The J?mon period ( J?mon jidai) is the time in Japanese prehistory, traditionally dated between c. 14,000-300 BCE, while recently revised until 1000 BCE, when Japan was inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture, which reached a considerable degree of sedentism and cultural complexity. The name "cord-marked" was first applied by the American scholar Edward S. Morse, who discovered sherds of pottery in 1877 and subsequently translated it into Japanese as j?mon. The pottery style characteristic of the first phases of J?mon culture was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay and is generally accepted to be among the oldest in East Asia and the world.
The Jomon period was rich in tools and jewelry made from bone, stone, shell, and antler; pottery figurines and vessels; and lacquerware. It is often compared to pre-Columbian cultures of the North American Pacific Northwest and especially to the Valdivia culture in Ecuador because in these settings cultural complexity developed within a primarily hunting-gathering context with limited use of horticulture.
The very long--approximately 14,000 years--J?mon period is conventionally divided into a number of phases: Incipient (16,500-10,000 years ago), Initial (10,000-7000), Early (7000-5,450), Middle 5,450-4,420), Late (4,420-3,220) and Final (3,220-2,350), with the phases getting progressively shorter. The fact that this entire period is given the same name by archaeologists should not be taken to mean that there was not considerable regional and temporal diversity; the chronological distance between the earliest J?mon pottery and that of the more well-known Middle J?mon period is about twice as long as the span separating the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza from the 21st century.
Traces of Paleolithic culture, mainly stone tools, occur in Japan from around 30,000 BCE onwards. The earliest "Incipient J?mon" phase began while Japan was still linked to continental Asia as a narrow peninsula. As the glaciers melted following the end of the last glacial period (approximately 12000 years ago), sea levels rose, separating the Japanese archipelago from the Asian mainland; the closest point (in Kyushu) about 190 kilometres (120 mi) from the Korean Peninsula is near enough to be intermittently influenced by continental developments but far enough removed for the peoples of the Japanese islands to develop their own ways.
Within the archipelago, the vegetation was transformed by the end of the Ice Age. In southwestern Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, broadleaf evergreen trees dominated the forests, whereas broadleaf deciduous trees and conifers were common in northeastern Honshu and southern Hokkaido. Many native tree species, such as beeches, buckeyes, chestnuts, and oaks produced edible nuts and acorns. These provided abundant sources of food for humans and for animals.
In the northeast, the plentiful marine life carried south by the Oyashio Current, especially salmon, was an additional major source of food. Settlements along both the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean subsisted on immense amounts of shellfish, leaving distinctive middens (mounds of discarded shells and other refuse) that are now prized sources of information for archaeologists. Other sources of food meriting special mention include Sika deer, wild boar (with possible wild-pig management), yam-like tubers and other wild plants, and freshwater fish. Supported by the highly productive deciduous forests and an abundance of seafood, the population was concentrated in central and northern Honshu, but J?mon sites range from Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Islands.
The earliest pottery in Japan was made at or before the start of the Incipient J?mon period. In 1998 small fragments were found at the Odai Yamamoto I site, which have been dated to 14,500 BCE; subsequently, pottery of roughly the same age was found at other sites such as Kamikuroiwa and Fukui Cave.
Archaeologist Junko Habu claims that "The majority of Japanese scholars believed, and still believe, that pottery production was first invented in mainland Asia and subsequently introduced into the Japanese archipelago." This seems to be confirmed by recent archaeology. As of now, earliest pottery vessels in the world date back to 20,000 BP and were discovered in Xianren Cave in Jiangxi, China. The pottery may have been used as cookware. Other early pottery vessels include those excavated from the Yuchanyan Cave in southern China, dated from 16,000 BCE, and at present it appears that pottery emerged at roughly the same time in Japan, and in the Amur River basin of the Russian Far East.
The first J?mon pottery is characterized by the cord-marking that gives the period its name and has now been found in large numbers of sites. The pottery of the period has been classified by archaeologists into some 70 styles, with many more local varieties of the styles. The antiquity of J?mon pottery was first identified after World War II, through radiocarbon dating methods. The earliest vessels were mostly smallish round-bottomed bowls 10-50 cm high that are assumed to have been used for boiling food and, perhaps, storing it beforehand. They belonged to hunter-gatherers and the size of the vessels may have been limited by a need for portability. As later bowls increase in size, this is taken to be a sign of an increasingly settled pattern of living. These types continued to develop, with increasingly elaborate patterns of decoration, undulating rims, and flat bottoms so that they could stand on a surface.
The manufacture of pottery typically implies some form of sedentary life because pottery is heavy, bulky, and fragile and thus generally unusable for hunter-gatherers. However, this does not seem to have been the case with the first J?mon people, who perhaps numbered 20,000 over the whole archipelago. It seems that food sources were so abundant in the natural environment of the Japanese islands that it could support fairly large, semi-sedentary populations. The J?mon people used chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, traps, and bows, and were evidently skillful coastal and deep-water fishermen.
The degree to which horticulture or small-scale agriculture was practiced by J?mon people is debated. The hunter-gatherer conceptualization of the Jomon period culture is part of scientific romanticized narratives. There is evidence to suggest that arboriculture was practiced in the form of tending groves of lacquer (Toxicodendron verniciflua) and nut (Castanea crenata and Aesculus turbinata) producing trees, as well soybean, bottle gourd, hemp, Perilla, adzuki among others. These characteristics place them somewhere in between hunting-gathering and agriculture.
