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Characters for Jōmon (meaning "cord marks" or "cord patterned").

The is the time in Japanese prehistory from about 14,000 BCE to 400 BCE.

The term "Jōmon" means "cord-patterned" in Japanese. This refers to the markings made on clay vessels and figures using sticks with cords wrapped around them which are characteristic of the Jōmon people.

Incipient and initial Jōmon (14,000 – 4000 BCE)

More stable living patterns gave rise by around 14,000 BCE to a Mesolithic or, as some scholars argue, Neolithic culture, but with some characteristics of both. Possibly distant ancestors of the Ainu aboriginal people of modern Japanmarker, members of the heterogeneous Jōmon culture (c. 14,000–300 BC) left the clearest archaeological record.

Early pottery

According to archaeological evidence, the Jōmon people created amongst the first known pottery vessels in the world, known as Jōmon Pottery, dated to the 14th millennium BC , as well as the earliest ground stone tools. The antiquity of this pottery was first identified after the Second World War, through radiocarbon dating methods.

Archaeologist Junko Habu claims that "The majority of Japanese scholars believed, and still believe, that pottery production was first invented in mainland Asia and subsequently introduced into the Japanese archipelago." and explains that "A series of excavations in the Amur River Basin in the 1980s and 1990s revealed that pottery in this region may be as old as, if not older than, Fukui Cave pottery".

The Jomon era pottery was called Jomon doki. Jomon means patterns of rope, and decoration on most earthware resembled designs made by rope. Mostly they ate or stored their food in the pots they made. The Jōmon people also made clay figures and vessels decorated with patterns of a growing sophistication made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks.

Neolithic traits

The manufacturing of pottery typically implies some form of sedentary life due to the fact that pottery is highly breakable and thus generally useless to hunter-gatherers who are constantly on the move. Therefore, the Jōmon people were probably some of the earliest sedentary or at least semi-sedentary people in the world. They used chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, traps, and bows, and were probably semi-sedentary hunters-gatherers and skillful coastal and deep-water fishermen. They practiced a rudimentary form of agriculture and lived in caves and later in groups of either shallow pit dwellings or above-ground houses, leaving rich middens for modern archaeological study.

Population expansion

This semi-sedentary culture led to important population increases, so that the Jōmon exhibit some of the highest densities known for foraging populations. Genetic mapping studies by Cavalli-Sforza have shown a pattern of genetic expansion from the area of the Sea of Japanmarker towards the rest of eastern Asia. This appears as the third most important genetic movement in Eastern Asia (after the "Great expansion" from the African continent, and a second expansion from the area of Northern Siberia), which suggests geographical expansion during the early Jōmon period. These studies also suggest that the Jōmon demographic expansion may have reached America along a path following the Pacific coast.

Main periods

Incipient Jōmon (14,000 BCE–7500 BCE):

  • Linear applique
  • Nail impression
  • Cord impression
  • Muroya lower

Initial Jōmon (7500 BCE–4000 BCE):

  • Igusa
  • Inaridai
  • Mito
  • Lower Tado
  • Upper Tado
  • Shiboguchi
  • Kayama

Early to Final Jōmon (4000 – 400 BCE)

The Early and Middle Jōmon periods saw an explosion in population, as indicated by the number of settlements from this period. These two periods occurred during the prehistoric Holocene Climatic Optimum (between 4000 BCE and 2000 BCE), when temperatures reached several degrees Celsius higher than the present, and mean sea level was higher by 5 to 6 metres. Beautiful artistic realisations, such as highly decorated "flamed" vessels, remain from that time. After 1500 BCE, the climate cooled, and populations seem to have contracted dramatically. Comparatively few archaeological sites can be found after 1500 BCE.

The Early Jōmon is the first stage in the Jomon era of Japanese pre-history. The Jomon period itself ranged from 10,000 to 300 BCE, with the first stage lasting from 4000 to 3000 BCE. The Early Jomon is characterized by the high sea level (2 to 3 meters higher than the modern day) and a significant population increase. This period saw a rise in complexity in the design of pit houses, the most commonly used method of housing at the time. The Middle Jōmon covers the period of Jōmon history from 3000 to 2000 BCE. Following the Early Jōmon period, the Middle Jōmon periods saw an explosion in population, as indicated by the number of excavations from this period.

The Late Jōmon covered the period of history from around 2000 to 1000 BCE, while the Final Jōmon spanned from around 1000 to 400 BCE.

