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Oldest pottery fired 20,000 years ago found in China

The latest discovery pushes the creation of pottery to the period known as the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 25,000 to 19,000 years ago.

Excavations by a team of Chinese and US archaeologists in south-east China have yielded a sample of pottery believed to be the oldest known so far in the world.

Radiocarbon analysis to determine the age of the layers where the pottery shards were found indicate that they belong to a 20,000 year-old bowl in modern day China.

The pottery fragments discovered in Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province are the remains of crude bowls and pots.

The archaeological team estimates the bowl was 20cm high and 15-25cm in diameter.

Given that their outer surfaces carry scorch marks and small amounts of soot, experts think they were used for cooking or quite possibly to brew alcohol.

Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard and an author of the study stated, “What it seems is that in China, the making of pottery started 20,000 years ago and never stopped."

“The Chinese kitchen was always based on cooking and steaming; they never made, as in other parts of Asia, breads.”

The pottery fragments discovered in Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province are the remains of crude bowls and pots. The archaeological team estimates the bowl was 20cm high and 15-25cm in diameter.

First pottery used 20,000 years ago
The popular belief is that pottery was invented some 12,000 years ago when people began farming and living in one place for a longer period of time.

However, the latest discovery suggests that humans more socially advanced and the pots were made by hunter-gatherers.

It pushes the creation of pottery to the period known as the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 25,000 to 19,000 years ago.

“The early onset of pottery making meant that food preparation intensified during the last glacial maximum,” says Ofer Bar-Yosef.

Some speculations
The finding may also provide some insight into what prompted Chinese hunter-gatherers to start cooking food 20,000 years ago.

A plausible explanation could be that the extreme cold conditions would have triggered food shortages. Experts, speculate that the scarcity of resources during the ice age may have forced people to develop better ways of collecting, processing and storing food.

Moreover, cooked food provides more energy than raw food, hence by throwing their meals on the fire people could have extracted more nutrition from it.

Prof Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University stated, "Hunter-gatherers were under pressure to get enough food. 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."

Findings were published in the journal Science.