Two lessons to be learned from the just-published discovery of 18,000-year-old pottery in a Chinese cave, which I report at Nature.com.
First, societies differ. Here in the Levant, people first settled down, started farming, and then got the idea of making storage containers out of fired clay. All that happened as part of what we call the Neolithic Revolution. In the Far East, hunter-gatherers began making pottery long before they settled down and (apparently) well before they learned to cultivate rice. What did these nomads need containers for? To gain prestige and power over their fellows (a thesis considered and rejected here)? Or simply to store the little they had? Right now, we don’t know enough to know.
Second, when you want to make a generalization, first pare down your evidence; throw out the doubtful items and use only what’s pure and valid for your purpose. As important as pushing back the date of the earliest known pottery by a couple thousand years is the methodology these archaeologists and physicists used to choose samples for carbon dating. Previous dating of Paleolithic Far Eastern pottery has been uncertain and problematic. The techniques applied by Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Xiaphong Wu of Peking University have produced much more reliable results.
But haven’t we on SoJo said this many times before?