EARLY MAN IN JAPAN
25,000 year old obsidian
blades found in Japan Humans are believed to have first arrived in Japan by around 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, possibly following great herds of animals across land bridges connecting the islands of Japan with the Asian continent but more likely on boats via the chain of islands that link Taiwan, Okinawa and the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Early man is believed to have reached Japan from the Eurasian continent by three routes: 1) from Taiwan to the islands of Okinawa; 2) from Korea to Kyushu; and 3) from Russia to Hokkaido.
Some archaeologists believe that people may have arrived on the Japanese archipelago as far back as 100,000 years ago, during an ice age, when Japan was connected to the Asian mainland by land bridges to the Korean peninsula in the south and the Amur River Delta (between present-day China and Russia) via Sakhalin Island in the north. Fossils of ancient elephants have been found near Nagano but no signs of human habitation have been found from the period in which these elephants lived.
Most scholars believe that the ancestors of modern Japanese arrived in two waves of migrations. There are two theories as to the origin of the first wave. The second wave came from Korea about 2,300 years ago. One theory on the first wave to the main Japanese islands, based on dental morphology, holds these people originated from southeast Asia arrived via Okinawa about 12,000 years ago; a second theory, based on genetic data, suggests they came from northeastern Asia as far back as 40,000 years ago. People most likely came from both places but it is hard to pin down exactly when they arrived and which group was dominant. Some scholars believe that the first arrivals probably came from Siberia around 40,000 year ago, and they were probably hunters who pursued game such as wooly mammoth on Hokkaido, arriving via land bridges that existed between Hokkaido and the Asian mainland and Siberia when sea levels were low. Later, other groups are believed to have moved from Taiwan to Okinawa.
Paleolithic remains in Okinawa indicate that Japanese ancestors were living there by about 30,000 years ago. Human bone fossil and DNA studies show that the group in Okinawa is likely to have traveled from Taiwan. [Source: Jiji Press, February 10, 2016]
According to Japanese sources: Archaeological discoveries have revealed that the ancient people inhabiting the archipelago in the Old Stone (Paleolithic) age lived mainly by hunting and gathering. The New Stone (Neolithic) age, dating from about 10,000 years ago, witnessed the manufacture of refined stone implements, the development of advanced hunting techniques using bows and arrows, and the production of earthenware containers for cooking and storing food. On the basis of archaeological finds, it has been postulated that hominid activity in Japan may date as early as 200,000 B.C., when the islands were connected to the Asian mainland. Although some scholars doubt this early date for habitation, most agree that by around 40,000 B.C. glaciation had reconnected the islands with the mainland. Based on archaeological evidence, they also agree that by between 35,000 and 30,000 B.C. Homo sapiens had migrated to the islands from eastern and southeastern Asia and had well-established patterns of hunting and gathering and stone toolmaking . Stone tools, inhabitation sites, and human fossils from this period have been found throughout all the islands of Japan. More stable living patterns gave rise by around 10,000 B.C. to a Neolithic or, as some scholars argue, Mesolithic culture. Possibly distant ancestors of the Ainu aboriginal people of modern Japan, members of the heterogeneous Jomon culture (ca. 10,000-300 B.C.) left the clearest archaeological record. [Source:Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]
Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Essay on Early Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japanese Archeology www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/index.htm ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ;Essay on Rice and History aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art metmuseum.org; Wikipedia article on the Jomon Wikipedia ; Historical Parks Sannai Maruyama Jomon Site in Northern Honshu sannaimaruyama.pref.aomori.jp ; Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp/en ;Good Photos of Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun Sites at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Wikipedia article on the Ainu Wikipedia ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki
Earliest Physical Evidence of Early Man in Japan
Remains and tools of early Palaeolithic people in Japan have been found in Okinawa, Kyushu, Shikoku and Shizuoka prefecture in Central Japan. Modern man may have reached Kyushu via the Korean Peninsula and the Tsushima Strait some 38,000 years ago, according to Yosuke Kaifu, head of the Division of Human Evolution at Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science. There is evidence from Lake Nojiri sites that suggests that large mammals were hunted there by human hunters between 33,000 and 39,000 years ago. There is also evidence that ancient navigators carried obsidian, a volcanic glass used to make tools, to Honshu from Kozushima island of the Izu Island chain about 38,000 years ago. [Source: Makoto Mitsui, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 20, 2015; Jiji Press, February 10, 2016; Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website]
