JAPAN'S EARLY PALAEOLITHIC FABRICATION SCANDAL
Japan's Changing Early Palaeolithic Controversy -- One Person's Views 1973-2000
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by Charles T. Keally|
August 28, 2001
revised: November 12, 2001
I began working in Japanese archaeology in 1967, and primarily in the Palaeolithic from 1970. My major topic of research after 1986 was Japan's Early Palaeolithic controversy. A review of my comments on the Japanese Early Palaeolithic over the years from 1973 to 2000 shows both a consistency and a gradual evolution in my thinking (see the list of exerpts below).
Before 1980, the question of an Early Palaeolithic in Japan revolved around materials published by Prof. Serizawa Chosuke. These were never widely accepted, and often were simply ignored in publications on Japan's Palaeolithic. Around 1980 a group of Serizawa's students began to propose other sites as truly Early Palaeolithic in age. Oda Shizuo, my colleague, found these materials very problematic right from the beginning. I later joined him in voicing doubts. When Oda and I published our detailed criticism of the Miyagi Early Palaeolithic materials in 1986 (Oda & Keally 1986), the archaeology world in Japan quickly made it very clear to both of us that ours was a minority opinion and should not be heard again. My publications on the subject after that were mostly 2-3 pages in the American annual Current Research in the Pleistocene.
My comments on the Japanese Early Palaeolithic, in that publication and others (as given below), show a consistency in holding reservations about the Early Palaeolithic sites, but these comments, especially in 1992, also make it clear that the Ohira finds began to give me hope that these materials were moving toward acceptability. And these Early Palaeolithic materials also clearly were being accepted by most archaeologists, including leaders in the field. It was no longer academically acceptable simply to say they were controversial and then just brush them off. So I began to present them in more detail and then express my concerns about them. Some of my reservations are clearly stated; some are seen in the use of the words possible (Takamori) and probable (Ohira) and quotation marks around Early Palaeolithic.
There were many problems that needed good explanations, but with Ohira I began to see a possibility that those explanations might soon be made. They were not. And finally, on November 5, 2000, Fujimura admitted planting artifacts on two of the sites and thereby threw strong suspicion on all of the other sites he had been involved with.
List of Comments 1973-2000
...those assemblages referred to by some writers as Lower Palaeolithic....However, most archaeologists in Japan feel these assemblages are Jomon -- e.g. Nyu -- or naturally formed stones -- e.g. Hoshino layers 5-11, Iwajuku O/Loc. D, Isogami and Sozudai lower. (p. 19)
(with Oda Shizuo). Edge-ground Stone Tools from the Japanese Preceramic Culture. Busshitsu Bunka 22, pp. 1-26.
(transl. from Japanese) As far as we know, the oldest cultural materials in Japan are those found in the upper part of Stratum X of the Tachikawa Loam, just below the "Black Band II" stratum. Older artifacts are reported, but these are not confirmed as human artifacts or there are questions about their geological provenience (Arai 1971a, 1971b).
(with Oda Shizuo). Tachikawa Romuso Saiko no Bunka (The Oldest Culture in the Tachikawa Loam). Kaizuka 13, pp. 5-10.
[no mention of an Early Palaeolithic culture in Japan]
(with Oda Shizuo). Japanese Preceramic Cultural Chronology. Occasional Papers, no. 2, International Christian University Archaeology Research Center, 1975.
Serizawa...claiming that it [the Late Palaeolthic] was preceded by a Lower Palaeolithic, represented at that time by the finds from the Sozudai site in Kyushu (Serizawa, 1965).
The views of the older generation of Palaeolithic scholars...Serizawa (1976) simply reiterates his early views, relying primarily on the materials from the early, small excavations, many of which he directed himself. He seldom uses the data obtained in the past decade, especially that from the Musashino Upland.
Of the assemblages most frequently described as Lower Palaeolithic, only those from Gongenyama I and Fukui 15 are man-made. However, the provenience of the Gongenyama I artifacts is not certain, and a single radiocarbon age measurement given as being older than 31,900 years hardly constitutes a sound basis for assigning the Fukui 15 assemblage to the Lower Palaeolithic...that date is most likely just another of the many Palaeolithc dates known to be erroneous.
