On the Invention of Pottery

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Science  29 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6089, pp. 1644-1645
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224119

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On page 1696 of this issue, Wu et al. (1) report the latest of a series of exciting discoveries made over the past 20 years that have pushed back the earliest evidence for the invention of pottery by more than 10,000 years. Like their findings at the Xianrendong Cave (1), most of the earliest pottery has been discovered in south China (the Yangzi River basin and areas south of it), but evidence for early pottery is also known from the Yellow River basin, and indeed from a much larger area of East Asia that includes Japan and the Amur River basin (24). The early dating of East Asian ceramics refutes the idea that the beginning of pottery production was associated with the transition to agriculture. What was the societal context for its invention?