June 3, 2006
by Charles T. Keally
Some archaeologist argue that we should keep the original definition of Yayoi and include as Yayoi much of what has to now been identified as Latest (or even terminal Late) Jomon. But other archaeologists are defining Yayoi by the pottery styles that traditionally have been used to identify Yayoi sites, and they have added rice farming to the description of the Latest Jomon culture, particularly in Kyushu. At the late end, most archaeologists seem to be dropping from "Yayoi" what used to be terminal Yayoi and are putting those late 3rd-century materials into the beginning of the Kofun Culture.
|TRADITIONAL CHRONOLOGIES OF THE YAYOI PERIOD|
in northern Kyushu
on the Kanto Plain
100 B.C.-A.D. 100
Kohoku B, C
The First Calibrated Radiocarbon Dates for Yayoi:
At the Japanese Archaeological Association's general meeting in May 2003, Harunari and others presented a set of calibrated AMS radiocarbon dates for the beginning of the Yayoi Period, the beginning of rice farming culture in Japan. These dates suggested that the Yayoi Period began close to 1000 BC, about 400-500 years earlier than generally thought. Some archaeologists accepted these dates, some vehemently opposed them, and others suggested they were a bit too old. Three years later, the opponents seem to be saying these dates are 100-200 years too old, but they still strongly oppose these early dates.
Harunari and the research team seem to feel the dates are basically correct. Some archaeologists, however, argue that the marine reserve effect has not been adequately accounted for, and that cooked food (the dates are for charred adhesions on potsherds) will give dates that are a bit too old. The stronger opponents argue that the dates disagree too widely with the dates derived by "archaeological methods"
I feel the dates are basically correct. When I first established this web site in 1997 I had the following statement on Yayoi dates: "Calibrated ages take the beginning [of Early Yayoi] back to 800 or 900 B.C." I was using this estimate for the calibrated date for the beginning of Early Yayoi in my classes already in the late 1970s.
But there are some problems in the recent AMS dates. Two of them are ones already noted
|Yayoi AMS dating|
|Latest Jomon||Kurokawa||5||2860-2480 uncalBP (n=13)
|Yamanotera||1||2880-2570 uncalBP (n-4)
begins in late 10th c. BC
|Yuusu I||2670-2570 uncalBP (n=8)
10th c. BC
|Yuusu II||5||2810-2600 uncalBP (n=8)
begins ca. 900 BC
9th c. BC
found with Tohoku Obora C2 800-900 BC
|2660-2510 uncalBP (n=6)|
|Early Yayoi||790-795 BC||2||2750-2520 uncalBP (n=5)
from beginning 8th c. BC
begins ca. 810 BC
|Itatsuke II||Itatsuke IIc ends beginning 4th c. BC
|Sugu I 400-170 BC (300-200 BC)
Sugu II 200-40 BC
There is general agreement that the ultimate origin of rice is the east-central lowlands of China. A southern route via the Ryukyu islands into southern Kyushu seems generally out of favor. I think both the Chinese archaeological and environmental evidence argue strongly against a northern route via northeastern China and northern Korea, although some archaeologists do favor that hypothesis. The present evidence neither confirms nor denies either a direct route to Kyushu from China or a route via southern Korea.
If I understand Dr. Wilhelm Solheim's hypothesis correctly, he proposes boat-people plying their trades along the Chinese coast, seeking wider markets and eventually arriving on the coasts of Korea and Japan. There they set up seasonal settlements. These settlements later became permanent, and the settlers farmed rice for their own use. This practice soon spread to the native peoples -- the Jomon people in Japan -- who added rice farming to their subsistence base while teaching the colonists aspects of their native way of life. As the colonists became well adapted to the new lands, their populations exploded, supplemented by immigrants from the Korean peninsula, perhaps trying to escape the turmoil caused by the collapse of the Chinese Chou Dynasty and the establishment and expansion of the Han Dynasty. There are many other hypotheses.
The origin of the bronze dotaku bell is controversial. It is found almost exclusively in Yayoi sites in or near the Kansai District, well east of the closest points to Korea. A few have been found in Korea, and the molds are found mostly in Kyushu. It appears to be one of those things originated locally from a vague idea of the small practical bronze bells of Korea.
