Jomon Period

Done by: Anna Choo, Amelia Chan, Andrea Yim Hui, Shannon Wan

 

Introduction

The Jomon culture is dated since the early years of civilization of 13,000 years, where its longevity culture lifespan is impressive, and that is one of the main reasons of basing our research on the Jomon era for our group’s blogpost project for this universal world civilization module.
 

Lacquered wood, fashion & jewelry

Wood lacquering was an integrated technique established around the Early Jomon period which displayed the advancement of the Jomon people at that time. Chestnut trees were heavily relied on. The fruit was an essential source of food and the trunk was the main material used for construction and making other useful items.

At the beginning of the Jomon Period, they also made textiles out of a mulberry plant’s bark into fibre strips. Pounded with a stone, fabrics were woven into long sack-like vests. This prehistoric tradition still remains, particularly with the production of traditional angin fabrics. Deerskin jackets, tunics and waist cloths were also materials included in the making of clothing.

In the Early Jomon period, earlobes need not be pierced for one to wear earrings. Found only on the Kanto plain, earrings were made by a flat circle-shaped stone with a gap to insert one’s earlobe into. Occasionally, the accessory was found fairly preserved together with the skeletal remains of females. Mostly made of pottery earthenware, earrings were also made out of other materials like stone from time to time. They come in variations such as lacquered or painted. Red was the preferred colour for these ear decorations in the Jomon Period, during the ritual practices.Therefore, it can be concluded that women wore earrings not for plain decorative purposes but also for ceremonial occasions. The designs on earrings vary as they could be fanciful and very often carved with sophisticated patterns.

Jomon clay earrings

Jomon clay earrings

Jomon clay earrings

Jomon clay earrings

22 species of shells were specifically used to create bracelets. In the late Jomon period, a very rare bracelet was made of clay earth lacquered over by vermilion paint and made to imitate shellfish bracelets was found. Other than stones, the Jomon people uses clay and shell, to produce other ornaments out of antler, horn, and animal teeth. They also made pendants and hair accessories out of these materials.

Jomon clay bracelets

Jomon clay bracelets

Back in the Early Jomon Period, Jade was already discovered and utilized to make one of the earliest jewelry crafted. It’s presence was more common during the Middle Jomon in the bigger settlements. Certain pendants were considered prized possessions especially the ones found in the shape of a comma. Production centers started sprouting throughout East Japan during the Final Jomon period and jade was traded widely.

Jomon jade

Jomon jade

 

Religious beliefs and Rituals

Religion and rituals were a big part of the Jomon era, with many ceremonies performed to celebrate the divine, rites of passage, or significant hunts. What is interesting is the significance of clay figurines used in the religious ceremonies of the Jomon that were found in many places (Yamagata, 1992). These clay figurines not only had recognisable human features, but were also forged in certain distinct positions to cater to different figurine rituals (such as to increase fertility, harvest, etc.). Some of the types of figurines found are:

1. Sakai 坂井 type — both arms outstretched
2. Kamiyahara 神谷原 type — arms bent downwards
3. Hirohata 広畑 type — giving birth in a sitting position
4. Togariishi 尖石 type — holding a jar under one arm
5. Narahara 櫓原 type — hollow figurines containing clay balls like a
rattle.

A Kamiyahara type clay figurine unique to the Jomon people. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

A Kamiyahara type clay figurine unique to the Jomon people. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The figurines were also made to shatter easily, implying that the breaking of the figurines might have been part of the rituals. Broken parts of the figurines were also found in different but nearby locations, suggesting that such rituals were done collectively by neighbouring villages in the same region.

In addition to these clay figurines, pottery and stone circles were thought to be used in rituals as well, and there are evidence found dating back to the Jomon period (Kidder, 1968). Stone circles were theorized to have been used in religious ceremonies due to clay figurines found on them, as well as pottery with similar markings to the figurines laid near the figurines. In Tōnai, a figurine head with a coiled snake on its back was found lying face down on a stone circle, and two pots were located nearby with snake designs on them, serving as some evidence that the Jomon pottery too had some part in religious ceremonies.

A Jomon Era pot in the Jomon Period Section of Japanese Archaeology Gallery, Tokyo National Museum, Japan

A Jomon Era pot in the Jomon Period Section of Japanese Archaeology Gallery, Tokyo National Museum, Japan

Another rite that the Jomon people did were tooth extraction procedures (Takenaka, et. al., 2001). Research on Jomon skulls showed that the Jomon people underwent ritual tooth removal. 5 out of 49 skulls that went under this procedure were investigated and displayed a presence of residual tooth roots. The findings might imply that there were instances of inadequate extractions of teeth during the ceremonies back then. It can also be deduced that the Jomon people used the dreadful method of knocking out teeth for this particular ritual. A striking discovery investigators found was that overall, the frequency of residual tooth roots were higher in Jomon males (20%) than in Jomon females (0%). This may suggest that the extraction of teeth in males is harder than in females.

