Japanese paleolithic polished stone axes

Japanese Paleolithic: 30,000 B.C. - 14,000 B.C.


First Human Settlements in Japan
It is not known when the first human settlements appeared in Japan but there is solid archaeological evidence there were people living in Japan around 30,000 to 35,000 years ago. Some scientists believe there may have been human settlements as far back as 100,000 years ago in Japan. However, claims supporting settlements existed before 35,000 years ago are still disputed and are not widely accepted as valid. The Paleolithic people existed in Japan until around 10,000 to 14,000 years ago when a distinctively different group of people, the Jomon, displaced to them and spread throughout Japan. This period also corresponds to the end of the last Ice Age and the beginning of the Mesolithic period.

Important Finds
The earliest human bones were found in Yamashita Daiich cave in Okinawa in 1962. They are believed to be the fossilized remains of an eight-year-old girl and radiocarbon dating estimates them to be around 32,000 years old. The fossils have been nicknamed Yamashita Dojin.

In 1967, at a stone quarry in Minatogawa, 18,000 year old fossilized bones of seven stone age humans were discovered. In addition, bones from deer and boar were also uncovered at the site. These were the first complete human skeletons from this period to be found in Asia and gained worldwide attention. Minatogawa Man remains of Japan's most well-known Paleolithic find.

Stone Tools
It is not difficult to understand why the Paleolithic period is called the Stone Age considering the number of stone tools excavated from this period. The earliest known polished stone in the ground stone tools in the world have been found in Japan. These have been dated to around 30,000 years ago and are usually associated with cultures appearing around 10,000 years ago in the rest of the world. Paleolithic excavation sites usually contain many small flakes and chips from the manufacture and sharpening stone tools.

Paleolithic Diet
The Paleolithic people of Japan most likely subsisted on fish, animals, fruits, nuts, and berries. The Hatsunegahara site had over 50 traps for catching animals like wild boar and Naumann elephants, the predecessor of mammoths. Giant fallow deer and bison could also have been caught in these animal traps used 25,000 - 27,000 years ago.

Paleoanthropology
Archaeologists think the islands of Japan were settled by Paleolithic peoples arriving via two routes, one from the north and one from the south. Recent DNA evidence suggests the Jomon people migrated from the northeast area of the Asain mainland as part of the Paleo-Asian group living in large areas of Asia. Some paleontologists believe the Ainu population in Japan descends from this Paleo-Asian group. Today, the aboriginal Ainu live mostly in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

Paleolithic Archeology in Japan
In 2000 the reputation of Japan's Paleolithic studies was greatly damaged by a scandal involving a senior researcher at the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute. Shinichi Fujimura, an amateur archaeologist who participated in over 170 archaeological digs, confessed to planting artifacts at the Kamitakamori site after he was photographed burying forged artifacts the day before "finding" them. Members of the archaeological community became suspicious as the objects he was uncovering became increasingly older. Many textbooks were required to be rewritten and museum displays containing Fujimura's "finds" were removed. The hoax resulted in the timeline of the Japanese Paleolithic being pushed back to 300,000 years BP. However, with the scandal now public there is currently no solid evidence of human civilization in Japan before 30,000 to 35,000 years ago.