Stone Age News: Early humans in Japan produced stone tools

stone toolSource: Yaita Municipal Board of Education

Humans may have trekked up a mountain 35,000 years ago in what is now Tochigi Prefecture (Japan) to dig up raw obsidian ore to process into stone tools, archaeologists say. Trapezoid stone tools unearthed on Mount Takaharayama in the prefecture will shed light on early human history in Japan, they added.

The tools indicate human beings at the start of the Upper Paleolithic Era (roughly 35,000 years ago) were already ‘mining’ raw stones to produce tools, not just picking them up off the ground, the researchers said. Previous finds had led experts to believe such mining started in the more recent Jomon Period, from 13,000 years to 3,000 years ago.

Archaeologists Takashi Tamura and Sadakatsu Kunitake first found the stone tools in 2005 on the 1,795-meter mountain straddling Yaita and other municipalities. Tamura heads the Department of Historical Sciences at the Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba, and Kunitake is a lecturer at Josai University in Saitama Prefecture.

A panel formed by the Yaita city board of education conducted a full-scale research dig at the mountain in October 2006. The team collected 441 stone relics from valley cliffs around the ridges at about 1,400 meters. Of the pieces found,eight are judged to be trapezoid stone toolsused by early humans to cut, poke or shave other items.

彰小野,考古学教授东京ropolitan University, headed the panel. “Judging from their type, the processing and where they were found, these must be trapezoid tools” like ones typically found in loam layers in the Kanto region that date back 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, he said. The discovery indicates those who made the tools had developed the high intellect needed to check, screen and process the obsidian into tools on the spot, the researchers say. Also, knowing where to find the obsidian in the vast Kanto plain, where there are few sources of ore, also indicates their intelligence, Tamura said. “To understand and share such information, they had to use language,” he said.

Source:Asahi(13 April 2007)


Sources & references:

For further reading and information and images, visit

Kengamine, Takaharayama Group: An obsidian source site discovered atop a ridge. Were stone tools rough finished here, then transported to lowland areas?

This important study details the interactions of the prehistoric complexes in the Russian Far East with those of the adjacent regions of Northeast and East Asia, including Japan and Korea. The research found the existence of long-distance obsidian exchanges between the Russian Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido Island(Shirataki-Oketo source) . “At ca. 19,000-18,000 BP, obsidian from sources in northeastern Hokkaido was transported to southern Sakhalin,” and ” at about 10,000 BP, Hokkaido obsidian reached the northern tip of Sakhalin”.

Excerpted from: “Environmental setting of human migrations in the circum-Pacific region”, Journal of Biogeography, Volume 35, Issue 1, pages 1–21, January 2008, Kevin O. Pope and John E. Terrell

The expansion of modern humans out of Africa, following a coastal route into southern Asia, was initially thwarted by a series of large and abrupt environmental changes. A period of relatively stable climate and sea level from c. 45,000 yr bp to 40,000 yr bp supported a rapid coastal expansion of modern humans throughout much of Southeast Asia, enabling them to reach the coasts of northeast Russia and Japan by 38,000–37,000 yr bp. Further northwards, migrations were delayed by cold northern climates, which began to deteriorate rapidly after 33,000 yr bp. Human migrations along the coast of the Bering Sea into the New World appear to have occurred much later, c. 14,000 yr bp, probably by people from central Asia who were better adapted to cold northern climates. Cold, dry climates and rapidly changing sea levels leading into and out of the Last Glacial Maximum inhibited coastal settlement, and many of the sites occupied prior to 33,000 yr bp were abandoned. After 16,000 yr bp, the sea-level rise slowed enough to permit coastal ecosystems to develop and coasts to be re-colonized, but abrupt changes in climate and sea level inhibited this development until after 12,000 yr bp. Between 12,000 yr bp and 7000 yr bp there was a dramatic increase in reef and estuary/lagoon ecosystems, concurrent with a major expansion of coastal settlements. This early Holocene increase in coastal environments and the concomitant expansion of human coastal-resource exploitation were followed by corresponding declines in both phenomena in the mid-Holocene, c. 6000–4000 yr bp. This decline in coastal resources is linked to the drop in sea level throughout the Pacific, which may have caused the widespread population dislocations that ultimately led to the human expansion throughout Oceania. By Kevin O. Pope1,* and John E. Terrell

see also:

Searching for traces of the Southern Dispersal,by Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr, et al.


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