Special Report
Digging out of the Scandal
Peter Bleed
Revelation that stone artifacts had been planted at Soshin Fudozaka and the famous Paleolithic site of Kamitakamori sent a shock wave across Japanese society. The full impact of this sorry affair has probably not yet been realized and, sadly, we can't even be sure that the full extent of the wrongdoing has been exposed. Still, C. T. Keally's assessment of the scholarly situation is both timely and thoughtful. It opens the matter for international discussion and will certainly be read by archeologists and others interested in Paleolithic research and human evolution. By describing his essay as a 'Preliminary Report', Keally makes it clear that he expects discussion of this matter to continue. He will not be surprised if his readers are moved to respond.
For some 25 years I have been a marginal observer of Early/Middle Paleolithic research in Japan, albeit mostly from abroad. For the past six months I've had closer contact with the research and many of the active participants. I am hardly in a position to respond to all of the points that Keally has made, but the research community must begin digging out of the scandal he has described. In that spirit, I must respond to some of the points Keally has raised.
Among the issues Keally presents, the most serious seem to be the following:
1. Shinichi Fujimura's involvement with essentially all of the Early/Middle Paleolithic excavations makes all the sites suspicious.
2. Materials from Early/Middle Paleolithic sites are suspicious.
3. The surfaces from which putative Early/Middle Paleolithic materials come are problematical.
1. Are all Early/Middle Paleolithic sites tainted?
It is undeniably true that Fujimura reported the vast majority of known Early/Middle Paleolithic sites, took part in most of the excavations, and 'discovered' many artifacts from those sites. Still, neither logic nor historical information dictates wholesale dismissal of all of these sites.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Fujimura spent long periods of time searching for Paleolithic sites. Without other responsibilities, he was free to roam in ways that professional researchers could not. This was the era of Japan's economic bubble so there were huge numbers of new stratigraphic exposures for him to inspect. It was also the time that geologists were doing really outstanding tephra-chronological research. This let Fujimura narrow in on relevant exposures and areas. If we are willing to extend a minimal benefit of doubt, we have to admit that this is exactly the kind of research that would find sites of Early/Middle Paleolithic age.
Japan is a small country and the network of researchers is small. It surprises me not at all that a gregarious person like Fujimura would visit excavations that were in process. Likewise, given the strongly stratigraphic basis of these excavations, I can easily see how he would be welcomed to sites just as artifacts were about to be encountered. Early/Middle Paleolithic excavations have all been overseen by competent, responsible researchers. I simply cannot believe that all of them could have been duped and I will not dismiss all of their work as careless.
I can offer one substantive contribution to augment these comments. In early August I visited the excavations at the Nagaone site in Chichibu. I traveled with a party that included Fujimura-san. Before we arrived, the excavations had exposed a number of "pits." These were subtle features, but as a 'dirt archeologist', I could see what the excavators were seeing. As an honor, I was allowed to assist in the excavation of one of these features. It was directly next to one that Fujimura excavated. There were no artifacts in the pit I helped with, but the soil was very well compacted and unquestionably undisturbed. I watched Fujimura excavate his pit and find a couple of flakes. These were deep in the feature he was removing and they were entirely surrounded by well-compacted soil that was just like the soil in the pit I was working on. Calling on more than 30 field seasons of excavation, I can see no way that these flakes had been recently planted. Certainly the 'pat and stomp' technique that the Mainichi showed Fujimura using ay Kamitakamori could not have buried the artifacts I saw him expose.
I had never heard any comments about a 'god-hand' when I saw these discoveries, but I joked that Fujimura was like 'King Midas' and I asked him if he would be willing to buy my lottery tickets. Perhaps these quips mean that I too was uncomfortable with what I saw. Still, as I search my recollections and observations, I have to believe that the objects I saw him remove are legitimate, ancient artifacts.
2. Are Early/Middle Paleolithic stone tools and assemblages too refined?
A major source of concern about the stone tools reported at Japanese Early/Middle Paleolithic sites is that they are too refined. Keally quotes Hiroshi Kajiwara as saying they were like Jomon age lithics. I have looked at the collections in Kajiwara's lab and had a conversation that was probably very much like the one that Keally reports. My reactions, however, were different from his. I heard Kajiwara to be saying that the early lithic were comparable to things found in Jomon sites. This is very different, of course, from saying that they were 'indistinguishable from Jomon artifacts'. In my opinion, having studied lots of stone tools and done a fair amount of flint knapping, the bifaces Keally discusses are fairly basic Stone Age stuff. I am far more surprised by the several small ovoid bifaces that look pressure flaked than I am by the mid-sized bifaces. Compared to, say, Acheulean materials from Africa or Europe, they seem pretty ho-hum.
Professor Toshiki Takeoka's criticisms as reviewed by Keally appear to seriously overstate a problem with the assemblages from these sites. Flakes have been reported at essentially all of the early sites. What is missing at most of these sites are refitted sections that would reflect stoneworking. We know this because excavators have looked for them, more than can be said for the bulk of Early and Middle Paleolithic sites reported from the West. Refits have been reported from both Babadan and Harase Kasahari. The lack of refits at other early Japanese is curious, but given how little is known about the lifestyles that might have been associated with Early/Middle Paleolithic sites, it seems to me an indication that further research is needed, not evidence of fraud.
I also have to say that I cannot accept Keally's criticism that researchers have not adequately concerned themselves with lithic sources for materials in Early/Middle Paleolithic sites. This question has been addressed and, in any case, the criticism is overdrawn. River cobbles were the major source of stone raw material in northern Honshu through the Yayoi period so identifying specific sources is very difficult to say the least. (As an aside, I will point out that two places that could be searched for evidence of early lithic procurement are the 'talus' deposits at Hoshino and Iwajuku 0.)
