Food Crusts on Pottery Project (2006-2010)

Study of Food Crusts on Pottery from the Swifterbant Culture of the Scheldt valley.

The appearance of pottery in NW-Europe announces the start of the transition towards a Neolithic way of life (Neolithisation process). The exact date of the earliest pottery is problematic. Dating the food crusts preserved on the inside of potsherds seems for the moment the best option, because in this way a direct date is obtained. However, problems may arise when for the preparation of the food organisms from an aquatic environment were used (sea, river, lake). In those cases due to the reservoir effect the age may seem older that it is. In other words, the date is not representative anymore for the age of the use of the pot.

Within this project, a consistent series of foodcrusts preserved on pottery attributed to the Swifterbant and Michelsberg Cultures from several sites in the Lower-Scheldt valley were analyzed. The methods used include bulk stable isotope analysis and gas chromatography (GC-MS, EA-IRMS and GC-C-IRMS). The parameters that were considered are: first the proportion of specific lipids in the crust or in the sherd (identification, quantification) and secondly the shift in isotopic ratio (δ 13C, δ 15N). Fractions of the foodcrusts and of other associated archaeological remains (calcined bones, carbonized plant remains, charcoal) were dated by AMS to quantify the reservoir effect in the lower reaches of the river Scheldt.


  • Boudin M., Van Strydonck M. & Crombé Ph. (2009). Radiocarbon Dating of Pottery Food Crusts: Reservoir Effect or not? The case of the Swifterbant pottery from Doel “Deurganckdok”. In: Ph. Crombé, M. Van Strydonck, J. Sergant, M. Bats & M. Boudin (eds.), Proceedings of an international meeting, Brussels, May 30th-June 1st 2007 “Chronology and Evolution within the Mesolithic of North-West  Europe”, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, pp. 727-745.
  • Boudin M., Van Strydonck M., Crombé Ph., De Clercq W., van Dierendonck R.M., Jongepier H., Ervynck A. & Lentacker A. (2010). Fish reservoir effect on charred food residue 14C dates. Are stable isotope analyses the solution? Radiocarbon 52(2-3): 697-705.
  • Crombé Ph. (2010). Early pottery in hunter-gatherer societies of Western Europe, in: P. Jordan & M. Zvelebil (eds.), Ceramics before Farming. The Dispersal of Pottery Among Prehistoric Eurasian Hunter-Gatherers, University College London Press + Left Coast Press California, 2010, pp. 477-498.
  • Crombé Ph., Boudin M. & Van Strydonck M. (2011). Swifterbant pottery in the Scheldt basin and the emergence of the earliest indigenous pottery in the sandy lowlands of Belgium. In: S. Hartz, F. Lüth & Th. Terberger (eds), Early Pottery in the Baltic – Dating, Origin and Social Context, International Workshop at Schleswig on 20-21 October 2006, Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission 89, 2011, Frankfurt, pp. 465-483.
  • Crombé Ph., Robinson E., Boudin M. & Van Strydonck M. (2013). Radiocarbon dating of Mesolithic open-air sites in the coversand area of the Northwest European Plain: problems and prospects. Archaeometry 55 (3: 545–562.


Prof Dr Philippe Crombé