TOPIC 2C The earliest villages and cemeteries This topic will deliver

The earliest villages and cemeteries
This topic will deliver the following learning objectives:
1. to understand the variety of settlements and cemeteries in the Jomon period;
2. to debate the function and social organisations of settlements an d cemeteries;
3. to understand how can we use archaeological materials to explain Jomon society.
Sannai Maruyama settlement
Tanabatake settlement
Excavated Jomon settlements
Distinctive burial customs
Students can be asked:
how can we understand social organisation from settlements?
how can we understand social organisation from cemeteries?
Sannai Maruyama settlement
Excavations were conducted in 1992-1994 ahead of the construction of baseball stadium. These
revealed a particularly high concentration of features and artefacts. Aomori prefecture decided to
halt the construction of the stadium and to preserve the site. Af ter that, about 30 test excavations
to investigate the whole structure of the site were conducted.
The site was occupied from the second half of the early Jomon to the end of the middle of Jomon
(approximately 1,500 years). More than 500 pit dwellings wer e identified. Most are in the stadium
area, but some were identified to the south of this.
Flask-shaped pits are thought to be storage facilities, because remains of sweet chestnuts or horse
chestnuts have been found in the bottom of these at other sites. Some sites have post-built
structures with no clear evidence of a floor. Most archaeologists assume that they had raised -floors
and that they were used for food storage.
Arrowheads of obsidian from Chubu region, and jadeite pendants from the border area between
Niigata and Toyama prefecture were found. These show the wide trading contacts of people at the
Tanabatake settlement
Tanabatake was occupied from the beginning to the end of the middle of Jomon, approximately
1,000 years. Archaeologists excavated 146 pit dwellings at the site.
At both of parts of the settlement, clusters of burial pits were placed between the central plaza and
the pit dwellings.
Bodies in the Jomon period were usually buried in oval or circular pits. The acid soils of Japan tend
to erode bone and burials often survive better within shell middens where the calcium of the shells
helps to preserve them.
One particular type of burial pit (shuteibo) was set inside a circular embankment heaped up from
the earth removed by digging the pit. Most shuteibo are approximately 20 metres in outer diameter,
10 metres in inner diameter. Extra large examples were discovered at Kius shuteibo -gun in Ishkari
basin where some were up to 75 metres in outer diameter, and up to 5.4 metres high from the floor
of the pit.
The spatial structures of cemeteries were different in terms of how they reflected their social
groups. many have clear segments of burials. They may have different positions inside or outside
their settlements. Some segments could be of different shapes, for example, lumps at Tanabatake
and linear at Sannai Maruyama. Regional diversity in spatial structure of Jomon cemeteries and
changes over time would reflect differences in social organisations and relationship s among
communities. It might be associated with differences in the environment or subsistence system.
Excavated Jomon settlements
Excavations in Japan are often on a large scale and whole settlements have sometimes been
excavated. These can reveal a lot about the way of life of people, their attitudes and their society.
The following teaching materials can be used to answer the question How can we understand social organisation from settlements?
Editorial note: Figures 01 to 04 need to be shown together as part of a set, but could be
downloaded separately.
Figure 01
The reconstructed site of Sannai-maruyama in Aomori prefecture
Figure 02
The excavations at Sannai-maruyama in Aomori prefecture
Figure 03
An excavated ritual structure at Sannai-maruyama in Aomori prefecture
Figure 04
Burial pits at Sannai-maruyama in Aomori prefecture
Many pit houses have oval or circular shape, and are around 3 to 4 metres long (Feature 1 on
Figures 01 and 02). The largest pit house is 32 metres long (Feature 2 on Figures 01 and 02).
About 100 post-built structures that may have been for storing food were discovered in the centre
of stadium area (Feature 3 in Figures 01 and 02).
There were two rows of oval burial pits including several hundred burials on both sides of a 420
metre-long earthen pathway from the stadium area to the eastern end of the site (Feature 4 -1 in
Figures 01 and 02). Another burial row was found from the south of stadium area to south -east
(Feature 4-2 in Figure 01 and Figure 04). Some pit burials have circular a stone arrangement
around the top. There are also approximately 800 upright buried jars, which were thought to be
burials for babies or infants.
