The unearthing in Hong Kong of pounded tree bark, used as clothing by ancient people, shows the city's history of human habitation may date back at least 7,000 years. The finds provide new evidence of links between southern China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands.
Remnants of bark cloth and the beaters made to make it, unearthed in Hong Kong and around the Pearl River Delta, pre-date by at least 3,000 years similar artefacts found in Southeast Asia that were previously the oldest known, archaeologists say.
They also stake a claim for southern China as a cradle of civilisation along with more widely recognised parts of the country.
'It proves the south China region was another crucial cultural centre together with the Yangtze River and Yellow River civilisations,' Professor Wang Wei, director of the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.
An exhibition of bark cloth culture, 'The Origin Of Clothes' opens at Chinese University today and runs until January 4.
The fabric was prepared by beating wet tree bark, which was then stretched. The clothes were used more for protection and the preservation of modesty than for warmth.
Stone beaters found at Fu Tei, near Tuen Mun in the New Territories, have been dated to about 6,200 years ago. Samples of the cloth from the Xiantou Ling relic site in Shenzhen are among the oldest found.
Researchers say the discovery of barkcloth in southern China might also explain the origin of ancestors of the Austronesian linguistic family of about 150 million people in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.