China has given porcelain to the world, and now it seems that the Asian country is home to humanity’s first pottery pieces as well. A team of Israeli, Chinese, and American scholars have found ceramic pottery remains estimated to be between 15,400 and 18,300 years old in a cave in the Hunan province of China.
Unlike our modern eSports betting sites, the artefacts are at least 1,000 years older than other pottery fragments that have been dug from the same region. The latter were previously considered to be the world’s oldest, but new evidence for our ancient love affair with pottery has now come to light.
Calcite Points to Age-Old Origins
Pieces of pottery that are nearly as old as the ones mentioned above had been found earlier at the Hunan caves. However, some archaeologists suspect that the samples, which have been tested using radiocarbon dating, were contaminated with a mineral by the name of calcite. Interestingly, these mineral fragments could potentially be older than the pottery itself, hinting that the pottery’s origins might be even older than initially though.
To ensure accurate carbon dating of the newly discovered pottery fragments, members of an archaeology team led by Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto from Bar Ilan University in Israel selected the best-preserved fragments of old bone and charcoal thought to be associated with pottery (radiocarbon dating requires scientists to test organic materials only) from the Yuchanyan Cave site located in China’s Yangzi River Basin. Any artefacts that were potentially contaminated with calcite were removed from the testing roster. After the results were obtained, the team was shocked to find a spread of dates ranging more than 18,000 years!
Yangzi River: A Holocene Hub
The findings at Yuchanyan Cave give us a crystal clear picture of what late Paleolithic Chinese foragers’ diets were like. Scientists found remnants of tortoise, deer, birds, fish, boar and other tiny mammals, along with rice, as they tested their samples. It’s still unclear whether the rice was wild or of a domesticated variety, as rice was not known to be domesticated until many thousands of years later.
The team claims that the findings, which were later reported in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings, reinforces their notion that the Yangzi River and its tributaries served as a central hub for early Holocene life. However, why pottery emerged so early in this region (in contrast to Southwest Asia, where plant domestication, bronze-forging and other technologies appeared hold much earlier) is still a mystery.
Further Pottery Carbon Dating Needed
Other scientific scholars say that the new dating is convincing enough to be taken as fact. Gary Crawford, an archaeologist at Canada’s Univerity of Toronto, has praised the team’s discoveries and the methodology they used to date their pottery samples. He says that the ultimate question now is whether pottery technology originated from Yangzi and then spread to Japan, where researchers found pottery vessels nearly as old as those found in China.
Some scholars belive that pottery originated in one of the two countries and then moved into the other. With that said, Crawford thinks that it is too early to draw such a conclusion, despite the fact that that’s exactly what Boaretto and her team have implied.