For the origins of our art, let us diversify our focus not just to China and the Middle-East, but look for similar clues in Ancient American cultures:

I like this one:

I'm probably beating the drum at this point, but I don't think the discovery of alchemy was a singular mistake that happened once in one place, and I don't think it's origins began with complex distillation methods. There's something about the way human beings weathered the old times that taught our ancestors a vital forgotten secret.

Maybe this only applies to spagyrics (thus, why I stuck it here), but the similarities are quite striking.