The objects from a number of other sites said to be Lower Palaeolithic are correctly dated, but they clearly were formed naturally. Those from Sozudai are simply broken gravel excavated from a gravel bed. From Iwajuku 0 (Zero) they are naturally chippped chert flakes picked out of a thick talus bed. From Hoshino 5-11 and Mukoyama 6-7 they are also talus, and at Akabori Iso and Fujiyama they come from mudflow deposits. Most archaeologists and geologists question the human workmanship of these objects.
In addition, there are a few reasons for suspecting that in fact humans did not settle Japan until about 30,000 years ago.
(with Oda Shizuo). Japanese Paleolithic Cultural Chronology. Paper presented to the XIVth Pacific Science Congress held in Khabarovsk, USSR, August 20 to September 5, 1979.
The existence of artifacts of human manufacture older than 30,000 or 35,000 yr B.P. is perhaps the most disputed issue in Japanese Paleolithic archaeology.
Some Key Characteristics of Japanese Pleistocene Archaeology. Current Research in the Pleistocene 3, 1986, pp. 94-95.
The existence of "Early Palaeolithic" humans in Japan, prior to 30,000 B.P., is one of the most controversial questions in Japanese Pleistocene archaeology.
Serizawa's materials do not seem to have been widely accepted in Japan, although to my knowledge a thorough rebuttal of them has never been published. The Miyagi materials are getting wider acceptance; they have been extensively published by their chief proponents Michio Okamura and Toshiaki Kamata, and by several other archaeologists. Nevertheless, a great many archaeologists and geologists dispute their dating or their human workmanship, or both (e.g. Oda and Keally 1986).
Specifically, Shizuo Oda and I recently studied all of the publications on the Miyagi "Early Palaeolithic" and concluded that those materials are highly dubious (Oda and Keally 1986).
These older components certainly do not "appear to have a relatively high integrity and sound dating" as claimed by Reynolds (1986).
Japan's "Early Palaeolithic": Recent Pro and Con. Current Research in the Pleistocene 4, 1987, pp. 19-20.
At present there still are no widely accepted sites in Tohoku or Hokkaido believed to be older than 30,000 years, so-called "Early Palaeolithic" sites. In fact, sites predating 24,000 B.P. are lacking in both regions, with the possible exception of a few in Miyagi prefecture (see Oda and Keally 1979, 1986).
Recent Advances in Pleistocene Archaeology in Northern Japan. Current Research in the Pleistocene 5, 1988, pp. 13-15.
Excavated and fully published Early Palaeolithic sites are still uncommon, and most of the materials are highly debatable (Oda and Keally 1986). A few recently reported finds in Kanto, said to be 35,000 to 50,000 years old [Tama New Town 471-B, Kaminodejima, Ohira, Nanamagari] (Tokyo-to 1987; Tateno 1989; Fujiwara and Fujimura 1990; Toda 1990) look reasonably good, but they are not yet fully published and consequently their validity could not be properly judged for inclusion [in this paper].
Enivronment and the Distribution of Sites in the Japanese Palaeolithic: Environmental Zones and Cultural Areas. Indo-Pacific Prehistory 1990, Vol. 1, Papers from the 14th IPPA Congress, Yogyakarta. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, No. 10, 1991, pp. 23-39.
This model suggests that the first peopling of the main Japanese islands occurred no earlier than 35,000 years ago, and that these people and their culture derived from the region encompassing northern China, Tungpei, the southern Soviet Maritime and the Korean peninsula.
full text of paper
A Model for the Origins of the Japanese Paleolithic. Paper presented at the seminar "Ancient Relations between Japan and the Continent," held at the 36th International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, May 20, 1991, Tokyo, Japan.
The abstract of this paper and the commentators' comments on it were published in Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, no. 36, 1991, by The Toho Gakkai (The Institute of Eastern Culture).