The bases of six large chestnut posts, c. 1m in diameter, were discove red still in their post holes
(Feature 05 in Figures 01 and 02, also Figure 03). Kobayashi Tatsuo has noted how the midwinter
sun sets between the two lines of posts. There are also north and south embankments in the
stadium area 2 metres high with deposits of soil, charcoal, pottery, stone tools, in use for about 800
years (Feature 6-1 and 6-2 in Figures 01 and 02). Jadeite pendants and over 2,000 dogu clay
figurines indicate that these earthen mounds were used for ritual activities.
Editorial note: Figures 05 to 06 need to be shown together as part of a set, but could be
downloaded separately.
Figure 05
Excavation of Tanabatake settlement in Nagano prefecture
Figure 06
Plan of Tanabatake settlement in Nagano prefecture
There are two circular zones of settlement, a north village and a south village. The pit houses in
the south can be divided into two major segments, an eastern and a western group
There are no clearly identified features for storage. Some scattered pits around pit dwellings might
be used as storage pits, but it is possible to use the attic space of pit houses for this.
There were 116 Middle Jomon pits. These may be burial pits since jadeite pendants, jars, and
stone knives were discovered at the bottom of them. These would have been g rave goods. At the
south village, the east and west segments of the pits seem to face each other across the central
14 rectangular post-built structures were found around the circumference of the central plaza.
There were quite a few artefacts, but buildings that have a different structure from pit dwellings are
thought to be facilities for ritual. The dogu clay figurine, ‘Jomon venus’ in module 3c, was found
almost complete in No.500 small pit in the central open area of south village.
Figure 07
Obsidian arrowheads and flakes from Tanabatake settlement in Nagano prefecture
There are over 10,000 obsidian tools, pebbles and flakes, weighing approximately 110 kg from the
site. Arrowheads usually weigh only 0.5g, so that 110 kg of obsidian is equal to 220,000 arrow
heads. This trial calculation indicates that the amount of stocked obsidian at Tanabatake is beyond
that needed for self-consumption and is for trading. This site is located 10 km away from a good
obsidian source in Mt. Kirigamine.
Figure 08
Excavation at Aota in Niigata prefecture
The exceptional preservation conditions at this waterlogged site meant that chestnut posts
survived into the present. Buildings of this type were well-suited to the damp ground conditions at
Aota. Over 50 post-built structures from the Final Jomon period were found (Figure 08). They had
been flooded as the river changed its course. A rare find was part of wall panel of plant material.
Figure 09
Reconstruction drawing of Aota in Niigata prefecture
The settlement had an earlier and a later phase. Dating by analysis the tree rings in the wood
suggests that 8 or 9 buildings formed the row of houses at the same phase. Approximately 70
flask-shaped storage pits were excavated. Buried jars were found that were burials for babies or
infants. No burial pits for adults were found. The only evidence for ritual was a few clay figurines
and stone objects.
Figure 10
Diagram of the number of houses at Sannai Maruyama
The calculation of the number of houses at each phase at Sannai Maruyama is a minimum
estimate, as not all the houses excavated had pottery that could be used to date them.
Key question
How can we understand social organisation from settlements?
Secondary questions
What can we tell about social organisation from the spatial arrangement of features, and the nature
of the features and finds?
What function did settlement have?
Understanding long and short time scales
On a short time scale, we can look at the size and structure of t he village in one of its phases.
Phases are defined by the succession of different types of pottery. Each phase varies between
several decades and a few hundred years in length. Analysis at Tanabatake showed each phase to
have 10 to 20 houses, but the phases could be long and there may have only been five houses at
any one time.
On a long time scale, we can see the same structure surviving throughout the life of the settlement.
Settlements often had some kind of spatial arrangement. The concentric nature o f the circular
villages at Tanabatake was deliberately maintained over 10 phases, nearly 1,000 years. The two
groups of pit dwellings also continued, even though the boundary between them was moved over
time. This duality in the structuring of settlement space is seen in many Jomon villages and
probably reflects an important principle of Jomon social organisation.
