Jomon Pottery Production in Central Japan

By Habu, Junko; Hall, Mark E. | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
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Jomon Pottery Production in Central Japan


Habu, Junko, Hall, Mark E., Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


UNLIKE MANY OTHER PREHISTORIC HUNTER-GATHERER CULTURES, the Jomon culture (c. 12,500-2300 B.P.) in Japan is characterized by the production and use of pottery (Pearson 1990, 1992). The great antiquity of Jomon pottery, the oldest of which is dated to 12,700 B.P., has attracted the attention not only of archaeologists working on East Asia but also researchers who investigate the origins of pottery in world prehistory. Nevertheless, for many Japanese archaeologists, the primary goal of studying Jomon pottery has been to establish a detailed chronology of the Jomon period. From the pioneering studies of Yamanouchi (1937, 1939, 1964) to the present, typological study of pottery has figured predominantly in the investigation of the Jomon culture. Since Yamanouchi's initial classification, pottery types have been further subdivided, and these units have subsequently been further refined. Today, most Jomon researchers agree on a basic typological ordering of Jomon pottery (see the chronological table in Kobayashi 1992:88, but see Hudson and Yamagata 1992 for various approaches to typological and/or stylistic analyses of Jomon pottery adopted by Japanese archaeologists).

While many Jomon archaeologists have been working on chronological studies of pottery, relatively few attempts have been made to analyze pottery in connection with the study of Jomon subsistence, settlement, and society. Through the course of the development of chronological studies, researchers have noticed that stylistic characteristics of pottery not only change through time but also differ between regions, thus forming distinct regional stylistic zones (e.g., Kamaki 1965). Each stylistic zone covers a substantially large area, some of which measure hundreds of square kilometers large and include thousands of sites from a specific time period within the Jomon. Because some of these sites are several hundred kilometers apart, it is very unlikely that all these sites were left by the same people. Many Jomon archaeologists therefore assume that each style zone represents a confederation of groups of people, or "tribes," who shared a common cultural and/or social identity (Kobayashi 1992; Yamanouchi 1969). Unfortunately, however, most of the discussions on the interpretations of style zones do not go beyond these general statements. Consequently, many questions regarding the production and circulation of Jomon pottery remain unanswered.

One way to approach the issues of pottery production and circulation is through the chemical analysis of pottery (Orton et al. 1993; Pollard and Heron 1996). The principal raw material for manufacturing pottery is clay. The chemical composition of raw clay is a function of the parent materials from which the clay was derived; thus, clays from different regions tend to show different chemical characteristics. Furthermore, the chemical characteristics of raw clay do not change significantly after it is fired (Cogswell et al. 1996). Therefore, if no temper is present, we can assume that variation in the chemical composition of pottery is due to the regional variation in clay source material. Although the addition of tempers and the removal of impurities from the clays may alter the chemical signature and preclude sourcing it to a specific clay source, it does not prevent the analyst from identifying unique compositional groups (Kilikoglou et al. 1988; Neff et al. 1988; Neff et al. 1989). Thus, demonstrated differences in the chemical composition between separate pieces of pottery can be used to discern regional clay sources and/or different "production workshops" (Costin 1991; Steponaitis et al. 1996; Wilson 1978).

In Japanese archaeology, chemical analyses of pottery have made significant progress over the past decade in the field of protohistoric and historic archaeology. Both energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) and instrumental neutron activation analyses (INAA) have proved useful for identifying the provenience of ceramics excavated from protohistoric and historic sites (Habu 1989; Mitsuji 1986, 1995, Ninomiya et al.

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