Yanshina O.V. Some Remarks on the Ages of the Earliest Pottery of South China

Oksana V. Yanshina
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Saint Petersburg, Russia
E-mail: oyanshina@mail.ru


  Download  |  Go to Issue #3. 2019


ABSTRACT. Almost a decade has passed since radiocarbon dates were obtained for the early ceramics of South China, indicating that it is the oldest in the world. Such an opportunity was demonstrated by studies in the caves of Yuchanyan and Xianrendong, which delayed the time of the appearance of pottery to 21300–19500 cal. bp which is several thousand years earlier than in other regions of East Asia. The article provides the general overview of the problems associated with these new dates. Considering them against a broad cultural background and relying on the most reliable sources, the most likely time of the appearance of pottery in southern China is the border of Young Dryas and the Holocene. The data indicating the earlier period require confirmation since they have an obscure context, contradict the TL-datings of the ceramics themselves, and are in poor agreement with the paleoclimatic data and other more general obser-vations.


KEYWORDS: East Asia, China, Neolithization, early pottery-making, chronology


УДК 903.02(512)
DOI 10.31250/2618-8619-2019-3(5)-142-163



  • Кузьмин Я. В. «Коммунистическая» археология Китая // РАЕ. 2014. № 4. С. 555–575.
  • Bar-Yosef O., Wang Y. Paleolithic Archaeology in China // Annual Review of Anthropology. 2012. № 41. Р. 319–335.
  • Boaretto E., Wu X., Yuan J., Bar-Yosef O., Chu V., Pan Y., Liu K., Cohen, D., Jiao T., Li S., Gu H., Goldberg P., Weiner S. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone collagen associated with early pottery at Yuchanyan Cave, Hunan Province, China // PNAS. 2009. № 106 (24). Р. 9595–9600.
  • Chen X. On the earliest evidence for rice cultivation in China // Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. 1999. № 18. P. 81–93.
  • Cohen D., Bar-Yosef O., Wu X., Patania I., Goldberg P. The emergence of pottery in China: Recent dating of two early pottery cave sites in South China // Quaternary International. 2017. № 441. Р. 36–49.  
  • Feng Z. The Mezolithic in South China // Documenta Praehistorica. 2000. № 27. P. 225–231.
  • Guo R., Li J. The Nanzhuangtou and Hutouliang sites: exploring the beginings of agriculture and pottery in North China // The Origin of pottery and agriculture / Ed. by Y. Yasuda. New Delhi, 2002. P. 193–204.
  • HPM — The excavation of the Xiaonanshan site in Raohe county, Heilongjiang // Kaogu. 1972. №. 2. P. 32–34.
  • Hill D. Ceramic Analysis // Origins of Rice Agriculture: The Preliminary Report of the SinoAmerican Jiangxi (PRC) Project / Ed. by R. MacNeish, J. Libby. El Paso, 1995. № 13. Р. 35–45.
  • Huang H. A three-stage model for the domestication of Oryza sativa and the emergence of rice agriculture in China, 12000–7000 bp.University of Kansas. PhD. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2008. 3316089.  
  • Hung H., Chi Z., Matsumura H., Zhen L. Neolithic Transition in Guangxi: Long Development of Hunting-Gathering Society in Southern China // Bio-anthropological studies of early Holocene hunter-gatherer sites at Huiyaotian and Liyupo in Guangxi, China / Ed. by H. Matsumura, H. Hung, L. Zhen and K. Shinoda. Tokyo, 2017. P. 205–228.
  • JPCRAC — Test excavation at the Xianrendong cave site in Dayuan, Wannian, Jiangxi) // Kao Gu Xue Bao. 1963. № 1. Р. 1–16.
  • JPM — Report of the second excavation at the Xianrendong cave site in Dayuan, Wannian, Jiangxi) // Wen Wu. 1976. № 12. Р. 23–35.
  • IACASS 2003 — Zengpiyan — a prehistoric site in Guilin. Beijin, 2003.
  • IACASS 1991 — Radiocarbon Dates in Chinese Archaeology, 1965–1991. Beijing, 1991.
  • Izuka F. The timing and behavioral Context of the Late-Pleistocene Adoption of ceramics in Greater East and Northeast Asia and the First People (without pottery) in the Americas // PaleoAmerica. 2018. № 4 (4). Р. 267–324.    
  • Kunikita D., Wang L., Onuki S., Sato H., Matsuzaki H. Radiocarbon dating and dietary reconstruction of the Early Neolithic Houtaomuga snd Shuangta sites in the Song-Nen Plain, Northest China // Quaternary International. 2017. № 441. Р. 62–68.  
  • Kuzmin Y. Origin of Old World pottery as viewed from the early 2010s: when, where and why // World Archaeology. 2013. № 45(4). Р. 539–556.
  • Lampert C., Glover I., Hedges R., Heron C., Higman T., Stern B., Shoocongdej R., Thompson G. Dating resin coating on pottery: the Spirit cave early ceramic dates revised // Antiquity. 2003. № 72 (295). Р. 126–133.