An apparently domesticated variety of peach appeared very early at Jomon sites in 6700-6400 BP (4700-4400 BCE). This was already similar to modern cultivated forms. This domesticated type of peach was apparently brought into Japan from China. Nevertheless, in China, itself, this variety is currently attested only at a later date of c. 5300 to 4300 BP.
This section needs to be updated.(March 2017)
By the end of the Incipient J?mon phase, around 8000 BCE, a semi-sedentary life-style apparently led to an increase in population density, so that the subsequent phase, the Initial J?mon, exhibits some of the highest densities known for foraging populations. Genetic mapping studies by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza have shown a pattern of genetic expansion from the area of the Sea of Japan towards the rest of eastern Asia. This appears as the third principal component of genetic variation in Eurasia (after the "Great expansion" from the African continent, and a second expansion from the area of Northern Siberia), which suggests geographical expansion during the early J?mon period. These studies also suggest that the J?mon demographic expansion may have reached America along a path following the Pacific coast.
Incipient J?mon (14,000-7500 BCE)
Initial J?mon (7500-4000 BCE)
The Early and Middle J?mon periods saw an explosion in population, as indicated by the number of settlements from this period. These two periods occurred during the Holocene climatic optimum (between 4000 and 2000 BCE), when the local climate became more humid.
Highly ornate pottery dog? figurines and vessels, such as the so-called "flame style" vessels, and lacquered wood objects remain from that time. Interestingly, although the ornamentation of pottery increased over time, the ceramic fabric always remained quite coarse.
This period saw a rise in complexity in the design of pit-houses, the most commonly used method of housing at the time, with some even having stone paved floors. Study in 2015 found that this form of dwelling continued up until the Satsumon culture.
During the Final J?mon period, a slow shift was taking place in western Japan: steadily increasing contact with the Korean Peninsula eventually led to the establishment of Korean-type settlements in western Kyushu, beginning around 900 BCE. The settlers brought with them new technologies such as wet rice farming and bronze and iron metallurgy, as well as new pottery styles similar to those of the Mumun pottery period. The settlements of these new arrivals seem to have coexisted with those of the J?mon and Yayoi for around a thousand years.
The origin myths of Japanese civilization extend back to periods now regarded as part of the J?mon period, though they show little or no relation to what we know archaeologically of J?mon culture. 11 February 660 BCE is the traditional founding date of the Japanese nation by Emperor Jimmu. This version of Japanese history, however, comes from the country's first written records, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries, after Japan had adopted Chinese characters (Go-on/Kan-on).
Some elements of modern Japanese culture may date from this period and reflect the influences of a mingled migration from the northern Asian continent and the southern Pacific areas and the J?mon peoples. Among these elements are the precursors to Shinto, some marriage customs, architectural styles, and technological developments such as lacquerware, laminated yumi, metalworking, and glass making.
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The relationship of J?mon people to the modern Japanese (Yamato people), Ryukyuans and Ainu is diverse and not well clarified. Morphological studies of dental variation and genetic studies suggest that the Jomon people were of southern origin, while other studies about bacteria suggest that the Jomon people were of possible northern origin. According to recent studies the contemporary Japanese people descended from a mixture of the ancient hunter-gatherer J?mon and the Yayoi rice agriculturalists, and these two major ancestral groups came to Japan over different routes at different times.
Recent Y chromosome haplotype testing has led to the hypothesis that male haplogroups D1b (major component) and C1a1 (minor component), which have been found in different percentages of samples of modern Japanese, Ryukyuan, and Ainu population, may reflect patrilineal descent from members of pre-J?mon and J?mon period of the Japanese Archipelago. Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA ("mtDNA") of Jomon skeletons from Hokkaido, Okinawa Island and T?hoku region indicates that haplogroups N9b and M7a may reflect maternal Jomon contribution to the modern Japanese mtDNA pool. In another study of ancient DNA published by the same authors in 2011, both the control and coding regions of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) recovered from Jomon skeletons excavated from the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, were analyzed in detail, and 54 mtDNA samples were confidently assigned to relevant haplogroups. Haplogroups N9b, D4h2, G1b, and M7a were observed in these individuals. According to 2013 study, there was mtDNA sub-haplogroups inter-regional heterogeneity within the Jomon people, specifically between studied Kant?, Hokkaido and T?hoku Jomon. According to 2011 study all major East Asian mtDNA lineages expanded before 10,000 YBP, except for two Japanese lineages D4b2b1 and M7a1a which population expanded around 7000 YBP unequivocally during the J?mon Period (14-2.3 kya), thousands of years before intensive agriculture which imply that the growth of population and depletion of food resources was the reason for population expansion and not agriculture. A 2017 study on ancient Jomon aDNA from Sanganji shell mound in T?hoku region estimates that the modern mainland Japanese population probably inherited less than 20% of Jomon peoples' genomes.
Mark J. Hudson of Nishikyushu University posits that Japan was settled by a proto-Mongoloid population in the Pleistocene who became the J?mon, and that their features can be seen in the Ainu and Ryukyuan people. The Jomon share some physical characteristics, such as relatively abundant body hair, with Caucasians, but anthropological genetics shows them to derive from a completely separate genetic lineage from that of Europeans. Jomon shows closest genetic relationship to Southeast Asians rather than western Eurasian people.
Late Jomon clay statue, Kazahari I, Aomori Prefecture, 1500-1000 BC.
Late Jomon clay head, Shidanai, Iwate Prefecture, 1500-1000 BCE.