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Ancient New Guinea pot makers surprising innovation

Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest known pottery from Papua New Guinea in a surprisingly remote location in the rugged highlands.

Ancient New Guinea pot makers surprising innovation
Pottery fragments from New Guinea, top sherd is the earliest 
[Credit: Dylan Gaffney, Glenn Summerhayes, 
Anne Ford, Sue Bulmer]
The piece of red glossy pottery with designs cut into it is 3,000 years old, several hundred years older than the previous oldest known pottery in New Guinea.

It was found in the highlands region, well away from the coast where there was regular contact with other seafaring pottery making cultures such as the Lapita people.

"It's an example of how technology spread among cultures," said Dr Tim Denham from The Australian National University (ANU).

Ancient New Guinea pot makers surprising innovation
Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) image of one of the twenty pieces of pottery found
 at the Wanelek site in New Guinea Highlands [Credit: Gaffney]
"Some pottery must have soon found its way into the highlands, which inspired the highlanders to try making it themselves."

The find will help archaeologists reconstruct how pottery techniques spread from southeast Asia through the Pacific, and gives broader insights into the way technology spread throughout early civilisations.

As part of research led by Otago University in New Zealand, Dr Denham, from the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology, determined precise dates for a number of pottery pieces found at Wanalek in the Bismarck Range, in Papua New Guinea's Madang Province.

Ancient New Guinea pot makers surprising innovation
Excavation of Wanelek archaeological site, New Guinea Highlands, in 1972 
[Credit: Susan Bulmer]
"It's interesting to have pushed back antiquity by several hundred years, and in a place where you least expect it," Dr Denham said.

"And it shows human history is not always a smooth progression - later on pottery making was abandoned across most of the highlands of New Guinea. No one knows when or why."

The research is published in PLOS ONE.

Source: Australian National University [September 02, 2015]
TANN

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