The oldest human skeletal remains — dated to over 30,000 years ago — have found in the Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. The bones of an eight -year-old girl— nicknamed “Yamashita Dojin“— dated to 32,500 years ago were found in Yamashita Daiichi Cave near Naha city on the main island of Okinawa in 1962 Yamashita Daiichi Cave is a semi-cave ruin and because it was used as a grave it escaped destruction in postwar quarrying. [Source: Tom Corrao, Okinawaology Blog, November 4, 2011]
Analysis of the DNA of human bones from Ishigaki island near Okinawa suggest that the residents there were linked to people from southern China or Southeast Asia. The climate of the earth 30,000 years ago was cooling. Sea levels were about 60 meters lower than they are now. Under these conditions, Taiwan and mainland China are were connected by land, but the islands between Taiwan and Japan were separated by sea. Therefore a sea journey would have been necessary to emigrate from Taiwan to the Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 3, 2016]
There is evidence of human habitation on Minatogawa, an island between Taiwan and Japan, dated to 18,000 years ago. Minatogawa Man refers to the 18,000-year-old fossilized remains, including a nearly complete skull, found in Naha city, Okinawa, of a 155-centimeter-tall man with large teeth, a high, broad and pinched nose and a low and narrow forehead with a prominent browridge. Two of his his teeth had been knocked out — the earliest example a tribal custom found in different parts of the world. Some have said that the Minatogawa Man resembles Liujiang man, a 40,000-year-old fossil from southern China. Other says he looks like Lang-Cuom and Phobinhgia man of North Indochina. Some even go as far as saying he has traits in common with Peking Man, Java Man and Neantherthals. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]
The oldest human remains found on the main Japanese island of Honshu belong to Hamakita Man, a skeleton found in a limestone quarry site in Hamakita city, Shizuoka prefecture in central Japan. These fossils were radiocarbon dated to be 17,900 years old. Both Minatogawa man and Hamakita man may be ancestors of the Jomon people (See separate article on them).
Early Human Bone Found Off Taiwan
In January 2015, a jawbone thought to be from an early hominid species was found in seas off Taiwan. Jiji Press reported: “The mandible, fished up from the Penghu submarine channel, some 25 kilometers off the western shore of Taiwan, has been dated at between 190,000 and 450,000 years old, according to the group, which includes researchers from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Kyoto University and Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science. [Source: Jiji Press, January 28, 2015 ==]
“The jaw and teeth appear stronger and more primitive than specimens from two other Homo erectus, Java Man and Peking Man. It is also different from Homo floresiensis, the so-called “hobbit” hominid, whose fossilized remains were found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, according to the group. “ ==
In the abstract to an article published in Nature under the title “The first archaic Homo from Taiwan”, Taiwanese and Japanese researchers wrote: Recent studies of an increasing number of hominin fossils highlight regional and chronological diversities of archaic Homo in the Pleistocene of eastern Asia. However, such a realization is still based on limited geographical occurrences mainly from Indonesia, China and Russian Altai. Here we describe a newly discovered archaic Homo mandible from Taiwan (Penghu 1), which further increases the diversity of Pleistocene Asian hominins. Penghu 1 revealed an unexpectedly late survival (younger than 450 but most likely 190–10 thousand years ago) of robust, apparently primitive dentognathic morphology in the periphery of the continent, which is unknown among the penecontemporaneous fossil records from other regions of Asia except for the mid-Middle Pleistocene Homo from Hexian, Eastern China. Such patterns of geographic trait distribution cannot be simply explained by clinal geographic variation of Homo erectus between northern China and Java, and suggests survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic hominins before the arrival of modern humans in the region. [Source: Chun-Hsiang Chang, Yousuke Kaifu, Masanaru Takai,Reiko T. Kono,Rainer Grün, Shuji Matsu’ura, Les Kinsley and Liang-Kong Lin, Nature Communications, January 27, 2015]
Japanese Researchers Recreate 30,000-Year-Old Voyage from Taiwan to Japan
In July 2016, a project team led by researchers of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo attempted to reenact a sea voyage between believed to have been made 30,000 years ago by early inhabitants of Japan. The researchers made boats made of bundled grass similar to those used in Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Peru to sail from Yonaguni island to Iriomote island, both west in Okinawa. The grass-fibers boats however were unable to pass through strong sea currents and men paddling the boat ultimately had to be assisted by a regular power boat that accompanied them.
