London, June 2 (ANI): Archaeologists have found the earliest evidence for pottery making, in the form of fragments from a Chinese cave, which push back the dawn of the craft by more than 1,000 years.
According to a report in Nature News, the shards of pottery, dating back 18,000 years, have been unearthed in a cave in Hunan province, southern China.
The manufacture of ceramic pots and other items is generally associated with the change from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies into sedentary Neolithic communities, which began about 10,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean.
But, pottery manufacture began considerably earlier in East Asia, during the late Paleolithic.
Until now, the earliest previous finds in East Asia were dated to 15,000-16,000 years ago.
In a new study, archaeologists Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and Xiaohong Wu of Peking University in Beijing and their colleagues show that humans were making containers out of fired clay even earlier than was previously thought.
Other excavations in the area around Yuchanyan Cave have unearthed early human settlements from the Late Pleistocene period.
Normally, an excavation project would seek to date as many carbon samples as possible, explained Boaretto.
But in this case, the team conducted pre-screening in the field and then did a preliminary analysis in the lab of some 150 initial samples using infrared and Raman spectroscopy.
Only the 30 samples that these tests showed to be clean and well preserved then underwent carbon-dating analysis.
By carefully analyzing the layers of earth around the pottery shards to note any disturbances, for example, fire hearths and animal burrows, the team could determine which carbon samples were most closely related to the pottery finds.
The team's carbon dating suggests charcoal and bone samples obtained from the site are 21,000 to 13,800 years old, whereas those located just above and below the pottery shards are about 18,000 years old.
The latter date also matched that of the layer of sediment in which the shards were found.
The finds included enough fragments to reconstruct one complete cauldron with a pointed base that stands some 29 centimeters high.
According to Weiner, these finds don't lend support to either side in the debate over whether East Asian pottery developed in a single place and then spread through what is now China, southern Russia and Japan, or whether the technology emerged separately in different places.
"But, thanks to precise dating technology, it shows the beginning of the tradition and pushes back what people have thought was the beginning of pottery making by a few thousand years," he said. (ANI)