Jomon, Late Paleolithic and Neolithic
Anthropology, Archaeology and the cultural and genetic origins of the Japanese
author Armand Sadovschi, February 2017
The Jomon people are different populations that lived in the Late Paleolithic and Neolithic Japan. Although they had many distinctive local customs, Jomon culture is also characterized by some cohesion features. They were hunter-gatherers with stone tools that, according to many scientists, produced the first pottery vessels in the history of mankind. In some respects, Jomon were undeveloped and developed in the same time, being one of the last Neolithic cultures that discovered full scale agriculture, but also making the first steps toward primitive agriculture of plant manipulation. The whole period is still controversial, so this part tries to present all the important theories and update them at the level of present time research.

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The geographical position of Japan significantly shaped its history, beginning in prehistoric times. When the climate was cold, the Japanese archipelago was united to the mainland of Asia by bridges of ice. People from different places migrated to Japanese soil. When global warming began, the ice melted and the inhabitants started to live on a chain of islands. Nature dictated the isolation of very diverse tribes and populations, each with its own traditions, and created the conditions for the rise of a new and unique culture.

The origins of the first people in Japan are unknown even to this day, with archaeologists and historians debating the problem of their ethnic character. Some evidence suggests they came from China via Korea, some that they came from Indochina and the Indonesian archipelago, while other findings incline the balance for Siberia. It is possible that in the Ice Age they came from all those regions, starting to become a more homogeneous culture only after they were forced by natural conditions to live in isolation from the rest of the Asian continent.

The Japanese archipelago contains about 7,000 islands but, considering the actual living space and population, only four are really important: Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaido. Most of the population settled in the southern parts like Kyushu and Shikoku, or in the north-eastern parts of Honshu, the main island. The living conditions were favorable because of the warm weather and plentiful rain coming from the Ryukyu islands which have a subtropical climate. This stimulated a very diversified ecosystem of 90,000 species of animals that now live in Japan.

Hokkaido was called Ezo until 1869, after the name of the people that lived there, known now as the Ainu people. Because of the very cold Siberian climate, the island was largely uninhabited until the sixteenth century. The Ainu lived in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, with different traditions from the rest of the Japanese, since they came from Siberia. They are the last survivors of the Neolithic period in Japan, the rest of the populations being assimilated by later migrators. Today there are still around 200,000 Japanese citizens with Ainu ancestry.

Japan has a surface area of approximately 377,000 square kilometers. The terrain is 70% forested mountains, with a biodiversity of at least nine different types of forests that range from temperate coniferous forests to humid subtropical ones. There are approximately 500 mountains that have an altitude of 2,000 meters or higher. Of the multitude of national parks, four are protected by UNESCO. The ecosystem influenced the first cultures in Japan’s prehistoric time, making them hunter-gatherers that were very skilled in fishing and woodworking.

The Japanese archipelago rose from the sea 14,000-15,000 million years ago from the subduction with Eurasia. It is situated at the intersection of the tectonic plate of the Philippines, or in a broader sense, of the tectonic plate of the Pacific, with Eurasia, North America and Indo-Australia in south. The consequence is that from the dawn of history, the people living in the area had to deal with some of the worst earthquakes, tsunamis and active volcanoes in the world. Anthropologists think that natural disasters created an archaic special relationship with death in the Japanese culture.

The ancient cultures from Asia were superior to, or at least the equals of, the cultures from Europe. Ian Morris is a British historian and a reputed professor at the University of Stanford. In his book: ‘Why the West Rules for Now. The patterns of history and what they reveal about the future’, he tries to explain why Asia was the center of humanity until the late Middle Ages and why Europe started rising in modern times. The demonstration is called the Morris Theorem.

From an epistemological point of view, Morris bases his theory on three interdisciplinary pillars. The first is biology, understood by him to include human nature and the immediate natural resources that are available for a particular society. The second is sociology, meaning a comparative analysis using social science instruments. The third is geography, especially at a physical, economic and human level. These three pillars can’t be separated if we want to understand history.

The lack of a vast natural diversity favored the foundation of self-satisfied kingdoms and empires in Asia, while Europe's very miscellaneous geography stimulated competition and prevented the formation of conservative empires. Large armies that will conquer all Europe were not possible because of the lack of general population density and the limitation dictated by the existence of small and middle realms that were adapted to the local natural conditions. Unlike the steppes of Asia, vast cavalry charges were useless when they had to pass a great number of rivers and forested mountains.

Morris justifies how his theory works: ‘Biology explains to us why the society evolves, sociology tells us how they do it, while geography explains why the West, and no other region of the world, has dominated the globe in the last two hundred years. Biology and sociology offer us universal laws, whereas geography explains the differences.’ The historian thinks that we should focus not only on the modern past, but seek answers in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Age. The Morris Theorem states that major social progress and technological discoveries do not appear from hard work and dedication to local customs and habits, but tend to rise from despair. Natural disasters, superpopulation, epidemics, famine and wars stimulate people to innovate. He says that people who are lazy, greedy or scared are the greatest revolutionaries. Chaos stimulates creativity for opportunists and danger motivates them to fight for survival.

Crises bring forth alternative solutions. Only the most feasible ones endure. The problem is, in Ian Morris’s opinion, that the solutions create new artificial needs that are the root to the next crisis. Because people from Asia, including Japan, had a difficult time fighting harsh conditions, they created advanced cultures and civilizations.

Constant fighting without a clear winner in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire encouraged reforms and modernization. In the time that China, Korea and Japan decided to isolate themselves, Europe was in the Age of Discoveries that would lead to the colonization of the world in the last two centuries. Morris thinks that the destiny of humankind was decided by nature even from the Stone Age. Nowadays, the natural conditions combined with sociological factors favor the rise of Asia as the hegemon who came back.