The controversy over the Japanese "Early Palaeolithic" -- defined as everything older than 30,000-35,000 years -- began seriously in the 1960s with Serizawa's excavation at the Sozudai site and his hypothesis of a "Chert Culture" based on his excavations of the Hoshino and Iwajuku Location D sites. Serizawa's hypothesis was never widely accepted in Japan. The first major turn in the controversy came with the excavation of a number of sites in Miyagi Prefecture beginning in the late 1970s. These sites were more widely accepted. The controversy now seems set to take another major turn, with several new publications by the Miyagi archaeologists and with the recent excavation of the Ohira site in Fukushima Prefecture.
Recently the arguments in favor of the Miyagi "Early Palaeolithic" have been strengthened by the publication of three volumes of research on the Babadan A site (Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan and Sekki Bunka Danwakai 1986, 1988, 1989), and by detailed reports published on the Aobayama B (Sudo et al. 1987) and Takamori sites (Sekki Bunka Danwakai 1991). These reports add many more reasonably consistent radiocarbon, fission-track and thermoluminescenc dates, as well as some equally consistent dates based on amino acid racemization, electron spin resonance and depositional remnant geomagnetism. Several well-dated wide-spread tephras have been clarified in the geological sequence, adding further support to the early dating given to these sites. Additional support for the human origin of the lithics comes from analysis of natural remnant magnetism that has found spots thought to be burnt earth ("hearths"), analysis of lipids on some of the lithics that has tentatively identified Naumann's elephant (Palaeoloxodon naumanni) and Yabe's elk (Sinomegaceros yabei) (Nakano 1988), use-wear analysis that has determined human functions for some of the "tools," and intra-site distribution analysis that has shown patterns suggesting human activities.
Still, those archaeologists who have opposed the Miyagi hypothesis continue to point to the many problems in the dates, the lack or near lack of refittable pieces (evidence of tool manufacturing), the lack of non-local stone, and the lack of vertical displacement of the lithics. Refittable pieces, non-local stone and vertical displacement of 15-50 cm are universal characteristics of Late Palaeolithic sites in Japan, and it seems odd that this is not the case with the "Early Palaeolithic" sites. These archaeologists have also raised serious questions about the validity of the remnant magnetism studies finding "hearths," the lipid studies so conveniently finding the generally imagined main prey of the Palaeolithic hunters, the use-wear studies finding indications of human functions rather than natural scratches, and the distribution studies demonstrating human activities rather than random scatterings or natural clusterings. Dispite the volume of new support, the controversy over the Miyagi materials seems to be stalemated.
The Ohira site (and a handful of related sites) is the most recent candidate for "Early Palaeolithic" status. But unlike the other sites proposed as "Early Palaeolithic," there is absolutely no question about the human workmanship of the Ohira artifacts, and the context and dating both seem relatively secure...Moreover, typologically and temporally the Ohira artifacts could be predecessors of the oldest Late Palaeolithic artifacts in eastern Japan.
The only possible problem I see at the moment is the small chance that the key layers at Ohira have been misidentified. Given the information that is already available, however, I think this is very unlikely. What is more likely is that Ohira will soon become the first fully accepted Japanese site dating earlier than 35,000 years ago. Although this will only push the age of the first fully accepted human settlement in Japan back by 10,000-15,000 years, it should at least move the controversy off of dead center.
Japan's "Early Palaeolithic": A Changing Controversy. Current Research in the Pleistocene 9, 1992, pp. 27-29.
1992, 1993 Aided Publication
The Ohira Site: A Probable "Early Palaeolithic" Site in Fukushima Prefecture, Eastern Japan. Current Research in the Pleistocene 9, 1992, pp. 50-53.
Toshiaki Kamata, Shin'ichi Fujimura, Hiroshi Kajiwara, and Akihiro Yamada.
The Takamori Site: A Possible >300,000-Year-Old Site in Japan. Current Research in the Pleistocene 10, 1993, pp. 28-30.