By the end of the Jōmon period, a dramatic shift had taken place according to archaeological studies. New arrivals from the continent seem to have invaded Japan from the West, bringing with them new technologies such as rice farming and metallurgy. The settlements of the new arrivals seem to have coexisted with those of the Jōmon for some time. Under these influences, the incipient cultivation of the Jōmon evolved into sophisticated rice-paddy farming and government control. Many other elements of Japanese culture also may date from this period and reflect a mingled migration from the northern Asian continent and the southern Pacific areas. Among these elements are Shinto mythology , marriage customs, architectural styles, and technological developments such as lacquerware, textiles, laminated bows, metalworking, and glass making. The Jōmon is succeeded by the Yayoi period.

Main periods

  • Middle Jōmon (3000–2000 BCE):
*Kasori E1,
*Kasori E2.
  • Late Jōmon (2000–1000 BCE):
*Kasori B1,
*Kasori B2,
*Angyo 1
  • Final Jōmon (1000–400 BCE):
*Tohoku District
:*Oubora B
:*Oubora BC(Ōfunato,Iwate
:*Oubora C1
:*Oubora C2
:*Oubora A
:*Oubora A'
*Kanto District
:*Angyo 2(Kawaguchi, Saitama
:*Angyo 3

Image:MiddleJomonJar2000BCE.jpg|A Middle Jomon jar. 2000 BCE.Image:JomonStatue.JPG|A Final Jōmon statuette called dogū (土偶 "earthenware figure") (1000400 BCE), Tokyo National Museummarker, Japanmarker.Image:JarWithSpiralsFinalJomonKamegaokaStyle.jpg|A jar with spirals. FinalJomon, Kamegaoka style.Image:FinalJomonJarKamegaoka.jpg|Final Jomon jar, Kamegaoka style.

See also


  1. "Ancient Jomon of Japan", Habu Junko, Cambridge Press, 2004[1][2]
  2. Radiocarbon measures of carbonized material from pottery artifacts (uncalibrated): Fukui Cave 12500 +/-350 BP and 12500 +/-500 BP (Kamaki&Serizawa 1967), Kamikuroiwa rockshelter 12, 165 +/-350 years BP in Shikoku (Esaka et al. 1967), from "Prehistoric Japan", Keiji Imamura, p46
  3. "Jōmon population densities are among the highest recorded for a foraging population, although in some areas of the Pacific Coast of North America, comparable and even higher figures of population densities have been observed (Hassan, 1975)." The History and Geography of Human Genes p249, Cavalli-Sforza ISBN 0-691-08750-4.
  4. "The third synthetic map shows a peak in Japan, with rapidly falling concentric gradients... Taken at face value, one would assume a center of demographic expansion in an area located around the Sea of Japan." The History and Geography of Human Genes p249, Cavalli-Sforza ISBN 0-691-08750-4.
  5. "The synthetic maps suggest a previously unsuspected center of expansion from the Sea of Japan but cannot indicate dates. This development could be tied to the Jōmon period, but one cannot entirely exclude the pre-Jōmon period and that it might be responsible for a migration to the Americas. A major source of food in those pre-agricultural times came from fishing, then as now, and this would have limited for ecological reasons the area of expansion to the coastline, perhaps that of the Sea of Japan, but also father along the Pacific Coast." The History and Geography of Human Genes p253, Cavalli-Sforza ISBN 0-691-08750-4.
  6. "Prehistoric Japan", Imamura
  7.'s Early Jomon Retrieved January 2007
  8. Early Jomon hamlet found Retrieved January 2007


  • Aikens, C. Melvin, and Takayasu Higuchi. (1982). Prehistory of Japan. Studies in Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. (main text 337 pages; Jomon text 92 pages)
  • Habu, Junko, "Ancient Jomon of Japan", Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-77213-3
  • Habu, Junko, "Subsistence-Settlement systems in intersite variability in the Moroiso Phase of the Early Jomon Period of Japan"
  • Imamura, Keiji, "Prehistoric Japan", University of Hawai Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8248-1852-0
  • Kobayashi, Tatsuo. (2004). Jomon Reflections: Forager Life and Culture in the Prehistoric Japanese Archipelago. Ed. Simon Kaner with Oki Nakamura. Oxford, England: Oxbow Books. (main text 186 pages, all on Jomon)
  • Koyama, Shuzo, and David Hurst Thomas (eds.). (1979). Affluent Foragers: Pacific Coasts East and West. Senri Ethnological Studies No. 9. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology. (main text 295 pages; Jomon text [3 good articles] 72 pages)
  • Michael, Henry N., The Neolithic Age in Eastern Siberia. Henry N. Michael. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Ser., Vol. 48, No. 2 (1958), pp. 1–108. (laminated bow from Korekawa, Aomorimarker)
  • Pearson, Richard J., Gina Lee Barnes, and Karl L. Hutterer (eds.). (1986). Windows on the Japanese Past: Studies in Archaeology and Prehistory. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan. (main text 496 pages; Jomon text 92 pages)

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