The first books that tried to record the history of Japan were Kojiki and Nihon Shoki from the beginning of the eighth century AD. They focused more on a mythical past than a real one. Furthermore, in the Feudal Age all the major clans of samurai had a detailed archive of the family's past and the finances of the warlord called daimyo. Until the Meiji Restoration, many scholars, especially Buddhist monks, tried to write a history of the country but none of the attempts could compare with modern scientific standards. The scrolls looked more like philosophical reflections of the past than an objective report of what happened.

From the first contacts with the Portuguese in 1543, until the opening of Japan in 1868, numerous European travellers, missionaries and traders explored Japan and wrote back home about this mysterious country. However, after the isolation of Japan called Sakoku, the number of foreigners allowed to stay was very limited. On the other hand, the Tokugawa authorities were very interested in Portuguese and Dutch books, especially the ones about world history, geography and medicine. In this way, Kyoto had an idea about the rest of the world, while the rest of the world knew very little about Japan in this period.

Opening the country to the West had the consequence of increasing interest in Japan. At the end of the nineteenth century, foreigners, especially British and American ones, started to write journals about their experience of living numerous years in Japan. They observed that the Japanese culture was very old and rich, so they started to write countless books about the country's political and religious history, even gathering myths from the folklore. Some of them became real specialists in Japanese culture, while others focused on presenting general information to the western public.

Some of the greatest foreign names that wrote about Japan at the close of the nineteenth century were: William Elliot Griffis, Sidney L. Gulick, Richard Gordon Smith, Basil Hall Chamberlain and W. G. Aston. On the other hand, the Japanese diplomacy became more and more interested in promoting its culture in order to smooth the path of Japan alongside the major European powers. This was the case when Inazo Nitobe, a diplomat sent to the League of Nations, wrote ‘Bushido: the soul of Japan’.

In the Meiji Era, Japan was still a rural country. Most of the common folks believed that having your picture taken was dangerous because the camera would take your soul. The first trains in Japan were called monsters of steel. This mythical world in modern times fascinated foreigners and visitors from developed countries. In some aspects Japan was a rich and complex country, with high levels of education and a intricate political system, but in others it looked like a island that had been plunged from medieval times into the nineteenth century.

Kakuzo Okakura was a Japanese art expert who promoted Japanese culture in the United States, where he lived for nine years. In his very popular work at that time, called ‘The Book of Tea’, he explained that the tea rituals had developed over hundred of years. ‘Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.’

The first book that contained a complete history of Japan, written in a scientific manner, was by the British historian and diplomat G. B. Sansom in 1931. It was called ‘Japan: A short cultural history’. A far more popular title was ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Patterns of Japanese Culture’, written at the end of the Second World War by Ruth Benedict, an American anthropologist. Ruth tried to explain to the American public the major differences between the Japanese culture and the western world.

‘The Cambridge History of Japan’ in six volumes is the work that made Japan’s history known to the scientific community of the world. There were more than 30 authors from the United Kingdom, United States and Japan who worked for eight years to gather information and synthesize it into different areas of specialization. The first volume was published in 1988, after almost twenty years of research. Some of the initial historians, archaeologists, economists and anthropologists died before the collection was finally finished.

Japanese archaeology as a scientific field started late, at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was influenced by western researchers. After the Second World War, interest for the subject grew exponentially. This was when archaeological findings were dated with carbon dioxide, proving how old the Jomon culture really was. The Japanese government invested impressive sums of money into this kind of research. Even so, there are many unexplored or partially explored places. Archaeologists still debate on many controversial subjects, as new fascinating results and theories are published almost every year.

Before explaining the different episodes of the Jomon period, we should understand the main concepts of archaeology. Firstly, we have the geological ages that have the role of determining the big changes in nature. Secondly, we have prehistoric ages that are separated by the criteria of human progress in technology, culture, religion, living standards and social organization. Geological ages are far longer but the last ones happen in parallel with the prehistoric ones. Because we have no written records of that time, specialists are forced to estimate the length of the eras based on artifacts.

Geological stages are schematic representations of the history of the Earth. It is estimated that the Earth formed in the Hadean era, 4,500 million years ago. In chronological order, the next main stages are: Eoarchean, Paleoarchean, Mesoarchean, Neoarchean, Paleoproterozoic, Mesoproterozoic, Neoproterozoic, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic. Cenozoic is divided into three periods: Paleogene, Neogene and Quaternary. The first primitive humanoids appeared in the second part of Neogene called Pliocene, while Homo Sapiens appeared in the first part of the Quaternary called Pleistocene.

The Quaternary is divided into Pleistocene and Holocene. Pleistocene is parallel with the Paleolithic age from a archaeological point of view. Holocene starts in the Neolithic age and, from a geological perspective, humans today still live in this era. The Paleolithic age is divided into Proto Paleolithic, Inferior Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Jomon culture has existed in the last two of these, and in the Neolithic.

In the second part of the 19th century, the American scientist Edward S. Morse made the first big discovery of Jomon pottery. In the interwar period, Yamanouchi Sugao made the first separation of Jomon culture into Sosoki, Early, Middle, Late and Very Late. Although his theory was criticized, most archaeologists and historians still uses his structure.

Like history, archaeology started late in Japan, under the influence of western scientists. The first generation of archaeologists had real problems dealing with the government. Their discoveries started to question the official line of the Japanese state who declared that the imperial line of descendants is unbroken. Even today many excavations are forbidden because the authorities think that scientists will desecrate holy places where ancient emperors are buried.

For a long time, Japan’s past was a mystery to the rest of the world. It took four stages to create the knowledge that we have today about this subject. The first steps were made by the first generation of Japanese scientists educated in the western style and by the enthusiastic foreigners who visited Japan right after the Meiji Restoration. Although valuable books were created, many of them were written by amateurs. Secondly, in the interwar period science was aligned to the imperial propaganda. After the Second World War, many very specialized studies about Japan appeared. Only in the seventies was the first interdisciplinary scientific study published.

Behaviorism was the dominant school of science when the major studies about Japan were written. Because of that, many scholars focused too much on statistical data, on analyzing material evidence from the past. Their articles were very meticulous and thorough, but they could not offer a global view on the historical phenomenon. No matter how well a particular subject is researched, understanding of history is limited if evidence is not put into a broader context.

