Northwest China is known for its Majiayao-style Neolithic painted pottery which has received much praise for its high level of craftsmanship, yet its chain of production, in particular the step of raw material selection, is still poorly understood. To fill this lacuna, the present study explores the raw materials used in producing these wares from a geological and technological perspective. At its core stands the first geoarchaeological survey conducted around the eponymous site of Majiayao which collected 47 samples of raw materials suitable for ceramic production including clay, loess and rocks, which were all analysed macroscopically. A selection was analysed using thin-section petrography, and a subset of the clay and loess samples were subjected to firing experiments. Additionally, three clay samples were analysed by scanning electron microscope with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer to understand their composition and behaviour in ceramic production. These were then compared to archaeological ceramics, thus providing insights into raw-material availability and selection that will be of importance not only for research on Majiayao-style pottery but also for later-period ceramics produced in the area. This research shows how an archaeologically informed geological survey can contribute insights into human–environment interaction in early pottery production, especially the interplay between raw-material availability, technological know-how and potters' choices.

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