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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Most ancient pottery could be Chinese

From Yuchanyan cave, at
Hunan, to be precise. New research by a US-Israeli team at this important southern Chinese cave suggests that the pottery fragments found there may be older than those found in Japan. They claim that the Yuchanyan pottery must be some 17,500-18,300 years old, while the Japanese pottery is from the 17th milennium BP, somewhat more recent.

The research goes beyond pottery age and it attempts to deal with the complex problematic of stratigraphy in caves, where often the very human activity that left the remains was also disturbing them at the same time.

Some of the studied pottery fragments (from BBC)

According to co-author D. Cohen:

The way people move around and mess up caves is very difficult to see archaeologically. Imagine you have a fire and then people come in again have another fire and another, so you have the ashes of all these fires building up but at the same time people are digging and clearing, pushing things to the side; this messes things up.

If you have an open-air site, you sometimes get a very clean 'layer cake' stratigraphy. Archaeologists before haven't looked at this closely enough to realise what's going on in caves so they interpret this stratigraphy as a layer cake. But in actuality, it's 'lenses' of stuff that's been mixed up and moved around.

Research paper: E. Boaretto et al., Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone collagen associated with early pottery at Yuchanyan Cave, Hunan Province, China. PNAS 2009. (Open access PDF).

In the press: BBC: 'Oldest pottery' found in China.

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