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Jomon Period Stone Ritual Object - History
2002 Volume 9 Issue 14 Pages 127-136
- Published: November 01, 2002 Received: April 15, 2002 Available on J-STAGE: February 16, 2009 Accepted: July 30, 2002 Advance online publication: - Revised: -
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Magical or ritual objects which had a long history of intimate connections with the spiritual life of the Jomon period have traditionally been studied as so-called 'secondary tools' within Jomon archaeology. Within this category, sekibo or 'stone rods' occupy an important position. Stone rods can be seen as artifacts that are representative of the Jomon period.
Stone rods have mainly been discovered from the eastern half of the archipelago and so far most research has also been conducted in that area. Recently, however, research on Jomon stone rods has been increasing in western Japan. In particular, Seiji Kobayashi and Yutaka Nakamura have compiled and published an exhaustive list of related materials. However, some of the stone rods contained in Kawachi Heiya Isekigun no Dotai [The Evolution of the Kawachi Plain Site Complex] (Osaka Bunkazai Center, eds. 1987- 2000) were unfortunately omitted from their work due to the unsatisfactory level of publication in that site report. This article, therefore, attempts to supplement these published materials by a preliminary re-examination of the stone rods excavated from the various sites around the southern shore of the Paleo-Kawachi Lake, the central part of present-day Osaka Prefecture. As a result, it is shown that in this region there are relatively many finds from Yayoi-period features and thus we can confirm the existence of "Yayoi-period stone rods" which are different from those of the Jomon period. Furthermore, if we look at related data from neighboring areas, we can confirm the same phenomenon across the whole Kinki region.
In this region at the beginning of the Yayoi period, a Yayoi group with the new technology of wetrice cultivation and new Ongagawa-type domestic pottery moved into an area settled by existing Jomon groups and for a certain while these two groups coexisted together. Later, the new Yayoi culture became established over the whole region. Against this background, this article shows that most of the "Yayoi-period stone rods" discussed here date from a limited time span from the beginning of the Yayoi, when Jomon-type groups and Yayoi-type groups were coexisting, through until the start of the Middle Yayoi phase. This phenomenon is quite conspicuous in the Osaka Bay area and is especially noticeable around the periphery of the area that produced the oldest ditched Yayoi settlements in the Kinki.
In existing research, stone rods that possibly belong to the Yayoi period have usually been interpreted as objects of a different genealogy that were produced through principles that differed from those behind the Jomon rods. There has not been detailed discussion of those examples that appear to show a Jomon inheritance. The stone rods discussed in this article, however, also show their Jomon lineage in their morphology. If we reanalyze the contexts in which these ceremonial objects were maintained by each group, then the following facts become clear.
We can suggest that, at the beginning of the Yayoi period, in the dramatic process of encounter, co-existence and fusion between Jomon and Yayoi groups, very close individual and social contacts were probably achieved between both groups from first contact. This was the required prerequisite for two different groups to coexist in the same place. In the next stage when Yayoi culture became universally established, stone rods did not disappear but continued to be firmly rooted, suggesting that important elements of the new Yayoi culture derived from existing Jomon groups. This constitutes proof that the arrival of Yayoi groups was not a sort of invasion in which the existing Jomon people were conquered and exterminated, but that rather the Jomon-Yayoi transition saw the very rapid fusion of two different groups without major friction or conflict.
Omori Katsuyama Stone Circle
Omori Katsuyama stone circle is located at the tip of a 145-m-high tongue-shaped hill on the northeastern side of the foot of Mt. Iwaki in western Aomori Prefecture. It is mainly composed of a stone circle from the first half of the Final Jomon period (approx. 1,000 BCE).
The stone circle from the Final Jomon period, which is rare in Japan, has an elliptical shape measuring 48.5 m in diameter and 39.1 m in minor axis, and was constructed by preparing a circular hill-like bank on a leveled plateau, and then arranging 77 combined stones along the margin of the embankment. The arrangement of the combined stones and other unique aspects of the stone circle make it very important as material evidence of the development and transition of large monuments in the Jomon period.
