Japanese Paleolithic

The Japanese Paleolithic period (旧石器時代 kyūsekki jidai) is the period of human inhabitation in Japan predating the development of pottery, generally before 10,000 BC[1]. The starting dates commonly given to this period are from around 40,000 BC;[2] although any date of human presence before 35,000 BC is controversial, with artifacts supporting a pre-35,000 BC human presence on the archipelago being of questionable authenticity.[3] The period extended to the beginning of the Mesolithic Jōmon period, or around 14,000 BC.[4]

The earliest human bones were discovered in the city of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which were determined by Radiocarbon dating to date to around 14,000–18,000 years ago.

Japan glaciation
Japan at the Last Glacial Maximum in the Late Pleistocene about 20,000 years ago
- regions above sea level
(white color) - unvegetated
- sea
black outline indicates present-day Japan

Archaeology of the Paleolithic period

The study of the Paleolithic period in Japan did not begin until quite recently: the first Paleolithic site was not discovered until 1946, right after the end of World War II[1]. Due to the previous assumption that humans did not live in Japan before the Jōmon period, excavations usually stopped at the beginning of the Jōmon stratum (14,000 BC), and were not carried on further. However, since that first Paleolithic find by Tadahiro Aizawa, around 5,000 Paleolithic sites have been discovered, some of them at existing Jōmon archaeological sites, and some dating to the Pleistocene era. Sites have been discovered from southern Kyushu to northern Hokkaido, but most are small and only stone tools have been preserved due to the high acidity of the Japanese soil. As the Palaeolithic peoples probably occupied the wide coastal shelves exposed by lower sea levels during the Pleistocene, the majority of sites are most likely inundated.[1]

The study of the Japanese Paleolithic period is characterized by a high level of stratigraphic information due to the volcanic nature of the archipelago: large eruptions tend to cover the islands with levels of Volcanic ash, which are easily datable and can be found throughout the country as a reference. A very important such layer is the AT (Aira-Tanzawa) pumice, which covered all Japan around 21,000–22,000 years ago.

In 2000 the reputation of Japanese archaeology of the Paleolithic was heavily damaged by a scandal, which has become known as the Japanese Paleolithic hoax. The Mainichi Shimbun reported the photos in which Shinichi Fujimura, an archaeologist in Miyagi Prefecture, had been planting artifacts at the Kamitakamori site, where he "found" the artifacts the next day. He admitted the fabrication in an interview with the newspaper. The Japanese Archaeological Association disaffiliated Fujimura from its members. A special investigation team of the Association revealed that almost all the artifacts which he had found were his fabrication.

Since the discovery of the hoax, only a few sites can tentatively date human activity in Japan to 40,000–50,000 BC, and the first widely accepted date of human presence on the archipelago can be reliably dated circa 35,000 BC.[3]

Ground stone and polished tools

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology07s3872
Mammoth hunt, (Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology)

The Japanese Paleolithic is unique in that it incorporates one of the earliest known sets of ground stone and polished stone tools in the world, although older ground stone tools have been discovered in Australia.[5][6] The tools, which have been dated to around 30,000 BC, are a technology associated in the rest of the world with the beginning of the Neolithic around 10,000 BC. It is not known why such tools were created so early in Japan.[7]

Because of this originality, the Japanese Paleolithic period in Japan does not exactly match the traditional definition of Paleolithic based on stone technology (chipped stone tools). Japanese Paleolithic tool implements thus display Mesolithic and Neolithic traits as early as 30,000 BC.


