Category Archives: Japan

Oldest Okinawan Paleolithic evidence of human presence

A human tooth accompanying a hoard of modified shells shaped as tools have been found in the Sakitari-do cave (Nanjo, Okinawa). They are dated to c. 20-23,000 years ago. They seem to be the first known evidence of human presence in the East Asian archipelago.

The Sakitari-do cave is just 1.5 km away from where the Minatogawa human remains were found, which are however of a somewhat more recent date (c. 18-16 Ka ago). 

Minatogawa 1 (source)

Source: The Asahi Shimbun (via Pileta).


Posted by on February 17, 2014 in archaeology, East Asia, Japan, Upper Paleolithic


Ancient Jomon mtDNA from Japan

Udege family
There is some debate about the connection between the Jomon period (Japan’s ceramic but pre-agricultural period, extending between c. 16,000 to 2300 years ago) and the Ainu, as well as Ryukyuans and other peoples, including mainstream Japanese. A new study provides some extra bits of information to fuel the debate:

Hideaki Kanzawa-Kiriyama et al., Ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences of Jomon teeth samples from Sanganji, Tohoku district, Japan. Anthropological Science 2013 (advance publication). Open access → LINK [doi:10.1537/ase.121113]
The researchers sequenced ancient mtDNA from Jomon remains from a shell mound of Sanganji (Fukushima), which produced two M7a2, one N9b2 and one (incomplete) N9b* sequences.
Referring to previous similar studies as well, they produced the following tables:

From this data it would appear that the ancient Jomon people would be most closely related to modern Udegey (or Udege) from the Amur region of Eastern Siberia (with the possible exception of the Kanto Jomon, who may be closest to Ryukyuans instead).

The Sanganji sample is included pooled into Tohoku Jomon

The Ainu, it must be said, are next in line after the Udege, and I wonder if recent admixture may be distorting their relation. Another issue is that in such an extensive period of almost all the Holocene and even some millennia into the Pleistocene, there may have been flows and variability also within the Jomons (the Sanganji shell mound is dated to c. 4000-2500 BP, for example).
Whatever the case, it seems clear that N9b was an important matrilineage among ancient Jomon peoples, while M7a (now most common among Ryukyuans) was present but less common, with the Sanganji sample being rather exceptional in this.

Fish soup in Japanese pots from 15,000 years ago

The revealing pot
Not the oldest known pottery on Earth, which is from Southern China and dated c. 20,000 BP, but close enough: Paleolithic peoples of Japan (proto-Ainu?) used ceramic pots to cook fish some 15,000 years ago.
O.E. Craig et al., Earliest evidence for the use of pottery. Nature 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1038/nature12109]


Pottery was a hunter-gatherer innovation that first emerged in East Asia between 20,000 and 12,000 calibrated years before present1, 2 (cal bp), towards the end of the Late Pleistocene epoch, a period of time when humans were adjusting to changing climates and new environments. Ceramic container technologies were one of a range of late glacial adaptations that were pivotal to structuring subsequent cultural trajectories in different regions of the world, but the reasons for their emergence and widespread uptake are poorly understood. The first ceramic containers must have provided prehistoric hunter-gatherers with attractive new strategies for processing and consuming foodstuffs, but virtually nothing is known of how early pots were used. Here we report the chemical analysis of food residues associated with Late Pleistocene pottery, focusing on one of the best-studied prehistoric ceramic sequences in the world, the Japanese Jōmon. We demonstrate that lipids can be recovered reliably from charred surface deposits adhering to pottery dating from about 15,000 to 11,800 cal bp (the Incipient Jōmon period), the oldest pottery so far investigated, and that in most cases these organic compounds are unequivocally derived from processing freshwater and marine organisms. Stable isotope data support the lipid evidence and suggest that most of the 101 charred deposits analysed, from across the major islands of Japan, were derived from high-trophic-level aquatic food. Productive aquatic ecotones were heavily exploited by late glacial foragers3, perhaps providing an initial impetus for investment in ceramic container technology, and paving the way for further intensification of pottery use by hunter-gatherers in the early Holocene epoch. Now that we have shown that it is possible to analyse organic residues from some of the world’s earliest ceramic vessels, the subsequent development of this critical technology can be clarified through further widespread testing of hunter-gatherer pottery from later periods.

Main source: Pileta[es/en].

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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in East Asia, Japan, pottery, Upper Paleolithic


Claim that Japanese are 60-72% Neolithic

Jomon clay head
An open access letter claims that modern Japanese are 2/3 of Neolithic ancestry (except Ryukyuans, who’d be 2/3 Paleolithic instead).

The explanation is however not really clear for me and, looking at their own data, I can’t really accept such conclusions easily:

Only the yellow component (at K=4), almost totally absent in the Ryukyuans and dominant among North Chinese and Koreans, the likely parent populations of the Yayoi farmers, can be considered to inform the input of such immigrants to Japan. The exact apportions are not detailed anywhere in the letter but it seems to be c. 35% among Koreans (KR-KR) and Shanghai Chinese (CN-SH) and slightly above 20% among North Han (NHan, CHB). 
By comparison mainland Japanese (Japanese, JPT, JP-ML) show c. 10% in most cases. IF the parent proto-Yayoi population would be Koreans, then Japanese would have less than 1/3 Yayoi blood, while if the proto-Yayoi is equated to Northern Han instead, then the result would be at most 50%. 
In the case of Ryukyans, the Yayoi input would be negligible, almost zero. They’d be almost 100% Jomon, assuming this concept applies to the Ryukyu islands at all.
In truth I do not know what to think of this article other than it seems confusing and inconsistent with its own data.

