Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Dual Nature in the Creation of Disciplinary Identity: A Socio-Historical Review of Palaeolithic Archaeology in Japan

Academic journal article Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific

Dual Nature in the Creation of Disciplinary Identity: A Socio-Historical Review of Palaeolithic Archaeology in Japan

Article excerpt


In contemporary archaeology, disciplinary identity is not only established by the scholarly activities within a particular scientific community, but also can be framed through transformations in relationships among various social organizations and individuals that are heavily influenced by the historical trajectory of social circumstances. The present article clarifies how this dual nature plays a role in creating disciplinary identity, by explicating how Palaeolithic archaeology in Japan has developed as a scientific discipline. Through a review of last 50 years of Palaeolithic research, changes in the roles of social organizations and individuals are evaluated in the peculiar context of modern Japanese archaeology.


Research History

Palaeolithic research in Japan has gone on for more than half a century, since the first recognition of a Pleistocene archaeological site--the iwajuku site, about 90 km north of Tokyo--in 1949 by Tadahiro Aizawa, an amateur archaeologist who found lithic artifacts from Pleistocene sediments in a road profile, followed by an excavation conducted by academic archaeologists from Meiji University in Tokyo (Sugihara 1956; see also Aikens and Higuchi 1982; imamura 1996). The history of research into human antiquity in the Pleistocene, however, is much shorter in Japan than in Europe. Indeed, European research on what was termed the "Old Stone Age" began in the early to mid-nineteenth century with the discovery of stone tools in association with extinct animals in the Somme Valley of northwestern France by Boucher de Perthes, followed by the recognition of human antiquity by Edouard Lartet and Gabriel de Mortillet among others (Sackett 1981; Trigger 1989: 90-99). The first discoveries of Palaeolithic sites in Japan were different from those of Europe in several ways.

First of all, unlike the association of artifacts and extinct animals, the first Pleistocene sites in Japan lacked organic remains. The discoveries of human bones have been restricted to several sites, notably the Minatogawa 1 skeleton in Okinawa Island (Baba et al. 1998) and the Hamakita is in Honshu (Kondo and Matsu'ura 2005), although in both cases there is no evidence of associated artifacts. The lack of faunal remains in archaeological sites is also common. This is different from terminal Pleistocene sites recovered in North America, where the Folsom points were first discovered in association with bison bones (Meltzer 1983). In Japan, stone artifacts have largely been recovered without other human activity identifiers from Pleistocene sediments, sediments that are often visually distinct from the overlying dark Holocene humic soils (Watanabe and Sakagami 1999). The lack of faunal remains from Pleistocene sites is still common in more recent work on the Palaeolithic (Akazawa 1999; Nakazawa and Izuho 2006) and this "organically sterile" condition is also generally maintained in later prehistoric sites (i.e., from Jomon and Yayoi periods) except in special types of sites such as shell middens, karstic caves, water-logging, and bog sites (Habu 2004: 214-221). This preservation bias is caused by the humid environment and the high acidity of sediments in Japan (Barnes 2004). Besides the recognition of a stratigraphic position commensurate with a probable Pleistocene date and a lack of pottery, not enough evidence (e.g., radiometric dates, association of extinct animals) was present to securely establish the notion of the Palaeolithic in this early stage of Palaeolithic research.

This situation is clearly reflected in the culture-historical term of "Preceramic" that designates the Pleistocene Palaeolithic period in Japan (e.g., Ohyi 1968, 1978; Sugihara 1965; Tozawa 1990). Because of this preservation bias, research became heavily skewed toward lithics. Comparisons of lithic technology and diagnostic stone tool types (e.g., transverse burins, blade and microblade technologies) showed similarities with already known Palaeolithic cultural traits in Europe and North Asia (e. …

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