 

Pottery and Artistic perspectives and inspirations from Jomon people

The ancient Jomon period of Japan was an extremely fascinating era, mostly known for their pottery - evident from the given name of “Jomon”, which means 'cord marked' or 'patterned' - that changes the styles and functions as they evolved through from the early Jomon period to the final Jomon period.

Note the cord-like pattern round the middle of the pot. Photo by NelC.

Note the cord-like pattern round the middle of the pot. Photo by NelC.

Interestingly, the Jomon people had produced one of the oldest quality pottery recorded in history, managing to preserve their art pieces up to 9000 years. Unlike other Stone Age Cultures, the Jomon had a highly complex system, famous for its different clay pottery styles.

The Jomon had many types of  detailed pottery designs, but the most popular ones were those handmade in the deep central mountainous areas. The Jomon 縄文 culture is named after the Japanese saying of the specific type of cord moulding marking pottery decoration. All the Jomon pots were handmade, which excludes any sort of tools like spinning wheels. The tedious work of layering up the pottery was through the buildup of the vessel, where the foundation of the structure was coiled and filled with soft clay. The clay, handled mainly by the Jomon women, was blended with a variety of sticky materials, which is inclusive of mica, lead, fibers, and crushed shells. After the pot was formed, the external and internal surfaces were smoothened out. The dried pot was then heated at a high temperature.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to being renowned for being ahead of competition in their pottery making skills, the Jomon people were also well known for their state-of-the-art fishing equipment in aquatic hunting inventions. The Jomon hunters used “fish hooks” and “toggle head harpoons” to prey on aquatic animals.

The Jomon people were also idle, as they spent the majority of their lifetimes in pit houses that were lined along the shared courtyard of the area. Despite the many excavations of the Jomon sites that have broadened our knowledge of the Jomon era and its culture, they have not helped to answer certain questions about the birth of their language or their ethnic classifications.

 

Hunter-Gatherer & Fishing Culture

Moving on, in the “Neolithic Culture”, the people that lived through the Jomon period relied heavily on hunting-gathering-fishing as their source of food. They fulfill their survival needs by hunting down large animals like deers and wild boars, which includes smaller prey  like monkeys, rabbits and antelopes if they are ever in their favor. In today’s context, hunting is heavily stressed, which is the reason behind the endless amount of hunting tools (spears and arrowheads) that people had during the Jomon period.There were approximately 35,000 point of location for these Jomon Hunters to easily find their catch, alongside with the large numbers of hunting tools.

Jomon spears

Jomon spears

Jomon harpoon heads

Jomon harpoon heads

As for the Jomon fishermen, they used willow baskets as traps on mountain streams in order to catch large amounts of food daily. Salmon and other freshwater fish remains have been found at many sites along the eastern coastal sites. They also collected shellfish such as oysters from the beds of the ocean and streams. The marked increase in the number and size of the shell middens during the later stages of the Jomon period probably reflects the widespread marine resources in the coastal lagoons.

 

Summary

While the Jomon period boasts itself as the era of pottery, the inhabitants of the Jomon period were rather sophisticated and creative. They devised many tools to aid themselves as hunters, gatherers and fishers. They also demonstrated a deeper meaning of their lives as they started practicing rituals and had beliefs. In addition, they even started to lacquer wood and grew a sense of artistry within their basic life and included decorative items on their bodies such as clothing, jewelry and other ornaments.

 

References:

Jomon Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved October 08, 2016, from http://jomon-japan.jp/en/jomon-cultur/

 

Kidder, J. E. (1968). Agriculture and Ritual in the Middle Jōmon Period. Asian Perspectives, 19-41. Retrieved from file:///D:/Downloads/AP-v11n1-19-41.pdf

 

Takenaka, M., Mine, K., Tsuchimochi, K., & Shimada, K. (2001). Tooth removal during ritual tooth ablation in the Jomon Period. Indo-Pacific Prehist Assoc Bull, 21, 49-52.

Retrieved from file:///D:/Downloads/11761-12425-1-PB.pdf

 

Art, A. D. (2002, October). Jomon Culture (ca. 10,500–ca. 300 B.C.) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved October 08, 2016, from  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jomo/hd_jomo.htm

 

Robbeets, A. K. (2010). 2. Amazing Jomon Japan. Retrieved October 08, 2016, from https://heritageofjapan.wordpress.com/just-what-was-so-amazing-about-jomon-japan/

 

Yamagata, M. (1992). The shakadō figurines and middle Jōmon ritual in the Kōfu Basin. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 19(2-3). doi:10.18874/jjrs.19.2-3.1992.129-138