Introduction

By Bleed, Peter | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Bleed, Peter, Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


PALAEOLITHIC CULTURES HAVE BEEN INVESTIGATED in Japan for only 60 years but in that rather brief period, the archaeology of Japan's Pleistocene occupation has been an active field. The papers assembled here indicate that innovative methods, approaches, and issues are still being addressed by the emerging generation of Japanese Palaeolithic specialists. The goal of this special issue is to present the kinds of Palaeolithic research being done in Japan and to encourage world archaeologists to view Japanese research as an important source of information on east Asian and World archaeology.

Tadahiro Aizawa's 1949 discovery of stone assemblages in loam layers long thought to be sterile challenged established archaeological understanding (Befu and Chard 1960; Serizawa and Ikawa 1958). The realization that these materials dated from pre-Holocene times significantly expanded the scope of Jomon studies and also, of course, gave Palaeolithic researchers a huge agenda. By the 1970s, thousands of Pleistoceneage sites had been discovered and culture-historical researchers had begun to sort out regional variants and arrange them in temporal order (Chard 1974; Serizawa 1979). To do that, Japanese Palaeolithic researchers had to develop original analytical methods and research strategies. They established refined excavation systems, distinctive illustration techniques, and virtuosic analytical procedures that were essentially original. Japanese Palaeolithic researchers had no traditions to follow or relevant foreign models to adapt, so developing these methods and a shared research agenda had to be original. As interesting and innovative as these developments may have been, they were not easily used or emulated by non-Japanese archaeologists, if only because they were almost invariably presented in Japanese (Bleed 2001). Japanese researchers have worked to make the results of their work available to world audiences. Notably in that regard, Akira Ono and Masami Izuho (2006) have presented a series of brief treatments of developments in Japanese Palaeolithic research. And some international scholars have recognized that the bulk and quality of Japanese Palaeolithic research could shed light on the general problems of Asian and north Pacific prehistory. Fumiko Ikawa-Smith has led this effort, time and again bringing the quality of Japanese Palaeolithic research and Pleistocene chronological studies to bear on issues of world archaeology (Ikawa-Smith 1978, 1982, 2004).

As Japanese researchers sorted out the culture-historical structure of the Palaeolithic record, they discovered some unexpected patterns that prompted reconsideration of widely held views. Discovery and detailed technological assessment of refined microblade industries in Japan (Hayashi 1968; Kobayashi 1970) had a major impact on thinking about how humans came to occupy Siberia, Beringia, and the New World. Two other Palaeolithic discoveries were more challenging to world archaeologists when they were reported by Japanese researchers. The recognition that Palaeolithicage edge-ground tools were produced in Japan long before they were common in other regions came as a surprise (Oda and Keally 1973). Even harder for researchers in other regions to initially accept was the discovery of ceramics in association with Japanese Palaeolithic artifacts in strata that dated from the terminal Pleistocene (Ikawa-Smith 1976). The sincere debate and legitimate deliberation that surrounded those challenging discoveries formed the background for the scandal that swept across Japanese archaeology in 2000 when it was revealed that amazingly complex materials that appeared to demonstrate an "early Palaeolithic" occupation in Japan were all a faked hoax. As Nakazawa shows in his opening article, dealing with that fraud has encouraged many Japanese Palaeolithic researchers to consider the methods and approach of their field.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the papers presented here is that they contain little that is controversial.

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