- 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
- 1. Shinichi Fujimura's involvement with essentially all of
the Early/Middle Paleolithic excavations makes all the sites
- 2. Materials from Early/Middle Paleolithic sites are
- 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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Peter Bleed, 28 November 2000
- Guest Professor of the Museum
- Tohoku University, Sendai Japan
- Professor of Anthropology
- University of Nebraska - Lincoln