Of all the different types of artifacts which are found in archeological sites, ceramic items are surely the most important. Clay pottery art artifacts are durable, and can last for tens of thousands of years in virtually the same condition in which they were first manufactured. Unlike stone tools, ceramic artifacts are completely personalized by their makers shaped from clay, decorated, and purposely fired. Figurines fashioned from clay are known from the very earliest human settlements but vessels made of clay and suitable for carrying water and the storing, cooking, and serving of food were first made at least thirteen thousand years ago. Shard remains of some of the earliest known ceramic vessels in the world were found in southwestern Japan’s Kamino site. This site has a stone-tool assemblage typical of the late Paleolithic. This is known in Japanese archeology as Pre-ceramic, in order to distinguish it from the Lower Paleolithic cultures of China and Europe. At the Kamino site, in addition to potshards, numerous microblades, spearheads, wedge shaped microcores, and other artifacts have been found. These are similar to assemblages found at Japanese Pre-ceramic sites dating between fourteen and sixteen thousand years ago. Moreover, this layer of occupation is located beneath a Jomon occupation securely dated to twelve thousand years ago.
Small quantities of ceramic shards with a bean impression decoration have also been found in some half dozen Mikoshiba-Chojukado archeological sites in southwest Japan. These also date to the Pre-ceramic period. Typical of pots manufactured before the introduction of the clay potter wheel, they are bag-shaped and pointed at the bottom. Sites at microblading faq which these shards have been found include the Ushirono and Odaiyamamoto sites and the Senpukuji Cave. As is the case also with shards from the Kamino site, they are quite rare, which suggests that while this technology was known at the time of the late Pre-ceramic cultures, it was not that useful to their lifestyle as nomads.
By contrast, the Jomon peoples employed ceramics to a large extent. The Japanese word Jomon means cord mark, since this pottery was often decorated with cord marks. Jomon is the term used to describe hunting-gathering cultures which existed in Japan from about 13,000 to about 2,500 years before the present. At this time migrating populations from China brought full time wet-rice agriculture to Japan. For the entire ten thousand years of Jomon culture, ceramic vessels were used for rice storage, water-carrying, and cooking. Jomon style ceramics are identified with the distinctive patterns of lines embossed into the bag-shaped vessels. Later on, as is also the case in ceramic objects obtained from contemporary Chinese archeological sites, highly decorated vessels with ceramic colors were also made by the Jomon people. Thus, as early as ten thousand years before the present, the use of ceramics was known in Japan and China. By five thousand years ago, ceramic use had spread by diffusion or had been reinvented everywhere on the globe.