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Charles T. Keally
February 25, 1992
Dr. Peter Bleed and Prof. Hiroshi Kanaseki were commentators for the seminar "Ancient Relations between Japan and the Continent: A Panel on Recent Archaeological Approaches," held at The Toho Gakkai's annual meeting in 1991 in Tokyo. Their comments were published in Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan, No. XXXVI, 1991, along with the abstracts of the papers. The following is my response to their comments on my paper, titled "A Model for the Origins of the Japanese Paleolithic," which argued that the Japanese Early Palaeolithic was invalid because humans could not have entered Japan before about 35,000 years ago. Their comments were very interesting and useful, but there are still a few points I need to clarify in my own defense.
Bleed says he is sure that "there are many archaeologists who believe strongly in the human authorship of the Hoshino and Iwajuku '0' assemblages," Serizawa's so-called "Chert Culture." Who exactly are these people? I communicate with a lot of Japanese geologists and Palaeolithic archaeologists regularly, and I do not know anyone who accepts them. Specifically, the Miyagi group
I have visited the Iwajuku site, Location D, where the Iwajuku Zero assemblage was obtained. One of Japan's leading geologists was with me. What I saw was a thick bed of black chert flakes in a road cutting. There were billions of flakes there, many of which had the characteristics of human manufacture. According to Serizawa's report, as I remember it, out of this mass he picked several thousand flakes that looked like possible artifacts (a colleague and I picked out a hundred or so in just a few minutes). Then in the laboratory he isolated about a thousand of the best looking ones and these he called artifacts. The geologist, however, explained to me in detail how the whole mass was talus. I frankly find it difficult to believe that anyone could read Serizawa's own discription of how he recovered these lithics and still believe that they are artifacts. But certainly I think Japan's best geological opinions on them should be given more consideration than some of those who favor the Early Palaeolithic are giving them.
Bleed's statement about throwing out the baby with the bath water, in reference particularly to Babadan A Stratum 10 and Zazaragi Strata 12 and 13, seems to miss what Oda and I said in our criticism of the Miyagi Early Palaeolithic research (Oda and Keally 1986). We did not throw these assemblages out; we said that their dating as given by the Miyagi archaeologists is probably wrong and that they should be placed younger than 35,000 years and with the beginning of the Late Palaeolithic. We accept them as human artifacts. The assemblages older than these at these two sites are questionable both as artifacts and as >35,000-year dates.
We feel Sozudai is another matter, though. As I remember Bleed's analysis of the Sozudai lithics, I feel he presents a convincing argument against them being of human origin. Just because the striking angles on some of the lithics from this assemblage fall within the range produced by humans does not mean those lithics were produced by humans. Nature can do the same thing. I feel that either all of the Sozudai lithics are artifacts or they are all geofacts. We cannot just take out the few that seem to be artifacts and call them evidence for an Early Palaeolithic in Japan. This is the same thing Serizawa did with the Iwajuku Zero assemblage. I also find that "experience" as a flintknapper tells what kinds of stone artifacts humans can produce, and perhaps do produce. But that is only half the story. We also need to look carefully at what nature can and does produce. I am sure there is a large area of overlap between flakes that are artifacts and those that are geofacts. Simply looking at such lithics on a laboratory table will not provide the information necessary to separate the human artifacts from the natural geofacts; we need to look carefully at the context in which the lithics were found. Sozudai suggests to me a context good for producing artifact-like geofacts.
Bleed says he is "skeptical about (my) suggestion that these putatively early assemblages are the result of movement of materials up and down between geological layers." Here again he seems to misunderstand what Oda and I are saying (Oda and Keally 1986). We are not saying that these assemblages are the results of artifacts moving down from younger strata; taphonomic studies show that artifacts rarely move down more than 10-20 cm (Keally 1975). Rather, we are making two basic points. One is that there is vertical movement of 15-50 cm or more in all Late Palaeolithic sites reported in Japan. So why is there no vertical displacement of Palaeolithic artifacts -- Early or Late -- only in Miyagi Prefecture? The other point is that there very definitely is vertical displacement of artifacts in the Late Palaeolithic sites in Miyagi Prefecture, but the Miyagi Early Palaeolithic archaeologists are denying this fact. They go so far as to claim absolutely unique conditions in only Miyagi Prefecture out of all the other prefectures in Japan. But it is true that the early assemblages, such as Babadan A Stratum 20, do not show any vertical displacement. We all really need to know what the taphonomic processes were that resulted in only these very ancient assemblages being undisturbed by moles, worms, grass and tree roots, frost, and the many other natural agents that work to move the more recent materials up and down in the soil. The taphonomy of these sites needs to be studied thoroughly and objectively, and at the moment neither is being done. For example, let me describe what I have seen at the Zazaragi and Babadan A sites.
