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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Earliest evidence for pottery making found

Earliest evidence for pottery making found
Fragments from a Chinese cave push back the dawn of the craft by more than 1,000 years.
written by Haim Watzman

Shards of pottery dating back 18,000 years have been unearthed in a cave in Hunan province, southern China.
The manufacture of ceramic pots and other items is generally associated with the change from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies into sedentary Neolithic communities, which began about 10,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean. But pottery manufacture began considerably earlier in East Asia, during the late Paleolithic. Until now, the earliest previous finds in East Asia were dated to 15,000–16,000 years ago.
In a new study1, physicist Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and archaeologist Xiaohong Wu of Peking University in Beijing and their colleagues show that humans were making containers out of fired clay even earlier than was previously thought.
Other excavations in the area around Yuchanyan Cave have unearthed early human settlements from the Late Pleistocene period. But dating finds from these sites have proved challenging. The complex layers of ash, clay and gravel make the sites difficult to analyse and it has been hard to find pure samples of organic material such as charcoal and bone for carbon dating.
"In environments in which there is a lot of ash, charcoal doesn't preserve well, and throughout China there are deposits of windborne dust that contain a lot of calcite, an element of wood ash," explains Boaretto's colleague Steve Weiner, of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute.
Normally, an excavation project would seek to date as many carbon samples as possible, explains Boaretto. But in this case, the team conducted pre-screening in the field and then did a preliminary analysis in the lab of some 150 initial samples using infrared and Raman spectroscopy. Only the 30 samples that these tests showed to be clean and well preserved then underwent carbon-dating analysis. By carefully analysing the layers of earth around the pottery shards to note any disturbances — for example, fire hearths and animal burrows — the team could determine which carbon samples were most closely related to the pottery finds.
Precise dating
The team's carbon dating suggests charcoal and bone samples obtained from the site are 21,000 to 13,800 years old, whereas those located just above and below the pottery shards are about 18,000 years old. The latter date also matched that of the layer of sediment in which the shards were found. The finds included enough fragments to reconstruct one complete cauldron with a pointed base that stands some 29 centimetres high.
Weiner does not think that these finds lend support to either side in the debate over whether East Asian pottery developed in a single place and then spread through what is now China, southern Russia and Japan, or whether the technology emerged separately in different places.

"But thanks to precise dating technology, it shows the beginning of the tradition and pushes back what people have thought was the beginning of pottery making by a few thousand years," he says.
Gideon Shelach, an archaeologist in the Department of East Asian Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says that Boaretto and Wu's results confirm and extend the existing picture of a lengthy East Asian Paleolithic-Neolithic transition. This seems to have taken place at a much more gradual pace than the developments that led to the world's first fully sedentary societies in the eastern Mediterranean.
"There are a lot of excavations going on in China now, and I suspect that there will be many more discoveries that will give us a better understanding of the development of human society in this part of the world," Shelach predicts.

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.