Ceramic Venus still the champ:
Memory is dim, but it seems to me that they used to tell us children that ceramics was invented eons ago so people could make pots, which were better at holding water than gourds are. 

Then I learned that clay figurines of women long antedated clay vessels.  So when I realized that those figurines were quite likely fertility symbols, and found that fertility in some parts of the world is in crisis mode, I thought,
“This has happened before.  The same process that now threatens us has been our nemesis from time immemorial.  The figurines prove it.”  So I was feeling quite smug about having another independent line of evidence until I ran across an article (Xiaohong Wu et al. Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China SCIENCE vol. 336 no. 6089 June 29, 2012 page 1696) that indicated pottery was much older than had been thought.  20,000 years ago is really getting back there.  Even I am not that old. 

I perused the article and there was no mistaking.  They had taken every precaution to get it right.  So with fainting heart I checked out the oldest ceramic Venus, the Dolní Věstonice.  She dates from 29,000 to 25,000 BC and was found in what was then Czechoslovakia.  (When she was found, not when she was made.)  So fertility still takes pride of place.  The Venus of Hohle Fels is even older, but she is mammoth ivory, not ceramic. 

While checking it out, I bethought me, “Why do it anyway?”  We are so used to ceramic vessels, cheap because of mass production and easy to decorate, that we just assume they are better than gourds.  But under subsistence conditions, the gourd has two marvelous advantages.  One is that it can be produced with little capital investment.  You just need the right vine.  And if you don’t need one, you can pick it young and eat it like squash.  The other advantage is that if you drop a gourd you have a pretty good chance it will survive.  So I wonder why I bought into the notion that ceramics was an obvious improvement. 

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