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3.7: Early Jomon Period (5000 BCE – 2500 BCE)

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    In the Jomon Period of Japan, some small permanent settlements established, yet they continued to be hunter-gatherers. Their houses were shallow pit houses in groups of 10-12 homes per site. Although agriculture was not evident in the early Jomon civilization, they had plentiful hunting (deer, boar) and gathering (nuts, berries, fruits), plus fishing and mollusks. The separation of Japan from the Asian mainland probably kept the civilization a hunter/gatherer society instead of evolving into a farming society like China. It also may account for the lack of invasion by other civilizations, keeping the Jomon in their current hunter/gatherer state as the Early Jomon did not start to transition to farming until around 1000 BCE.

    “Jyoumon” translates to patterns of cord.

    One of the oldest Jomon sites is in Kasori, near Tokyo. The site included a large shell midden (discarded shell mounds), debris piles similar to our modern dumps giving researchers a window into food sources and daily living materials seen in the uniquely decorated pottery for practical use for cooking and storing. Much of the information from the Jomon period is speculation based on artifacts because the Jomon did not have a written language, yet are considered to be Japan’s first primary culture. Excavation at the Sannai-Maruyama archeological site in Japan revealed a large prehistoric town. They found fishing hooks, spears, net sinkers, and dugout canoes during the excavation. There was even a paw print indicating that the Jomon may have had dogs as pets.

    The main staple of the Jomon diet was the chestnut, and archeologists discovered large chestnut orchards in the Sannai-Maruyama area. They used the wood of the tree for building, and one surviving structure supported by six large chestnut logs and stood three stories high. Jomon houses (3.33) were labeled pit houses because they dug down, similar to having a basement but only one level. The first houses had one central support pole and were round in size, evolving into a square shape with six support posts, a central beam, and thatched grass roofs. The floors made of earth and stone, similar to cobblestone walkways, the indoor fire pits providing warmth and a place to cook.


    3.33 Pit houses recreated

    The Jomon were the first people to make clay vessels and some date to 10,000 BCE. Around 3100 BCE, the Jomon people began making clay vessels in different shapes. They created unique patterns in the wet clay by imprinting it with coiled rope and sticks. Most of the pots have flat bottoms and round sides to provide the utilitarian necessities of the people. The pots were initially coil pots (3.34), made with coils of clay starting at the bottom and molded together to form a pot. Once the pot was smooth, they used a cord to press into the wet or damp clay, creating cord markings. There are hundreds of different designs on the pots (3.35), a reflection of people’s desire to create beyond the practical use of a pot. Pottery was dried and then fired in a low-temperature bonfire. In the later years of the Jomon Period, the corded imprints on the vessels started to disappear, replaced by form and function of a pot.

    READING: Sannai Maruyamma Site

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    3.34 Jomon pottery 1 3.35 Jomon pottery

    This page titled 3.7: Early Jomon Period (5000 BCE – 2500 BCE) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .