and vessel fragments with and without surface deposits. Four samples were examined from Neustadt, and one each from Teglgaard Helligkilde, Tybrind Vig and Akonge. A blubber lamp from Neustadt is illustrated in Figure 1, and a map of the site locations is given in Figure 2. Further information on the sites and contexts is available in the online supplement (Table S1). For details of samples and sample preparation, see OLS12. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry was used to identify the biomarkers. Bulk carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis was undertaken on visible surface deposits scraped from the surface of the vessels where present. Gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry was also undertaken. The results were compared with those obtained from local taxa (Craig et al. 2011). Marine sh (ounder, cod, eelpout and marine-residence eel) and mammal (seal) were obtained from Danish coastal waters. The modern freshwater sh were caught in Lake Tiss (West Zealand, Denmark) and comprise pike, eel and tench. The terrestrial samples, reproduced from Dudd and Evershed (1998), are augmented with wild boar and cows milk from northern Germany. These data were plotted with 95% condence elipses (Systat; version 13).

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Figure 1. Reconstructed blubber lamp (vessel 25) from Neustadt. The vessel is undecorated (length 310mm, width 100mm). The vessel was made by coiling and the surfaces are smoothed (thickness: 6mm, rim; 16mm, base). This is among the largest of the vessels of this type. It was not sampled as part of this work due to its good preservation. A) After Glykou 2011; B) courtesy of the Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schlo Gottorf.
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from Neustadt and 13 funnel beakers from Akonge. The foodstuffs in these cooking pots are likely to have included marine, terrestrial and freshwater foods (Craig et al. 2011). Higher bulk 13 C values suggest a marine contribution to the residues. The two highest (i.e. most 13 C-enriched) samples are N1009 from Neustadt and the lamp from Teglgaard-Helligkilde. The remaining two lamps from Neustadt have 13 C values that correspond to the more 13 Cenriched surface deposits from the pointed base vessels. In contrast the Akonge lamp 13 has the lowest C value of all samples at 32.5. Such a value makes a marine contribution to this vessel highly unlikely. There is a signicant difference (heteroscedastic two-tailed t-test gives 0.05 > p > 0.02) between the atomic C/N ratios in samples from pointed-base vessels and lamps. The mean C/N ratio from the pointed-base vessels is 10.2+ 2.4 whereas the mean ratio from the oval vessels from Neustadt and Teglgaard-Helligkilde is 23.4+ 8.1 (no nitrogen determination was carried out on the surface deposit from the Akonge lamp). The higher C/N ratios indicate a higher lipid fraction in the lamps and this is consistent with the burning of a rendered oil or fat, whereas the pointed-base vessels have lower C/N ratios; possibly a composite value that is likely Figure 2. Map showing the location of sites from where the to reect the contribution of isotopicallylamp samples were obtained. heavier components such as proteins and carbohydrates to the surface deposits. To explore further the origin of the lipid residues, single-compound isotope analysis was undertaken using gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GCC-IRMS) on all extracts, apart from the vessel from Tybrind Vig as the yield of lipid was too low. Figure 5 plots the single-compound carbon isotope values for the C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids from the lamps (Table S4) against the modern fats plotted with 95% condence intervals. Data from surface deposits where sufcient fatty acids could be recovered and measured are distinguished from lipid extracts of powdered ceramic samples. The results separate marine lipids from a diverse range of terrestrial resources and from 13 C depleted values obtained on modern freshwater sh. Together with the lipid compositional information the single-compound isotope data provide compelling evidence for the use of marine oils in the four vessels from the coastal site
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Figure 3. (For details see OLS3 and Table S2). GC-MS data of the extract of the Teglgaard-Helligkilde lamp: a) partial total ion current (TIC) chromatogram of the trimethylsilylated extract showing the major lipid molecules present. Peak identities: Cn:x fatty acid with n carbon atoms and x double bonds; TMTD 4,8,12-trimethyltridecanoic acid; b) partial TIC chromatogram of the trimethylsilylated extract showing the presence of long-chain unsaturated fatty acids. Peak identities as in Figure 3a; c) partial TIC chromatogram of the trimethylsilylated extract showing the presence of cholesterol and cholesterol oxidation products; d) partial single ion chromatogram for m/z 109 of a methylated extract showing the presence of -(o-alkylphenyl)alkanoic acids. Peak identities: C16; C18; C20; C22.

