Japanese Paleolithic

Last updated
Japanese Paleolithic period
35,000 BCE 14,000 BCE
Japan glaciation.gif
Japan at the Last Glacial Maximum in the Late Pleistocene about 20,000 years ago.
LocationFlag of Japan.svg  Japan
Followed by Jōmon period

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 18,000–14,000 years ago.

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.

Paleolithic hoax

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

Mammoth hunt, (Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology) Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology07s3872.jpg
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.[ citation needed ]


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 are distinct but generally closer to the Sundadont than to the Sinodont group, which points to an origin among groups in Southeast Asia or the islands south of the mainland. Skull features tend to be stronger, with comparatively recessed eyes. [10] According to “Jōmon culture and the peopling of the Japanese archipelago” by Schmidt and Seguchi, the prehistoric Jōmon people descended from a paleolithic populations of Siberia (in the area of the Altai Mountains). Other cited scholars point out similarities between the Jōmon and various paleolithic and Bronze Age Siberians. There were likely multiple migrations into ancient Japan. [11]

According to Mitsuru Sakitani the Jōmon people were an admixture of two distinct ethnic groups: A more ancient group (carriers of Y chromosome D1a) that were present in Japan since more than 30,000 years ago and a more recent group (carriers of Y chromosome C1a) that migrated to Japan about 13,000 years ago (Jomon). [12]

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 modern Japanese have about 10% Jōmon ancestry. [13]

Jōmon people were found to have been very heterogeneous. Jōmon samples from the Ōdai Yamamoto I Site differ from Jōmon samples of Hokkaido and geographically close eastern Honshu. Ōdai Yamamoto Jōmon were found to have C1a1 and are genetically close to ancient and modern Northeast Asian groups but noteworthy different to other Jōmon samples such as Ikawazu or Urawa Jōmon. Similarly, the Nagano Jōmon from the Yugora cave site are closely related to contemporary East Asians but genetically different from the Ainu people which are direct descendants of the Hokkaido Jōmon. [14] [15]

One study, published in the Cambridge University Press in 2020, suggests that the Jōmon people were rather heterogeneous, and that many Jōmon groups were descended from an ancient "Altaic-like" population (close to modern Tungusic-speakers, samplified by Oroqen), which established itself over the local hunter gatherers. This “Altaic-like” population migrated from Northeast Asia in about 6,000 BC, and coexisted with other unrelated tribes and or intermixed with them, before being replaced by the later Yayoi people. C1a1 and C2 are linked to the "Tungusic-like people", which arrived in the Jōmon period archipelago from Northeast Asia in about 6,000 BC and introduced the Incipient Jōmon culture, typified by early ceramic cultures such as the Ōdai Yamamoto I Site. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Yayoi period Japanese historical period from 200 BCE to 300 CE

The Yayoi period started at the beginning of the Neolithic in Japan, continued through the Bronze Age, and towards its end crossed into the Iron Age.

Japanese people Ethnic group native to Japan

Japanese people are an ethnic group that is native to the Japanese archipelago and modern country of Japan, where they constitute 98.1% of the country’s population. Worldwide, approximately 129 million people are of Japanese descent; of these, approximately 125 million are residents of Japan. People of Japanese ancestry who live outside Japan are referred to as nikkeijin (日系人), the Japanese diaspora. The term ethnic Japanese is used to refer to mainland Japanese people, specifically the Yamato. Japanese people are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world.

Ḥaʼil Province Administrative region of Saudi Arabia

Ḥaʼil Province, also known as the Ha'il Region, is one of the 13 provinces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is the eighth-largest province by area at 103,887 km² and the ninth-largest by population, with the population in 2019 being 731,147. The province accounts for roughly 2% of the population of the country and is named for its largest city, Ha'il. Other populous cities in the province include al-Ghazalah, Shinan and Baq'aa. The region is famous for the twin mountain ranges of 'Aja and Salma, and for being the homeland of historic symbol of curiosity and generosity, Hatim al-Ta`i.

Yamato people Ethnic group native to Japan

The Yamato people or the Wajin are an East Asian ethnic group and a nation which is indigenous to the Japanese archipelago. The term came to be used around the late 19th century to distinguish the settlers of mainland Japan from minority ethnic groups inhabiting the peripheral areas of the Japanese empire, such as the Ainu, Emishi, Ryukyuans, Nivkh, Oroks, as well as Koreans, Han-Chinese, Taiwanese aborigines, and Micronesian peoples who were incorporated into the Empire of Japan in the early 20th century. Clan leaders also elevated their own belief system that featured ancestor worship into a national religion known as Shinto.

Upper Paleolithic Subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age

The Upper Paleolithic also called the Late Stone Age is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. Very broadly, it dates to between 50,000 and 12,000 years ago, according to some theories coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity in early modern humans, until the advent of the Neolithic Revolution and agriculture.

Iwajuku Site Museum in Midori, Japan

The Iwajuku site an archaeological site located in what is now the Kasuke neighborhood of the city of Midori, Gunma Prefecture in the northern Kantō region of Japan with finds from the Japanese Paleolithic period. It received protection as a National Historic Site in 1979.

"Jōmon people" is the generic name of several peoples who lived in the Japanese archipelago during the Jōmon period. Today, most Japanese historians agree on the possibility that the Jōmon were not a single homogeneous people, but instead consisted of multiple heterogeneous groups.

