Findings set to appear in the journal Science indicate that pottery fragments found in the Xianrendong cave in south China’s Jiangxi province are the oldest in the world at 20,000 years old.
Wu Xiaohong, the lead researcher of a team of Chinese and American scientists, and professor of archaeology and museology at Peking University, told The Associated Press that her team was looking to build on the research.
“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.”
The team, however, wasn’t convinced that the fragments could be 20,000 years old. “We thought it would be impossible because the conventional theory was that pottery was invented after the transition to agriculture that allowed for human settlement,” said Wu. “The key was to ensure the samples we used to date were indeed from the same period of the pottery fragments.”
Well, maybe the humans from 20,000 years ago simply liked engaging in the art of pottery. Perhaps it was a matter of aesthetics but also function. Pottery for storage doesn’t necessarily require that humans of that period were storing foodstuffs cultivated through agriculture. Could they not have simply put food they had gathered in the pots? Maybe they dug seashells. We cannot possibly know with a high degree of certainty.