|JAPAN'S EARLY PALAEOLITHIC FABRICATION SCANDAL|
How Fabrication of Two Early Palaeolithic Sites
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by Charles T. Keally|
December 14, 2000
I have talked with a number of archaeologists on both sides of the Early and Middle Palaeolithic controversy and recent fabrication scandal. Those who have favored the material give the impression that they still feel most of the finds are valid and eventually will be validated. Those who have criticized the work seem 100% convinced that it is all now proven invalid. Both sides seem unwilling to concede any possibility that the other side might be right, if even only partially right, and neither side seems to understand that they need to produce some very good, concrete scientific evidence to support their arguments. Neither side presently has much such evidence backing their arguments.
The circumstantial evidence note 1 (which is all we really have at the moment) is about 90% against the validity of the Early and Middle Palaeolithic finds of FUJIMURA Shin'ichi and the group of archaeologists in Miyagi Prefecture note 2 that he worked with. But, if we ASSUME that some or all of these finds will eventually be shown to be valid, we need to ask how the fabrication of just two sites in the 2000 field season has come to cast a dark cloud of suspicion on all the other 31 excavated Early and Middle Palaeolithic sites, and on the previous several seasons' work on the two sites that were fabricated this year. That this confirmed fabrication of two sites has had such a bad effect on all the other Early and Middle Palaeolithic work is why Japanese archaeology as a whole has come to look so bad.
The Early and Middle Palaeolithic finds by themselves are important to Japan. They give evidence of ancient humans in the islands at the same time as Peking Man or the earlier Lantien Woman in North China. Such important finds needed to be validated by other archaeologists, and the archaeologists in Miyagi Prefecture needed government financial support and government pressure to do the studies that would answer their critics. note 3 Instead of this, the government -- Cultural Affairs Agency, note 4 Ministry of Education note 5 -- the Japanese Archaeological Association note 6 and leading Japanese archaeologists note 7 did not provide support or ask for validation; they simply accepted the finds and put them in museum exhibits note 8 and approved them for inclusion in school textbooks. That was careless to the point of being foolish.
But when the Early Palaeolithic sites started to produce cache pits with neatly arranged tools, bifacial points and evidence of socketted tools, note 9 the government, the archaeology associations, and the leading archaeologists needed to take action. These finds suggested that Homo erectus in Japan had cognitive and mechanical skills far in advance of anything suggested for Homo erectus elsewhere in the world. These finds could have changed our understanding of human evolution. But even several years after the first of these highly significant finds, the leading archaeologists, archaeological organizations and government agencies were just accepting all of this without any validation or any request for validation. This inaction and unquestioning acceptance of such potentially significant finds is unbelievable behavior for academics and related government institutions in an advanced country like Japan. It calls into question their competence.
The primary focus for blame for the fabrication has been on Fujimura himself, because he is the one who got caught and he claims to have been alone. The media have given themselves some of the blame for their emphasis on "finds" and superlatives, such as "older." There is also criticism of the Miyagi archaeologists who worked with Fujimura and did not realize he was planting artifacts on the sites. But I think the real blame lies with the leading archaeologists and institutions that did not provide support for the research or require validation before accepting the finds, or pay attention to the criticisms that were being made by some archaeologists. note 3 Focusing on one person, or on one group of archaeologists, will not explain how this scandal occurred or result in eventual validation, or invalidation, and a system that will prevent a similar scandal in the future. If the critics had been listened to instead of ignored 14 years ago, we might now have a validated Early and Middle Palaeolithic, and fabrication of two sites would not have any affects beyond those two sites.
Even if many of these finds prove to be valid in the end, the Japanese archaeology world has suffered hugely from this display of scientific incompetence. If these finds prove to be a 20-year-long, 33-site hoax, Japanese archaeology will have a long uphill battle trying to demonstrate that it belongs among the archaeologies of the advanced, educated world. For those people who do not have direct contact with, for example, the Jomon research here, how are they supposed to judge the quality of [Jomon] research by Japanese archaeologists? This wholly unacademic, incompetent work in the Early and Middle Palaeolithic research will suggest that that is possibly also the quality of work in all other areas of Japanese archaeological research. The rest of the world will (might or should?) cease to believe anything that comes out of Japanese archaeology, unless they have first-hand knowledge of it, or some other very good means of validating it.
My hope is that Japanese archaeologists will realize just how much damage this scandal has done (or could do) to them and then take the necessary measures to ensure the high quality of all future archaeological research here, and to provide validation for all past archaeological research, too. In fact, much of Japanese archaeology has been of very high quality, and it is unfortunate that this, too, is likely to suffer because so many leading archaeologists and institutions have been so careless about the Early and Middle Palaeolithic research.
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