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Patterns of Consumption: Ceramic Residue Analysis at Liangchengzhen, Shandong, China

Residue analysis of lipids from various ceramic vessel types in late prehistoric China

Project Abstract

The purpose of this thesis was to identify the different patterns of food consumption across space and time at Liangchengzhen, a Longshan (ca. 2600-1900 B.C.) site located in Shandong Province, China. The primary hypothesis of the research contended that evidence of increasing social inequality with respect to food consumption would be found from early to late phases at Liangchengzhen. In addition, rice and meat from mammals, especially pigs, were hypothesized as the most likely types of prestigious foods for daily and ritual activities. Fish and marine foods in general were hypothesized to be foods that average households could obtain since Liangchengzhen was close to the sea and would not have as high a value as mammal meat.

Pottery was sampled from Early Phase storage/trash and ritual pits as well as Late Phase storage/trash and ritual pits located in Excavation Area One. Pottery types included ding and guan, hypothesized for cooking meat, and yan, hypothesized for steaming vegetables and grains. Lipid residue analysis was performed using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS) to quantify the amount of C15 and C17 alkane peaks in the pottery and compare these quantities to the amount of C15 and C17 alkane peaks in terrestrial and marine food reference sources.

Results indicated that socially valued food consumption transitioned from marine food sources in the early phase ritual pits to rice and pig in the late phase ritual pits. Millet and plant residues were consistently present in storage/trash pits from both early and late phases. Findings also indicated that the use of pottery types for cooking were not limited to one source, i.e., marine, rice, millet and plant residues were found in all pottery types while pig residues were found in ding and yan pottery.

Results of the lipid residue analysis provide partial support of increasing social inequality with respect to food consumption from early to late phases at Liangchengzhen, The findings from the lipid residue analysis in this thesis more closely resemble the distribution of integrative, communal consumption pattern in the early phase and a hierarchical consumption pattern during the late phase. Fish, more abundant in the early phase, was almost non-existent by the late phase. Pig and rice, hypothesized as preferred foods, were found only during the late phase, primarily in the ritual pit, H31. Millet and plant were conspicuously present during both phases, but had greater separation from ritual pits during the late phase. However, these findings are surprising since it does not match the material remains of rice and pig found in early phase pits or late phase storage/trash pits from Excavation Area One.

It can be concluded that patterns of consumption at Liangchengzhen changed substantially from the early phase to the late phase with regards to food residues found in hypothesized ritual pits. Considering these data with the understanding that food in China has historically been used as a tool to wield influence and power, it can be hypothesized that a social hierarchy may have developed by the late phase that was not present during the early phase. However, participation in the activities held in late phase ritual pits may have been inclusive for all Liangchangzhen residents rather than exclusive for higher status individuals.

The current research provides a starting point for further investigation into the foodways at Liangchengzhen. This thesis is the first systematic study of food residues from the interior of Neolithic vessels from ancient China that relates the results of the residue analysis to patterns of food consumption and social change.

Dissertation Citation

Lanehart, R. E., 2015. Patterns of Consumption: Ceramic Residue Analysis at Liangchengzhen, Shandong, China. PhD dissertation, University of South Florida.


This research was funded by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, Award ID 1241943.

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Suggested Citation

Rheta Lanehart. "Patterns of Consumption: Ceramic Residue Analysis at Liangchengzhen, Shandong, China". (2017) Rheta Lanehart (Ed.) . Released: 2017-02-13. Open Context. <> DOI:

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