Historians started to collaborate with archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, paleontologists, experts in genetics, religion, literature and folklore. Japanese and western alike, they started to publish studies and fascinating theories linking religious mentalities to the discovery of archaeological finds. How did mythical representations and beliefs influence the lifestyle of the Jomon people? On the other side of things, how did the slow evolution of basic technology stimulate the apparition of a more organized religion? The first notable work of this kind is represented by the collection: ‘The Cambridge History of Japan’.

Generally speaking, the Jomon period is considered to be the prehistoric period of Japan’s archipelago. The name ‘Jomon’ means pottery. It was named thus because archaeologists believe that Jomon people were the first in the world to produce pottery, somewhere around 11,000 years ago. Being stuck on the Japanese archipelago, the Jomon developed as a very strange and unique culture from the very beginning. The whole era is contemporary with the late Paleolithic and the Neolithic by universal history standards. Because it covers a very long period of time, it is divided into different parts.

Jomon culture was composed of populations of hunter-gatherers that were semi sedentary. This means that they relied on hunting animals, fishing and gathering wild fruits for survival, but they also settled in small villages and practiced - although this idea is contested by some archaeologists - the first primitive forms of agriculture. At the same time, because of its isolation, it was one of the latest Stone Age cultures that adopted developed forms of rice agriculture. The technology was imported from Korea only at the end of the period.

Arguably the oldest pieces of pottery in the world were found in the Fukui cave, in the Nagasaki region. Pottery was a purely Jomon invention. The statement is proved not only by the isolation of the Japanese archipelago, but also by the fact that the first pottery discovered in China is dated somewhere around 5,500 BC, six thousand years later than in Japan. On the other hand, some new archaeological research suggests that pottery appeared in the Mesopotamia, Middle East and Anatolia area at about the same time as in Japan.

Jomon had a tremendous influence on the destiny of Japan. Shinto myths and religion slowly evolved from the Jomon culture. Political organization grew in the same style, from little dispersed tribes to warrior-like clans. Customs related to marriage and burial ceremonies, religious festivals, and the method of manufacturing structures, clothes and tools were inherited by all the new cultures that grew after Jomon in Japan.

A weird religious ritual happened when a boy prepared to become a man. He had his teeth pulled out, as archaeologists found numerous male skeletons without teeth, all estimated to be teenaged.

Like other Neolithic cultures, Jomon society had almost no division of labor and no social distinction. All the members of the tribe participated in different activities, without specialized fields. This also meant that the society had remarkably equal living standards and status for every member of the group.

For a long time specialists believed that Jomon were the ancestors of the Ainu population. New discoveries and theories now contest this claim. Now most historians think that the Jomon living in the northern part of Japan were indeed related to the Ainu, while the ones that were located far south were the actual ancestors of the Yayoi, and by extension, of the Japanese people.

This period is so old that the only reliable information that can be interpreted is geological data. From a geological point of view, Japan’s islands probably formed when the global warming of the late Pleistocene created floods that separated Japan from the rest of the continent. Firstly it was the separation of the Ryukyu islands from the main archipelago that created the Tokara strait, followed by the separation of Korea by the Tsushima strait. The separation of Honshu and Hokkaido represented by the the Tsugaru strait, of Hokkaido and Kuril islands, and of Hokkaido and Sakhalin island, came later.

For a long time archaeologists believed that there was no life in Paleolithic Japan, but new discoveries have proved them wrong. Firstly, humans bones and artifacts dated in that period were discovered in many cages in the Hiroshima area. Secondly, geological data proves that a land bridge connected Korea to Japan, making migration possible. Thirdly, the migration was massive because the Kanto plain offered some of the best living conditions in the whole region during the late Paleolithic era. Constant volcanic eruptions created conditions for a very fertile soil in the Kanto plain. Added to this were numerous rivers that crossed the region and a relatively warm temperature, so the environment encouraged the migration of people and animals alike. Because the strait that connected Hokkaido to Asia was flooded first, migration came from northern China passing the Tsushima strait between Japan and Korea. This migration is at the base of the diversity of fauna in Japan. Even large animal skeletons like the brown bear, giant deer, elephants and mammoths that originated from thousands of miles away have been found.

Archaeologists discovered nine generations of primitive human life in the Kanto plain. Not only were the living conditions favorable, but the general cooling of the Earth made North China experience a subarctic climate, while in the Kanto plain there was a temperate one. The people who lived in this age of transition in the Japanese archipelago were called The Akashi Man, but the name is controversial because scientists have too little information.

It is remarkable that the very few Akashi sites were found in the caves. It seems that the living conditions were so good that most of the Paleolithic people lived in the southern Kanto plain or in the surrounding conifer forests. After the big animals became extinct, they relied on fishing and gathering wild fruits and nuts.

Speaking about Naora Nobuo, the man who first discovered Paleolithic traits, J. Edward Kidder concludes that, in the end, Nobuo was right. ‘He was at least partially vindicated when a Paleolithic stage of human existence in Japan was finally proven. Although argument over the bone itself is likely to continue, it has been made less important by the discovery of other skeletal material with claims of roughly equal antiquity.’

Although Homo Sapiens had lived in the Japanese archipelago, they were considered pre-Jomon tribes that were too undeveloped and too diverse to be considered a homogeneous people. The very early Jomon culture called Sosoki formed later, having Neolithic and Mesolithic characteristics. Mesolithic is the period right after the last big glaciation called Wurn, when the ice finally melted. Neolithic is the next period, a time for the most advanced Stone Age cultures and an anticipation of the Iron Age. Jomon was contemporary to the first big civilizations of the world from Mesopotamia to India. Sosoki is what Japanese archaeologists call the transition of a culture from a Paleolithic stage to a Neolithic one. Because it has some similarities both with the Akashi and the future Jomon, western specialists regard this period as Mesolithic to a universal history scale. Pottery, spears, and the bow and arrow were invented in complete isolation, without any foreign influences. Hunting was far more developed in the north of Honshu, while the site of the first pottery in the world is west of Kyushu.

