Amur River Basin Pottery
Paleolithic & Neolithic Ceramic Pots, Russian Far East.

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Typical Pottery Sherd - Amur River.
Dating to 14,000 BCE.
Very similar to Paleolithic pots
produced in neighbouring China.
See: Oldest Stone Age Art.

Amur River Basin Pottery (from 14,300 BCE)


Upper Paleolithic Pottery (14,000-10,000 BCE)
Initial Neolithic (10,000-7,000 BCE)
Late Neolithic (5,000-1000 BCE)
- Middle Amur
- Lower Amur
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For specific chronologies, dates and events relating to
ceramics, see: Pottery Timeline (26,000 BCE - 1900).


Ancient pottery may have originated briefly in Europe, with the clay-fired Venus of Dolni Vestonice (26,000 BCE), but its true home was in East Asia, where it emerged in the form of Xianrendong Cave Pottery (18,000 BCE). From this point onwards, Chinese Pottery was practiced continuously before its methods and models spread northwards into the Amurskaya Oblast along the Amur River, as well as the lesser Zeya and Bureya rivers and the adjoining Zeya Bureya Plain. The earliest example of ceramic art in the Amur River basin was found at the Khummi site, dating to 14,300. Other sites of ancient pottery in the Amur region include Gasya, dated to 14,050 BCE; and Goncharka, dated to 13,400 BCE. Along the Zeya River, the earliest art of this type was discovered at Gromatukha, dating to 13,500. By comparison, the oldest clay-fired pots in Siberia, dating to 11,900 BCE, was excavated at Ust-Kyakhta near Lake Baikal. This was followed by the potsherds at Ust-Karenga (11,800 BCE) and Studenoye 11,250 BCE. This is quite close to the site of the Mal'ta Venuses (c.20,000 BCE), the renowned collection of 30 ivory carvings known as venus figurines, which were unearthed near Usolsky (Usol'ye), northwest of Irkutsk.

The lifestyle at all the sites in the Amur region, during the Upper paleolithic, was based on hunting, gathering and foraging, as well as intensive use of local aquatic resources. Their pottery assemblages, as well as methodology, were stylistically separate from one other and are considered to be local inventions. The ancient phase of primitive Paleolithic art (c.14,000-11,000 BCE) was followed by a transitional phase (approx 11,000-6000 BCE), which spanned the short period of Mesolithic art (10,000-8,000 BCE), and the initial period of Neolithic art (8,000-6,000 BCE), during which time pottery-making spread westwards from the Siberian taiga, reaching the East European Plain by about 7000 BCE.

To see how Amur River Basin pottery fits into the evolution of ancient art around the world, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE). For the development of ceramics in Asia, see Chinese Art Timeline (from 18,000 BCE). For other contemporaneous art forms, see: Asian art (from 38,000 BCE).


Located along Russia's Asiatic border with China, southeast of the main Siberian land mass, the Amur River Basin - the fourth largest in the world - has a monsoon climate and a wetland ecology based on marshes, lakes, ponds and numerous other watercourses. Fish of all types are plentiful, and vegetation abundant. During the Late Paleolithic, after the Ice receded, the Amur and its tributaries would have functioned as important waterways ("cultural highways") along which people would have moved, traded and exchanged artistic traditions, just as they do today. During the Neolithic, in particular, the Amur connected the Pacific coast with the Siberian interior, while the whole Amur River Basin was a region where traders from China and Central Asia brought agricultural produce, livestock, trinkets and pottery to the Siberian borderlands. That said, the Amur area is not considered to be a true part of Siberia - its climate is warmer and its habitat more Asian.

For another extraordinary example of Stone Age art from Russia, see the Shigir Idol (7,500 BCE), the oldest known wood carving.

