WASHINGTON — Bits of pottery discovered in a cave in southern China may be evidence of the earliest development of ceramics by ancient people.
The find in Yuchanyan Cave dates to as much as 18,000 years ago, researchers report in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The find “supports the proposal made in the past that pottery making by foragers began in south China,” according to the researchers, led by Elisabetta Boaretto of Bar Ilan University in Israel. The pottery found at Yuchanyan “is the earliest so far,” Boaretto said.
Pottery was one of the first human-made materials and tracing its origins and development opens a window on the development of culture, said Tracey Lu, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who was not part of Boaretto’s team.
“Pottery initially serves as a cooking and storage facility. Later on, some pottery vessels become symbols of power and social status, as well as examples of art,” Lu said. “Pottery is still an important part of human culture today.”
Lu noted that the dates reported in this paper “are slightly older than the dates (of pottery found) in Japan. However, the accuracy of radiocarbon dates in the limestone area has been under debate for many years.”
“I agree that pottery was made by foragers in South China, but I also think pottery was produced more or less contemporaneously in several places in East Asia … from Russia, Japan to North and South China by foragers living in different environments,” Lu added.
Patrick McGovern, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that figurines have been found in what is now the Czech Republic that go back as far as 35,000 years. But those were not actual pottery vessels, he said.
“I had long thought that Japan would be the
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