English Summary and Comments on Takeoka Toshiki's 1998 Article
"How Can We Understand about the Lower Palaeolithic?"
by Charles T. Keally
August 28, 2001
revised November 12, 2001
Takeoka Toshiki's article in the journal Kyusekki Kokogaku (Palaeolithic Archaeology) is only the second of two articles I know of which criticized the Early Palaeolithic finds in Japan and which were published in an academic journal. The other article is by Oda Shizuo and myself, published in
Jinruigaku Zasshi in 1986.
Takeoka's paper has two purposes. One is to define "Early Palaeolithic" stone artifacts typologically and techonologically. The other is to show that the Japanese Early Palaeolithic materials, especially those from the Kami-Takamori site, are not in fact Early Palaeolithic in age. Takeoka uses the Terra Amata site in France as a concrete example for defining Early Palaeolithic stone artifacts and for comparison.
He lists four categories of stone artifacts: small flake tools, small tools on pebble flakes and core remains, cores for flake production, and large tools. He illustrates these types and their variations with dozens of examples filling seven full pages of the report. Takeoka discusses these types in considerable detail. He also notes the existence in the Terra Amata site of hammer stones and lots of flaking debitage. His summary of the Terra Amata materials is:
Takeoka goes on to note that the small stone tools of the European and African Acheulian culture are very hard to understand. As the sites get older, the artifacts get further away from our idea of Late Palaeolithic artifacts. But this fact cannot be seen in drawings of the stone tools, it can only be felt. Takeoka suggests this difference might reflect the different culture, brain and hand of Homo erectus. He says that Homo erectus stone artifacts have a violent feeling to them. He further says that this characterization of the Early Palaeolithic culture is effectively common knowledge among those who do fieldwork in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The site is Acheulian and dates about 380,000 years ago.
The general techonological processes include (1) the production of large tools, (2) the production of flakes, and (3) the production of small flake tools. Each process is associated with specific lithic materials. These characteristics are common in all European and African Early Palaeolithic sites.
With the exception of cleavers, the large pebble tools show a variety of production techniques, each depending on the kind of lithic material employed.
Flaking was quite simple, rotating the core as necessary to have a flat striking surface for removing the next flake.
But the Japanese Early Palaeolithic stone artifacts, especially those from the Kami-Takamori site, are far from this image of Early Palaeolithic artifacts. Particularly the spatula-shaped tools stand out. These are on a flake blank, delicately flaked bifacially around three edges with a soft hammer in a planned way, and are about 7 or 8 cm long. They were possibly hafted. And they strongly resemble the Holocene Jomon tools of this region, with only a few resembling our idea of even Late Palaeolithic stone artifacts. Takeoka notes that, if these artifacts really are 600,000 years old, we will have to change our thinking about human evolution; we will have Jomon-level techonology and typology in Japan 600,000 years ago whereas in Europe at 400,000 years ago we have only primitive small flake tools that are difficult to categorize into types.
Takeoka also notes the problem of the "caches" of neatly arranged spatula-shaped stone tools that are reported from the Kami-Takamori site. These are dated at 600,000 years, but it is generally thought that burials did not begin until only about 60,000 or 70,000 years ago. Takeoka implies that these caches are also a strong reason to have doubts about the dating of the Kami-Takamori finds.
On the other hand, Takeoka feels that the Toyama site in Yamagata Prefecture (which he is working on) is very likely Early Palaeolithic in age. The site has yielded over 10,000 lithics, including small flakes, and these strongly resemble the Early Palaeolithic materials of Europe and Africa.
Comments by Charles T. Keally
Takeoka has complained publicly a number of times recently that this article was gutted by the editors. In May 2001, he published an unedited version (Takeoka 2001). I made a word-by-word comparison of the edited version and the unedited version. There is NO difference in the meanings. The edited version is written better and thus easier to read, and a few nasty personal comments are toned down. That is all the change I could find. Takeoka's complaints that this 1998 article was ignored because the editors forced him to remove the main content is invalid.
Takeoka, Toshiki. 2001. "Zenki Kyusekki" to wa Dono Yo-na Sekkigun ka (Orijinaru) (Original Version: What Is an "Early Palaeolithic" Stone Artifact Assemblage?) Science of Humanity Bensei, vol. 34, pp. 127-128.
I read Takeoka's article in 1998 when it was published. And I promptly forgot about it. The point about the caches at Kami-Takamori was valid, and these caches should have been a large waving red flag to everybody, but they were not. However, most of his argument is based on invalid assumptions or factual errors.
As a final comment, even though the caches reported from the 600,000-year-old layer at the Kami-Takamori site were screaming out "caution, danger ahead", they did not and still do not constitute absolute evidence of a young age (or now, a hoax). What I learned in graduate school about human evolution over 30 years ago is certainly not the story I teach in class today. There are a lot of things we do not know about human evolution. It was extreme but not wholly outside the realm of possibility that the Kami-Takamori caches would eventually be shown to be valid. However, that likelihood seems even more remote now.
Takeoka only implies but clearly assumes that the evolution of cultures in Japan must follow that of Europe in both process and time. There is no scientific basis for such an assumption that I know of, and it seems a great stretch to go halfway around the world for comparisons for trying to understand events in Japan.
Takeoka clearly assumes that crude always means old and refined always means young.
The Toyama site has no primary stratigraphy, so it cannot be dated stratigraphically. Takeoka is claiming an old age for the site simply on typological grounds. But I have seen 4,000-year-old Jomon artifacts that were identical to 2.0-million-year-old artifacts from Africa. There are many Jomon stone artifacts that are so crude that they would not be recognized as human artifacts if they were not found in a primary context in an archaeological site. And I have seen some Early Palaeolithic Acheulian hand-axes (see links below) that were quite beautiful artifacts. This crude=old/refined=young assumption is totally invalid.
- Toyama is old because the tools are crude
- Kami-Takamori is not old because the tools are refined.
Takeoka appears to say that the Terra Amata materials are fully representative of the European and African Early Palaeolithic Acheulian culture. I question that. First, one site is highly unlikely to be representative of any early culture of mobile foragers. And Takeoka never mentions the "hand-axes" that every other report on the Acheulian emphasizes as a significant characteristic of that culture (see links below).
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