June 29, 2012

Oldest pottery is 20,000 years old from SE China

No wonder they call it "china"!
Xianrendong cave, near the city of Shangrao (Jiangxi, SE China), has now the curious honor of hosting the oldest known specimens of pottery on Earth.

The pottery shards from that cave were known since the 1960s (and later digs) but had not been properly dated yet. The result of such dating is the oldest known pottery on Earth, dating to the Last Glacial Maximum, that even in a subtropical region like Jiangxi must have caused some discomfort.


Abstract


The invention of pottery introduced fundamental shifts in human subsistence practices and sociosymbolic behaviors. Here, we describe the dating of the early pottery from Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, China, and the micromorphology of the stratigraphic contexts of the pottery sherds and radiocarbon samples. The radiocarbon ages of the archaeological contexts of the earliest sherds are 20,000 to 19,000 calendar years before the present, 2000 to 3000 years older than other pottery found in East Asia and elsewhere. The occupations in the cave demonstrate that pottery was produced by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Late Glacial Maximum. These vessels may have served as cooking devices. The early date shows that pottery was first made and used 10 millennia or more before the emergence of agriculture.

We already knew that the oldest pottery was from China (albeit from the North) and that it pre-dated agriculture... but we did not know it was so old. 

5 comments:

  1. I'm also certain I recall earlier pottery finds in Japan. I'll see if I can find references.

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    1. I don't think so. For some time it was thought that pottery was oldest in Japan but then the North China finding happened and now we have this stuff. I've never read any such old claim for pottery (other than some terracotta dolls at Dolni Vestonice).

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  2. "I'm also certain I recall earlier pottery finds in Japan".

    Not as old as this find. As I recall the earliest Japanese pottery is a mere 12,000 years old. That makes this paper quite interesting as Japan is not too far way from China. So we do know that pottery is much older in East Asia than it is anywhere else.

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    1. Wikipedia cites a 12,700 BCE date for the oldest Japanese pottery. Interestingly, the date for the first evidence of humans in Japan (ca. 30,000 years ago), is much older than the evidence for major megafauna extinction in Japan (ca. 12,000 years ago) close in time to the appearance of pottery there, which is also close in time to the period of Japanese geographic isolation from the mainland. This suggests that there may have been pre-Neolithic pottery Jomon culture replacement in Japan around 12,000-15,000 years ago that could have been population genetically discontinuous with early indigneous Japanese populations ca. 30,000-15,000 years ago, which would in turn suggest that there might be much younger era origin of Y-DNA haplogroup D2 in Japan than would otherwise be assumed that would overlap with the period of easiest access to the Y-DNA D rich Andaman Islands due to the tail end of lower sea levels. AFAIK, there is no ancient DNA in Japan anywhere near old enough to distinguish between a 30kya Jomon origin and a 12kya Jomon origin, although the many mutations that distinguish Y-DNA D2 from other Y-DNA D would suggest a pretty old break (but the process of becoming distinct could have happened elsewhere and survived only in Japan).

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  3. "This suggests that there may have been pre-Neolithic pottery Jomon culture replacement in Japan around 12,000-15,000 years ago that could have been population genetically discontinuous with early indigneous Japanese populations ca. 30,000-15,000 years ago"

    I'd be very surprised if there was just a single population that arrived in Japan before the arrival of the Yayoi, so your idea makes sense.

    "would in turn suggest that there might be much younger era origin of Y-DNA haplogroup D2 in Japan than would otherwise be assumed that would overlap with the period of easiest access to the Y-DNA D rich Andaman Islands due to the tail end of lower sea levels".

    Possible. As far as i'm aware D is more northerly than is C, but D could walk to Japan at that time. I'm reasonably sure that the Andamans have never been connected to the mainland since humans appeared. The mt-DNA of the Andamans suggests a movement there from India though.

    "AFAIK, there is no ancient DNA in Japan anywhere near old enough to distinguish between a 30kya Jomon origin and a 12kya Jomon origin"

    Y-DNA C1 might fit the bill as an earlier arrival, especially as it's nowhere near as common in the north. Perhaps it was not so adapted to cold conditions when it arrived.

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