The Early Palaeolithic Scandal --
A Few Comments on the Scientific Approach

Home | Index by Charles T. Keally
April 15, 2001

This paper was published in Japanese in Special Issue: Discussing the Facts of the Early Palaeolithic Fabrication Incident, Science of Humanity Bensei, no. 34, pp. 38-39, 2001. Bensey Publishing Co., Tokyo

OKAMURA Michio has made the comment publicly that we need to calm down and approach the validation (confirmation or denial) process scientifically (Okamura 2001). I agree completely.

The people who have already made up their minds that all Early Palaeolithic artifacts from sites FUJIMURA Shin'ichi was associated with are planted artifacts are thinking with their guts and not with their brains. The same is true for those who accept these artifacts and deny any good reasons to doubt them.

Except for the artifacts that Fujimura admits planting, all the rest are gray -- not black and not white either. Below are three examples of unacceptable arguments on both sides of this controversy. These examples are typical of most arguments that are being given by both the proponents and the opponents of the Japanese Early Palaeolithic.

  1. The Early Palaeolithic artifacts look like Jomon artifacts and therefore they are Jomon vs. The Early Palaeolithic artifacts look like Jomon artifacts but they are not Jomon.

    Both these statements are unscientific and meaningless. First, saying these "Early Palaeolithic" artifacts look like Jomon artifacts and saying they are Jomon artifacts are very different ideas that require very different support.

    Everybody already agrees that these artifacts look like Jomon artifacts, and most people with two eyes can make that same determination. But it will require dozens of detailed measurements and computer-based analyses to say these artifacts are, or are not, Jomon. And most of these measurements must be quantitative, not qualitative. Terms like "shallow flaking" or "deep flaking" are not acceptable unless they are clearly defined by quantitative measurements so that anybody can make the same determination on the same artifact. The lithic material is one of the few qualitative measures allowable. The kind of study that is needed here is roughly like what the physical anthropologists do when they measure and compare skulls.

    Also, I will not accept identification of pressure flaking versus percussion flaking, unless the person making this identification shows very clearly, with detailed discussion and citations, that he or she or anyone is capable of making that identification. And after that, it will require a lot of detailed discussion and citations to hundreds of sites to convince me that (1) pressure flaking has not yet been found in sites older that what that person claims, and (2) that pressure flaking could not appear earlier in Japan than anywhere else.

  2. The Early Palaeolithic sites reported in Miyagi Prefecture are doubtful because nothing has been found yet on the Musashino Upland in South Kanto, despite enough excavation to have found Early Palaeolithic there if it existed vs. Not enough excavation of the Musashino Loam has been done yet on the Musashino Upland.

    The word "enough" is a vague, wholly undefined and meaningless term on both sides of this argument.

    First, how much of the Musashino Loam has been excavated on the Musashino Upland? The answer requires the total statistics on the excavation work on all Palaeolithic sites there -- square meters and cubic meters of the Tachikawa Loam that were excavated on each site, square meters and cubic meters of the Musashino Loam that were excavated on each site, the number of Late Palaeolithic artifacts that were found, and so on.

    Then a very detailed, clear and convincing argument needs to be given to support why this total amount of excavation is enough or not enough.

  3. Priority should be given to types over stratigraphy vs. Priority should be given to stratigraphy over types.

    This discussion has appeared in a number of sources, and a lot of nonsense has been spoken on the topic. Any "archaeologist" who does not think priority should be given to stratigraphy over artifact types when determining the age of artifacts is not an archaeologist.

    But giving priority to stratigraphy assumes that the stratigraphy is intact and that the artifacts are in undisturbed primary context in that stratigraphy. Only when the stratigraphy is not intact should the archaeologist fall back on the weaker typology for estimating the age of artifacts.

    Note that, when YAMANOUCHI Sugao put together the Jomon pottery sequence over 60 years ago, he gave priority to stratigraphy over typology, studying first the better stratified sites such as shellmounds and caves. He used typology only when stratigraphy could not be used. And today, when archaeologists discuss refinements in the Jomon pottery sequence, they still give priority to stratigraphy -- fill vs. floor, over-lapping dwellings, and so on.

    The problem with most of the Early Palaeolithic sites is that neither the reports nor direct observation of the sites convinces some archaeologists that the stratigraphy is intact and so undisturbed that there will be no vertical displacement of artifacts.


I find similar weaknesses with all of the arguments against the Early Palaeolithic materials and with all of the counter-arguments. Sadly, I get the impression that the quality of the arguments in this Early Palaeolithic controversy has not changed; only which side of the argument people want to hear seems to have changed. For many years, people did not want to hear criticisms of the Early Palaeolithic materials; now most people do not seem to want to hear any comments that even vaguely seem to support the proponents' side of the controversy. I am strongly critical of both sides in this controversy and not convinced by any of the arguments.

References Cited


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