One of the 20,000-years-old pieces of pottery. (Photo : Ofer Bar-Yosef)
Pottery fragments found in the south of China have been determined to be 20,000 years old. Conventional theory has put the origin of pottery around the time that humans moved to from a hunter-gather society to farming 10,000 years ago. The new findings change the current understanding we have of the history and evolution of mankind.
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"We are very excited about the findings. The paper is the result of efforts done by generations of scholars," 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."
Other samples found by the same team of scientists in 2009 in the east of China have been dated to around 18,000 years old. The two discoveries together provide a compelling argument that pottery came about and as regularly used at a much earlier time under different conditions.
"What it seems is that in China, the making of pottery started 20,000 years ago and never stopped," Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard and an author of the study, told the New York Times. "The Chinese kitchen was always based on cooking and steaming; they never made, as in other parts of Asia, breads."
"The kitchen of the Middle East was probably based on barbecues and pita breads," he added. "For pita breads, you don't have to have pottery - you can grind the seeds and mix it with water, and make it over the fire."
20,000 years ago humans were hunter-gatherers and common theory suggests that pottery would have been bulky and inefficient for a nomadic lifestyle. These new findings could suggest that pots were used for cooking, and since it was during an ice age, humans could have turned to cooking to extract more nutrients from their food due to scarcity of prey. They would have also been useful for storing food.