It has long seemed like a tidy story about human ingenuity: After people started farming about 10,000 years ago and were faced with the challenge of cooking plants and grains, pottery was invented. But that explanation has been fraying for years, and now an international team that includes a Harvard University anthropologist and Boston University scientists has pushed back the timeline even further, with evidence of pot shards from a cave in eastern China that date to 10 millennia before agriculture began.
“If you don’t dig, you don’t find,” said Ofer Bar-Yosef, a 75-year-old professor of anthropology at Harvard who led the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science. “We always think hunters and gatherers go with bows and arrows and hunt animals, collect food. They also make some pottery.”