Earthenware of the first half of the Final Jomon period, stone tools for hunting and collecting such as stone arrowheads, stone spoons, stone pestles and stone plates, and rock plates and stone swords for rituals have been unearthed. Among these, approximately 250 disk-like stone objects unearthed around the stone circle are considered to have been used for certain rituals related to the stone circle, although their specific use is unknown. The existence of these relics distinguishes the property. Pottery demonstrating the advanced craftsmanship of the Kamegaoka pottery culture has also been unearthed, presenting valuable evidence of the Jomon culture, which matured based on stable settlements.
The site is located at the point where the sun sets over the summit of Mt. Iwaki on the winter solstice, and the remains of a large pit dwelling around 100 m southwest of the stone circle show that the structure was constructed at the point where Mt. Iwaki can directly be seen in the back. These can be described as outstanding examples of systematic land use giving elaborate consideration to the environment.
Jomon Period sites to be added to World Heritage list
The Sannai Maruyama site is one of the Jomon Period remains found across Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku region, shown here in Aomori on May 24. (Ryo Ikeda)
Archaeological sites in Hokkaido and the northern Tohoku region dating to the prehistoric Jomon Period, which lasted more than 10,000 years, are expected to soon be added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.
If officially approved, they would be the first pre-Christian era historic sites in Japan to be listed as World Heritage sites.
The Jomon Pottery Culture Period (c. 14,500 B.C.-1,000 B.C.) sites in question include the notable Sannai Maruyama site, which hosts the remains of a large settlement and is designated as a special national historic site by Japan.
The advisory body that conducts preliminary reviews recommended the sites be added to the list, and the final decision will be made during the World Heritage Committee online meeting that starts on July 16, government officials said.
The UNESCO World Heritage Center in Paris notified the Japanese government on May 26 of the recommendation for listing by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
The Jomon sites up for consideration comprise 17 archaeological locations in Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate and Akita prefectures.
The Odai Yamamoto site in Sotogahama, Aomori Prefecture, is where the world’s oldest class of earthenware pieces were discovered.
The Sannai Maruyama site in Aomori, which dates to the middle Jomon Period, is home to the remains of a large settlement where clay dolls were excavated. The archaeological finds there show the development of ancient rituals and ceremonies.
The Oyu Stone Circles in Kazuno, Akita Prefecture, contain ritual remains, mainly consisting of stone circles.
The Japanese government had recommended the addition of the ancient remains to UNESCO on the grounds that they reveal through lasting physical evidence the process of how the Jomon people established their settlements and obtained food through hunting, gathering and fishing.
They also show how humankind lived before the development of agricultural culture, and add to our understanding of the elaborate and complex spiritual culture the Jomon people developed, it said.
Terms Related to the Jomon Sites
Last glacial period
The most recent Glacial period, which began 70,000 years ago and ended 10,000 years ago. The island of Hokkaido was connected to the Eurasian continent at the time due to low sea levels resulting from reduced temperatures. Rapid cooling occurred approximately 13,000 years ago before the Post-glacial period began. This final part of the era is called the Late Glacial period.
A geological epoch dating from 10,000 years ago to the present day. The term Post-glacial is used synonymously with Holocene.
A period of long-term reduction in the earth’s temperature, resulting in the growth of polar ice sheets and glaciers. There have been at least four ice ages in the past separated by warmer interglacial periods.
The most recent geological epoch running from 10,000 years ago when the Last Glacial period ended to the present. Forestland thrived due to global warming, resulting in the formation of the Japanese archipelago’s current environment.
A sea-level rise seen around the Japanese archipelago during the Jomon period. The level at the warmest time from the last half of the Initial Jomon period to the Early Jomon period was 2 or 3 m higher than today, and current inland areas were submerged.
Marine transgression and regression
A sea-level rise caused by climate change is called a marine transgression, and a sea-level fall caused by climate change is called a marine regression.
A dating technique based on the characteristic of carbon-14 (14C, a radioactive isotope) whose abundance ratio is constant in living organisms but decreases at a constant rate after their death.
The term ritual in Japanese is generally used in reference to worship of the gods, but also refers to a primitive form of belief involving prayer for prosperity.
A belief that a spirit is inherent in animals, plants and various other things.
Ainu offering ceremony
A ceremony performed by Ainu people to separate the souls of animals from their bodies and send them off to the world of the gods. A typical example is iyomante – a ceremony in which bear cubs are scarified and a banquet is held.
Summer/winter solstice and vernal equinox
A concept for seasonal classification based on the movement of the sun in consideration of the summer and winter solstice and the vernal and autumnal equinox.
