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2019-10-08 08:56:37   •   ID: 2127

Bifacial Obsidian Points of the Kyōto Province / Japan

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 1 and 2: This is a bifacial, flat foliated artifact, from the Kyōto Province / Japan, measuring from 7 x 35 x 92 mm, made from obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass.

Another example from the same site is displayed in Figure 3 and 4 (40 x 10 x 8mm) - certainly a tanged projectile point made by the same material.

Obsidian is found in areas where volcanic eruptions have taken place and is the result of a rapid cooling of the lava.

Due to Japans seismic activity and geological characteristics, the Archipelago has an abundance of obsidian, exploited even by mining since c 30 k.a. BP.

Further information about the prehistoric use of Obsidian can be found here: 1018 , here 1111 , here: 1509 , here: 1647 , here: 1734 , and here 1313

For a West-European observer it is almost impossible to get a concise overview about the Paleolithic of Japan. Trouble begins with the scientific literature, usually not written in English, continues with an uncommon nomenclature of Prehistoric Periods, and ends with a system of Archaeological research , different to the Western world.

For this post I will use the terms: Paleolithic (38-14 k.a. BP) and Jomon (14 k.a.- 1,3 k.a. BP) periods. Both entities are characterized by a Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle, no indication for domesticates and the presence of pottery during the Jomon period.

It seems that the artifacts of this post are rather from the Paleolithic than from the Jomon phase. At least they do not show the typical Jomon-characteristics but fit into the spectrum of the local " late Paleolithic"

During MIS 3/2, and especially during the LGM, Japan was connected to mainland Asia by at least one land bridge, and nomadic hunter-gatherers crossed to Japan.

Anatomical modern humans reached East Asia by > 40k.a. Humans are believed to have arrived in Japan later, around 38 k.a. by following great herds of animals across land bridges connecting the islands of Japan with the Asian continent but more likely on boats via the chain of islands that link Korea, Okinawa and the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

Genetic and archaeological evidence indicate that the Jomon-people are direct descendants of the Upper-Paleolithic people who started living in the Japanese archipelago around 38 k.a. (Takashi et al. 2019).

The Paleolithic on the Japanese Archipelago is represented by a series of regional Technocomplexes with characteristic Upper Paleolithic tools in European terms (Blades, Bladelets, Scraper, Burins...) but some unique features like the early appearance of edge-ground axes, the presence of trapezoids and knife-shaped tools (Nakazawa 2017). Bifacially flaked stemmed points are common during 16-13 k.a. Cal BP)

Please note that the Archipelago shows an enormous variability in the Paleolithic Archaeological record. Paleolithic in the Paleo-Honshu region started around 38 k.a. whereas the beginning of the Paleolithic Record in Hokkaido is not earlier than 30 k.a.

The „ Early Upper Paleolithic“ consisted of Pebble and Flake Tools and first appeared around 38 k.a. CalBP. These lithic assemblages probably testify a Pioneer Phase of settlement.

Kudo Yuichiro has proposed the following chronology for the Japanese "Late Paleolithic" and the beginning of the Jomon Period in eastern Honshu, based on nearly 90 calibrated radiocarbon dates from over 20 sites.

It seems, that he, like many of his colleagues, follows a Culture- Historical approach. The bifacial Obsidian Artifacts of this post seem to come from his Group 4.

1. Backed point industry: 29-20 k.a. calBP. It consists of knife-shaped partially backed tools. These implements have an appearance similar to "Ksar Akil" Points in the Levant (certainly a convergence phenomenon).

2. Point industry: 21-19 k.a. calBP. Unfortunately I have no literature about the morphology of these points...

3. Microblade industry: 18-15 k.a. calBP: Wedge-shaped microblade cores have been regarded as the material signature of human adaptation across the northern latitudes (>40 N), namely regions of the northern Pacific Rim consisting of northeastern Asia (i.e., Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan) and northern North America (i.e., Alaska and Pacific coast of Canada). About Microblades see: 1517

The next chronological stages are defined more by pottery than by stone artifacts and are called "Incipient Jomon" by local researchers:

4. Bifacial (Point) Industry & Plain pottery group: 17-15 k.a. calBP. Large Foliates and bifacial retouched and stemmed points are common. Together with some isolated pottery findings from China, this complex exhibits one of the first evidence of the production of Pottery in the world.

5. Slender-clay-ridges pottery group: 16-15) k.a. calBP

6. Crescent-impressed & cord-marked pottery group: 13-11 k.a. calBP

7. Cord-wrapped-stick pattern pottery group: 11 k.a. calBP: This group marks the Beginning of the "typical" Jomon culture represented by the so called Yoriitomon Pottery phase in the Kanto Region, with the impressive increase in the quantities of pottery and the first appearance of shellmounds (Nakazawa 2017).

Note that in other regions the chronology differs from eastern Honshū. For example slender bifacial points were present at Kyūshū around 16-14 k.a. B.P together with tanged points, similar to contemporaneous tanged points in Korea.

A Pre-Clovis American-Japan connection ?

"The Cooper's Ferry archaeological site in western North America has provided evidence for the pattern and time course of the early peopling of the Americas. Davis et al. describe new evidence of human activity from this site, including stemmed projectile points.

Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian analysis indicate an age between 16,560 and 15,280 years before present. Humans therefore arrived in the Americas before an inland ice-free corridor had opened, so a Pacific coastal route was the probable entry route.

The stemmed projectile points closely resemble those found in Upper Paleolithic Japan, also supporting the hypothesis of a coastal route
“ (Davies et al. 2019).

More likely and less speculative than the infamous Solutrean-Clovis connection!

Suggested Reading:

M Otte: La Prehistoire de la Chine er de l Extreme Orient (2010).

J Habu: Ancient Jomon of Japan (Case Studies in Early Societies; 2004)