|JAPAN'S NEW MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC RESEARCH|
Assumptions & Stereotypes:
by Charles T. Keally|
September 27, 2003
last revised: October 7, 2003
Discussions of when humans first settled the Japanese islands invariably make assumptions about the presence of humans in China and the Korean peninsula, and about the first use of watercraft. These assumptions invariably are implicit rather than explicit, and they are far from being well founded.
Early Humans in China and Korea:
No one anywhere in the world questions the presence of humans in northern China by at least 700,000 years ago
But, is there unquestionable evidence of humans living in northern China and Korea during glacial periods? I have seen some (not very detailed) publications that appear to indicate that humans were NOT in northern China during cold periods when landbridges had formed between Japan and the continent. Before making hypotheses that depend on continuous Pleistocene human occupation of northern China and Korea, we need to study the evidence thoroughly to see if it supports the assumption of continous, uninterrupted human occupation of those regions.
And, when using this evidence, we need to be careful about other assumptions. I invariably see several other dangerous assumptions underlying use of information from China and Korea:
In many cases that I have seen in the literature, one or more of these three assumptions is very questionable. But I have never seen any of these assumptions made explicit in the literature, and thus I have never seen any of them questioned.
The discussions of when humans first settled the Japanese islands also invariably bring up the first appearance of watercraft. These discussions contain two major assumptions:
"The major flaw in inferential arguments based
on excavated data is the assumption, always
implicit, that the absence of evidence is
evidence for absence." (Michael Brian Schiffer,
archaeologist, University of Arizona, quoted in:
David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology, 3rd ed.,
Fortworth: Harcourt Brace, 1998, p. 162)
In archaeology, the lack of evidence for something is not necessarily the evidence for the lack of that something. This should be common sense just from reading the newspapers (see for example: Miyashiro 2003a,b). How many times each year do Japanese newspapers report the finding of another "oldest yet found" that necessitates at least minor rewriting of history or prehistory? Each find of another "oldest yet found" gives ever more support to the assumption that "the absence of evidence is NOT the evidence for absence."
Further, throughout Japanese archaeological interpretation there seems to be the assumption that nothing of cultural significance could have been developed first in the Japanese islands
A cynic could think that a large percentage of Japanese archaeologists think humans become stupid simply by living in the Japanese islands. I think the Jomon culture strongly contradicts the cynic's view and the archaeologists' assumption of Japanese islanders lack of inventiveness. Or, stated differently, the Jomon culture contradicts the "from the continent" assumption.
Thorough studies of the history of Pleistocene human occupation of northern China and Korea, and of landbridges, landbridge dates and the use of watercraft all need to be carried out before any useful hypothesis can be developed about when humans first MIGHT have arrived in the Japanese islands. A lot of other kinds of studies are needed before accepting any local evidence for when humans first DID settle the Japanese islands.
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