1993 Unpublished Paper 1
The results of this study lead initially to two conclusions: (1) the Early and Middle Palaeolithic lifeways in Japan were both radically different from those of the Late Palaeolithic; and (2) the Early and Middle Palaeolithic lifeways in Japan were very different from any lifeways known or proposed for historic or prehistoric foragers elsewhere in the world. This second conclusion then casts doubt on the validity of the Japanese Early and Middle Palaeolithic evidence.
full text of paper
A Cultural Anthropological Perspective on the Question of Early and Middle Palaeolithic Cultures in Japan. Paper planned to be presented at the 38th International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, to be held in Tokyo, May 14-15, 1993. This paper was never finished or presented publicly.
1993 Unpublished Paper 2
The detailed research on the Early Palaeolithic sites in Miyagi Prefecture is of particular interest.
This recent research is bringing out the contrast between the Early and Late Palaeolithic cultures ever more sharply and clearly. The Early Palaeolithic sites all yield only small collections of artifacts. The raw materials are mostly or entirely local. There is a nearly complete lack of evidence of tool manufacture or repair at the sites. And the artifacts in sites older than about 50,000 years follow no regular patterns of form. The Late Palaeolithic sites generally yield dense concentrations of artifacts. Much of the raw material comes from outside the local area, some of it from great distances. There is almost always clear evidence of tool manufacture and repair at the sites. And tools of regular patterned forms are common. Explanation of this contrast should be the next major area of Palaeolithic research in Tohoku, and it should provide some interesting ideas for discussion.
The JAPANESE PALAEOLITHIC is a period generally thought to be dominated by big-game hunters, although there is little direct evidence for how these people lived. Everyone agrees that there is a Late Palaeolithic in Japan, dated from about 35,000 years ago to the advent of pottery technology 13,000 to 10,000 years ago. The evidence for humans in Japan before 35,000 years ago is quite controversial; advocates claim ages up to 600,000 years for the oldest sites.
The Japanese Palaeolithic is a culture that ends--by the general definition--with the first appearance of pottery technology about 13,000 to 10,000 uncalibrated radiocarbon years ago, at the end of the last glacial period. The beginning of the Japanese Palaeolithic is controversial, with some archaeologists arguing strongly for ages as early as 600,000 years and others arguing just as strongly that anything older than 35,000 years is invalid, either it is not of human origin or it is not dated correctly (Oda & Keally 1986). I have strong reservations about the materials claimed to be evidence of humans in Japan before about 35,000 years ago, but I also cannot find a scientifically sound reason for saying definitely that they are not valid.
The logic seems valid that, given the presence of humans at Lantien and Zhoukoudien in North China 700,000 to 200,000 years ago, there is no reason why these same humans could not have reached Japan. Landbridges connected the islands to the continent several times before 100,000 years ago, and animals (and plants) migrated there during these intervals. Why not humans? But finding widely acceptable evidence of such early humans in Japan has proven difficult.
|PHASES IN THE JAPANESE EARLY AND MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC|
A number of EARLY PALAEOLITHIC sites are now reported, but still controversial. The site of Kamitakamori, in Miyagi Prefecture on the northern Pacific coast of the main island of Honshu, yielded bifacial tools in possible caches in strata dated around 600,000 years ago. These are presently the oldest claimed evidence of humans in the Japanese islands. The nearby Takamori site is dated almost as old, but it yielded mostly small flake tools. A site in Fukushima Prefecture, just south of Miyagi, has yielded three artifacts in equally old strata. A number of other sites, mostly in Miyagi Prefecture, also belong to what is called the Japanese Early Palaeolithic by advocates.
Several MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC sites dated around 50,000 years ago have produced artifacts that show considerable similarity to Mousterian artifacts of Europe. The best of these sites is the Ohira site in Fukushima Prefecture. There is no question that these are artifacts or that they resemble Mousterian lithics. But questions have been raised about the validity of the dates, and it has been pointed out that these artifacts also resemble ones from the end of the Late Palaeolithic in Japan. Other sites of Middle Palaeolithic age are identified elsewhere in Fukushima and in Miyagi Prefecture.
