20 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

14,000 years old vessels made by Hunter-gatherers in Japan

The Late Pleistocene inhabitants of Tanegashima Island were making pottery about 14,000 years ago. In the Jomon period, people obtained food mainly through gathering, fishing, and hunting. There is no sign of them starting to settle and grow food.

Previously, hunter-gatherers on the move were not thought to have developed pottery. however, it is now known that pottery preceded agriculture in East Asia.

Researchers examined specimens dated to the  Incipient Jomon from the Sankauyama I site on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan. They are associated with the Incipient Jomon culture, which spanned from 14,000 to 13,500 years to 12,800 years ago. (The final phase of the Jomon culture was 300 B.C.E.)

The vessels, discovered and excavated by the Kagoshima Prefectural Archeology Center and now reviewed by lead author Fumie Iizuka of the University of California along with Jeffrey Ferguson of the University of Missouri and Masami Izuho of the Tokyo Metropolitan University, are apparently among the earliest pottery in the world.

According to radiocarbon-based geochronology, pottery vessel technology first appeared in East Asia and Northeast Asia in the late Pleistocene.

Jomon pottery, deep bowls
Jomon pottery, deep bowls

Jomon pottery continued to be produced for approximately 10,000 years.

“Those vessels are all hunter-gatherer’s vessels,” Fumie Iizuka of the University of California spells out. They were not made by early farmers. There is no evidence whatsoever of domestic plants or animals on Tanegashima, or in the southern Kyushu region as a whole, she says.

Even considering that the advent of agriculture was a long-term process, the team suggests that the Initial Jomon of southern Kyushu was pre-agricultural. “Therefore, pottery was made before farming,” she says.

In her opinion, the dating of pottery found in southern China to 20,000 or 18,000 years ago, or items in the Transbaikal region of Siberia seemingly from 16,700 years ago, remains unproven, Iizuka explains.

Most of the early pottery found on Tanegashima was locally made. But 10 to 14 percent of them came from other islands, which the team said likely reflects prehistoric cultures and trade relationships. The pottery itself was exchanged, or locally available goods may have been included in the pottery and exchanged, Iizuka qualifies, adding: the decorative styles of the pottery are like that of southern Kyushu.

China dating 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. Photo: Zhangzhugang
China dating 20,000 to 10,000 years ago. Photo: Zhangzhugang

Timing by volcano

The team used Sakurajima, a highly active volcano in southern Kyushu, as the timing for the geochronology of the Tanegashima pottery.

Based on volcanic gunk securely dated to 12,800 years ago that lies above the pottery, the team concludes that the pottery at the open-air site of Sankakuyama I on Tanegashima is between 14,000 to 13,000 years old.

Eleven Incipient Jomon sites have been identified on that island. One is Sankakuyama, which had been occupied from the Incipient Jomon until about 1,700 years ago. (Tanegashima in general has been occupied for about 35,000 years, Iizuka says.)

Despite being pre-agricultural, the Incipient Jomon was marked by a population increase, especially in Tanegashima. It was a time of global climate change and gradually rising sea levels as the Ice Age wound down. As the waters rose, Tanegashima became isolated, cut off from Kyushu, about 14,300 years ago.

Sakurajima
Sakurajima. Wikipedia

On the other hand, as the Ice Age waned, the living at Sankakuyama was easy, with relatively reliable balmy weather. They wouldn’t have had to trek long distances to forage, the archaeologists believe.

This would have enabled increased sedentarism, enabling pottery manufacture: no less than 4,000 pieces were found at Sankakuyama from the Incipient Jomon. The items were bowls – some shallow, some deep – and decorated mostly with appliqués bands, and some with shell or tool stamping and fingerprints. And some plates.

Further suggesting sedentarism, the people had heavy-duty grinding stones and lived in pit-houses, Iizuka says, which applies to all the Incipient Jomon sites on Tanegashima. She adds that being inland but near the sea, there would have been plenty of seafood. Sadly, because the soil is acidic, bones from their repasts have not survived the ages. However, analysis of encrustations on the pottery indicates that they ate animals, plants, and seafood.