Multiple functions in settlements
It is certain that core of the settlements, such as Sannai Maruyama and Tanabatake, were the
centre of daily life with pit houses and storage facilities. They were also the centre for other social
activities such as rituals, funeral ceremonies and exchanges. The concentric ring at the centre of
the settlement was clearly a valuable place to the people that reflects the social unity of the
community. It stands as a symbols the Jomon society.
On the other hand, the fewer ritual and burial element at Aota site in the final Jomon show that it
had more limited functions than the settlements in the middle Jomon. The cem etery of the people
who lived in Aota might be located away from village. This spatial separation the living and the
dead in different functional spaces appeared during the late Jomon.
Distinctive burial customs
Jomon people used various forms of burial. Some were placed inside their settlements, while
others were is separate cemeteries. Some had grave goods, while others did not. The following
teaching materials can be used to answer the question How can we understand social organisation from cemeteries?
Figure 11
Plan of Kusakari kaiduka (shell midden), Chiba prefecture
Several rescue excavations of a whole terrace of approximately 260,000 square metres revealed a
whole circular settlement 130 metres long and 80 metres wide. Th e outer circular ring has
approximately 300 pit dwellings in the middle Jomon, and at least 21 houses were reused for
burials. Over 1,000 pits found outside of the central plaza are thought to be storage pits, and some
are also reused for burials.
Figure 12
Burial at Ubayama kaiduka (shell midden), Chiba prefecture
Burial in an abandoned house (Haiokubo) is popular in the Tokyo bay area in the middle Jomon.
Other good examples were found in shell middens at Ubayama and Kasori. An analysis of the size
and shape of the teeth and the skulls of the skeletons was done for two burials at Kusakari and
Ubayama. These showed the reuse of pit dwelling as a burial is associated with one particular
family. However, both burials but were added to the disused pit house sometime later than it was
Figure 13
The site of Kius shuteibo-gun (group of burial enclosures), Chitose city
This a large burial enclosure, 37 metres in outer diameter. 220 people have been arranged to show
the size and height of the inner and outer edges of the bank that surrounded the pit in the middle.
Such rounded-bank burial enclosures (Shuteibo or Kanjo-dori) are distinctive in Hokkaido island in
the second half of the late Jomon. They are especially concentrated in Ishikari basin, south of
Sapporo city.
Figure 14
Excavation of Bibi 4 shuteibo-gun (group of burial enclosures), Chitose city
A group of sites along the Misawa river was excavated during construction of New Chitose airport,
and 16 shuteibo in total were uncovered from sites of Misawa 1, Bibi 4 and Bibi 5.
Figure 15
Excavation of a burial enclosure at Misawa 1, Chotose city
At Misawa 1, two burial enclosures form a pair and three such pairs were located on the edge of
the river terrace of Misawa river. Skeletal remains were of adult males, adult females and children
of unidentified sex.
Figure 16
Plan of grave goods at Misawa 1 burial enclosure, Chitose city
One of characteristic of this burial custom is the occurrence of grave goods. 70% of the burials in
the JX03 enclosure had such goods. This is much higher than in other cemeteries in the Jomon
Figure 17
Grave goods in burial 103 at Misawa 1, Chitose city
Artefacts found at the bottom of burial pits were identified as grave goods. Grave goods at this site
can be divided into three categories:
a) ritual objects such as stone bars (sekibo) and lacquered bow and ware;
b) ornaments like Jadeite beads;
c) utensils, usually pottery and stone tools such as arrowheads and polished axes.
One burial had categories a, b and c. Three had categories a and c. Another three had categories
a and b. Five had only category c. The five remaining burials had no grave goods. In the paired
enclosure of JX04, only 39% of burials. One had categories b and c. Two had either a or b. Four
had only category c. Eleven had no grave goods.