Some archaeologists contested the idea that pottery was so old in Japan. They say that the vessels were contaminated by volcanic materials, which is why they appear so ancient. However, the discovery in the Fukui cave, where pottery was found buried deep in the stone structure of the cave, proves that the carbon dating is correct. The contamination of pottery in such a safe place was virtually impossible.

Similar to other ancient cultures from Asia and North America, the archaeologists found tools made from wood and stone like axes, bows and arrows, knives, spears, rocks that were used for sharpening blades, baskets for carrying food, harpoons and basic boats for fishing. Because the food was plentiful, they also discovered large kaizuka, which basically means large waste dumps. From there, specialists gathered information about how the Jomon people lived, what they ate and what kind of tools they used.

Population back then was very small. Archaeologists estimate that there were 20,000 inhabitants in the Japanese archipelago. The constant rise in temperature levels determined the pre-Jomon people to seek shelter in caves. Organizing themselves into large hunting parties, they eliminated all the large animal species like elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers.

Primitive forms of pottery vessels were reconstructed by archaeologists and can be found at the History Museum of Tokyo. They were small, as they were used to cook food outdoors, being placed on a pile of stones or sand in order to light a fire under the vessels. Archaeologists explain the invention of pottery as a desperate attempt to survive in the harsh environment of Kyushu, especially when the big animals became extinct. The vessels allowed the cooking of plants that were poisonous or at least not comestible as a raw food.

Because of a historical rise in temperature, the natural conditions favored an advancement in the food supply. More food meant larger communities that could sustain themselves. The biggest villages now had around 500 people and the total population of the Jomon reached 100,000 souls.

The pottery from this period was used mostly indoors, as the technology of constructing houses advanced. The vessels had a flat bottom, being used not only for cooking, but also for storing food and large quantities of water, making life more sedentary.

The main sites discovered from this early stage were Matsushima and Hanawadai. Higher temperatures meant that the sea level rose, making the Jomon people migrate to higher grounds, further inland.

Dogs were the only animals domesticated by the Jomon, as many burial grounds were discovered where dogs were buried alongside humans. The humans were buried in shell mounds, lying flat on their backs. The first full human Jomon skeleton was discovered after the Second World War. He had a height of 1.6 m, and the analysis proved that he suffered from malnutrition. Scientists came to the conclusion that the life expectancy of the Jomon adults was thirty years old while the average life expectancy was twenty years.

House construction evolved. They were now taller, with strong wooden pillars and a roof made by a combination of different grasses that could protect the inhabitants from heavy rain. Also, they dug ditches around the houses so the water could drain there and not flood the courtyard. For example, a line of about fifty houses like this were discovered in Minarobi, near Yokohama.

Archaeologists think that religious rituals were held in front of small archaic figurines called dogu. In this early stage the figurines were primitive, hardly resembling a human being.

Another revolutionary discovery was made at the Torihama shell mound. It seems that green beans and other plants were cultivated just outside the villages, making it the first form of primitive agriculture. J. Edward Kidder sums up: ‘Many Japanese archaeologists regard both as cultivated plants, indeed suggesting that pollen changes indicate environmental alterations caused by clearing and that trees of foothill forests were cut and used for building materials, wooden tools, and firewood.’

The semi-sedentary lifestyle started in the Middle Jomon period. New technologies in hunting, fishing, preparing and stockpiling food for long periods of time led to a growth in population, reaching a maximum of 200,000 inhabitants. This was one of the most densely populated regions of the world in the Neolithic era. In summertime they migrated closer to the sea because it was warmer and easier to get food from fishing, while in wintertime the hunter-gathers went closer to the forest, where they could find plenty of food and materials for tools and primitive buildings.

The houses were at first half dug into the ground at approximately 0.5 m below ground level. These types of homes were called tate-ana jukyo, and had just one room. From the middle Jomon period, buildings accommodated around 5 people that lived their lives around a fireplace that was located in the middle of the room. Up to now, more than 10,000 sites from Middle Jomon have been discovered. The vast majority of them are located in Honshu, between the Kanto plain and the Chubu complex of mountains.

Art evolved alongside pottery. Archaeologists have found vessels painted with complex motives, animals, or even images of spirits and gods. Furthermore, a variety of rounded objects made scientists believe that the very basic mystical belief of the Jomon was related to the worship of some sort of a sun god.

The dogu religious figurines evolved into the depiction of humans, especially pregnant women, and phallic symbols of fertility. The habit was common among many cultures of the world, including the Cucuteni Neolithic culture that was located approximately where Romania and Ukraine are today. The archaeologist Johannes Maringer compared dogu figurines with other ritual objects found in Asia and concluded that the main myths and structure of artistic expression are the same even though the Jomon were isolated from the rest of the continent.

Religious manifestations grew alongside the living standards. Jomon founded animistic beliefs, believing that big trees and mountains held various spirits and deities. They believed in the rebirth of the dead, and stopped burying them in shell mounds. Instead, they used large clay vessels as coffins. The beliefs of the communities that lived inland were slightly different from the ones that lived close to the sea. This basic form of religion was practiced only at a local level. The spirit protected the humans only in its immediate vicinity. It is remarkable that this type of local range of spiritual power is the same in Shinto beliefs today.

Otamadai is the name of a specific type of pottery from the Middle Jomon period. It is more heat-resistant and widespread than the previous types of pottery. Because the ingredients needed to manufacture it are scarce and can be found only in isolated places, archaeologists wonder if the Otamadai is proof of the first extensive trade between tribes in Japan. Any conclusion on this matter can only be speculative.

Some archaeologists estimate that the highest point of the population was reached at 250,000 inhabitants. There are many theories that try to explain this remarkable phenomenon. To begin with, the primitive forms of agriculture and plant manipulation like hazelnuts, chestnuts and lily bulbs helped the population growth. Some think that the plants came from southern China, while others support the idea that the Jomon inhabitants slowly observed the uses of plants, especially because most of the population lived in forested areas at 800 to 1,200 meters altitude.

