Jomon Period

Definition

by
published on 02 March 2016
Jomon Clay Mask (James Blake Wiener)

The Jomon Period is the earliest historical era of Japanese history which began around 14,500 BCE, coinciding with the Neolithic Period in Europe and Asia, and ended around 300 BCE when the Yayoi Period began. The name Jomon, meaning 'cord marked' or 'patterned', comes from the style of pottery made during that time. Although the entire period is called Jomon, various phases can be identified based on the style and intended use of the pottery.

Settlement & SUBSISTENCE

The people that came to what would be known today as Japan first did so near the end of the last glacial period, or Ice Age, most likely while following animal herds over land bridges formed during the glacial period. When the climate warmed and the land bridges disappeared, the soon-to-be Jomon people found themselves on an island. With the animal herds cut off from their homelands dying off, the Jomon people utilized hunting and gathering to fulfill their needs. Their diet has been found to consist of bears, boars, fish, shellfish, yams, wild grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns. Evidence of their diet was found inside middens, domestic waste disposal piles, and shell mounds that were found near villages.

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Although the Jomon people developed a sedentary lifestyle, rice farming was only introduced near the end of the period, around 900 BC.

Starting around 5,000 BCE, the Jomon developed a more sedentary lifestyle settling into villages; the largest one at the time covered around 100 acres (c. 0.4 km²) and had about 500 people. Villages near the sea would have relied heavily on fishing while settlements further inland would adopt a primarily hunting lifestyle. In many villages, what are assumed to be, ceremonial stone platforms and storage pits have been found. The initial simple shelters of the villages would soon develop into pithouses built around a central fireplace, with a structure supported by pillars, accommodating around five people each. The Jomon people would settle in different areas depending on the changing climate; colder periods would require the proximity of sea as evidenced by much larger mounds of shells and fish bones found compared to warmer periods when the settlement pattern shows a shift to further inland in order to take advantage of the flourishing flora and fauna.

Along with the change in habitation, the total population underwent significant fluctuation: by 5,000 BCE the population would grow from 20,000 to 100,000, only to grow further to 200,000 by 3,000 BCE before falling back to 100,000 by the end of the period. Although the Jomon people had a somewhat sedentary life, the agricultural revolution only came with the introduction of rice farming near the end of the Jomon Period, around 900 BCE when along with advanced metal working techniques it was brought to southwestern Japan from what is today Korea.

Jomon tools

TECHNOLOGY

Jomon technology, for the most part, consists of basic stone and wooden tools such as knives and axes as well as bows and arrows, similar to Neolithic technology used in Europe and the rest of Asia. Alongside stone tools, various traps and snares also aided the Jomon people in hunting. Clothing was made from the bark of the mulberry tree, put together using bone needles, and the Jomon were also found to weave wicker baskets. Since at certain periods the Jomon people were settled near the ocean, fishing tools like harpoons and hooks were developed alongside techniques to use them. Unlike Europe and the rest of Asia, agriculture was not practiced until much later, near the end of the period, so no tools for large-scale farming have been found until the Yayoi period, however, there is evidence of small-scale horticulture or gardening.

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JOMON POTTERY

Jomon pottery was made by hand, without the use of a potter's wheel, by building up from the bottom with coils of soft clay mixed with other materials such as fibers or crushed shells. Afterwards, the outside and inside of the pottery were smoothed out by tools and then fired in an outdoor bonfire. The remains of the Jomon pottery itself are the oldest pottery to be dated in the world, thousands of pieces of which have been found. The pottery used in the earliest part of the Jomon Period, the Incipient (14,500 BCE - 5,000 BCE), had rounded bottoms and were used to cook outside, steadied on top of a pile of stones or sand. The next form of pottery, used in the Early Jomon (5,000 BCE - 3,000 BCE), had flat bottoms and was increasingly intended for indoor use. In the Middle Jomon Period (3,000 BCE - 1,000 BCE), vessels were more elaborately decorated depicting flames or snakes among other things, and in the Late Jomon Period (1,000 BCE - 300 BCE), the walls of the pottery became thinner and had a wider array of uses.

Jomon cup

RITUALS & Beliefs

The Jomon have been found to bury infants in large jars, adults inside pits and shell mounds near villages, and place ceremonial offerings and other ornaments in graves from the Middle to Late Jomon Periods. Starting sometime in the earlier Jomon phases the clay dogu figurines were made and intially started as flat images ranging in size from three to thirty centimeters, by the Middle Jomon phase the figurines became more widespread and numerous, and by the Late Jomon phase the figurines acquired three dimensional features and many depicted pregnant women as a hope to boost fertility or depicted as regular people and sometimes broken in the belief that any bad luck or illness would pass to the figurine and miss the person it was intended for. A common practice for males entering puberty would be ritualistic teeth pulling for unknown reasons. In northern Japan, a number of stone circles have been found around villages dating to the Jomon Period, the purpose of which are not known but are theorized to be for a plentiful hunt or fishing.

Transition to the Yayoi

For most of the Jomon Period, Japan was isolated from the rest of Asia so their culture, society, and technology could be called more original and arguably primitive since they could not gain access to the ideas and technology of other cultures. It was not until later phases of the period that evidence was found that indicated contact with the mainland such as similar pottery in Korea, and Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Jomon people would eventually learn rice growing and metalworking from Korea as well as people who would mix with the natives in more southern regions, and become the modern Japanese people, although a small group of people would maintain a higher percentage of original Jomon DNA far to the north, on the island of Hokkaido.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Hoang, T. (2016, March 02). Jomon Period. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/Jomon_Period/

Chicago Style

Hoang, Tony. "Jomon Period." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified March 02, 2016. http://www.ancient.eu/Jomon_Period/.

MLA Style

Hoang, Tony. "Jomon Period." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02 Mar 2016. Web. 17 Aug 2017.

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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 14,500 BCE - 5,000 BCE
    The Incipient phase of the Jomon Period, earliest known pottery in the world made during this time.
  • c. 14,500 BCE - c. 300 BCE
    Jomon Period in Japan.
  • 10,000 BCE
    The Ice Age ends and land bridges recede leaving groups of people on an island that is to become Japan.
  • 5,000 BCE - 3,000 BCE
    The Early phase of the Jomon Period.
  • 3,000 BCE - 1,000 BCE
    The Middle phase of the Jomon Period.
  • 1,000 BCE - 300 BCE
    The Late phase of the Jomon Period, rice farming and metalworking are brought to Japan.
  • 300 BCE
    The transition to the Yayoi Period.
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