Jomon Pottery. Photo: Met Museum

Fumie Iizuka, “The concept of Neolithic needs to be reevaluated. We argue that in the case of southern Kyushu, especially on the islands like Tanegashima, there are varied signatures of Neolithic existing during the Incipient Jomon: pottery, grinding stones, ground stone axes, increased sedentism” – and more.

The research was published in PLOS ONE in March.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0265329

Related Articles

An 8,200-year-old temple structure found in Çatalhöyük

6 September 2022

6 September 2022

An 8,200-year-old temple structure was found during the 30th excavation season of the excavations at Çatalhöyük, one of the first...

Two monumental sculpted Roman heads unearthed in Carlisle, northern England

25 May 2023

25 May 2023

Two monumental statue heads believed to be dated to the early 3rd century have been unearthed during excavations at a...

Ancient rubbish dump under Hatshepsut temple reveals hundreds of artifacts

24 November 2021

24 November 2021

Polish archaeologists uncovered a 3,500-year-old dump while working on the reconstruction of the Hathor Goddess Chapel, which is part of...

The tomb of the “Bird Oracle Markos” was found in the ancient city of Pergamon

31 August 2022

31 August 2022

During the excavations carried out in the Ancient City of Bergama, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the...

Hebrew University Archaeologists have Unveiled 7,000-year-old Seal İmpressions

10 June 2021

10 June 2021

Israeli archaeologists unveiled a 7,000-year-old clay seal impression used for commerce and protection of property, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem...

Found in Spain a poem by Virgil engraved in a Roman amphora

22 June 2023

22 June 2023

Archaeologists have deciphered a verse by Virgil, the greatest poet of Rome’s Golden Age, carved into the clay of a...

A new study provides evidence that modern humans, coexisted in the same region with Neanderthals for thousands of years

11 February 2024

11 February 2024

A genetic analysis of bone fragments excavated from an archaeological site in Ranis, Germany provides conclusive evidence that modern humans...

Military veterans uncovered ‘richest grave this year’ on final dig at Anglo-Saxon Cemetery

19 July 2023

19 July 2023

During excavations at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery on military training lands on Salisbury Plain, military veterans have unearthed the richest tomb...

A prehistoric monument consisting of three round enclosures, one of which resembles a horseshoe, was discovered in France

7 April 2024

7 April 2024

Archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) unearthed an unusual, prehistoric monument in the shape of...

A Roman sarcophagus bearing the title of “Emperor’s Protector” was found for the first time in Anatolia

29 April 2022

29 April 2022

A sarcophagus carrying the title of “Emperor’s protector” was discovered in the province of Kocaeli in western Turkey. With the...

Receding waters in Lake Van reveal rock-cut Urartian port

22 September 2022

22 September 2022

Located in the eastern province of Van in Turkey, the falling water level of Lake Van, with the decrease in...

Archaeologists have discovered a 2800-year-old Urartian Castle in eastern Turkey

17 June 2021

17 June 2021

Archaeologists discovered the ruins of a castle going back 2,800 years on a mountain 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea...

Treasure of 1,290 Ancient Roman Coins Discovered by Amateur Archaeologist in Switzerland

16 April 2022

16 April 2022

An amateur archeologist has found a big treasure trove of over 1,290 priceless, ancient Roman coins dating back to the...

Rare gold gifts 2300 years old discovered in the famous Phoenician city of Carthage

17 August 2023

17 August 2023

Archaeologists excavating the sanctuary of Tophet, Carthage uncovered a collection of offerings, Tunisia’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs announced in a...

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

16 February 2024

16 February 2024

In the town of San Giorgio Bigarello, near the northern Italia city of Mantua, a large Copper Age necropolis dating...