Surely the ability to dry and store food in the winter made a huge impact on the demographics of Jomon. The idea of primitive agriculture is sustained by the disparition of stone axes, big spears or arrowheads and the apparition of smaller tools, weapons and stone blades. This meant that the population no longer needed brute force and relied on cutting plants and hunting small and middle sized animals for survival.

Earth experienced a new drop in temperature levels. Due to this change, the Jomon culture had problems in feeding such a large population. Eventually, their number was reduced to 100,000 souls. More than 40% of the Jomon sites from the Early and Middle period disappeared. The principle of natural selection had a positive effect, forcing the Late Jomon survivors to innovate. Eventually, these transformations and gradual contact with Korea led to the Iron Age.

In the late period of Jomon, the processing of pottery became even more refined. The vessels from this time are not only decorated, but their structure is much thinner, meaning they now had cups. Humans started to become specialised in different crafts, as archaeologists discovered objects in large quantities that could not have been produced there. This means that the Late Jomon populations were definitely engaged in a high scale trade.

Dogu figurine symbols and uses varied. Some think that they were used to help mothers during their pregnancies. Others speculated that the Jomon people believed that the illness of a person would be transferred to the Dogu dolls. Later models were definitely used at burial ceremonies, because many of them represented humans in a squat position, the same position many skeletons were found in. Another theory is that shammas used them to curse individuals. If that is true, the dogu figurines were the forerunners of the straw dolls from shinto beliefs.

Bigger sites, 100-200 meters long, were discovered. The new houses still had just one room, but a much larger kitchen and space to stockpile dried food for the winter. Fishing went a step further, the late Jomon being able to fish in deep water using wooden canoes and bigger nets. J. Edward Kidder describes the cyclical eating habits of the Jomon: ‘By and large, the acquisition of food had a seasonal cycle, beginning with clamming in the spring and continuing with fishing in the summer, nut gathering in the fall, and hunting in the winter.’

Religion reached a new level in the late Jomon period. This impression is highlighted by the apparition of spaces between houses that were used for religious ceremonies of purification. Furthermore, if the dwellings started to erode because of the passing of time, most of the time they were not repaired and the people migrated to another village. The logic behind this attitude stays in their religious belief that, in time, the material world becomes corrupt and must be purified. This philosophy here is the same as in Shinto faith.

Jewels like earrings and bracelets of polished stone were discovered. Also, some of the houses now had a flat floor made from stone. Bearing in mind that those houses had lots of dogu figurines, phallic and solar symbols, this means that they belonged to some sort of local shamans who had a better social position than the rest of the community. This meant that the late Jomon presented the first forms of social stratification in Japan. This supposition is strengthened by the high social stratification of the next period, the Yayoi.

Late Jomon people ceased to bury their dead in random shell mounds or in large pottery vessels. Instead, they made a new act of purification, creating the first cemeteries in Japan. The historian J. Edward Kidder explains the phenomenon: ‘By devoting a special area to burials, Late Jomon people were isolating the dead, allowing the gap to be bridged by mediums who eventually drew the rational world of the living further away from the spirit world of the dead.’

Yet another exciting discovery was the finding of more than 30 sites of ritual stone circles similar to the famous Stonehenge from Great Britain. The biggest one can be found at Oyu, in northern Honshu. It is composed of thousand of stones that create a circular structure eighty meters in diameter. Even though the general population dropped dramatically, the intensive use of religious objects testifies to the evolution of the Jomon culture.

Jomon pottery culture is very complex. Considering shape, size, uses, colors and decorations, there are countless types of Jomon vessels. We will enumerate only the ones which, according to art critics, have the biggest aesthetic value. A great example of this kind of perspective is given by the book ‘The Art of Japan from the Jomon to the Tokugawa Period’, written by P. C. Swann.

In P. C. Swann’s opinion, the geography of Japan has played a key role in art, even from the beginning. Not only did the isolation create an authentic and unique form of artistic expression, but the natural landscape stimulated the creativity of the Jomon. ‘Sea and shore have always played a major part in Japanese life and art. In places, especially on the east coast, the landscape is of unsurpassed beauty. The heart of this romantic coast is the Inland Sea, whose calm waters are studded with a myriad green islands of all shapes and sizes.’

Jomon pottery was made using only the hands. Not having wheel technology to mould pottery, the design of the vessels are less harmonious and symmetrical than the ones that can be found in Neolithic China. But these imperfections give the uniqueness and archaic beauty of the ancient Japanese vessels. No vessel, decorative or religious object is identical to another from an aesthetic point of view.

Dogu figurines consist of exaggerated representations of human sexuality but also of different animal forms. The first was a symbol for fertility, while the latter was a form of worshiping animals like venomous snakes. This artistic philosophy and these images continued well beyond the Jomon period. According to P. C. Swann, the fantasy depicted in the shapes and decorations of the ceramics is unmatched by any other Neolithic culture of the world.

Recently, a skeleton dated from 9,500 BC was discovered in North America. This brought up the question of whether the Jomon people migrated from Japan, through Hokkaido and Sakhalin to the Kamchatka Peninsula, crossing Alaska, and then into North America by boat. Jon Turk, an American scientist and adventurer, tried to answer this question. In order to do this, he recreated the hypothetical journey and tried to repeat it in the conditions the Jomon people would have had. He noted his experience in his bestselling book ‘In the wake of the Jomon: Stone Age mariners and a Voyage across the Pacific’. We know for a certainty that the migration from north-east Asia to Japan that formed the Jomon people was one of the largest movements of population in the Paleolithic era. Actually the migration is the third major one after the Africa-Mesopotamia and Eurasian one. The trip that Jon Turk recreated was 3,500 miles long.