Prehistoric Korea Era of human existence in the Korean Peninsula

Prehistoric Korea is the era of human existence in the Korean Peninsula for which written records do not exist. It nonetheless constitutes the greatest segment of the Korean past and is the major object of study in the disciplines of archaeology, geology, and palaeontology.

Jōmon pottery

The Jōmon pottery is a type of ancient earthenware pottery which was made during the Jōmon period in Japan. The term "Jōmon" (縄文) means "rope-patterned" in Japanese, describing the patterns that are pressed into the clay.

Prehistory of Siberia

The Prehistory of Siberia is marked by several archaeologically distinct cultures. In the Chalcolithic, the cultures of western and southern Siberia were pastoralists, while the eastern taiga and the tundra were dominated by hunter-gatherers until the late Middle Ages and even beyond. Substantial changes in society, economics and art indicate the development of nomadism in the Central Asian steppes in the first millennium BC.

Prehistory of Corsica

The prehistory of Corsica is analogous to the prehistories of the other islands in the Mediterranean Sea, such as Sicily, Sardinia, Malta and Cyprus, which could only be accessed by boat and featured cultures that were to some degree insular; that is, modified from the traditional Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic of European prehistoric cultures. The islands of the Aegean Sea and Crete early developed Bronze Age civilizations and are accordingly usually treated under those categories. Stone Age Crete however shares some of the features of the prehistoric Mediterranean islands.

Prehistory of the Philippines

The prehistory of the Philippines covers the events prior to the written history of what is now the Philippines. The current demarcation between this period and the Early history of the Philippines is April 21, 900, which is the equivalent on the Proleptic Gregorian calendar for the date indicated on the Laguna Copperplate Inscription—the earliest known surviving written record to come from the Philippines. This period saw the immense change that took hold of the archipelago from Stone Age cultures in the fourth century, continuing on with the gradual widening of trade until 900 and the first surviving written records.

Okhotsk culture 5th–10th-century archaeological culture around the Sea of Okhotsk

The Okhotsk culture is an archaeological coastal fishing and hunter-gatherer culture of the lands surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk and Japan. The historical Okhotsk people were related to various Northeast Asians and were one of the diverse people living during the Jōmon period in (northern) Japan. The Okhotsk are one of the ancestral components of the Ainu people and contributed the Ainu languages and significant cultural elements. It is suggested that the bear cult, a practice shared by the Ainu and the Nivkhs, was an important element of the Okhotsk culture and may have been common in Jomon period Japan as well.

Prehistoric technology is technology that predates recorded history. History is the study of the past using written records. Anything prior to the first written accounts of history is prehistoric, including earlier technologies. About 2.5 million years before writing was developed, technology began with the earliest hominids who used stone tools, which they may have used to start fires, hunt, and bury their dead.

Ōdai Yamamoto I Site

The Ōdai Yamamoto I Site is an Jōmon archaeological site in the town of Sotogahama, Aomori Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan. Excavations in 1998 uncovered forty-six earthenware fragments which have been dated as early as 14,500 BC ; 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 Gasya and Khummi on the lower Amur River. Such a date puts the development of pottery before the warming at the end of the Pleistocene.

Outline of prehistoric technology Overview of and topical guide to prehistoric technology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to prehistoric technology.

Jōmon period Japanese prehistorical period

The Jōmon period is the time in Japanese prehistory, traditionally dated between c. 14,000–300 BCE, during which Japan was inhabited by a diverse hunter-gatherer and early agriculturalist population united through a common Jōmon culture, which reached a considerable degree of sedentism and cultural complexity. The name "cord-marked" was first applied by the American zoologist and orientalist Edward S. Morse, who discovered sherds of pottery in 1877 and subsequently translated it into Japanese as Jōmon. The pottery style characteristic of the first phases of Jōmon culture was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay and is generally accepted to be among the oldest in the world.

Haplogroup C-M8

Haplogroup C-M8 also known as Haplogroup C1a1 is a Y-chromosome haplogroup. It is one of two branches of Haplogroup C1a, one of the descendants of Haplogroup C-M130.

In population genetics, research has been done on the genetic origins of modern Japanese people.

Sumi Furasawa Site

The Sumi Furasawa site is an archaeological site with the traces of a Japanese Paleolithic period settlement located in what is now the Sumi neighborhood of the town of Shisui, Chiba in the Kantō region of Japan. The site was designated a National Historic Site in 2019.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Campbell, Allen; Nobel, David S (1993). Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kodansha. p. 1186. ISBN   406205938X.
  2. Hoshino Iseki Museum, Tochigi Pref.
  3. 1 2 Prehistoric Archaeological Periods in Japan, Charles T. Keally
  4. [http://www.jomon.or.jp/ebulletin11.html "Ancient Jomon of Japan", Habu Jinko, Cambridge Press, 2004 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. 2011-11-17. 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. 2007-07-11. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  11. Schmidt, Seguchi (31 August 2013). "Jōmon culture and the peopling of the Japanese archipelago" (PDF).
  12. 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)
  13. "'Jomon woman' helps solve Japan's genetic mystery". NHK WORLD-JAPAN News. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  14. Adachi et al. 2013
  15. Kanzawa-Kiriyama 2013
  16. Chaubey, Gyaneshwer; Driem, George van (2020). "Munda languages are father tongues, but Japanese and Korean are not". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2. doi: 10.1017/ehs.2020.14 . ISSN   2513-843X.