Archaeology[Chapter 3] Native Hunter-Gatherer Culture: The Jōmon Period

The earliest earthenware pottery found in the Japanese archipelago dates to around 16,000 years ago, during the ice age.  With the revolutionary development of this pottery, human beings were able to do more than heat raw food over flames, and could now produce various sorts of cooked food. During this same period, bows and arrows were developed for hunting game animals.  
The Jōmon culture did not cultivate livestock or engage in agricultural production at this stage. With no major cultivated crop, they practiced a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and traveled the land with the changes in the seasons. Various patterned earthenware pottery, figurines, tablets, and some stone rods have been unearthed. These mysterious tools provide glimpses of the unique worldview of the Jōmon people.  The Jōmon period lasted until roughly 2,500 years ago. It is subdivided into early, middle, and late periods. At first people continued to practice the nomadic lifestyle of the earlier stone age. Then, approximately 10,000 years ago, settlements started to increase. From this middle Jōmon period forward, society became increasingly complex and various regional cultural variations started to appear. 

-Jōmon period vessels-

Jōmon period vessels are basically deep bowls of baked clay used for boiling food. From the pre-Jomon to early Jōmon period, conical and round-bottomed bowls are seen, but from the end of the early period forward, the flat-bottom bowl appears to have become standard. Next to appear were bowls with wave-patterned rims, and by the middle Jōmon period, in the Chūbu and Kantō regions we see the development of three-dimensional patterns with narrative designs in use. By the late Jōmon period, excessive decoration seems to disappear, with the distinctive Jōmon (rope-designed) patterns in use, continuing to be prominent into the late Jōmon period. Also, in the late Jōmon period, development of distinctive regional earthenware vessels in eastern and western Japan are seen. 

―Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle―

In the Jōmon period, people hunted small to medium size game, deer and wild boar among others, using bow and arrows and traps, living as hunter-gatherers. They gathered walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns, pounding these in stone bowls and making cookie-like food.  Judging from the fish bones and shells that have been unearthed, we can also see that they engaged in fishing as well as collecting clams and other shellfish. They did not only fish in the rivers; they also fished in the sea, sailing in dugout wooden boats and using harpoons and bone fishhooks. 

-Prehistoric Jewelry: Shells worn on the body-

The custom of using personal accessories to display group membership, class, and sex was a custom from the early stone age period through the Yayoi period, up until the Kofun period. Examples of jade, stone, clay, and bone jewelry, as well as objects like combs, hairpins, necklaces, earrings, and even shell bracelets can be seen. In the Yayoi period jasper necklaces and rings made of shells became the indicators of upper-level social rank. From as early as the middle Yayoi period, it is possible to see glass beeds and metal bangles and bracelets, which indicate early work in metallurgy. 

-The worldview and rituals of the Jōmon people -

The Jōmon period people produced more than simply the tools necessary to their livelihood. It is difficult to imagine the use of some of the mysterious artifacts that they left behind. Large and small earthen figurines and stone poles are some examples of relics that tell us about their worldview, and it is worth noting that many of these appear to have been destroyed intentionally.  Because their settlements and grave sites were located together, we can understand that they did not yet separate the space of the living from the space of the dead.  Stone circles and other monuments appear to have been constructed with consideration given to the movements of the sun along the mountaintops throughout the year.