Up until the last twenty years, it was believed that the first inhabitants of North America were the Clovis or the Folsom people, who migrated from Siberia to Alaska, lands which were then connected. They lived between 13,500 and 8,500 years ago. They were the ancestors of the American Indians. New discoveries of ten skeletons and other organic material revealed a new kind of man that was dated even older, the Kennewick Man. After thorough analysis, scientists concluded that Kennewick has surprisingly similar traits with the Jomon and the Ainu people.

The migration date of prehistoric people into North America is still debated. The range of the period is somewhere between 20,000 BC and 9,500 BC, a time contemporary with the Mesolithic and Early Jomon. Arrivals that settled in North America through Alaska are called the Kennewick Man, a group of people that were brave enough to cross the Pacific Ocean in canoes that could have transported only two to five people.

Jon Turk summarizes the context of population movement. ‘Southeast and south-central Asia were populated by a group of Homo Sapiens who would become the most prolific explorers in human history. One faction of this core group sailed southward across open-water straits to colonize Australia. Others migrated eastward into the Pacific, and their Polynesian descendents eventually spread over a third of the watery planet. A third contingent moved northward to become the Jomon, who settled in Japan and later - as Kennewick Man’s skull suggests - continued onward.’

Sannai Maruyama Site was discovered in northern Honshu in 1992. It is one of the biggest sites from Early and Middle Jomon, dating from 5,900 BC - 4,300 BC. The area includes the most concentrated Jomon dwellings that have ever been found. Excavation around the site is still ongoing. A team of archaeologists like Junko Habu, Minkoo Kim, Mio Katayama and Hajime Komiya wrote an article that sums up the most important results of the research until now. They also propose new methods of inquiring into the past, and describe their expectations about what they will find at this site in the future.

Ansai Yamazaki, a writer from the sixteenth century, noted the existence of artifacts in the Sannai Maruyama area. Masumi Sugae even drew pictures of dogu figurines but he didn’t know where they came from. After the Second World War, excavations were made, but without any significant progress. Based only on older scrolls and intuition, scientists guessed the possibility of the existence of a Jomon site, but never expected it to have such an imposing size. Initially, on the site of Sannai Maruyama, a baseball stadium was to be built. At the initiative of the Japanese archaeologist Yasuhiro Okada and understanding the incalculable value of the site, the authorities canceled the project. Now it’s a protected national historic area and one of the most important attractions for tourists in the Aomori Prefecture region.

The authors list the most important things found: ‘more than 700 pit-dwellings, 11 long-houses, the remains of 120 so-called raised floor buildings, more than 380 grave pits for adults, approximately 800 burial jars for infants or children, 17 stone circles, three clusters of clay mining pits, two roads constructed with tamped earth, two water-logged middens formed in the lower, swampy part of the site, and three artificial mounds, which consist primarily of dumped garbage such as potsherds, lithic tools, and backdirt from houses and other features.’

Starting from what they found, archaeologists came up with different intriguing theories. The raised floor buildings were so big that specialists speculate that they were intended to support a bigger structure, perhaps a tower for defence and scouting, or a primitive stockpiling granary. Materials and substances that never existed in this area made them believe that even from Early and Middle Jomon periods extensive trade existed. Because many of the imported objects had no practical value, it is possible that they may have been used in religious rituals.

Unlike Anglo-Saxon methodology in archaeology, the Japanese scientists prefer to fully excavate a site instead of taking random samples from different places. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. A complete excavation may provide additional information. For example, collecting all the animal and vegetal remains led the archaeologists to believe that the region was more populated towards the late Middle Jomon. After that, the settlement was deserted because of changes in climate conditions.

There are problems with the Japanese approach in archaeology. This kind of initiative takes a lot of work and time, some of the samples may be contaminated in the process and overlapping of buildings from different periods makes it impossible to establish clear benchmarks. New forms of technology should be used in order to analyze this great quantity of ancient data.

The authors also consider that the discovery of different forms of food from all seasons does not mean that the Jomon were fully sedentary. Other evidence indicates that a Jomon group moved at least two times a year from one settlement to another. The conclusion of the article is that we simply do not have enough systematic information about the Jomon from different contemporary sites. ‘The Sannai Maruyama site provides an important new piece to this extremely complex puzzle, although we are still far from having a complete picture,’ explain the authors.

Junko Habu is one of the greatest archaeologists and anthropologists from contemporary Japan. In 2004, she published the most complete book in English about all the research regarding the Jomon culture. She is now a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Starting with the introduction, the author clearly states what the purpose of the book is. ‘My goal in this book is to bridge this gap between the academic traditions of Japanese archaeology and Anglo-American archaeology. As a Japanese archaeologist trained first in Japan and then in North America, I believe that the studies of the Jomon period can contribute significantly to our understanding of hunter-gatherer behavior and variability in world prehistory. At the same time, I am convinced that active interaction between Japanese and other traditions is critical to enhance our understanding of the Jomon culture.’

Junko Habu points out that the only book about the Jomon written in English belongs to Keiji Imamura, who published ‘Prehistoric Japan’ in 1996. Even though she praises the initiative of her fellow colleague, Habu considers the work to be incomplete in methodological terms because it treats Jomon culture only from the perspective of Japanese archaeology. All the books and scientific articles on this subject are written in Japanese, only for the Japanese public.

Junko Habu considers that the Japanese approach is limited. Their scientists are obsessed with the idea that the Jomon culture is unique and can’t be compared with other Neolithic cultures. They also insist on the separation of the Jomon into small periods of time according to variables in pottery vessels, and tend to be excessively empiricist. Instead, Habu proposes a more comparative study in order to understand both the Jomon and the other Neolithic cultures from Asia, Siberia and even North America.

One of the main ideas of the book is the ecological perspective. This means that archaeological evidence should be compared with that found in the environment. The environment influences the community in direct proportion to the marks left by society on the natural habitat. ‘According to this model, subsistence-settlement systems of hunter-gatherers can be divided into two basic types: forager systems, which are characterized by high residential mobility, and collector systems, which are characterized by relatively low residential mobility.’

