A 4000-YEAR-OLD bowl of noodles has been discovered at an archaeological site in China - potentially proving that China invented pasta before Italy.

The fist-size clump of noodles was found inside an overturned bowl under three meters of sediment from a flood that researchers suspect wiped out the Qijia culture of the Late Neolithic era.

When researchers lifted up the bowl, they discovered a 20-inch strip of noodles sitting on top of an inverted cone of clay that had sealed the bowl.

"These are definitely the earliest noodles ever found," said Lu Houyuan, a researcher with the Institute of Geology in Beijing who studied the ingredients of the pristinely preserved pasta, in the western province of Qingha.

"Chinese people say Marco Polo brought noodles from China back to Italy and Italians say they had noodles before that," Mr Lu said.