Why should I be interested in Japanese archaeology?

We are in the process of running this one by some leading figures in the world of Japanese archaeology. Our interim answer, though, is that Japanese archaeology is fun and cool. Discoveries from archaeological sites help us understand what shaped what we recognise as Japan and Japanese, and some of the factors in helping Japan become the global phenomenon it is today.


When did people arrive in Japan?

Back in the Ice Age, many parts of the modern Japanese archipelago were linked by landbridges caused by much lower sea levels (as much of the water in the world was contained in greatly expanded polar ice caps). People could walk, swim and raft from the East Asian continent directly into what is now Japan. The earliest evidence for human occupation of the archipelago dates to around 50,000 years ago. Human beings and the hominid ancestors were present in what is now China long before that, over a million years ago, and Palaeolithic archaeologists continue to look for traces of earlier presence in Japan. The oldest human bones are from Okinawa, and date to around 20,000 years ago.


What is the most interesting Japanese archaeological discovery in the last year?

In July 2013 the leading journal Nature published an article which demonstrated that the oldest pottery in Japan (around 16,000 years ago) was used to make the first fish soup.


Where can I see some good Japanese archaeology in the UK and Europe?

In the UK, head to the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries at the British Museum. The Gowland Collection of Kofun period (AD 250-710) archaeology is especially interesting. The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia in Norwich also has some wonderful pieces, including Jomon dogu figurines and exceptional early Shinto and Buddhist figures. Elsewhere in Europe, try the National Museum of Antiquities (St Germain-en-laye) and the fascinating Musee Guimet in Paris. The Greek National Museum of Asian Art in Corfu and the Musee Eduardo Chiossone in Genoa, Italy, also have small collections.