Upper Paleolithic Pottery (14,000-10,000 BCE)

As mentioned above, prehistoric art in the Russian Far East included very ancient pottery from sites at Khummi, Gasya and Goncharka, as well as the Osipovka and Gromatukha cultural complexes - most of which is very similar to Chinese pots found at Xianrendong (18,000 BCE) and among the sherds of Yuchanyan Cave Pottery (c.16,000 BCE). Vessels were typically coarse-pasted, round-bottomed, and bag-shaped, with little if any decoration. Others had a sandy-texture and were decorated with cord-marks on their outside surfaces. All pots were hand-made and fired in bonfires, or very primitive trench-kilns, at about 450 degrees Celsius. For a comparison with European ceramics of the time, see: Vela Spila Cave Pottery (15,500 BCE). For more about European developments at this time, see: Cave Art (40,000-10,000 BC).

Like most very ancient pottery in East Asia, the emergence of Amur River Basin ceramics was not linked in any way with farming or agriculture. In fact there is no evidence of crop cultivation at the beginning of the Neolithic: instead, hunting and fishing predominated, especially the catching of spawning salmon. However, there is evidence that a more sedentary lifestyle was beginning to take root, both along the Amur and in nearby Japan. (Note: the Neolithic Period in the region was unusually long, beginning about 10,000 and ending about 1,000 BCE.)

Initial Neolithic (10,000-7,000 BCE)

Early Neolithic ceramics in the Amur region are moulded and plaited, while basketry impressions can be seen on the outer surface of many containers. These impressions are later smoothed out. All pots are open-fired and rarely fired above 600 degrees Celsius. Gradually advances are made in coiling and paddle and anvil techniques. At the same time, firing temperatures increase and kilns are finally introduced around 3,500 BCE (see the kilns at Malaya Podushechka), as they are in the Middle East and elsewhere - see, for instance, Mesopotamian Art (from 4500 BCE).

Late Neolithic Pottery (5,000-1000 BCE)

Middle Amur

In the middle Amur region, there were two principal cultures based in the area of Blagoveshchensk: the Gromatukha culture (centred on the Gromatukha River) peopled by semi-nomadic hunters moving between hunting camps, who were noted for stone tools like adzes and scrapers, knife blades, and prismatic cores, as well as decorated pottery; and the Novopetrovsk culture, best known for their prismatic cores and platelets, and their smooth-walled pots ornamented with beads. Both are known to have used obsidian in the manufacture of their ceramics as well as their blades.

Important pottery sites along the middle Amur River include the following:

- Grodekovo - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Novopetrovka - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Konstantinovka - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Lake Dubovoe - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Lake Peschanoe - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Orlovka - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Novopokrovka - Zeya Bureya Plain
- Sukhie Protoki 2 - Bureya River Basin

Lower Amur

In the lower Amur region, notably at Malyshevo, Voznesenovka, and at Kazakevichevo on the Ussuri River, Neolithic pottery was exemplified by glazed flat-bottomed vessels, decorated with red pigment and other ornaments. Later, meander patterns were incorporated into the decoration. This style then gave way to spiral patternwork - known as the "Amur plait" - and sometimes pots with a red glazed background overlaid by black painting. Containers with anthropomorphic-style "masks" also appeared. The final stage of development featured smooth-walled vessels with pronounced shoulders and high necks.

Important pottery sites along the middle Amur River include the following:

- Goncharka 1
- Osinovaya Rechka 10
- Novotroitskoe 10
- Suchu Island
- Malaya Gavan

For a comparison with other East Asian arts and crafts, please see also: Japanese Art and Korean Art.

Related Articles

For more about prehistoric mobiliary art in Russia, as well as cave painting, please see below:

Venus of Kostenky (c.23,000-22,000 BCE)
Oldest item of Russian art, dating from the Gravettian culture.

Venus of Gagarino (c.20,000 BCE)
Fertility symbol carved from volcanic rock, from the Voronezh region.

Avdeevo Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
From "Avdeevo-Old" (Avd-I), and "Avdeevo-New" (Avd-II), located near Kursk.

Zaraysk Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
Ivory carvings found near the Osyotr River, at Zaraysk southeast of Moscow.

Venus of Eliseevichi (Yeliseevichi) (c.14,000 BCE)
Ivory figurine from Bryansk Province, southwest of Moscow.

Kapova Cave Paintings (c.12,500 BCE)
Located in the Shulgan-Tash Preserve, Bashkortostan, in the southern Urals.


• For more about arts and crafts from Trans-Baikal, Siberia and Amur regions, see: Homepage.

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