Early & Middle Palaeolithic Problems
- geological processes in site formation not studied -- taphonomy
- tephras are studied
- but no explanation of --
- "on suface" of strata for Early & Middle Pal. finds but "in middle" for Late Pal.
- no vertical displacement of artifacts, very unlike the Late Pal.
- lack of evidence of disturbance in thin layers that span 10,000 years or more, very unlike the Late Pal.
- scarcity of refits
- but Late Pal. has lots of refits at all sites
- why does lifeway change so suddenly in Late Palaeolithic?
- is this lack of Early & Middle Pal. refits a worldwide phenomenum?
- almost no cultural evolution in Early Palaeolithic
- seems that early excavations generally found no spatulas, but more recent excavations all find them
- makes two parallel cultures
- Babadan A & Takamori vs. Kami-Takamori & Ogasaka-Nagaone
- Babadan A and early excavations all suggest different cultural stream from Kami-Takamori & Nagaone and Ogasaka
- all eastern Japan sites found by Fujimura
- other archaeologists do not (cannot?) find Early & Middle Pal. sites independently
- western Japan sites not certainly human -- Sozudai
- rather sloppy work & publications
- accept as human artifacts because they fit the parameters, but context says geofacts
- compilations of the Early & Middle Pal. materials are very superficial
- no detailed, complete work summarizing the whole Early & Middle Palaeolithic
- dates are in fact widely scattered for the same stratum
- wide range for same method
- wide range among methods
- ± factors >10% are common
- many ± factors are >20-30%
- this could mean badly disturbed deposits
- sociological problems in Early & Middle Palaeolithic research
- members of a group must all agree
- to maintain open contacts, most archaeologists do not openly express disagreement
- won't discuss the subject with people who disagree
- some archaeologists disagree by ignoring
- some archaeologists (Sato 1992) write as if they agree, but give very little detail or space to the Early & Middle Palaeolithic in a book on the Japanese Palaeolithic
- total 321 pages of text
- 47 pages for Early & Middle Pal.
- 199 pages for Late Pal.
- remainder for other related topics
- many archaeologists dig only as deep as their interest
- hence the Late Palaeolithic is often missed or ignored
- the Early & Middle Palaeolithic get even less general attention
Arai, Fusao. 1971a. Serizawa Ronbun ni taisuru Ronhyo (Comments on Serizawa's Paper). Daiyonki Kenkyu (The Quaternary Research) 10, pp. 191-192.
Arai, Fusao. 1971b. Kita Kanto Romu to Sekki Hoganso -- Toku ni Zenki Kyusekki Bunka-so no Shomondai (Stone Implement-bearing Layers in the Kanto Loam in North Kanto, Japan: Problems on the So-called Early Palaeolitic in View of Geology). Daiyonki Kenkyu (The Quaternary Research) 10, pp. 317-329.
Fujiwara, H. and Fujimura, S. 1990. Fukushima-ken Kaminodejima Iseki, Ohira Iseki (The Kaminodejima and Ohira Sites in Fukushima Prefecture). Dai-3-kai Tohoku Nihon no Kyusekki Bunka o Kataru Kai (3rd Meeting of the Northeastern Japan Palaeolithic Discussion Society). Yamagata: Yamagata Kenritsu Hakubutsukan, pp.4-6.
Nakano, M. 1988. Kokogaku Shiryo ni Zanzon suru Shishitsu -- Babadan A Iseki no Sekki ni Zanzon suru Shibo no Bunseki (Ancient Lipids in Archaeological Remains -- Analysis of Remained [sic] Lipids from Lithic Artifacts at Babadan A Site). Nihon Daiyonki Gakkai Koen Yoshishu 18 (Programme and Abstracts, no. 18), pp. 32-37. Nihon Daiyonki Gakkai (Japan Association for Quaternary Research), Tokyo.
Oda, Shizuo, and Charles T. Keally. 1979. Japanese Paleolithic Cultural Chronology. Privately published monograph.
Oda, Shizuo, and Charles T. Keally. 1986. A Critical Look at the Palaeolithic and "Lower Palaeolithic" Research in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Jinruigaku Zasshi (Journal of the Anthropological Society of Nippon) 94: 325-361.