The Paleolithic populations of Japan, as well as the later Jōmon populations, appear to relate to an ancient Paleo-Asian group which occupied large parts of Asia before the expansion of the populations characteristic of today's people of China, Korea, and Japan.[8][9]

During much of this period, Japan was connected to the Asian continent by land bridges due to lower sea levels. [1] Skeletal characteristics point to many similarities with other aboriginal people of the Asian continent. Dental structures belong to the Sundadont group, mainly distributed in ancient populations of South-East Asia (where current populations belong to a mixture of Sunadont and Sinodont groups). Skull features tend to be stronger, with comparatively recessed eyes.[10]

The aboriginal populations of the Ainu, today mostly confined to the northern island of Hokkaidō, and the Ryukyuan people, mostly in southern Japan, appear to be the descendants of these Paleolithic populations, and display features that have, in the past, been interpreted as Caucasoid, but today tend to be considered more generally as part of that early Paleolithic human stock and are genetically closer to Southeast Asians.

According to Mitsuru Sakitani the Jōmon people are a admixture of two distinct ethnic groups: A more ancient group (carriers of Y chromosome D1a) that were present since more than 30,000 years in Japan and a more recent group (carriers of Y chromosome C1a) that migrated to Japan about 13,000 years ago.[11]

Genetic analysis on today's populations is not clear-cut and tends to indicate a fair amount of genetic intermixing between the earliest populations of Japan and later arrivals (Cavalli-Sforza). It is estimated that 20 to 30% of the genetic capital of the Japanese population (Yamato people) today derives from the aboriginal Paleolithic-Jōmon ancestry, with the remainder coming from later migrations from the continent, especially during the Yayoi period.[12] More recent estimates suggests about 10% Jōmon ancestry in modern Japanese (Yamato).[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Campbell, Allen; Nobel, David S (1993). Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kodansha. p. 1186. ISBN 406205938X.
  2. ^ Hoshino Iseki Museum, Tochigi Pref.
  3. ^ a b Prehistoric Archaeological Periods in Japan, Charles T. Keally
  4. ^ [1]"Ancient Jomon of Japan", Habu Jinko, Cambridge Press, 2004 [https://web.archive.org/web/20070827214726/http://www.jomon.or.jp/ebulletin11.html Archived 2007-08-27 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "World's oldest known ground-edge stone axe fragments found in WA". abc.net.au. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Prehistoric Japan, New perspectives on insular East Asia", Keiji Imamura, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1853-9
  7. ^ "The puzzle of tracing the origin of the world's earliest polished stone tools". heritageofjapan. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  8. ^ "About Japan: A Teacher's Resource". Aboutjapan japansociety. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  9. ^ "Population and Settlement - Japan: A Unique Country". Jkephartjapan weebly. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  10. ^ "Origins of the Palaeolithic people of Japan". heritageofjapan. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  11. ^ 崎谷満『DNA・考古・言語の学際研究が示す新・日本列島史』(勉誠出版 2009年)(in Japanese)
  12. ^ "Paleolithic Contingent in Modern Japanese: Estimation and Inference using Genome-wide Data : Scientific Reports". Nature com. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  13. ^ "'Jomon woman' helps solve Japan's genetic mystery | NHK WORLD-JAPAN News". NHK WORLD. Retrieved 2019-07-10.


External links

Abiko, Chiba

Abiko (我孫子市, Abiko-shi) is a city located in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

As of April 2012, the city has an estimated population of 132,999, and a population density of 3080 persons per km2. The total area is 43.19 km2.

Araya Site

The Araya Site (荒屋遺跡, Araya Iseki) is a late Japanese Paleolithic settlement located in the former town of Kawaguchi in what is now part of the city of Nagaoka, Niigata in the Hokuriku region of Japan. It was found to contain one of the largest number of stone tools of any site thus far discovered in Japan. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Japan in 2004.

Ground stone

In archaeology, ground stone is a category of stone tool formed by the grinding of a coarse-grained tool stone, either purposely or incidentally. Ground stone tools are usually made of basalt, rhyolite, granite, or other cryptocrystalline and igneous stones whose coarse structure makes them ideal for grinding other materials, including plants and other stones.