The team was led by Yosuke Kaifu, head of the Division of Human Evolution at the National Museum of Nature and Science, who believes early ancestors of Japanese people traveled by ship or raft from Taiwan to the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa Prefecture. "We hope to solve riddles about the origin of Japanese people," Kaifu said. “We wonder whether they could see Yonaguni from Taiwan and whether they were affected by the Black Current. What they did was very challenging."The Black Current, or Japan Current, is a string current that flows northward in waters off Japan. [Source: Jiji Press, February 10, 2016]
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The two grass boats, each carrying seven rowers, departed from Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture in the early morning on July 17 to head for Iriomotejima island in the prefecture, about 75 kilometers east of Yonagunijima island. The boats were scheduled to sail for 30 hours to reach the destination. However, even though the rowers paddled aggressively, neither of the two boats were able to sail east and instead drifted farther north. Eight hours after departure, the boats were about 30 kilometers northeast of Yonagunijima island. Kaifu decided that changing the course of the boats was impossible and had an escort ship tow them. “It was a painful decision,” Kaifu said. The rowers moved to the escort ship and the team gave up on sailing during the night. In total, the team relied on the escort ship for more than half of the sailing distance.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 3, 2016 |*|]
“ It is highly likely that some of the sailing conditions were different from those the past rowers faced. As there are few clues about how the voyage was made 30,000 years ago, all the researchers can do is guess. Boats made of wood could likely travel at a higher speed. But no necessary tools to process wood for that purpose have been found in ruins in Okinawa Prefecture, which date back to 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. For that reason, the researchers chose grass boats. Locally produced plants such as narrow leaf cattail were used to make them. If sails were attached to the boats, the rowers could harness the power of winds. But the researchers did not elect to do this, choosing instead to paddle by hand. “There is no evidence that sails were used, even in the Jomon period that dates back to 16,000 years ago,” a researcher said. However, the researchers did not use traditional materials for the paddles. They used order-made paddles of yellow cedar produced in North America. The wooden materials were created with reference to the paddles used in the Jomon period. |*|
“The rowers for this journey were young people living in Yonagunijima and Iriomotejima islands. They had little experience with sailing long distances. Because the original travellers were able to produce offspring, one of the seven rowers in each boat was a woman. Kaifu said, “We knew the travelers also travelled such a long distance on their first voyage, so we chose inexperienced people.” It is also unknown what kinds of food and drink the ancestors took for the voyage. The boats carried foods thought to have been available 30,000 years ago, such as dried bananas and nuts, and 10 liters of water for each of the rowers. The team previously had planned a journey from Taiwan to Yonagunijima island to take place in July next year. But the distance of the journey is longer than the recent attempt — more than 110 kilometers — and the boats must pass through the Kuroshio Current.” |*|
Early Man “Mined” Obsidian For Tools 35,000 Years Ago, Scientists Say
In April 2007, archaeologists announced that humans may have trekked up a mountain 35,000 years ago in what is now Tochigi Prefecture to obtain obsidian to process into stone tools. The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Trapezoid stone tools unearthed on Mount Takaharayama... indicate human beings at the start of the Upper Paleolithic Era (roughly 35,000 years ago) were already “mining” raw stones to produce tools, not just picking them up off the ground, the researchers said. Previous finds had led experts to believe such mining started in the more recent Jomon Period, from 13,000 years to 3,000 years ago.” [Source: Asahi Shimbun, April 13, 2007 ^/^]
Takashi Tamura, head of the Department of Historical Sciences at the Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba, and Sadakatsu Kunitake, lecturer at Josai University in Saitama Prefecture, first found the stone tools in 2005 on the 1,795-meter mountain straddling Yaita and other municipalities. They organized a panel and team that conducted a full-scale research dig at the mountain in October 2006 that collected 441 stone relics from valley cliffs around the ridges at about 1,400 meters. Of the pieces found, eight are judged to be trapezoid stone tools used by early humans to cut, poke or shave other items. Akira Ono, a professor of archaeology at Tokyo Metropolitan University, headed the panel. “Judging from their type, the processing and where they were found, these must be trapezoid tools” like ones typically found in loam layers in the Kanto region that date back 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, he said. ^/^
Obsidian, or volcanic glass, from the mountain contains many impurities. Each piece must first be broken open to see if it can be shaped into a tool. The discovery indicates those who made the tools had developed the high intellect needed to check, screen and process the obsidian into tools on the spot, the researchers say. Also, knowing where to find the obsidian in the vast Kanto plain, where there are few sources of ore, also indicates their intelligence, Tamura said. “To understand and share such information, they had to use language,” he said.
