In a fantastic discovery, a team of Chinese and US archaeologists have come across fragments belonging to a 20,000 year-old bowl in modern day China, confirmed as the earliest evidence of pottery. The findings push back the invention of pottery by 10,000 years and suggest that human were more socially advanced than previously thought.
The pottery fragments were discovered in Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, and it is believed the bowl was a cauldron to cook food, or quite possibly to brew alcohol. Previously, scientists used to believe the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gathers to farmers.
This latest discovery pushes the invention 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 Center for East Asian Studies at The Hebrew University in Israel.
“Hunter-gatherers were under pressure to get enough food,” he told BBC News.
“If the invention is a good one, it spreads pretty fast. And it seems that in that part of southern China, pottery spread among hunter-gatherers in a large area,” said lead researcher, Prof Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University.
In an accompanying Science article, 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.”
Earliest pottery used to brew alcohol?
Shelach also speculates that the invention of pottery may have been sparked by the need for a recipient for brewing alcohol – a social-driver.
“People were gathering together in larger groups and you needed social activities to mitigate against increased tensions,” he told BBC News.
“Maybe those potteries were used to brew alcohol.
Pottery emerged in Europe thousands of years later
“It used to be thought that the beginning of pottery was associated with agriculture and sedentary lifestyle,” he added.
“Yet here we find it 8,000 years or more before this transition. This is a very puzzling situation.”
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.