Hatten Site

Hatten site (八天遺跡, Hatten iseki) is a Japanese National Historic Site located in the city of Kitakami, Iwate in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan.The Hatten site is the remains of a Jōmon period settlement located on a river terrace on the eastern fringe of the Kitakami Basin overlooking the Kitakami River. The site has been excavated on five occasions, with remnants from the Japanese Paleolithic era found in the southeastern corner of the site, and the foundations of four pit dwellings from the Heian period found in the central area, indicating continuous inhabitation for several thousand years.

Most of the remains date from the middle to late Jōmon era. The village contained a central hall with a dimensions of approximately 17 meters in length and 8 meters in width, which had been reconstructed on at least eight occasions, indicating that it was a building for public or ceremonial use. On the slopes to the east and west sides of the village were middens containing a large number of earthenware fragments.

Of especial note were fragments of clay ears, noses and mouths, with holes indicating that they were connected by strings. These are thought be part of grave masks as they were found in a stone-lined pit tomb on the site. These artifacts were given the status of Important Cultural Properties by the national government in 1992.

Iki Province

Iki Province (壱岐国, Iki no kuni) was a province of Japan which consisted of the Iki Islands, now a part of modern Nagasaki Prefecture. Its abbreviated name was Isshū (壱州). Iki is classified as one of the provinces of the Saikaidō. Under the Engishiki classification system, Iki was ranked as an "inferior country" (下国) and a "far country" (遠国).


Iwajuku (岩宿遺跡, Iwajuku iseki) is an archaeological site in Midori, Gunma Prefecture, Japan. The site was excavated in 1949 by amateur archaeologist Aizawa Tadahiro, who confirmed the existence of two cultural strata, one of which contained small tools such as projectile points and blades made of obsidian and agate from the Japanese Paleolithic period. This overturned the prevalent theory that human habitation of the Japanese archipelago began with the Jōmon period, and indicated that humans had resided before the 10th millennium BC, or since the end of the last Ice Age.The site was designated a National Historic Site by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1979.

Japanese Paleolithic hoax

The Japanese Paleolithic hoax (旧石器捏造事件, Kyū Sekki Netsuzō Jiken) consisted of a number of lower and middle paleolithic finds in Japan discovered by amateur archaeologist Shinichi Fujimura, which were later all discovered to have been faked. The incident became one of the biggest scandals in archaeological circles in Japan after the story was published by the Mainichi Shimbun on November 5, 2000.

For finds from the Jōmon period or later, structures were originally made by digging below the then-current surface, causing changes in soil composition that make it much easier to discern fakes from real finds. The Paleolithic Hoax highlighted some of the shortcomings of Japanese archaeological research into paleolithic sites, such as an over-reliance on the dating of volcanic ash layers while ignoring other soil layers.

Kamegaoka Stone Age Site

Kamegaoka Site (亀ヶ岡遺跡, Kamegaoka iseki) is a Jōmon period archaeological site in the city of Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan. The remains were designated a National Historic Site in 1944 by the Japanese government. It is also referred to as the Kamegaoka Stone Age Site (亀ヶ岡石器時代遺跡, Korekawa sekki jidai iseki), although the remains discovered are from the Jōmon period, rather than the Japanese Paleolithic period.

Korekawa Site

Korekawa Site (是川遺跡, Korekawa iseki) is a Jōmon period archaeological site in the city of Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan. The remains were designated a National Historic Site of Japan in 1957 by the Japanese government. It is also referred to as the Korekawa Stone Age site (是川石器時代遺跡, Korekawa sekki jidai iseki), although the remains discovered are from the Jōmon period, rather than the Japanese Paleolithic period.

Lake Nojiri

Lake Nojiri (野尻湖, Nojiri-ko) is in the town of Shinano, Kamiminochi District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Second to Lake Suwa among lakes in Nagano Prefecture, Nojiri is a resort, the location of the first pumped-storage hydroelectricity in Japan, and the site of a Japanese Paleolithic excavation.

