14,000-year-old vessels made by hunter-gatherers found in Japan

(ORDO NEWS) — The Late Pleistocene inhabitants of Tanegashima were making pottery around 14,000 years ago. During the Jomon period, people obtained food mainly through gathering, fishing and hunting. There is no sign that they began to settle and grow food.

It was previously believed that hunter-gatherers who were on the move could not master pottery. However, pottery is now known to predate agriculture in East Asia.

The researchers studied samples dating back to the early Jomon era from the Sankauyama I site on the island of Tanegashima in southern Japan. They are associated with the Incipient Jomon culture, which existed from 14,000-13,500 years ago to 12,800 years ago. (The last phase of the Jomon culture was around 300 BC).

The vessels discovered and excavated by the Kagoshima Prefectural Archaeological Center and now studied by lead author Fumie Iizuka of the University of California, along with Jeffrey Ferguson of the University of Missouri and Masami Izuho of Tokyo Metropolitan University, appear to be some of the earliest pottery in the world.

According to geochronology based on radiocarbon data, pottery vessel technology first appeared in East Asia and Northeast Asia in the Late Pleistocene.

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Jomon pottery continued to be made for about 10,000 years.

“These vessels are all hunter-gatherer vessels,” says Fumie Iizuka of the University of California. They were not made by early farmers. According to her, on Tanegashima, as well as in the southern region of Kyushu in general, there is no evidence of domestic plants or animals.

Even though the emergence of agriculture was a long process, the team suggests that southern Kyushu’s original jomon was pre-agricultural. “Therefore, pottery was made before the advent of agriculture,” she says.

In her opinion, dating ceramics found in southern China to 20,000 or 18,000 years ago, or objects in Transbaikalia in Siberia apparently 16,700 years ago, remains unproven, Iizuka explains.

Most of the early pottery found at Tanegashima was locally made. But between 10 and 14 percent of them were brought from other islands, which the team believes likely reflects prehistoric cultures and trade relations.

The pottery itself was exchanged, or local goods could be incorporated into the pottery and exchanged, Iizuka elaborates, adding that the decorative styles of the pottery are similar to those of southern Kyushu.

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Volcano Time

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

Based on volcanic debris that is reliably dated to 12,800 years ago and lies above the pottery, the team concluded that the pottery at the Sankakuyama I open site on Tanegashima is between 14,000 and 13,000 years old.

On this island, eleven sites from the era of the origin of Jomon were discovered. One of them is Sankakuyama, which was occupied from the Ancient Jomon era until about 1,700 years ago. (Tanegashima as a whole has been inhabited for about 35,000 years, Iizuka says).

Even though it was a pre-agrarian period, there was an increase in population during the early Jomon era, especially in Tanegashima. It was a time of global climate change and a gradual rise in sea levels as the ice age ended. As the waters rose, Tanegashima became isolated, cut off from Kyushu, about 14,300 years ago.

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On the other hand, as the ice age waned, life in Sankakuyama was easy, with relatively reliable warm weather. According to archaeologists, they would not have to travel long distances in search of food.

This made it possible to increase the settlement, which made it possible to produce ceramics: at least 4,000 products from the era of the birth of the Jomon were found in Sankakuyama. These were bowls – some shallow, others deep – and decorated mainly with appliqués, and some with shells or stamps and tool impressions. And some plates.

Iizuka says that this applies to all of the early Jomon sites on Tanegashima, which indicates a sedentary lifestyle: people had heavy grindstones and lived in pits.

She also adds that being inland but close to the sea, there would be plenty of seafood here. Unfortunately, because the soil is acidic, the bones from their meals have not been preserved for centuries. However, analysis of bedding on pottery shows that they ate animals, plants, and seafood.

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Fumie Iizuka, “The concept of the Neolithic needs to be reassessed. We argue that in the case of southern Kyushu, especially on islands such as Tanegashima, there are various signs of the Neolithic that existed at the time of the birth of Jomon: ceramics, grinding stones, stone axes, increased settlement” – and much more.

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