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Tea cultivation in China began earlier than thought

New archaeological discoveries in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, suggest that China may have been cultivating tea plants more than 3,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Tea cultivation in China began earlier than thought
Archaeologists found roots belonging to a 6,000 year-old 
tea tree in China [Credit: People's Daily]
The Zhejiang Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research Center released its new findings about the Tianluo Mountain site on Tuesday that showed Chinese ancestors started cultivating tea plants about 6,000 years ago.

Sun Guoping, a researcher with the center who is captain of the exploration project on Tianluo Mountain, said that after years of testing, the roots discovered in the area proved to belong to the earliest tea plants cultivated by humans in China.

"Before this discovery, historical and archaeological records indicated that Chinese people started growing tea plants about 3,000 years ago. The discovery proved the activity started 3,000 years earlier," he said.

Tea cultivation in China began earlier than thought
The findings show that people have been making tea since before 
the pyramids were built [Credit: People's Daily]
Sun said that soil around the roots showed traces of manual digging, proving that the plants were placed intentionally by humans and did not sprout naturally.

"There were also relics of pottery pieces scattered around where the roots were discovered, further indicating that there were human activities nearby," he said.

Cheng Qikun, former director of the Tea Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that there is a possibility that Chinese people also started drinking tea during the same period.

"The exploration team also discovered a pottery utensil similar to a teapot. It has both spout and handle," he said." We can make a wild guess that people at that time found that leaves of the plants they cultivated were refreshing and started drinking them with the utensils," he said.

Cheng said that further exploration might provide solid proof of this theory.

Tea cultivation in China began earlier than thought
The team spent nearly a decade analysing what plant the
 roots were from [Credit: People's Daily]
The roots were unearthed in 2004, and primary tests in 2006 showed that they contained theanine, which indicated that they belonged to tea plants. Later tests were run to confirm their age and other features.

The Tianluo Mountain site was discovered in 2001 and is 7 kilometers from the Hemudu Cultural Site. The site has recorded primitive activities of ancient China from7,000 to 5,000 BC, one of the earliest recordings of China's Neolithic age.

Five exploration activities have already unearthed relics of typical Hemudu villages, as well as more than 6,000 relics that record living and working activities of people of that time.

Earlier discoveries from this site also confirmed that China originated cultivating paddies.

Author: Yan Yiqi | Source: China Daily [July 04, 2015]

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