  • Li Z., Kunikita D., Kato S. Early pottery from the Lingjing site and the emergence of pottery in northern China // Quaternary International. 2017. № 441. P. 49–61.
  • Liu L., Chen X. The archaeology of China: from the late Paleolithic to the Early Bronze age. New York, 2012.  
  • Liu L. A long process towards agriculture in the middle Yellow river valley, China: Evidence from macro- and micro-botanical remains // Journal of Indo-Pacific Archaeology. 2015. № 35. P. 3–14.
  • Lu H., Liu Z. X., Wu N. Q., Berné S., Saito Y., Liu B. Z., Wang L. Rice domestication and climatic change: phytolith evidence from East China // Boreas. 2002. № 31. P. 378–385.
  • Lu H., Zhang J., Liu K., Wu N., Li Y., Zhou K., Ye M., Zhang T., Zhang H., Yang X., Shen L., Xu D., Li Q. Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago // PNAS. 2009. № 106(18). P. 7367–7372.
  • Lu T. Early Pottery in South China // Asian Perspectives. 2010. №. 49, № 1. P. 1–42.
  • Lu T. Periphery or land of cultural dynamics: rethinking prehistoric South China // Documenta Praehistorica. 2012. №. 39. P. 111–135.
  • Lubel D. Are land snails a signature for the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition // Documenta Praehistorica. 2004a. №. 31. P. 1–24
  • Lubel D. Prehistoric edible land snails in the circum-Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence // Petits animaux et sociétés humaines, du complément alimentaire aux ressources utilitaires XXIVe recontres internationales d’archéologie et d’histoire d’Antibes. Antibes: APDCA Publishing, 2004b. P. 111–135.
  • MacNeish R., Libby J. (еd.). Origins of Rice Agriculture: The Preliminary Report of the Sino American Jiangxi (PRC) Project SAJOR. El Paso: University of TexasCentennialMuseum, 1995. (Publications in Anthropology. №. 13)
  • MacNeish R. The Origins of Rice Agriculture in Light of a Paleolithic-Neolithic Sequence in South China. Sino-American Jiangxi Origin of Rice (Agriculture) Project. Andover, 1996. Р. 15–35.
  • MacNeish R., Cunnar G., Zhao Z., Libby J. Re-Revised Second Annual Report of the Sino-American Jiangxi (PRC) Origin of Rice Project. Andover, 1998.
  • MacNeish R. A Paleolithic-Neolithic sequence from SouthChinaJiangxiProvince, PRC. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese / Ed. by K. Omoto. Kyoto, 1999. Р. 233–255.
  • Qu T., Bar-Yosef O., Wang Y., Wu X. The Chinese Upper Paleolithic: Geography, Chronology, and Techno-typology // Journal of Archaeological Research. 2013. № 21. Р. 1–73.  
  • RCCFAJU — The Neolithic remains of the Shuangta Site in Baicheng City, Jilin // Chinese Archaeology. 2015. №. 15. P. 93–101
  • Rispoli F. The Incised & Impressed Pottery Style of Mainland Southeast Asia: Following the Paths of Neolithization // East and West. 2007. №. 57, № 1–4. P. 235–304.
  • Shelach-Lavi G. The Archaeology of Early China: From Prehistory to the Han Dynasty. New York, 2015.  
  • Sun B., Wagner M., Zhao Z., Li G., Wu X., Tarasov P. Archaeological discovery and research at Bianbiandong early Neolithic cave site, Shandong, China // Quaternary International. 2014. №. 348. P. 169–182
  • Yang S., Zhang Y., Li Y., Zhao C., Li X., Yue J., Hou Y., Deng C., Zhu R., Petraglia M. Environmental change and raw material selection strategies at Taoshan: a terminal Late Pleistocene to Holocene site in north-eastern China // Journal of Quaternary science. 2017. №. 32(5). P. 553–563.
  • Yanshina O., Sobolev A. The earliest pottery of Xianrendong cave: what do we know about it? // Journal of ancient technology laboratory. 2018. № 14 (3). Р. 9–21.  
  • Yanshina O. The earliest pottery of eastern part of Asia: similarities and differences // Quaternary International. 2017. № 441. Р. 69–81.  
  • Yuan J. Rice and pottery 10000 Yrs BP at Yuchanyan, Dao County, Hunan Province // The Origins of Pottery and Agriculture / еd. by Y. Yasuda. New Delhi: Lustre Press-Roli Books, 2002. P. 157-166.
  • Zhao C., Wu X. The dating of Chinese Early Pottery and a discussion some related problems // Documenta Praehistorica. 2000. № 27. P. 233–239.
  • Yang X., Ma Z., Wang T., Perry L., Li Q., Huan X., Yu J. Starch grain evidence reveals early pottery function cooking plant foods in North China // Chinese Science Bulletin. 2014. № 59(32). P. 4352–4358.
  • Zhang C. The excavation at Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan, Jiangxi // Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association. 1999. №. 18. P. 97–100.
