More prehistoric civilization – Jomon

While in the last post we explored Catal Huyuk, the world’s oldest known city, we will now head to the Far East to explore a civilization even older. No city is involved this time, at least no city older than Catal, but other cultural artifacts demonstrating early civilization, and even some small settlements, are certainly much older.

Are you ready for 500,000 years older? Yep, that is half a million years.

While we are not ready to call this a “civilization” yet, the sheer age of the settlement makes it a worthwhile place to begin our study of a later prehistoric civilization known as Jomon.

“A archeological find in Kantho Dsitrict[sic] announced on Feb 21 may shake up established theories about Homo erectus. Huts thought to be 500,000 years old and built by primitive humans were found in Saitama Prefecture-Kantho Dsitrict,[sic] the prefectural board of education said. The discovery that strongly suggests Homo erectus constructed buildings is likely to overturn the established theory that they were constantly on the move hunting for food without staying in one place, experts said.” You may want to read more about this: –

You may also wonder why a find of that magnitude is not widely known outside of Japan. It is a sad affair for Japanese archaeology that very little attention is paid to it outside the country, though they are doing exciting things, not only in Japan, but worldwide. Waseda University is conducting marvelous research projects in Egypt, but we hear mostly about American and European researchers instead.

I hope that situation changes and the sooner the better.

Now we will jump forward in time to about 16,500 BCE and the beginnings of the culture and civilization known as Jomon, in Japan.

In the beginning, Jomon was a ceramics society. While agriculture and metal technology reached Japan rather late, pottery technology developed quite early. “Jomon” is, in fact, the name of the era’s pottery and that name is applied to the culture as well.

The Odai-Yamamoto site has yielded 46 pottery sherds that have been dated by the radiocarbon method to 16,500 BCE.

Along with the sherds, there was found a stone tool assemblage which included axes with polished stone edges, stone drills, arrow heads and shaft smoothers.

By the end of this earliest Jomon period, several types of pottery had been developed and found at various locations in Japan.

It must also be noted, that while pottery is found at this time in early Japan, it is not a well developed technology. It is usually very rough and poorly fired. And, there is not very much of it.

But that was only the beginning of what later developed into a full fledged prehistoric civilization.

By about 5000 BCE, Jomon villages begin to take on a more long-term nature. While evidence points to most of these settlements being relatively sedentary, evidence does not imply that they were used year round. Study of lithic assemblages from various settlement sites suggest that the villages only had seasonal occupation. Jomon civilization was still generally a hunter, gatherer society. In fact, the Jomon Culture is said to be one of the most affluent hunter-gatherer civilizations to ever exist.

While evidence does point to limited plant cultivation during the final Jomon era in parts of Japan, its impact was minimal. First of all, these plants only supplemented the daily diet, while a large percentage of the daily calories are still believed to be gotten from hunting and gathering.

Contrary to much popular belief, a hunter-gatherer culture does not necessarily equate with a primitive and backward civilization. For a non-agricultural society, the Jomon diet was quite extensive and varied; rich in fact.

The Jomon use of plants, land animals and fish varied greatly with time and location. Hunting was mostly with a bow and arrow. Fishing included the use of hooks and lines, nets and traps, and spears. Later in Jomon civilization, an excellent harpoon technology appeared. Plant harvesting included digging sticks for roots, and grinders and querns for the many kinds of nuts and seeds that were available.

There was an extremely wide range of land animals, fish, plants, shell fish, molluscs and birds. A generalized list of the foods of the Jomon would give deer and boar, sea bream, sea perch, and other types of fish, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns, clams and oysters, tuna and sea mammals. The Jomon people used almost all available food plants and animals, taking a sustainable number of those things they liked and using the rest to fill out their diet. There is growing evidence that, at least in some times and some regions, the Jomon ‘managed’ their natural resources for best productivity and for sustainable exploitation. Ancient Japan was so naturally rich and abundant there was no real need for an agricultural society to emerge.

A variety of crafts and ritual objects were also created during the Joman. Red and black lacquerware was developed. Ritual ceremonial centers and stone circles were constructed.

One of the largest, and now one of the best known Jomon sites is Sannai Maruyama. You will find an extensive amount of information about it here: – From AOMORI Prefectural Government

For additional Jomon information:

Yayoi and Jomon – From Richard Hooker –

Jomon Period – From Wikipedia –

Jomon –

Till next time


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