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 correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gathers to farmers.
But 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.
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.’
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