A place where people settled consisting of living areas, graveyards, production areas and dumping grounds. Such areas provide information on civil engineering, architecture, livelihoods, the burial system, trading and various other aspects of Jomon life.
An accumulation of discarded shells, food residues and other waste. Human bones, dog remains and bone and antler objects are also unearthed in such places.
A circular stone arrangement measuring 40 to 50 m in diameter related to the burial system and rituals.
Earthwork burial circle
A cemetery from the Late Jomon period located in Hokkaido. The site was constructed by digging a circular pit and piling the excavated soil around it. The largest such cemetery discovered measures 75 m in diameter and 5.4 m in height.
A site formed in a layer containing large amounts of underground water. Seeds, animal/plant remains, woody artifacts and bone and antler objects are often unearthed with their organic parts intact in such places.
Remains of a giant structure built with great effort, such as a stone circle, earthwork burial circle or mound.
An elliptical or circular pit for the burial of human bodies. Graveyards were constructed in certain parts of settlements.
A building with a floor at the bottom of a pit and a roof supported by pillars. Pit dwellings were used as houses or factories.
A pit for food storage. The cross section of a typical storage pit is flask-shaped. Nuts are sometimes unearthed at such sites.
A grave with an earthenware coffin for infants. Secondary burial pots for adults were also created in Aomori Prefecture and elsewhere during the Late Jomon period.
A structure with a raised floor supported by pillars erected in a pit or a floor at ground level (not including pit dwellings).
A place where large amounts of pottery, stone tools and other items were disposed of along with soil. Earthwork mounds are considered to be related to rituals because many clay figurines have been unearthed there.
A raised area made by heaping up soil.
Bone and antler objects
Tools made of animal bones, antlers, teeth and tusks, including fishing tools (e.g., hooks and harpoons), needles, spatulas and accessories (e.g., hairpins, decorative belts).
An offering made at ceremonies involving prayers.
Goggle-eyed clay figurine
A clay figurine from the first half of the Kamegaoka culture period with large eyes resembling Inuit snow goggles.
Elaborately made decorative earthenware with a variety of types, including deep bowls, regular bowls and shallow bowls with a pedestal, vases, spouted vessels, carefully ground glazeware, and red-pigmented pottery. The non-decorative simple pottery type is called crude earthenware. Most excavated pieces of this type were deep bowls for daily use.
Mikoshiba-Chojakubo stone tool assemblage
Stone tools associated with the origins of pottery, including partly ground stone axes, large stone spears and gravers.
The site consists of two large stone circles located on an artificially flattened plateau on the left bank of the Oyu River, a tributary of the Yoneshiro River in northeastern Akita Prefecture. The site was discovered in 1931, with detailed archaeological excavations taking place in 1946, and in 1951-1952.
The larger circle, named the “Manza(万座)” circle has a diameter of 46 meters, and is the largest stone circle found in Japan. A number of reconstructions of Jomon period dwellings have been built around the site. The slightly smaller circle, named the “Nonakadō(野中堂)” circle, is 42 meters in diameter and is located around 90 meters away, separated from the “Manza” circle by Akita Prefectural Route 66. Each circle is made from rounded river stones brought from another river approximately 7 kilometers away. Each circle in concentric, with and inner and an outer ring separated by an open strip approximately 8 meters wide.  Each circle contains smaller clusters of stone, including standing stones surrounded by elongated stones in a radiating orientation, forming a sundial which points toward the sunset on the summer solstice and allows for calculation of the winter solstice, the vernal equinox and the sun's movements. 
Each circle is surrounded by the remains of buildings, storage pits and midden, and clay figurines, clayware and stoneware (including everyday pottery), stone swords and objects have been discovered. Although the form of the stone circles made have been based on the shape of circular settlements, there is no indication of permanent settlement on the site.
Jômon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaidô, Northern Tôhoku, and other regions
The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.
The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.
Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
This Jômon property is a group of unique archaeological sites representing a culture that continuously occupied the Japanese archipelago for nearly 10,000 years in the natural environment sustained by the humid temperate climate of the Holocene epoch, living in permanent settlements supported primarily by hunting, fishing, and gathering. This makes it distinct from Neolithic cultures in other regions of the earth which were established on agriculture and animal husbandry. The property possesses outstanding universal value as a testimony of a unique cultural tradition representing the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over an immense period of time in a specific geo-cultural region of our planet.