On a visit to Zazaragi with about 30 geologists and the Miyagi archaeologists, a geologist explained that there were vents connecting through the various strata below Stratum 12. He said that this meant that all of these lower strata, including 15 which is said to have yielded artifacts, were part of a single-event pyroclastic flow and could not possibly have primary human artifacts in them (Soda 1989). Several of Japan's best geologists agreed with this description. The Miyagi Early Palaeolithic archaeologists then said quite firmly and distinctly that they disagreed. I find it hard to believe anything people say when as non-experts they so boldly will disagree with the best of the experts. In fact, I heard one of the expert geologists say that those archaeologists were seeing only what they wanted to see and not what was actually there. And this is not the only time I have heard these Early Palaeolithic archaeologists disagree with or ignore the opinions of experts in the natural scientific fields supporting these archaeological studies. If they are not going to believe the experts, why do they call them in?
On an earlier visit to the Babadan A site, I noticed some fist-sized rocks imbedded in the surface of Stratum 20. I asked one of the Early Palaeolithic archaeologists what these were and if the archaeologists were recording them. He said they were just natural pebbles and therefore were not being recorded. But this was the same surface that was yielding the main assemblage of Early Palaeolithic materials at this site. Then later at a conference, this same archaeologist showed a slide and said, "Look, there aren't any rocks on this surface like Keally claims" (in Oda and Keally 1986). That there were no rocks on that surface is just plain false; I saw them with my own eyes. But they do not show up in slides because they are all muddy and blend in with the background dirt. Is it possible that that archaeologist does not remember my asking him about those rocks?
There are other problems that come from poor understanding of the taphonomic processes in these sites. The Shibiki site provides a good example of one of these problems. At that site the cultural layers were quite close together, with very little vertical separation. The movement of lithics up through the soil resulted in some of the deeper geofacts getting mixed in with valid artifacts in younger layers. This has led to the belief that these geofacts, too, are artifacts.
At another point in his comments Bleed says that he respects many of the archaeologists doing Early Palaeolithic research and for that reason he is not willing to entirely dismiss their ideas. I do not see any necessary connection between respecting someone and agreeing with him, or between disrespecting someone and disagreeing with him. I respect many of these archaeologists, too, but I still disagree with them on the basis of the archaeological materials. There are also people that I do not respect at all, but I nevertheless agree with their ideas. Agreeing or disagreeing should be based on the person's work, not on feelings about the person.
Unfortunately, some archaeologists in Japan do not agree with this idea; they treat anyone who disagrees with them as an enemy. They refuse to cite publications by those who disagree, they refuse to return greetings at conferences, and they generally ignore the very presence of those who have disagreed. I find it very difficult to respect someone who acts like this, and there is no way their behavior can be explained away and forgiven on the basis of "Japanese culture." I have been here too long to accept that myth.
In the same line, I have made a lot of effort to get Kajiwara, Kamata and Okamura to discuss the Early Palaeolithic with me. It has been hard. Okamura never has discussed the subject seriously with me; every time I ask him something about it, he just shrugs me off with a laugh. Kajiwara and Kamata have discussed it with me, but never at any length. Oda and I put in a lot of effort to write our "Criticism" in 1986 (Oda and Keally 1986). No one has ever really responded to that. I asked Kamata why, and he told me that no one would respond because they felt anyone who did not accept the Miyagi Early Palaeolithic materials was a fool and that it was foolish to discuss anything with a fool. But controversies, such as the Japanese Early Palaeolithic, will never be solved if the opponents only talk to those who agree with them. I respect these young archaeologists because they are trying, but they still have a long way to go to get their science up to a level that might convince me their Miyagi materials are valid.
Bleed's comments on my argument about the cave dwellers not desiring coastal habitats are interesting. But my argument was thrown out mostly for lack of any better idea. It will require some milling over, and I have not done that yet. But right now I really doubt if it will hold up with more study; I certainly hope not.
Kanaseki notes that before opposing the Early Palaeolithic in Japan "we should give serious consideration to the fact that fatty acids from deer and Naumann's elephant were identified on flakes from Babadan." It is true that one researcher has published a tentative identification of these two species on lithics from the Babadan A Stratum 20 assemblage (Nakano 1988, 1989). But it is also true that there is strong criticism of this work by other researchers in the same field. I think that before we accept these identifications we should wait until they are confirmed by other competent scholars. I also feel suspicious of them
Lest my constant opposition to the materials put forth as evidence of an Early Palaeolithic in Japan be taken as simply a knee-jerk response, let my add here that I have recently submitted a paper to the Center for the Study of the First Americans that expresses considerable certainty that the 45,000-year-old artifacts from the Ohira site in Fukushima Prefecture (Yanagida 1992) are validly dated (Keally 1992). This age would give them Early Palaeolithic status by the definition generally used in Japan.