In the late Neolithic period in northwestern China, pottery was used in a variety of contexts, including in mortuary rituals. While some scholars have interpreted pots placed in graves as being produced solely for use as funerary items, up until now there have only been typological analyses of these vessels. This has resulted in interpretations of grave goods, particularly elaborately painted vases, as representing wealth, ritual power, or the ability to reward followers. This study analyzes use-alteration and manufacturing marks on vessels from two Majiayao 马家窑 (3200–2000 b.c.) and Qijia 齐家 (2300–1500 b.c.) period cemeteries and suggests that most items were actually daily-use goods which were later used as mortuary offerings. The diverse patterns of manufacturing marks and use-alteration also demonstrate that these vessels likely come from a variety of producers and had highly variable use-lives. These results suggest that during the Majiayao period mortuary rituals were potentially attended by individuals from multiple communities, who may have provided pottery and its contents partly to build relationships between groups; the situation is less clear for the Qijia period. This work demonstrates the importance of investigating use-alteration patterns and manufacturing marks alongside typology, decoration, and context.


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pp. 2-32
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