Figure 18
Burial pit at Tanabatake West segment in the south village
Burials at Tanabatake had either ornaments or utensils. This was one of five to have jadeite
pendants as ornaments. Three others had other kinds of ornament. Less than 10 burials had only
utensils. Probably only 20% of burials here had grave goods. At Kusakari, there is an antler waist
ornament from two burials. Others had a clay earring or a shell bracelet. Burials with ornaments
were scattered through the cemetery. There was no concentration into any particular section.
Key question
How can we understand social organisation from cemeteries?
Secondary questions
What do the arrangement of burials and the occurrence of grave goods tell us about the social
organisation of the population?
The spatial structure of cemeteries
We can often distinguish a hierarchy in the spatial structure of Jomon cemeteries. The southern
cemetery at Tanabatake consists of two clusters with dozens of burial pits. Both clusters include
smaller groups: units of several burials. Different social divisions at small and large scales were
reflected in the spatial division of the cemetery.
Small sized groups: a unit of burials
Burials in abandoned houses in the middle Jomon shell middens of Kusakari, Ubayama and Kasori
are good examples of small groups. Depression-shaped circular or rounded squares show clear
boundaries for burials of small groups. The results of analysis of the skeletons show th at unit
corresponds to a family unit.
At Tanabatake the overlapping of small units by an accumulation of burials over a long time makes
it hard to identify them. At Sannai Maruyama, it seems that we can recognise some rows of pit
burials. However, it was impossible to identify group composition because there were no skeletal
remains surviving. At Misawa 1, units of burials are very hard to see.
Middle size group: segment of burials
Shuteibo (round-bank burial enclosure) is a burial that clearly shows the boundary of a segment.
The skeletal remains show that a single shuteibo segment includes a number of family units. This
corporate group is thought to be a descent group, such as a lineage or clan.
The paired structure of some Jomon villages is reflected in their cemeteries. At Misawa and Kius,
two burial enclosures formed a pair. At the south village in Tanabatake, two major spatial segments
and a clear mortuary zone in the central plaza emerged over a long time. At Sannai Maruyama,
two rows of burial pits were maintained over hundreds of years until the end of occupation. Both
cemeteries contained a number of families.
At Kusakari, the existence of segments is unclear. Clusters of burial near the dwelling zone may be
accumulations of family burials
Spatial positions of cemeteries
There are three patterns in the positioning of cemeteries
Centralised pattern. The example of the south village at Tanabatake shows efforts to integrate
segments within the central plaza. This reflects the desire for the unity of the community.
Adjoining pattern. Cemeteries are located next to the settlement. Sannai Maruyam and Kusakari
have this pattern.
Independent pattern. In the late and final Jomon, cemeteries often are set away from dwellings in
an independent location. Groups of shuteibo at Misawa 1 and Kius, had no pit dwellings near them.
This is the reason why few ritual remains are found at Aota village in the final Jomon. Stone circles
of Oyu and Komakino (in topic 3c) are also this located away from the settlements .
Differences in grave goods and social complexity
At Sannai Maruyama and Kusakari, there were no clear differences between the burial rows or
units of burials. At Tanabatake west in the south village, there is a predominance of grave goods.
Misawa 1 JX03 burial enclosure has more, and higher quality, grave goods than JX04 burial
enclosure. Differences between segments implies differences in the nature of the lineages. It is
possible that these differences became more obvious in some limited regions and pe riods.
Did the differences Tanabatake and Misawa 1 have the same meaning? Probably both had
different meanings, although what these were has been controversial. The differences are based
on different categorisations of grave goods. Misawa 1 JX03 burial enclosure has a more
complicated combination of goods than Tanabatake. It also has distinctive ritual objects such as
stone bars. A more complicated combination appeared within the predominant segment at JX03
and the total number of social categories increased. In other words, social complexity increased.
There are many more burials with grave goods in burial enclosures than at Tanabatake in the
middle Jomon, and differences between paired enclosures is also distinctive. This seems to show
increasing concern for the social unity of segments and hierarchical relationships among them.
There is controversy about the values of some rich grave goods, such as burials with a
combination of categories a and c. Were these the leaders of an egalitarian society or an up per
class within a stratified society?