According to Habu, the people who live in the forager system have an area of gathering food of about 10 km around their settlement. When the fruits and nuts are impoverished, they completely move their residence to another region and the process is repeated. Collector systems assume that people have built their residences at strategic points according to food resources. They also have temporary campfires, as they move on a seasonal basis: south in the summer for fishing and gathering, north in the winter for hunting. In that way, settlements are never fully deserted and food is stockpiled.

The forager and collector systems are ideal forms necessary for theorizing the reality. In the real world, the Jomon people acted in between the two models. Even so, Habu thinks that the two systems explain their behavior, and permanent sedentary Jomon groups are exceptions limited to Hokkaido that can be overlooked in order to understand the broader interactions.

Speaking about causality in the evolution of the Jomon, Habu concludes: ‘These changes were caused or conditioned by multiple factors. Some can be explained by either environmental changes or technological developments. Other changes seem to have been more closely related to social and ideological factors, including rituals, craft specialization, and long-distance trade. The constellation of these numerous changes over the 10,000- year span of the Jomon culture resulted in the unique historical trajectory of this prehistoric hunter-gatherer culture.’

Most archaeologists from the United States and United Kingdom believe in the theory of social context. Simplifying, this concept says that any scientific research is never completely objective. The discoveries of archaeological finds and their interpretation should be understood in the historical, political and social context in which they are made. Junko Habu agrees with this statement and explains that many Japanese archaeologists start from the premise that the Jomon are the direct ancestors of the Japanese people.

The interest of the Japanese general public in finding the truth about the Jomon culture is huge. Many protests have persuaded authorities to protect archaeological sites. Fifty years ago, about one thousand archaeological discoveries were made per year. In the last ten years, the number is twenty times higher. In the fiscal year of 2000, the Japanese government spent over 1 billion dollars on archaeology alone. Nowadays, there are more than 8,000 active Japanese archaeologists working on the field. Only 3% of them are women.

According to Junko Habu, American methodology is archaeology as anthropology, while the Japanese one is archaeology as history. The first attempts to understand the diversity of the ancient people from a wider perspective, while the second tends to consider the evolution from prehistory as linear. Furthermore, because of the nationalistic support of the general public, Japanese archaeologists and mass media tend to declare that the Jomon were an ancient civilization which preceded the Japanese one. Although they know this is not true, they do it in order to get further funding and publicity.

After Junko Habu’s book ‘Ancient Jomon of Japan’, many critical and laudatory articles appeared. Perhaps the most intriguing one belongs to Keiji Imamura. Although Keiji admires Junko Habu for her work and admits it is the most thorough book about Jomon written in English, he also has some important criticisms to make. They are on many levels: methodological, logical connections, trying to implement western concepts that are not adapted to Japan, generalizations without consistent evidence, ignoring the separation of periods based on changes in pottery, and insisting that Jomon was not a fully egalitarian society.

Junko Habu is accused of favoring the Anglo Saxon and American school of methodology in archaeology and ignoring the views of the Japanese school. The first takes facts and evidence in order to create a theory that explains reality by simplifying it and focusing on the big phenomenons as a whole. The latter has the same objectives but prefers to analyze the phenomenon piece by piece, adding to the complexity of the research and insisting on the uniqueness of each particular situation.

Like any scientist, Junko Habu formulates theories about the Jomon starting from methodological statements that are inevitably subjective. Her conclusions are based on a combination of archaeological and genetic evidence, all interpreted from the perspective of Lewis Binford’s model theory. Because of this preconception, she insists on thinking that Jomon culture was a classic hunter-gatherer population, even when evidence from as far back as the Middle Jomon clearly shows that they were far more than that.

Lewis Binford was one of the greatest American archaeologists in the Cold War. He was a representative of the theory of processual archaeology. In his opinion, archaeology should not be limited to recording the remains of the past. Using interdisciplinary methods, specialists and the latest technology, archaeology should become one with anthropology in trying to explain and understand how the people from prehistory lived. Because of his contribution, the theory was called the Binford model and the current was called ‘The New Archaeology.’

In many ways, Junko Habu is a representative of the Binford model. Keiji Imamura, like most of the Japanese archaeologists, opposes this model. Its critics claim that ‘New archaeology’ is too speculative and full of vague generalizations in order to create a positive science. It’s fine to try to explain the evidence from each site and then compare them and try to make a general conclusion. The problem starts when generalizations are made without taking into account facts that suggest that the problem is far more complicated.

The Binford model was created for explaining the existence of hunter-gatherers that were contemporary with farmers and were pushed away by them. Junko Habu makes a mistake in using this model on the Jomon culture, because these populations were far older than the invention of farming. Jomon happened thousand of years before what the Binford model tries to explain. The situation is completely different. Also, in order to simplify, Habu does not recognize the evolution of the Jomon culture in several steps based on the evolution of pottery and tools.

Trade on a large scale, settlements that were inhabited all year long and the cultivation of plants could be hard evidence that shows the sedentary character of the Jomon starting from the Middle period. Junko Habu has a different explanation for their existence. The Jomon migrated from one season to another in temporary camps. This is why archaeologists discovered objects that could not be produced in the area. A group of of hunter-gatherers stayed in a settlement for a season, than another group came in its place and so on. They cultivated plants in the summer, while hunting in the winter.

In Keiji Immamura’s opinion, Habu’s interpretation is completely flawed. It’s true that Japanese archaeology was influenced by Marxism, but that does not change the fact that the Jomon was quite an egalitarian society. Unlike the Yayoi and Kofun period, we have no evidence of a political or religious elite that had important privileges. The only provisional settlements were campfires next to the shore. Those sites were clearly different from the rest because plenty of tools for fishing were found, but very few religious artifacts.