While Jômon culture spread throughout the Japanese archipelago, it displayed particularly noteworthy development in eastern Japan during the era in which broadleaf deciduous forests extended through much of the region, as stable food supplies and the evolution of the techniques used in securing them led to the expansion of areas of permanent settlement, larger communities, and a sudden increase in the number of earthen figurines and stone ritual implements.
Especially in the region centering on Hokkaidô and northern Tôhoku, a number of the distinct cultural zones representative of the Jômon period flourished, now characterized by their pottery types, such as the Entô, Tokoshinai, and Kamegaoka cultures. The Kamegaoka pottery culture in particular spread its influence to distant areas, reaching the Kinki and Chûgoku regions of Honshû Island, and the islands of Shikoku and Kyûshû. The Jômon sites under consideration are located in a variety of different topographical areas from the seacoast to river watersheds and hill country, and include the remains of villages, shell mounds, stone circles, and archaeological sites remaind in wetlands and give dramatic evidence of the process of establishment of permanent settlements and the adaptation of these cultures to the abundant food resources of the broadleaf deciduous forests, the seacoast, and rivers and streams.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Jômon culture is an exceptional example in world history of a Neolithic culture that flourished and matured over more than 10,000 years in permanent settlements sustained by a mode of production involving hunting, fishing, and gathering and the coexistence of human beings and nature in the humid temperature climate of the Holocene epoch.
The group of archaeological sites that serves as material evidence of this cultural tradition is particularly evident in eastern Japan from the time that broadleaf deciduous forests became stably established throughout this region. These sites possess outstanding universal value as a representation of the way in which human beings coexisted with nature over an immense period of time in a specific geo-cultural region of our planet.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The authenticity of all of the constituent sites has been amply maintained from the perspective of the archaeological sites buried underground and the landscape they comprise.
The integrity of the properties is also established by the fact that all the elements indispensable to any discussion of Jômon culture are present, from villages and shell mounds to stone circles and archaeological sites remained in wetlands.
Comparison with other similar properties
Comparable Neolithic archaeological sites inscribed on the World Heritage List are either sites of cave paintings and ritual monuments or sites of tool production. There are no properties comparable to this unique group of archaeological sites, which demonstrate a way of life that continued over such a long span period of the Neolithic era.
Jomon Period Stone Ritual Object - History
2500BC), with regards to an important but frequently overlooked exchange item: amber, which was frequently made into beads or pendants. In Japan, a great deal of important research on beadstone ornament exchange has focussed on sourcing and establishing the extent of the circulation (by means of compiling production and distribution sites), and reconstructing the production processes and typologies. However, although much information is present in excavation site reports concerning structures and artefacts at these sites, relatively little attention has been devoted to the social context in which these ornaments circulated, and the reasons for the appeal of the ornaments leading to such high demand, or the motivation behind the production activities. This paper deals with the materiality of amber, suggesting how its unique physical attributes and the use of ornaments made of this specific material may have mediated social relations in the hunter-gatherer communities of Jomon Japan, as well as their possible role in creating specific identities. Some preliminary evidence will be presented to support the hypothesis that amber ornaments from Awashidai at the Pacific Coast were made by and for hunters, creating social relations among hunters as a group, and may have been used both for sympathetic magic, as well as a sign of personal identity. A brief comparison with the materiality and use context of jade items will be made.
Jomon Period Stone Ritual Object - History
Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture, and design exhibitions at art museums, galleries, and alternative spaces around Japan.
Goggle-eyed clay figurine, Korekawa-Nakai site, Aomori Prefecture, final Jomon period, Important Cultural Property. Photo © Korekawa Archaeological Institution
The northernmost prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, Aomori has some 3,000 Jomon-period archaeological sites -- even its capital city lays claim to a whopping 400. The prefecture is home to half of the 17 sites in northern Japan that are now under review for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In fall 2020 I visited three of these and their affiliated museums, as well as the excellent Aomori Prefectural Museum. There is a staggering body of material still coming from these excavations, which curators and other scholars continue to study and debate for insights into the Jomon: a prehistoric, pre-agricultural society that subsisted across Japan's islands for more than 12 millennia, and whose people created some striking art along the way.