  • Zhang C. Early pottery and rice phytolith remains from Xianrendong and Diaotonghuan sites, Wannian, Jiangxi province // The Origin of pottery and agriculture / еd. by Y. Yasuda. New Delhi: Lustre Press-Roli Books, 2002. P. 185–191.
  • Zhang C., Hung H. The Neolithic of Southern China — Origin, Development, and Dispersal // Asian Perspectives. 2008. № 47(2). P. 299–329.
  • Zhang C., Hung H. The emergence of agriculture in southern China // Antiquity. 2010. № 84. P. 11–25.
  • Zhang C., Hung H. Later hunter-gatherers in southern China, 18 000–3000 BC // Antiquity. 2012. № 86. P. 11–29.
  • Zhao C., Yu J., Wang T., Wu X., Hao S., Ma X., Xia Z. A study on an early neolithic site in North China // Documenta Praehistorica. 2003. № 30. P. 169–173.
  • Zhao Z., Piperno D. Late Pleistocene / Holocene environments in the Middle Yangtze river valley, China and rice (Oryza Sativa L.) domestication: the phytolith evidence // Geoarchaeology: an International Journal. 2000. № 15 (2). P. 203–222.
  • Zhao Z. The Middle Yangtze region in China is one place where rice was domesticated: phytolith evidence from the Diaotonghuan Cave, Northern Jiangxi // Antiquity. 1998. № 72. P. 885–897.
  • Zhao Z. New Archaeobotanic Data for the Study of the Origins of Agriculture in China // Current Anthropology. 2011. № 52 (S4). P. S295–S306.
  • Zhou G. On the Bailiandong Culture // Documenta Praehistorica. 2000. № 27. P. 215–224.
  • Zuo X., Lu H., Li Z., Song B., Xu D., Zou Y., Wang C., Huan X., He K. Phytolith and diatom evidence for rice exploitation and environmental changes during the early mid-Holocene in the Yangtze Delta // Quaternary Research. 2016. №. 86. P.304–315.
  • Zou G., Shelach G., Li X., Zhao C., Rui X., Zhou L., Zhang J. Geochronology and paleoenvironment of the Taoshan site, northeastern China, and archaeological implications // Quaternary International. 2018. № 463A. P. 6–17.
  • Wagner M. Neolithikum und frühe Bronzezeit in Nordchina vor 8000 bis 3500 jahren (Die nordöstliche Tiefebene — Südteil). Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2006. (Archäologie in Eurasien. № 21)
  • Wang Y. New Palaeolithic Discoveries in the Middle Yangzi River Region, Southern China // Current Research in Chinese Pleistocene Archaeology / еd. by C. Shen and S. Keates. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2003. (BAR International Series. № 1179)
  • Wang L., Sebillaud P. The emergence of Early Pottery in East Asia: New Discoveries and Perspectives // Journal of World prehistory. 2019. № 32(1). P. 73–110.
  • Wang Y., Zhang S., Gu W., Wang S., He J., Wu X., Qu T., Zhao J., Chen Y., Bar-Yosef O. Lijiagou and the earliest pottery in Henan Province, China // Antiquity. 2015. № 89. P. 273–291.
  • White J. Emergence of cultural diversity in mainland Southeast Asia: a view from prehistory // Dynamics of human diversity: the case of mainland Southeast Asia / Ed. by N. Enfield. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2011. P. 9–46.
  • Wu R., Deng Z., Zhang Z., Li J., Peng S., Liu S. Scientific research on the pottery unearthed from the Xianrendong site in Wanian, Jangxi // Kao Gu Xue Bao. 2005. № 7. P. 542–549.
  • Wu X., Zhao C. Chronology of the Transition from Paleolithic to Neolithic in China // The Review of Archaeology. 2003. № 24(2). P. 15–20.
  • Wu X., Zhang C., Goldberg P., Cohen D., Pan Y., Arpin T. and Bar-Yosef O. Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China // Science. 2012. № 336 (6089). P. 1696–1700.
  • Wu W., Wang X., Wu X., Jin G., Tarasov P. The early Holocene archaeobotanical record from the Zhangmatun site situated at the northern edge of the Shandong Highlands, China // Quaternary International. 2014. № 348. P. 183–193.
  • Xia Z., Zhang J., Liu J., Zhao C., Wu X. Analysis of the ecological environment around 10000 a BP in Zhaitang area, Beijing: A case study of the Donghulin Site // Chinese Science Bulletin. 2012. № 57(4). P. 360–369.
  • Xu J., Jia Y., Ma C., Zhu C., Wu L., Li Y., Wang X. Geographic distribution of archaeological sites and their response to climate and environmental change between 10.0–2.8 ka BP in the Poyang Lake Basin, China // Journal of Geographical sciences. 2016. №. 26 (5). P. 603–618
  • Nguyen Viet. Hoabinhian food strategy in Vietnam // SEA Archaeology. W. G. Solheim II Festschrift book. Manila: University of the Philippines Press, 2004.
  • Ha Van TanThe Hoabinian and before // Bulletin of Indo-Pacific Prehistoryassociation. 1997. №16. P. 35–41.