of Neustadt and the single nd from Teglgaard-Helligkilde. The most likely interpretation is that these vessels were used as lamps for light and/or heat. It is not possible to conrm the specic source of the marine product used but the preponderance of seal bone at Neustadt suggests that this is a likely source at least at this site. The Akonge lamp The Akonge lamp, from an inland site, has indications of aquatic lipid (Table S2). The single-compound isotope values plot at the boundary between ruminant adipose and ruminant dairy (Figure 5). However, modern freshwater sh from Northern Europe, including freshwater eel, show a wide range of values, some of which overlap with the range for ruminant adipose. Phytanic acid is found in low quantities in ruminant adipose and dairy formed through the metabolism of phytol following release from chlorophyll (Hellgren 2010). This molecule is also found in freshwater sh tissues (Ackman & Hooper 1970). On the basis of the current data it is not possible to distinguish conclusively whether a terrestrial animal fat or a freshwater sh oil was used as the fuel in this vessel or indeed whether a mixture of lipids from different biological sources is represented. However as the surface deposit is so depleted in 13 C compared with the round-bellied cooking vessels found
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at the site, a freshwater oil rather than terrestrial animal fat would appear to be more likely. In addition, Fischer and Heinemeier (2003) note that the AMS date of this deposit may have been inuenced by a reservoir effect due to the incorporation of carbon from a freshwater source. Possible candidates for the source of an oily freshwater sh include eel, although eel bone is a small component of the faunal assemblages so far reported from Akonge and other contemporary sites in the Amose. This may, however, change since the currently available faunal list from Akonge is based on sieving using 4 4mm mesh.

The analyses conrm that the Erteblle oval dishes were used for heating oils and fats. Similar vessels have been reported in earlier forager contexts from other parts of Northern and Eastern Europe. B erzin s (2008) has reviewed the evidence for oval bowls by late foragers in the eastern Baltic suggesting that the usealteration features strongly suggest their use as lamps. Nevertheless B erzin s notes that it is not altogether clear whether these Figure 4. Mean and standard deviation of bulk carbon lamps should be seen as providing generalisotope measurements obtained on surface deposits comparing purpose lighting, or whether they played the ve samples taken from blubber lamps with those from 17 pointed-base Erteblle vessels from Neustadt and a more specic role, such as providing 13 funnel beakers (TRB) from Akonge. Solid square: articial light for catching eels at night as Teglgaard Helligkilde lamp; solid circle: Neustadt lamps; previously suggested by Hulth en (1977). If solid triangle: Akonge lamp. the Erteblle lamps had a role in luring sh they may be related to the res made on dugout canoes from this period (Andersen 1987). Intriguingly, few securely-dated examples of ceramic lamps in the form of oval bowls have been recovered from the western Baltic that are dated after 4000 BC when funnel beaker (Trichterbecker or TRB) pottery replaces Erteblle vessels. However, the replacing of pointed-base vessels and oval bowls by funnel beakers, traditionally associated with the Early Neolithic and an economy centred on food production, may not be as simple as the traditional view suggests. Lamps are found at the site of Akonge in contexts with domesticated animal bone (Fischer 2002; Fischer & Gotfredsen 2006). At Siggeneben-S ud in northern Germany it has been suggested that oval bowls were also part of the early funnel beaker assemblage (Meurers-Balke 1983: g. 22.7c). Based on our analysis of the
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Akonge lamp, we also suggest a continuation in the use of these vessels as lamps, with freshwater sh oil as a possible candidate for the fuel at inland locations. Analysis of early Neolithic funnel beakers demonstrates their continued use for processing aquatic resources (Craig et al. 2011). It is becoming increasingly clear that specic aspects of forager material cultures were directly incorporated, both in terms of production and use, into Neolithic social practices. The degree to which the use of other Neolithic ceramics was derived from Late Mesolithic forager traditions remains to be demonstrated. Different forms of material culture may have replaced the ceramic lamp, or the specic requirements or contexts for illumination changed. For example, the small ceramic Figure 5. Plot of the stable carbon isotope values for C16:0 vessels, often found in funnel beaker and C18:0 fatty acids from the ve vessels. Solid square: assemblages and typically called cups, Teglgaard Helligkilde lamp; solid circle: Neustadt lamps; solid triangle: Akonge lamp. Analysis of interior surface but interpreted by some as being used deposits (f ) and absorbed residues (i) are distinguished. The as lamps (Troels-Smith 1982: 58, g. 6; data are plotted against ranges (95% condence) for modern Nielsen 1985: g. 13, no. 5), would be reference fats (based on data in Dudd & Evershed 1998 and Craig et al. 2011). Freshwater sh are represented by small interesting candidates for future analysis.
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Conclusion
The present study demonstrates the potential for studies of prehistoric pottery use based on lipid analysis of samples collected at sites in wetlands and marine contexts. Robust discrimination of marine and freshwater resources associated with prehistoric pottery can be achieved through a combination of single compound isotope analysis and lipid biomarker analysis. Using this approach, we have previously shown that Northern European hunter-gatherer pottery had a range of uses, which include culinary practices (Craig et al. 2011). Here we present an initial study on the characteristic Erteblle oval bowls thatbased on ethnographic analogyhave traditionally been termed blubber lamps. Our analyses conrm their use as lamps, possibly for illumination. Those at coastal sites were fuelled by marine oils. We also present an example of a lamp from an inland site where a non-marine, possibly freshwater sh lipid, was used as fuel. Acknowledgements
This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (award AH/E008232/1). We thank Andy Gledhill (University of Bradford) for assistance with the bulk isotope measurements and Paul Donohue and Martin Jones (University of Newcastle) for undertaking the single-compound analyses. Frederick Feulner is thanked for translating van Diest (1981). Thanks also to Valdis B erzin s for his comments on an earlier draft. C Antiquity Publications Ltd.

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Received: 3 January 2012; Accepted: 19 March 2012; Revised: 28 June 2012

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