Echoes from the Past (Nov 11)

There is a lot of stuff accumulating in the to do folder again. I am sure that you will find most or at least some of it interesting.
People who can only read in English may want to consider now subscribing to Pileta de Prehistoria. Until recently most of the materials were in Spanish and largely home-made but since a few days ago, they are compiling a lot of Prehistory-related news, most of them in English. Part of my queue has to do with this change in content.
Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic
Laetoli ash walkers may have been unrelated among them: the various individuals of Australopithecus afarensis who walked on volcanic ash at Laetoli some 3.6 million years ago did so in different occasions and may therefore not have been relatives ··> Live Science.
A researcher questions whether Idaltu (Herto man, reconstruction at right) was actually a Homo sapiens. I think that the questioning is very weak, with key vault-height measures that rather make Idaltu outstanding within H. sapiens range rather than approaching Kabwe (H. rhodesiensis), which had a low vault. However the paper has a long list of anthropometric data on various H. sapiens specimens (all West Eurasian ones, except Idaltu) and said H. rhodesiensis which may be of interest for readers, so worth mentioning anyhow ··> Kyle D. Lubsen’s PDF at the Journal of Contemporary Anthropology, Neanderfollia[cat].

(Note: nearly all you need to know about anthropometry seems to be in this nice site).

Human bones found in Okinawa dated to c. 24,000 years ago (oldest occupation known to date) ··> M24, ABC[es].
Painted stones discovered in Hohler Fels (Swabian Jura, Germany).  The style of the stones, dated to c. 15,000 years ago resembles that of SW Europe. However no wall mural has yet been located in that region. It was experimentally demonstrated that the dots are not made with either brush or finger but with a wooden stamp ··> SD, Der Spiegel, Qué[es].

Hohler Fells painted stones
Spotted horses did exist in the Paleolithic, DNA suggests, emphasizing the realism of Magdalenian cave painters, which occasionally painted such kind of coats ··> M. Pruvost et al. at PNAS, Science, SD, Dienekes, Popular Archaeology, NYT.

The dots are not symbols but realistic depictions, it seems now

Download link for Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Werner Herzog’s documentary on Cave Chauvet (English with subtitles in Spanish).
Epipaleolithic findings in Rotterdam’s harbor. The expansion works for the largest port of Europe have located very small fragments of animal bone (some of which was burnt by human action) and flint stone. Not much but enough to demonstrate human presence in the Western Netherlands in that period, being the first known direct evidence of it ··> Dredging Today, Paleorama[es].

Neolithic & Metal Ages

Neolithic findings in Qatar are oldest known to date in the Emirate: some flint tools and Ubaid style pottery (proto-Sumerian) are complemented by animal remains of diverse significance: fish bones indicating what they captured at sea, shells used for decorative purposes (right) as well as for food, a dog’s canine and even the hearth and the hole for the main pillar of their probably sedentary residence have been found ··> Gulf Times.
No second chamber at Newgrange ··> The Meath Chronicle.
Archaeological findings in Inner Mongolia ··> Archaeology News Network (another site to follow apparently)
Humor (from Heritage in Action): Norwegian singer Vegard Ylvisåker made a freaky song on Stonehenge. While I don’t like the music, the lyrics have some great moments for laughs (in English with English subtitles, just in case):

There are also some awkward moments because any megalithomaniac worth that name knows that Stonehenge is not a henge (rondel) but a stone ring (cromlech) but well…


The Neanderthal genome goes open access… or something like that. Millán Mozota recommends this UC Santa Cruz page dedicated to allow anyone interested to access the Neanderthal genome in full detail. I can’t but agree: an important resource.
The Genographic Project claims that our species migrated from Africa to Asia via Arabia. Better late than never ··> Marta Melé et al. at MBE (pay per view), PR Newswire, Paleorama[es], La Vanguardia[es].
From Melé’s abstract:

We also observe that the patterns of recombinational diversity of these populations correlate with distance out of Africa if that distance is measured along a path crossing South Arabia. No such correlation is found through a Sinai route, suggesting that anatomically modern humans first left Africa through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait rather than through present Egypt.

The Genographic Project’s latest elaboration is coastal migration (finally!)
Successful pioneers get some selective advantage… or so it seems from a study of Quebecois surnames (which does not count the fallen) ··> C. Moreau et al at Science (pay per view), SD.

Psychological anthropology

Neanderthal brains were strikingly asymmetric. It is unclear why but their right hemisphere was hyper-developed, at least among those from El Sidrón (Asturias) ··> Sinc[es].
Does the origin of language lay in baby apes’ gestures? Not the first time I am told that language began with gestures but, specially if you’re unfamiliar with this concept, you may want to read this article at New Scientist.