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ASIA212Varley - 1 The Emergence of Japanese Civilization...

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1 The Emergence of Japanese Civilization Much mystery —and controversy—surrounds the origins of the Japanese people. Before the end of World War II, it was generally believed that human occupancy of Japan dated to only about 4000 b.c. and that the inhabitants of that earliest period were Neolithic or New Stone Age peo- ple. Then, in 1949, new archaeological finds dramatically revealed that humans had lived in Japan from a much earlier time and that there had been a Paleolithic or Old Stone Age before the New Stone Age. Today, a conservative estimate of the date of the beginning of the Old Stone Age is between 30,000 and 50,000 b.c. Some archaeologists, however, assert that the age commenced as far back as about 600,000 b.c. 1 During the glacial age (about 1,000,000–10,000 b.c .), when much of the water of the earth’s Northern Hemisphere was drawn into polar ice packs, Japan was connected in the west (Kyushu) and north (northern Honshu and Hokkaido) to the Asian continent, and the present Japan Sea was a lake. Very likely Japan’s first inhabitants crossed over from the con- tinent by foot. In any case, better scientific dating of archaeological mate- rials developed since the end of World War II, including radiocarbon dat- ing, has established that the Old Stone Age, whenever it may have begun, ended with the glacial age about 10,000 b.c. and was succeeded by the New Stone Age. Since the first discovery of Old Stone Age civilization, some five thou- sand Old Stone Age sites have been uncovered all over Japan. These sites typically yield roughly shaped stone tools and an assortment of human bone fragments. Because no full skeletons have yet been found, it has been difficult for archaeologists to make judgments about the racial char- acter of the Old Stone Age Japanese. The rudimentary level of their lives is perhaps best attested by the fact that, so far as we know, they did not advance culturally to the point of making pottery. And it is for this reason that archaeologists have labeled them, rather unpoetically, the “non- pottery” people. The beginning of the New Stone Age is now dated to about 10,000 b.c., when there was a great warming in the Northern Hemisphere, much of the polar ice mass melted, and Japan evolved into an archipelago. In
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2 The Emergence of Japanese Civilization the preceding Old Stone Age, people had shaped stones into tools by chipping or flaking or had even used stones as tools just as they found them. The main index marking the transition to the New Stone Age was the appearance, from about 10,000 b.c., of stone tools of much higher quality, including skillfully shaped and polished axes, knives, arrowheads, and fish hooks. Another major advance of the New Stone Age was the production of pottery; and indeed, archeologists now date the beginning of pottery making in Japan to the commencement of the age itself, or roughly 10,000 b.c. This means that, on the basis of what we know about the origins of pottery making in other countries, the Japanese (or the occu- pants of Japan during the New Stone Age) produced the world’s first pottery. It is possible that future finds on the Asian continent—for
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