Finally, there is a larger problem with expressions of reservation about the quality of the tools from Japanese sites. The implicit assumption in these expressions is that Japanese - and East Asian - materials must somehow be understood in terms of patterns observed in 'the West'. I reject that assumption. I cannot understand everything that has been reported from Early and Middle Paleolithic sites in Japan, but I refuse to start my consideration of this material with the assumption that it 'wrong' because it is not like what has been reported in France.
3. Are Early/Middle Paleolithic surfaces problematic?
Viewing Japanese archeological sites of any age in environmental context is a challenge because this is a landscape that has been massively changed. It is especially hard to visualize what the Early/Middle Paleolithic landscapes may have been. It is not by accident that the town fathers of Tsukidate decided to claim only that their sky is the same as the one seen by Homo erectus! Little else in the town looks the way it did even 25 years ago. And the regional garbage incinerator located just opposite Kamitakamori is hardly the sort of thing that local bakers, sake brewers, and sport teams might want to embrace.
From an excavator's perspective, I have to say that I find it very hard to appreciate deposits in loam layers because they present only very subtle variations. I spoke with Toshiaki Kamata about this problem at the 1998 SAA Annual Meetings where he and his colleagues presented some of their research results. In spite of the difficulty, however, for two reasons, I have no trouble accepting the Early/Middle Paleolithic surfaces that I have seen or read about. First, although I am not sure what surfaces of this age should look like, I see no reason why they might not look like the surfaces on which lithic scatters have been found. What's wrong with them? Second, the fact that virtually all of the reported sites have come from layers that are sealed by well-studied tephras is positive indication that they have not been disturbed. Keally's comments not withstanding, the tephra-chronological research that has been done in Japan is truly outstanding. Of course, we could wish for more precise dates, but the chronological framework for Early/Middle Paleolithic research is Japan is excellent and certainly as good as comparable frameworks in any other part of the world.
It seems to me that two very bad results could come out of this whole sad affair and from Keally's assessment of it. First, rather than remaining an objective, scholarly discourse, the discussion could easily become personalized. Dividing the world into 'Miyagi archeologists' and others is not good typology and it is not conducive to open discussion. In Japan, as everywhere else, archeology is done in a web of social links and individual personalities. These are hard to overlook, occasionally interesting, and not entirely irrelevant to research developments. Still, as interesting and relevant as it might be to consider how politics and personality have fed into the scandal facing Japanese Paleolithic research, a solution to the problems that exist will never be found at that level.
A more seriously negative outcome that could result from the affair that Fujimura-san set off when he began planting artifacts would be an end to Early/Middle Paleolithic research. It would be a tragedy if the scandal Keally describes were allowed to impede research into a human presence in Japan before 35,000 years ago. Unfortunately, there are signs that it might be happening.
On one hand, it seems clear that some researchers are stepping away from investigation of the Early/Middle Paleolithic, or at least choosing not to speak about the topic at this time. Likewise, government agencies, program administrators, and funding sources have begun taking actions that discourage consideration of materials and sites of this age. Such actions might seem mild, but they send a chilly message to Japanese researchers. They will only slow research and delay an answer to the question of when people arrived in this part of the world.
The scandal has also encouraged critics of Early/Middle Paleolithic research to come forward in regrettable ways. The worst of the critics have let themselves be quoted as having long-term reservations that should have been raised earlier. Others have felt empowered to present criticisms of all Japanese Early/Middle Paleolithic research. Some of these have been delivered on the evening news with cloying 'I-told-you-so' smugness that made for good media, but not free and open discourse.
Keally is to be complimented for not taking that approach. His long-term reservations about evidence of an early occupation in Japan are well known and he presents them once again with self-effacing balance. His expertise on this subject is deep and obvious. Still, I fear that broad-brush criticisms of the type Keally presents via the SEAA web page will have a very negative impact on research. Summary statements easily find an international audience, but it is hard, indeed, for international scholars to look beyond general criticisms. Site reports are a lot of work to read when they are in your native tongue and when they are hard to obtain and in an exotic language, they can be truly daunting. Thus, sweeping criticisms like Keally's will always tend to outweigh specific research of the type that is necessary to present positive evidence of an early human occupation of Japan. Time and again, foreign archeologists have demonstrated a reluctance to accept surprising discoveries from Japan - Paleolithic edge-ground tools, Pleistocene villages in Kyushu, 12,000 year old ceramics, early Holocene shell middens, etc etc. The stage has been set for that to happen once again.
The scandal in Japanese archeology that Tom Keally has described is real and it is serious. Fujimura has admitted planting some artifacts at two sites. The evidence presented in the newspapers suggest that his efforts were amateurish, indeed. In spite of that, his behavior has cast a broad shadow, but it is far too early to dismiss all of the evidence in support of early sites in Japan. Only strong, open research will reveal the extent of Fujimura's malfeasance. As trite as it sounds, Japanese archeologists will have to dig themselves and their country out of this scandal.
Given the potential importance of early Japanese materials for the understanding of human history in East Asia and the world, it is critically important to continue research into Early and Middle Paleolithic sites in Japan. Excavation will show if these sites are real. Beyond that, world archeology needs to begin discussion of specific data relevant to an early occupation of the Japanese archipelago. Both Japanese and international scholars should encourage the laudable efforts that have been made by those involved in Early/Middle Paleolithic excavations in Japan to present their actual findings to world audiences. Every effort must be made to assure that research on this topic will move forward.
Peter Bleed, 28 November 2000
Guest Professor of the Museum
Tohoku University, Sendai Japan
Professor of Anthropology
University of Nebraska - Lincoln