By ROB WAUGH
PUBLISHED: 04:51 EST, 29 June 2012 | UPDATED: 07:20 EST, 29 June 2012
- Pots are oldest pottery ever discovered
- Date from 10,000 years before humans ‘settled down’ and became farmers
- Push invention of pottery back to last ice age
- Archaeologists struggling to work out how and why they were made
- Thought to have been used by roving hunter-gatherers
Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery in the world, according to archaeologists.
Earlier theories have held that the invention of pottery happened during the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gathers to farmers.
The new find has been carbon dated by a team of Chinese and American researchers and shows scorch marks that indicate it may have been used in cooking.
These pots push the invention of pottery back to the last ice age – and archaeologists are trying to understand how and why they were made.
Pottery fragment from Xianrendong Cave in northern Jiangxi Province, China. Bits of the oldest known pottery, some 2,000 years older than previously found pieces, have been uncovered in China
Prof. Wu Xiaohong, Director of China’s National Lab of Quaternary Chronology. Wu and her archaeologist team members have determined pottery fragments found in a south China cave to be 20,000 years old
The find refutes conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to farming
The fragments were believed to belong to a community of roving hunter-gatherers some 20,000 years ago and apparent scorch marks indicate they may have been used in cooking.
The research by a team of Chinese and American scientists also pushes the emergence of pottery back to the last ice age, which might provide new explanations for the creation of pottery, said Gideon Shelach, chair of the Louis Frieberg Centre for East Asian Studies at The Hebrew University in Israel.
‘The focus of research has to change,’ said Mr Shelach, who is not involved in the research project in China.
In an accompanying Science article, Mr Shelach wrote that such research efforts ‘are fundamental for a better understanding of socio-economic change (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) and the development that led to the emergency of sedentary agricultural societies.’
He said the disconnection between pottery and agriculture as shown in east Asia might shed light on specifics of human development in the region.
Wu Xiaohong, professor of archaeology and museology at Peking University and the lead author of the Science article that details the radiocarbon dating efforts, said her team was eager to build on the research.
‘We are very excited about the findings. The paper is the result of efforts done by generations of scholars,’ Prod Wu said. ‘Now we can explore why there was pottery in that particular time, what were the uses of the vessels, and what role they played in the survival of human beings.’
The fragments were believed to belong to a community of roving hunter-gatherers some 20,000 years ago and apparent scorch marks indicate they may have been used in cooking
The ancient fragments were discovered in the Xianrendong cave in south China’s Jiangxi province, which was excavated in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, according to the journal article.
Prof Wu said some researchers had estimated that the pieces could be 20,000 years old, but that there were doubts.
‘We thought it would be impossible because the conventional theory was that pottery was invented after the transition to agriculture that allowed for human settlement.’
But by 2009, the team – which includes experts from Harvard and Boston universities – was able to calculate the age of the pottery fragments with such precision that the scientists were comfortable with their findings, Prof Wu said.