A 20,000-year-old pottery fragment found in the Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province in China is believed to have been a cauldron that may have been used as a means to cook food and possibly brew alcohol.

In the last decade researchers have found pottery that pre-dates agriculture. With this new discovery, U.S. archaeologists believe the invention of pottery may go even back further than 20,000 years.

Prior to the new findings, researchers and archeologists once believed pottery was invented after the emergence of agriculture. Archeologist assumed since pottery items are too large and fragile for the nomadic life, it was not something that was sufficient for use.

A possible reason for the invention of pottery 20,000 years ago was because the Earth was the coldest it had been for a million years.

Professor Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, the lead researcher, stated pottery cauldrons would have enabled people to extract more nutrients when cooking their meals.

According to Bar-Yosef in a hunter-gathering society if an idea is beneficial it will spread rapidly, and in that part of southern China pottery seemed very popular.

Professor Gideon Shelach of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem hypothesizes that there may have been a social driver for the creation of pottery. Shelach speculates since these ancient people gathered in large groups while hunting, there was a need for social activities to alleviate tension from a day-to-day routine. He believes it could have also been used to brew alcohol.

From the fragments of the bowl, the archaeological team estimates the bowl may have been 20cm high and 15 to 25cm in diameter.

Bar-Yosef is keen on uncovering exactly what these ancient people were cooking 20,000 years ago. He presumes that whatever it was it was either steamed or boiled in the bowl. He mentioned that cooking in oil did not come into place until later.

This discovery was published in the journal Science.