The emergence of pottery in China: Recent dating of two early pottery cave sites in South China
The earliest pottery in East Asia, as is found in several cave sites in southern China, emerges in Upper Paleolithic contexts dating from the Last Glacial Maximum, ∼20 Ka cal BP. The making of simple pottery vessels in Late Pleistocene East Asia also has been noted in eastern Siberia and Japan but not yet in the Central Plains of China. This paper summarizes the better-reported evidence for early pottery sites across the vast region of China south of the Yangtze River, providing details on two dating projects conducted in the cave sites of Xianrendong (Jiangxi Province) and Yuchanyan (Hunan Province). The excavated contexts in these two caves and a few others clearly indicate that this early pottery was the creation of hunter-gatherers who hunted available game and foraged a variety of plant foods. The nature of the cave occupations is ephemeral, and where the published animal and plant remains allow, we suggest that there were repeated, seasonal occupations. In sum, there is no basis yet to suggest that the making of early pottery in South China marked sedentary or plant-cultivating communities.