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Published in: Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, no. 36, 1991. The Toho Gakkai (The Institute of Eastern Culture), pp. 200-204.

"Origins research" -- the study of the origins of human groups and patterns -- is a very well-established tradition within archaeology. In thinking about origins, archaeologists ask two basic questions. First, we want to know where a particular cultural pattern came from. This could be called the "Where/When Question." Second, we want to know what processes contributed to the development of the pattern. This is the "How Question." Stated in everday language, the questions archaeologists ask about origins come down to "Where did those people come from?," and "How did they come to be the way they are?" The papers presented in this seminar on "Ancient ralations between Japan and the Continent" neatly illustrate both of these approaches.

Prof. Keally's paper deals with the most basic "where/when" question of Japanese archaeology by addressing the knotty problem of when humans first arrived in Japan. Building on his earlier papers, but I think going a bit further than he has in the past, Prof. Keally makes the case that the archaeological record can be interpreted to show that people were not in Japan until after about 35,000 years ago. The argument behind that conclusion is clearly stated, carefully reasoned, and easy to follow. Even given its clearity, however, I have to say that I am not convinced by the argument that Keally presents.

I am not in a position to fully refute all of the arguments he presents and -- truth to tell -- I would not want to refute all the points he raises since I agree with much of what he says. Still, Prof. Keally closed a provocative paper published a couple of years ago with an invitation for "comments and criticisms" (Oda and Keally, 1986), so I will take this opportunity to pick a couple of nits.

Like Prof. Keally, I agree that recognition of much of the material that has been proposed as evidence of Japan's "Early Paeolothic" is very difficult. However, having done most of my Japanese archaeology at Tohoku University, I am a "Miyagi Archaeologist." Thus, my perspective on the "early" materials is rather different from Prof. Keally's. I can assure Prof. Keally that there are many archaeologists who believe strongly in the human authorship of the Hoshino and Iwajuku "0" assemblages.

Furthermore, I think that in critically evaluating the material being proposed as Early Paleolithic artifacts, we must be careful not to "throw the baby out with the bath water." It seems to me that there are several "early" assemblages that have to be considered unquestionably artificial. These include both at least some of the Miyagi assemblages -- Babadan 10, Zazaragi 12, 13 etc. -- and sites in other parts of the country -- notably Sozudai, in northern Kyushu. There is a lot that I cannot explain about these assemblages, such as why they are so crude and so irregularly composed. But, as an experienced lithic analyst and a flintworker myself, I have to conclude that the objects collected from these sites are "man-made."

I am not competent to discuss the chronology of these assemblages and I know that Prof. Keally and others are quite skeptical about the dates that have been assigned to several of the putative early assemblages. On one level, however, the actual age of these assemblages is less important than that they are "old," that is considerably pre-35,000 BP.

I am skeptical about Keally's suggestion that these putatively early assemblages are the result of movement of materials up and down between geological layers. Had this been the case, I would expect much greater similarity between the early material and that from later Paleolithic levels. One thing that can certainly be said about the Early Paleolithic material is that it is overwhelmingly unlike anything that is to be seen in later strata!

Beyond that I can only add that I know and respect many of the archaeologists who are active in the Early Paleolithic research. For that reason, I am not willing to dismiss their position just as I am unwilling to entirely disregard Keally's criticisms. All I can conclude at this point is that thinking scholars simply cannot agree on whether or not there are archaeological remains in Japan that date from before 35,000 BP.

An important part of Keally's paper is his attempt to address the issue of whether or not East Asians of 35,000 years ago -- I certainly hesitate to call them "Chinese or Koreans" -- could have made it to Japan. This is exactly the question we need to address in part becasuse it opens discussion of the processes that brought people to Japan.

Keally's argument is that cave dwelling scavengers would have been neither drawn to nor able to survive in low-lying coastal areas that might have brought them to Japan. This is a very original and highly creative suggestion. Still, I see no reason why people who lived at Zhoukoudien could not have live in Japan. Instead of arguing that coastal lands were undesirable, I think it is likely that the sites we need to solve this problem where concentrated in low lying coastal areas that have been inundated by rising sea levels on the post-glacial period. Reversing Keally's argument to say that mid-Pleistocene populations would have been drawn to coastal areas offers an answer to the question of why Keally and his colleagues have found so few early sites in what is now the south Kanto. That kind of interior upland may have been exactly the kind of area that would have been unsuitable for habitation by the initial occupants of the Japanese archipelago. Of course, I recognize that suggesting that coastal low lands could have been the major foucs for early occupants of Japan raises the question of why early sites would occur in places like northern Miyagi. I do not have an answer to that.

No one should conclude from my comments that I do not like Prof. Keally's paper. Quite to the contrary, I think it is excellent because it lays out exactly the three things that will have to be done to finally understand the earliest occupation of Japan.

First, as Keally shows, this question will ultimately entail a careful evaluation of the archaeological evidence from China, Korea, and Siberia.

Second, Keally is exactly right in calling for systematic investigation of older layers to see what they might contain. The problems of the Japanese Early Paleolithic will not go away if it is ignored.

Finally, I entirely agree with Prof. Keally's position that since the archaeological record presents only ambiguous answers, we archaeologists must find other objective ways of addressing this important problem. Carefully reasoned models like the one Prof. Keally has presented are exactly the kinds of constructs that we will ultimately need to answer the most basic "When Question" of Japanese archaeology.


Published in: Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, no. 36, 1991. The Toho Gakkai (The Institute of Eastern Culture), pp. 206-207.

There are three major archaeological problems to be faced in an understanding of ancient contacts between the Japanese archipelago and the continent. The first is when and from where human beings colonized the Japanese islands -- or the region that now forms those islands. [problems two and three skipped here]

Out of the various problems connected with the origins of the Japanese, Paleolithic, C. T. Keally's talk...concentrated on the existence of the so-called Early Paleolithic...The first clue to the presence of this Early Paleolithic was the excavation at the Zazaragi site in Miyagi Prefecture in 1976 [actually in 1981 and not the first clue]. Excavations followed at Nagamine C and Babadan A in the same prefecture, and fission-track and thermoluminescence dates of over 200,000 BP were obtained on the excavated materials. Because of these results some archaeologists suggested that there was a need to reperiodize the Japanese Paleolithic. Others disagreed, however, and Keally also doubts the existence of the Early Paleolithic, citing problems over ascertaining whether the artifacts are man-made, chronology, the lack of similar artifacts in the Kanto, and questions over migration from the continent. As I know very little about lithic technology I am not qualified to judge Prof. Keally's criticism, but, as Sahara Makoto has pointed out, we should give serious consideration to the fact that fatty acids from deer and Naumann's elephant were identified on flakes from Babadan. Despite their unstandardized shapes, the stones may still have been used as tools.