Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

4. China and Far East (Earliest Culinary Pottery)

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The dates Yasouda has claimed for the earliest Japanese pottery is 18,500-20,000 years ago in the Nagano Prefecture, a time when studies show changes in tree type as a warming phase changed the rain and snowfall levels. The oldest Far Eastern Russian pottery is reported to be from the Khunimi site dated to 15,000-16,500 years ago. So, pottery in Japan, Russia and also Northern China is relatively younger than South China, possibly all related to the slightly different changes in climate creating the more productive forests permitting inhabitants to become more sedentary at different times. As there has perhaps been less archaeological research carried out in China compared with Europe and the Middle East, there could well be a few surprises remaining.

Various theories have been put forward to explain the spread of pottery round the world. Clearly it did not start in one place and radiate from there, as there was simultaneous development in several centres. However, there was migration too. For example, it is thought that Indian pottery migrated from China via the North East of India. Also there may have been links with Vietnam and Thailand, as relatively early pottery has been found there, for example at Ban Chiang in Thailand where black incised and red painted buff pottery has been dated to at least 5,600 years ago. Ban Chiang was also contemporary with China in the use of bronze.

Early Ban Chiang Pottery

Early Ban Chiang Pottery

Depending on the availability of wild food, the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of man led to the onset of agriculture – the planting of crops and the domestication of animals for food, that appears to have started in China before 10,000 years ago. In China, early agricultural development was based on the wild indigenous rice in the wetter South East, and millet in the drier North East and North. It is reported that rice cultivation in the Yangtze region of China could have begun as long ago as 14,000 years, and some horticultural practices in the coastal regions of South East Asia at a similar date. From early times rice was grown in paddy fields to trick it into growing well when wet, then having the water removed so it seeded well believing a drought was underway. Animals domesticated or “farmed” for food were pigs, dogs, fish and shellfish. However, as these agricultural practices developed gradually, the placement of an earliest date of a certain technique or produce is unrealistic.

The climate changes in China and Japan during the years from 15,000 to 11,500 years ago were not as severe as in other parts of the world, but still could have influenced the onset of food husbandry. Also the availability of storage vessels would have favoured the development and accumulation of particularly storable food, such as rice and other grains, for the winter. It is notable that in the Far East a sedentary lifestyle and pottery seems to have occurred several thousand years before the practice of agriculture, particularly in Japan.

 

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