Erlitou Bronze Age
Pottery from the Erlitou Bronze AgeProf Gary Lee Todd

An ancient Chinese civilisation mastered high-tech methods of creating pottery about 3,000 years before Europe, researchers have discovered.

Scientists examining a delicate type of Chinese pottery known as celadon found it was made at a "high-tech" centre at the Erlitou Bronze Age site in the Henan province 3,700 years ago.

Making such celadon requires temperatures of over 1,100°C – an extremely difficult feat before the industrial revolution and unheard of in Europe until the 17th century, the South China Morning Post reports.

Professor Wang Changsui, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing described the technology as a "remarkable achievement".

"That means China had developed and mastered the high-temperature technology earlier than any other region in the world. It was not until the 17th century, or 3,000 years later, that similar kilns began to emerge in Europe," he said.

It had been thought that celadon pieces were not produced in China until about 200 CE. However, the discovery shows this was not the case.

"The site was the high-tech centre of the world in its time, with cutting-edge technology in a wide range of manufacturing sectors from ceramics making to metal casting. The origin of 'made in China' was early and glorious."

Chemical analysis shows the pottery was created in temperatures reaching over 1,300°C. "Technologically speaking, they are the same as celadon made in the Ming and Qing dynasties," Wang said.

The Erlitou site was discovered in the 1950s and it is thought the ancient city dates from 1900 BCE to 1500 BCE.

Xu Hong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Archaeology, said it appears the site was the epicentre of early Chinese civilisation.

"Before Erlitou, civilisations in China were small, scattered in numerous regions like stars in the evening sky. The appearance of Erlitou was like the rise of a moon that made pale the stars," he said.