In 2014, Ryan W. Schmidt and Seguchi Noriko wrote a startling article about the origins of the Japanese people. At first they reviewed and summarized the main archaeological research about the ancient Jomon and Yayoi in the last thirty years. The scientists analyzed and explained the methodology and the results of the main researches. Without giving any definitive answers, the authors suggested that the whole paradigm about the ancient history of Japan can be changed because of new technologies in ancient DNA and morphometrics. It’s only a matter of a few years until innovative methods will give us the answers that we need. Using new ways of looking into the past, the authors believe that a certain answer about the origins of the Japanese people can be given. Strong DNA evidence strengthens the idea that the Jomon people are related to the ancient population of Neolithic North America. Schmidt and Noriko claim that using the new 3D technology available, we could obtain solid proof for this theory. The limit of ancient DNA analysis is that the passing of time degrades the organic material and the sample can be contaminated by later substances.

Morphometrics is a quantitative method of research. Starting from skeletons and other biological remains, it reconstructs the shape and size of that being. In this way we can know more accurately what ancient people from different places really looked like and compare them. Centralizing the data could allow scientists to see the differences and similarities between various prehistoric populations, increasing the possibility of finding their real origin. Ancient DNA means that the tests are taken right after the archaeological discovery.

Until recent times, in order to better understand the Jomon culture, scientist used different approaches. They used morphology in order to analyze the bone and teeth structure of the skeletons that were discovered. In that way we now know the average height of the Jomon, their body and skull shape and what their diet was. This was corroborated with archaeological studies about the material culture of the Jomon and with ecogeographic data in order to recreate how they lived, in what conditions and how numerous the population was.

Jomon movement of population was a part of a larger migration. This is why scientists extended the area of research not only to the entire territory of Japan, but to East and South Asia, Australia, Pacific small islands and even North America. The vast majority of the inquiries lead to the same conclusion. The Jomon culture contained a very wide range of people from an ethnic point of view. Even so, because of political and ideological reasons, many Japanese scientists were obsessed with the idea of the homogeneity of the Jomon people.

Another idea of the article that is relevant not only for Japan’s past, but also for universal history, challenges the perception that a common archaeological culture automatically means a homogeneous people. This confusion is made because we usually define ethnicity in nineteenth century terms, linking biological identity with culture. All the information we have until now indicates that the Jomon populations came from different regions, in a different pace and quantity, having different DNA and a varied pottery culture. There are three main theories about the origins of the Japanese people: Replacement model, Transformation model, and Dual structure model. The first states that the Yayoi migrated from China via Korea, conquered and assimilated the Jomon. The conclusion is that Jomon is not connected to the Japanese. The second theorize the opposite, that the Yayoi migrators were fewer than the Jomons, so the two populations merged. The third indicates the origins of the Japanese as Yayoi and Jomon admixture, while the Ainu and people from Ryukyu are related because of their common Jomon descent.

The authors hope that the research won’t be blurred by the intervention of political sentiments. ‘The new bioarchaeological approaches to reconstruct our history should be used to open up new avenues of learning and understanding. By showing the public how we are similar, or different, we can acknowledge diversity in the past and use this to build bridges in the present. We hope the fields of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology in the Japanese archipelago continue to uncover new and fascinating insight to better understand the human condition.’

The ending of the Jomon culture started with the discovery of rice padding agriculture brought from Korea in 900 BC. The process lasted 600 years. Jomon people from Kyushu and southern Honshu started to trade with a more developed society from Korea. At the end of the process, all the stone tools were replaced with iron ones and the Jomon were conquered or assimilated by new migrators. Extensive agriculture of rice was implemented on a large scale. It was the start of the Bronze Age from a material point of view, and the dawn of Early Antiquity for the spiritual history of Japan.

Up until this late period, the vast majority of the Jomon lived around the Kanto plain. Because of the general cooling happening on Earth, this region became temporarily uninhabitable. Those who survived the brutal change of environment conditions migrated in two directions. The first group settled in northern Honshu and in southern Hokkaido. The second group went to eastern Kyushu. Both of the places were lightly inhabited before the migration.

The Jomon culture was a very diverse one. The communities and later tribes were small, and had limited communication with each other. Even when they traded, evidence indicates that they preserved their own local traditions. Marriage between different groups was rare, so racial mixing was at low levels. Initially, the Jomon culture was formed from different peoples that came from Northern China via Korea, from southern China via the Ryukyu islands and from Siberia via Sakhalin and Hokkaido that were all connected by land bridges up until 18,000 BC.

Temperature in the Kanto plain was now too low for cultivating plants, but still too high for most of the animals that migrated north. The Jomon communities that were relying more on plant manipulation went south to Kyushu, where the climate was subtropical. The Jomon that went north were far more adapted to the Siberian climate and relied more on hunting and fishing. The diversity of the communities is also verified by the large differences in pottery shape and models. Because of this specific predisposition to adapt in a certain way, specialists theorized that the Jomon in Kyushu were the descendants of the ones that came from China, while the Jomon that migrated in northern Honshu were the descendants of the Jomon that came from Siberia.

The Kojiki and Nihon shoki chronicles of Japan mention that the Yamato or the Yamatai people came and conquered primitive cultures. This conclusion is sustained by Chinese chronicles and archaeological findings. Until recent times, historians believed that the Yayoi iron culture migrated from Korea and conquered the Jomon. The only survivors of the Jomon lived in the north and they were the ancestors of the Ainu people. This is partially true.

New information offered by both archaeological and DNA analysis have reached the conclusion that the Yayoi are mostly the descendants of the Jomon community who migrated to the south of Honshu and in Kyushu. There was a significant migration from Korea, but genetic tests suggest that the Jomon in Kyushu were not conquered by them. Instead, they adapted, improved their technology to the Yayoi standards and assimilated the migrators until the two cultures became one. Then, they pushed the undeveloped group of northern Jomon into Hokkaido.

Although contested, the latest theories about the origins of the Jomon suggest that the northern groups of the Jomon are the ancestors of the Ainu, whilst the southern groups of the Jomon are partially the ancestors of the Yayoi and of the Japanese people. This means that initially, the Japanese had common ancestors with continental Asia, mostly coming from southern and northern China. The ethnic combination would include: southern and eastern Chinese, northern Manchus, mongoloids, populations from Siberia, Malay type from the Pacific islands and ancient Australians.