Yayoi burials evolved from Jomon burials, but the mound and moat on later ones probably reflect ideas from the continent. The large jar burials typical of northwestern Kyushu are not continental and easily could have Jomon roots. The stone-slab cist burials, also centered in northern Kyushu, are continental in origin, but they might have entered Japan originally through the north during the Late or Latest Jomon period. Dwelling architecture evolved from Jomon styles. And a lot of other aspects of the Yayoi culture have Jomon roots or were originated in the Yayoi culture itself. Yayoi in eastern Honshu is effectively an increasingly acculturated continuation of the final Jomon culture there.
The other major question is the location of Yamatai-koku. Over 50 different locations have been proposed, but the majority are either in northwestern Kyushu or in Kansai. Archaeological evidence is used extensively to support both hypotheses, and new archaeological finds bring new changes into the arguments every year. But the crux of the controversy is the directions and distances to Yamatai-koku reported in the Wei Records. Following these directions and distances simplistically and consecutively on today's map leads you out into the Pacific Ocean. Thus some archaeologists and historians argue that the directions and distances should not be followed consecutively, but rather separately from the same landing point in northwestern Kyushu. This places Yamatai-koku also somewhere in northern Kyushu. But if the directions and distances are followed consecutively following an ancient Chinese map, they lead to the Kansai area, since the ancient Chinese map of Japan is oriented roughly 90 degrees off of today's map. Most scholars seem to ignore the ancient Chinese map in their arguments. This controversy seems to have a lively future yet.
Hokkaido on the northern end of the Japanese archipelago and Okinawa on the southern end are, for all practical purposes, not part of Yayoi Japan. The cultures in both regions (Epi-jomon in Hokkaido and Late Shellmound in Okinawa) are largely continuations of the preceeding cultures in those regions.
The regionalization of Yayoi culture is reflected in the many pottery types identified by archaeologists. The number of types commonly used for the Middle and Late Yayoi on the Kanto Plain around Tokyo gives some idea of the complexity and flux of this regionalization.
|POTTERY TYPES IN KANTO|
Theories on the origins of the Yayoi people fall into three large groups: that they are (1) decendants from the Jomon people, changed physically by changes in the diet and way of life, (2) immigrants from the continent [via Korea], and (3) hybrids of Jomon and continental immigrant peoples. The hybrid hypotheses range from very little inter-mixing to a lot of inter-mixing, and some suggest more Jomon genes are retained in the northeastern Japanese populations than in the southwestern ones. Some scholars argue for a slow trickle of immigrants from the continent, while others argue for waves of immigrants.
I think the best explanation is that a slow trickle of immigrants from the continent began near the end of the Jomon period (and continued throughout the rest of Japanese history); over the course of time, some inter-marriage with the native peoples occurred, bringing Jomon genes into the population; and then, as this was going on, the immigrant population in Japan, including those of mixed parentage, began to explode sometime already in Early Yayoi, swamping the Jomon gene pool. The Jomon population was very low in the final centuries of that period, so even a small number of immigrants could have overwhelmed the Jomon gene pool. Most of the immigrants probably came from the Korean peninsula, although an unknown number of them likely came from eastern China, and from deeper in northeastern Asia through Korea.
Not far from the village was a burial ground. The most common and wide-spread form of burial was a small trench in the middle of an area enclosed by a square ditch (moat). The area enclosed was anywhere from a few meters on a side up to 20 or 30 meters across. Low mounds covered the burials in the center. There is little doubt that these are the precursors of the later Kofun period mound tombs. The jar and cist burials usually pictured as representative of Yayoi burials are in fact mostly limited to a small region of northern Kyushu and not representative at all.
The main artifacts from Yayoi sites are pottery and iron-bladed wooden tools, stone adzes and reaping sickles, and iron knives. In addition to rice, Yayoi farmers cultivated peaches, and they also hunted and fished and gathered wild plants to supplement their diet. In western Japan by Middle Yayoi, surpluses were supporting a highly structured class society and, by Late Yayoi, a society with a powerful elite class at the top.
Burials under low mounds in enclosures surrounded by a ditch (moat) were common everywhere in Yayoi Japan. Most enclosures were square, but many late ones were round. By the 3rd century in the Kansai District, a number of new forms appeared, and one, the keyhole shape, is thought to be associated with the Yamato central power. The keyhole-shaped mound tombs define the boundary between the Yayoi and Kofun periods archaeologically, but in fact the differences in the common culture for a century on either side of this boundary are largely insignificant.
The following are some useful references in English on the Yayoi Period.