Early Pottery in South China

Article excerpt


In this paper, "early pottery" is defined as ceramics dated to approximately 10,000 years ago or earlier, which have been discovered from the Japanese Archipelago, the Russian Far East, the Yellow and the Yangzi River Valleys, to South China (Tables 1 and 2). Pottery discovered in the Japanese Archipelago are dated to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago (Tsutsumi 2000), or even up to 17,200 B.P. (Kuzmin 2006); those found in the Russian Far East are dated between 13,300 and 12,300 years ago, or 16,500-14,100 B.P. (Kuzmin 2006; Zhushchikhovskaya 1997). Potsherds found in North China are dated to between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago (Guo and Li 2000; Zhao et al. 2003), those found in the Yangzi River Valley are dated probably up to 18,000 years ago (Boaretto et al. 2009), and pottery found in South China is dated to approximately 12,000 years ago (Institute of Archaeology CASS et al. 2003). It seems that pottery was manufactured by different groups in different natural and cultural contexts at the end of the Pleistocene or the beginning of the Holocene (1) in various places of East Asia, although it is not clear whether pottery was invented in one center or in multicenters.

There are many hypotheses on the origin of pottery, including the "architectural hypothesis," the "culinary hypothesis," which proposes that pottery was invented for cooking cereals and/or shells, the "resources intensification" hypothesis, and the "social/symbolic elaboration" theory (Rice 1999:5-14). However, prehistoric pottery manufactured in different natural and cultural contexts usually differs in terms of morphology, function, and symbolic meanings. Thus, it is necessary to carry out an in-depth and contextualized analysis in order to understand the impetus for, and the consequences of, this technological development in different regions.

In North China, potsherds dated between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago have been found in three archaeological sites, namely Hutouliang and Nanzhuangtou in Hebei Province, and Donghulin near the present Beijing City (Table 1; Guo and Li 2000; Yan 2000; Zhao et al. 2003). Detailed reports of these sites have not been published. However, based on available data, the archaeological assemblages of the three sites apparently are not the same.

Discovered on a terrace of the Sanggan River in Hebei Province, North China in the 1990s, the Hutouliang ceramics are fragments of flat-bottomed vessels fired in very low temperatures and without decoration, associated with microblades, microcores, flaked stone implements, ornaments made of shell and antler, bones of wolf, wild horse, boar, deer, ox, wild goat, and several species of rodents, as well as the remains of three hearths (Guo and Li 2000). The potsherds have been proposed to represent fragments of containers dated to around 11,000 years ago (Guo and Li 2000).

Found in the late 1980s and dated to approximately 10,000 to 9000 years ago, the Nanzhuangtou potsherds consist of two different types of pottery, although both are fired at low temperatures. The first type is crumbled and grayish with crushed tiny pieces of shell and quartz as inclusions, and cord-mark or applique as decorations, while the second type comprises yellowish brown potsherds of relatively more solid walls without decoration (Guo and Li 2000). Other findings at Nanzhuangtou include stone grinding slabs and rollers, ground bone arrowheads, drills, and the remains of deer, rodent, wolf, bird, fish, tortoise and shells, as well as two pits and two hearths (Guo and Li 2000). Charcoal remains have been found on the surface of some potsherds (Guo and Li 2000), indicating a possible cooking function.

Stone and organic artifacts similar to those found in Nanzhuangtou, plus flaked stone tools and shells, large quantities of deer bones and shells, traces of a hearth, and a burial, were found in Donghulin in the 1990s (Zhao et al. 2003). Probably built by slab building with quartz grains as tempering agent, the plain Donghulin potsherds have been dated to approximately 10,000 years ago (Zhao et al. …