Mikawa Province

Mikawa Province (三河国, Mikawa no kuni) was an old province in the area that today forms the eastern half of Aichi Prefecture. Its abbreviated form name was Sanshū (三州 or 参州). Mikawa bordered on Owari, Mino, Shinano, and Tōtōmi Provinces.

Mikawa is classified as one of the provinces of the Tōkaidō. Under the Engishiki classification system, Mikawa was ranked as a "superior country" (上国) and a "near country" (近国) in terms of its distance from the capital.

Mitsuo Kagawa

Mitsuo Kagawa (賀川 光夫, Kagawa Mitsuo, January 5, 1923 – March 9, 2001) was a Japanese archaeologist and a professor at Beppu University in Ōita Prefecture, Japan. He committed suicide by hanging himself on March 9, 2001 as a result of the Japanese Paleolithic hoax.

Odai Yamamoto I site

The Odai Yamamoto I site (大平山元I遺跡, Ōdaiyamamoto ichi iseki) is a Jōmon-period archaeological site in Sotogahama, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. Excavations in 1998 uncovered forty-six earthenware fragments which have been dated as early as 14,500 BC (ca 16,500 BP); this places them among the earliest pottery currently known. As the earliest in Japan, this marks the transition from the Japanese Paleolithic to Incipient Jōmon. Other pottery of a similar date has been found at Gasy and Khummy on the lower Amur River. Such a date puts the development of pottery before the warming at the end of the Pleistocene.

Oki Province

Oki Province (隠岐国, Oki no kuni) was a province of Japan consisted of the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan, located off the coast of the provinces of Izumo and Hōki. The area is now Oki District in modern Shimane Prefecture. Its abbreviated form name was Onshū or Inshū (隠州),

Oki is classified as one of the provinces of the San'indō. Under the Engishiki classification system, Oki was ranked as a "inferior country" (下国) and a "far country" (遠国).

Omigawa, Chiba

Omigawa (小見川町, Omigawa-machi) was a town located in Katori District, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

Omigawa has been settled since prehistoric times, with numerous shell middens and burial mounds from the Japanese Paleolithic through Kofun period. During the Edo period, it was the center of Omigawa Domain, a feudal domain of the Tokugawa shogunate. Modern Omigawa Town was created in the early Meiji period.

On March 27, 2006, Omigawa, along with the city of Sawara, and the towns of Kurimoto and Yamada (both from Katori District), was merged to create the city of Katori, and thus no longer exists as an independent municipality.

In November 2005 (the last data available before its merger into Katori), the town had an estimated population of 25,420 and a population density of 411 persons per km². Its total area was 61.84 km².

Shinichi Fujimura

Shinichi Fujimura (藤村 新一, Fujimura Shin'ichi, b. 4 May 1950) is a Japanese archaeologist who claimed he had found a large number of stone artifacts dating back to the Lower Paleolithic and Middle Paleolithic periods. These objects were later revealed to be forgeries.

Sugusaka Site

Sugusaka Site (直坂遺跡) is an archaeological site in the city of Toyama in the Hokuriku region of Japan containing the ruins of a settlement from the Japanese Paleolithic period to the Jōmon period. It has been protected by the central government as a National Historic Site since 1981.

Tadahiro Aizawa

Tadahiro Aizawa (相沢 忠洋, Aizawa Tadahiro, June 21, 1926 – May 22, 1989) was a nattō merchant who was the first to discover Japanese Paleolithic artifacts. Prior to Aizawa, the scholarly consensus had been that Japan was uninhabitable before the Jōmon period. Aizawa discovered stone axes at Iwajuku in September 1946. Aizawa embarrassed the professional archaeologists; he was only an amateur who passionately believed in pre-Jomon habitation.

Yadegawa ruins

Yadegawa Ruins (矢出川遺跡, Yadegawa iseki) is an archaeological site containing the ruins of a late Japanese Paleolithic period (approximately 12,000 BCE) settlement located in what is now part of the village of Minamimaki, Nagano in the Chūbu region of Japan. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Japan in 1995.

Bronze Age


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