30,000-Year-Old Nut Gatherers on Tanegashima Island
Ruins of Japan’s oldest known settlement on Tanegashima Island off southern Kyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture show nut-gathering culture began very early, shedding doubts on the established theory that the Paleolithic people in Japan were migrant hunters. Kyodo reported: “The settlement, found in the Tachikiri Ruins in the town of Nakatane, is believed to date back 30,900 years. Up until about 15,000 years ago, Tanegashima Island was connected with Kyushu.” The local education board has been surveying the ruins, which extend over more than 930 square meters. [Source: Kyodo, Japan Times, October 29, 1997 |]
According to Kyodo: “Officials from the board have found the remains of about 50 stone implements believed to have been used to crush nuts, the board said. They also discovered two collections of stones believed to have been used for kitchen ranges, six holes filled with ash, apparently once furnaces, and other holes believed to have been used for storage or to hold pillars, it said.The ash was about 15 centimeters deep, suggesting prolonged habitation at the site, experts said. “This is Japan’s oldest ruins with processing tools cooking facilities and other remains,” said Michio Okamura, an expert on the Paleolithic era at the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “This is a major discovery that can alter our views about the Paleolithic age, which has so far been believed to have been characterized by hunting-oriented migration,” he said. |
“Tsuyoshi Fujimoto, a professor at Niigata University, said Kagoshima is an area where the habit of eating plants started at a very early date, even on a global time scale. The new find could help support the theory that Paleolithic people in East Asia led a life that relied more on plants for sustenance than in other parts of the world, he said. Only a few sites dating from the Paleolithic age have been unearthed in Japan, and the Tachikiri Ruins is the oldest by more than 10,000 years.” |
24,000-Year-Old Human Bone Found in Okinawa
In November 2011, researchers announced they had found a 24,000-year-old human bone fragment in a cave on Ishigaki island in Okinawa Prefecture. If the finding holds up they would be among the oldest human remains found in Japan. The Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum said the piece of bone, excavated from the Shirahosaonetabaru cave, is believed to be part of a rib. [Source: Asahi Shimbun , November 11, 2011]
Using direct dating, the researchers concluded that the fragment is 4,000 years older than the previous oldest find in Japan. Archaeologists at the University of Tokyo are using radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the fragment. The researchers are studying about 300 pieces of human bone as well as animal bones, including one from a wild boar, found in the cave. The cave is located in a construction site for a new airport.
Minoru Yoneda, the research anthropologist at the University of Tokyo said that “Scientist applied the method of radiocarbon analysis to define the age of the Ishigaki bone fragment in March 2011. “Research conducted by the Archaeological Center of Okinawa started in 2010 and the discovery could help identify data on the ancestors of the Japanese people.” Archaeologists, in February 2010 found three fragments of human bones in the ruins of Shirahosaonetabaru caves, near Ishigaki airfield, and were classified as remains of between 15,000 and 20,000 years old. [Source: M24Digital, November 10, 2011]
Migration of the Earliest Humans to Japan
Two separate groups of people have been identified by scientists as ancestors of the first people of Japan. The first group is thought to have originated in South China and migrated eastwards to Okinawa. Another sort of sub-theory related to this is that these people made their way to Okinawa via Southeast Asia. The second group is thought to have made their way to Japan from Korea to Kyushu. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]
Evidence for existence of the first group includes the fact that the stone tools of the Palaeolithic people on Okinawa resemble those found in Taiwan as well as northern Southeast Asia. This view is also supported by the presence of the Sundadonty tooth shape among Paleolithic people in central Ryukyu (Okinawa). Sundadont molars have a particular pattern and Sundadont front teeth are smaller and lack the “shovel” indentation on the back. These teeth are common among Koreans, Chinese, and later waves of immigrant people like the Yayoi people. Ainu people, the indigenous native population in Japan, have Sundadont teeth.
Something else to consider is that microblade stone technology appears to have come into Japan from northeast Asia via Korea in the south and the Amur region in the north. This view is supported by research on Korean genetics and the presence of microblades and pottery techniques in Japan similar to those found is the Amur region of northeast China and the southern Russian Far East.(see Junko Habu “Ancient Jomon of Japan“, p 34). The Japanese microblades are classified as being of the Eurasian-wide microblade type.