Reynolds, T. E. G. 1986. Toward Peopling the New World: A Possible Early Paleolithic in Tohoku District, Japan. American Antiquity 51: 330-332.
Sekki Bunka Danwakai (Stone Age Research Group) (editor) 1991. Takamori Iseki
(Takamori Site). Sekki Bunka Danwakai, Sendai.
Serizawa, Chosuke. 1965. A Lower Palaeolithic Industry from the Sozudai Site, Oita Prefecture. Nihon Bunka Kenkyujo Kenkyu Hokoku (Research Report of the Japanese Culture Research Center), 1. Sendai: Tohoku University, pp. 1-119.
Serizawa, Chosuke. 1976. The Stone Age of Japan. Asian Perspectives, XIX(1), pp. 1-14.
Sudo, T., H. Kajiwara, M. Sagawa, and K. Sakuma (editors) 1987. Tohoku Daigaku Maizo Bunkazai Chosa Hokoku 2 (Report of the Archaeological Research on the Campus of Tohoku University, no. 2 [Aobayama Site]). Tohoku Daigaku Maizo Bunkazai Chosa Iinkai (The Commission of the Buried Cultural Properties in [sic] the Campus of Tohoku University), Sendai.
Tateno, H. 1989. Tama Nyu Taun No. 471-B Iseki no Chosa Seika (The Tama New Town No. 471-B Site. Nihon Kokogaku Nempo 40, 1987 Nendoban (Archaeologica Japonica, Fiscal Year 1987 Report). Tokyo: Nihon Kokogaku Kyokai (Japanese Archaeological Association), pp.393-396.
Toda, M. 1990. Tochigi-ken Nasu-machi Nanamagari Iseki (The Nanamagari Site in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture). Dai-3-kai Tohoku Nihon no Kyusekki Bunka o Kataru Kai (3rd Meeting of the Northeastern Japan Palaeolithic Discussion Society). Yamagata: Yamagata Kenritsu Hakubutsukan, pp.1-3.
Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan, and Sekki Bunka Danwakai (Tohoku Historical Museum, and Stone Age Research Group) (editors) 1986. Babadan A Iseki I -- Zenki Kyusekki Jidai no Kenkyu (Babadan A Site -- Research on the Early Palaeolithic, vol. 1). Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan Shiryoshu 16 (Publications of the Tohoku Historical Museum, no. 16). Miyagi-ken Bunkazai Hogo Kyokai (Society for the Protection of Miyagi Prefectural Cultural Properties), Sendai.
Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan, and Sekki Bunka Danwakai (Tohoku Historical Museum, and Stone Age Research Group) (editors) 1988. Babadan A Iseki II -- Zenki Kyusekki Jidai no Kenkyu (Babadan A Site -- Research on the Early Palaeolithic, vol. 2). Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan Shiryoshu 23 (Publications of the Tohoku Historical Museum, no. 23). Miyagi-ken Bunkazai Hogo Kyokai (Society for the Protection of Miyagi Prefectural Cultural Properties), Sendai.
Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan, and Sekki Bunka Danwakai (Tohoku Historical Museum, and Stone Age Research Group) (editors) 1989. Babadan A Iseki III -- Zenki Kyusekki Jidai no Kenkyu (Babadan A Site -- Research on the Early Palaeolithic, vol. 3). Tohoku Rekishi Shiryokan Shiryoshu 26 (Publications of the Tohoku Historical Museum, no. 26). Miyagi-ken Bunkazai Hogo Kyokai (Society for the Protection of Miyagi Prefectural Cultural Properties), Sendai.
Tokyo-to Maizo Bunkazai Senta Chosa Kenkyubu (Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeology Center, Excavation and Research Section). 1987. Tama Nyu Taun No. 471-B Iseki no Chosa Gaiyo (Summary Report on the Excavation of the Tama New Town No. 471-B Site). Gekkan Bunkazai (Monthly Cultural Properties) 12, pp. 17-23.