The existence of a second group centers around the different sets of tools used by Paleolithic people in northern Ryukyu (Okinawa) and Kyushu and Shikoku and those in the southern Ryukyu and Southeast Asia. A particular kind of stone “knife”found in Kyushu resembles a stone knife produced on the Korean mainland. This suggest that the Paleolithic people of Kyushu arrived in Japan from the Asian mainland via Korea not from Okinawa or Southeast Asia. The existence of Sundadonty teeth among the Northern Ryukyu and Kyushu populations as well as southern Ryukyu populations, scientists say, suggests that the ancestors of the Paleolithic people on Kyushu and north Ryukyu islands must have originated from Southeast Asia and then migrated back to the northeastern part of the Asian continent before entering Kyushu via the Korean peninsula. From Kyushu, the Paleolithic people are thought to have moved, several thousand years later, to colonize Shikoku island (which has about 300 known Paleolithic excavation sites) and other parts of mainland Japan.
Paleolithic Links Between Korea and Japan
At an exhibition of stoneware in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, in December 2013, two similarly-shaped, tanged-point–stone tools, resembling a hunting knife, were displayed that established a link between northeastern Japan and the Korean Peninsula 25,000-20,000 years ago. Yuki Ogawa wrote in the Asahi Shimbun, “One was uncovered in the KaminoA ruins in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture, in northeastern Japan. The other was unearthed at the Jingeuneul site near Gwangju, South Korea. Both had sharp edges like those on a spear and were hollow at their bases. [Source: Yuki Ogawa, Asahi Shimbun, February 1, 2013 +++]
“Many tanged points have been found in Japan, mostly in Kyushu, the main Japanese island closest to the Korean Peninsula. Tanged points and stone tools made of volcanic glass from Kyushu have been excavated at the Sinbuk site in South Korea. Archaeologists believe such tools are proof of exchanges between Japanese and Koreans in ancient times, when the northern part of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula were either contiguous or separated by a strip of water much narrower than now.” +++
The exhibition “raised the possibility that stone tool culture could have spread far beyond Kyushu. “These (tanged points) alone do not serve as evidence of a migration of people from the Korean Peninsula (to northeastern Japan),” said Toshio Yanagida, director at the Tohoku University Museum. “But waves of cultural exchanges could have reached northeastern Japan.” +++
“Masao Anbiru, professor of East Asia in the Old Stone Age at Meiji University, said large numbers of Koreans might have migrated to Japan 25,000-20,000 years ago. One indication was the steep rise in the number of settlement ruins discovered in Kyushu. Tanged points were also dug up in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan and Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo. But it has yet to be determined if Koreans traveled as far as northeastern Japan. “We should study the movement of people and goods in all of East Asia, including the migration of Japanese to other parts of Asia,” Anbiru said.” +++
Archeology and Fraud in the Study of Early Man in Japan
Shinichi Fujimura Japan is arguably the world’s most archaeology crazy country. Over $1 billion of public funds is spent annually to excavate some 13,000 sites. Archaeology books are bestsellers and archeology specials are broadcast on prime time. Many artifacts can be dated using evidence from deposits from volcanic eruptions found with the artifacts.
In November 2000, Shinichi Fujimura, an acclaimed Stone Age archeologist at the Tohuku Paleolithic Institute, caused a considerable stir when he confessed that he fabricated evidence, calling into question a number of important discoveries. Nicknamed "The Hand of God" for his uncanny ability to make important discoveries, Fujimura made his confession came after he was secretly caught on video tape, burning supposed artifacts at a site. He said his hunger for fame drove him to do it.
Once claiming to have supernatural powers, Fujimura began his career as an amateur. Among Fujimura’s supposed discoveries were what he claimed were the world’s oldest stone tools, found in Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures. His deception involved burying some stone tools from his collection in 600,000-year-old dirt, and digging them up and claiming they were 600,000 years old.
Fujimura announced in February 2000 that they had found 500,000 year-old stoneware and golf-hole-sized holes arranged in pentagon, suggesting they were pillar holes for a primitive tent-like dwelling. If that discovery had held up Japan would have been home of the earliest-known, man-made dwelling (dwellings dated at 200,000 to 400,000 years old have been found at Terra Amata ruins in France) and that Stone Age people in Japan, would have been much more advanced than Stone Age People in other parts of the world.
Fujimura admitted fabricating finds at all 42 sites where he worked. This caused the entire book on Stone Age Japanese history to be rewritten. Theories, largely based on his work, that the first Japanese arrived as early 1.2 million years ago on a land bridge from the Asian mainland were thrown out.
The fraud caused the entire Japanese archeological and scientific community to take a closer look at itself. Why, for example, wasn't Fujumura’s work more closely scrutinized when flaws in his evidence were evident. One scholar who questioned Fujimura’s work was told to "shut up" about his doubts by one of Japan’s most respected archeologists.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo; Hokkaido Library; Yatsugatake archeology site; Taiwan boat: Motherboard
Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo ++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated January 2017