Category Archives: JAPAN

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago

More than two decades after researchers discovered the 3,800-year-old remains of “Jomon woman” in Hokkaido, Japan, they’ve finally deciphered her genetic secrets.

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago
A facial reconstruction of the Jomon woman, who lived about 3,800 years ago in what is now northern Japan.

And it turns out, from that perspective, she looks very different from modern-day inhabitants of Japan.

The woman, who was elderly when she died, had a high tolerance for alcohol, unlike some modern Japanese people, a genetic analysis revealed. She also had moderately dark skin and eyes and an elevated chance of developing freckles.

Surprisingly, the ancient woman shared a gene variant with people who live in the Arctic, one that helps people digest high-fat foods. This variant is found in more than 70% of the Arctic population, but it’s absent elsewhere, said study first author Hideaki Kanzawa, a curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. 

This variant provides further evidence that the Jomon people fished and hunted fatty sea and land animals, Kanzawa said.

“Hokkaido Jomon people engaged in [not only] hunting of … land animals, such as deer and boar, but also marine fishing and hunting of fur seal, Steller’s sea lions, sea lions, dolphins, salmon and trout,” Kanzawa told Live Science.

“In particular, many relics related to hunting of ocean animals have been excavated from the Funadomari site,” where the Jomon woman was found.

Who is Jomon woman?

Jomon women lived during the Joman period, also known as Japan’s Neolithic period, which lasted from about 10,500 B.C. to 300 B.C. Though she died more than three millennia ago — between 3,550 and 3,960 years ago, according to recent radiocarbon dating — researchers found her remains only in 1998, at the Funadomari shell mound on Rebun Island, off the northern coast of Hokkaido.

But Jomon woman’s genetics have remained a mystery all these years, prompting researchers to study her DNA, which they extracted from one of her molars.

Last year, the researchers released their preliminary results, which helped a forensic artist create a facial reconstruction of the woman, showing that she had dark, frizzy hair; brown eyes; and a smattering of freckles.

Her genes also showed that she was at high risk of developing solar lentigo, or darkened patches of skin if she spent too much time in the sun, so the artist included several dark spots on her face.

“These findings provided insights into the history and reconstructions of the ancient human-population structures in east Eurasia,” said Kanzawa, who was part of a larger team that included Naruya Saitou, a professor of population genetics at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan.

Now, with their study slated to be published in the next few weeks in The Anthropological Society of Nippon’s English-language journal, Kanzawa and his colleagues are sharing more of their results. Jomon woman’s DNA shows, for example, that the Jomon people split with Asian populations that lived on the Asian mainland between 38,000 and 18,000 years ago, he said.

It’s likely that the Jomon people lived in small hunter-gatherer groups, likely for about 50,000 years, Kanzawa noted. Moreover, the Jomon woman had wet earwax. That’s an interesting fact because the gene variant for dry earwax originated in northeastern Asia and today up to 95% of East Asians have dry earwax. (People with the dry earwax variant also lack a chemical that produces smelly armpits.)

Despite her differences from the modern Japanese population, Jomon woman is actually more closely related to today’s Japanese, Ulchi (the indigenous culture of eastern Russian), Korean, aboriginal Taiwanese and Philippine people than these populations are to the Han Chinese, Kanzawa said.

Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

According to the legend, the 1000-year-old killing stone trapped the spirit of a malevolent being. Now, due to rainwater, the rock has split open, sending believers into a state of frenzy.

The legend warns anyone who comes in contact with the stone will die. This volcanic rock, which is officially called Sessho-Seki, is rumoured to contain the mythical Tamomo-No-Mae, also known as the Nine-Tailed Fox.

Tamomo-No-Mae was an ancient demon from Japanese mythology that took the form of a beautiful woman.

The creature was storied to be a part of a plot to kill Emperor Toba, ruler of Japan from 1107 to 1123.

The volcanic rock is actually a popular tourist attraction, located in the mountainous northern region of Tochigi, near Tokyo.

The region is famous for its sulphurous hot springs.

Japan's 1,000-year-old 'killing stone' said to contain an ancient demon cracked open
Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

According to folklore, this killing stone earned its named by spewing poisonous gas at people.

However, since the rock cracked open, visitors have been fearful of approaching the site.

Some users online have even expressed fears the evil spirit has been unleashed once again.

Lily0727K, a user on Twitter, shared an image of the split rock, writing: “I came alone to Sesshoseki, where the legend of the nine-tailed fox remains.

The nine-tailed fox from Japanese mythology

“It was supposed to be, but the rock was split in half and the rope was also detached.

“If it’s a manga, it’s a pattern that the seal is broken and it’s possessed by the nine-tailed fox, and I feel like I’ve seen something that shouldn’t be seen.

“I’m getting really scared.”

According to local reports, the rock had actually begun cracking a couple of years ago. Most likely, rainwater seeped into the rock, degrading it over the years until it finally split open.

The rock was split open by rainwater

Local officials are now figuring out what to do with the rock’s remains and are looking into whether they could attempt to restore it. Others have commented on the split rock, saying: “Here I thought 2022 couldn’t get worse.

“Now a furious Japanese spirit is freed from its ‘killing stone’.”

But another joked: “My guess is the demon is going to look around at 2022 and want to go back into the rock for another millennium.”

The Japanese newspaper quoted a tourism official as saying he would like to see the Sessho-Seki restored to its original form.

Hopefully, the rumoured demon within the stone would be restored to its rocky prison as well. The killing stone was registered as a local historical site in 1957 and was also mentioned in Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

The site has inspired a Noh play, a novel and an anime film.

The mystery of a 300-year-old mummified ‘mermaid’ with a ‘human face’ and tail has baffled scientists

Mystery of a 300-year-old mummified ‘mermaid’ with ‘human face’ and tail has baffled scientists

Japanese scientists are probing a mysterious 12-inch creature, which was allegedly caught in the Pacific Ocean, off the Japanese island of Shikoku, between 1736 and 1741. The baffling mummified creature is now kept in a temple in the city of Asakuchi. Shaped like a mermaid, the creature has hair, teeth, nails, and a lower body with scales.

Mystery of a 300-year-old mummified 'mermaid' with 'human face' and tail has baffled scientists
It’s not yet clear how or when the mummy came to the Enjuin temple in Asakuchi.

With a grimacing face, pointed teeth, two hands, and hair on its head and brow, it has an eerily human appearance – except for its fish-like lower half.

Researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts have taken the mummy for CT scanning in a bid to unravel its secrets, as per an NYT report.

Hiroshi Kinoshita of the Okayama Folklore Society, who came up with the project, told NYT the bizarre creature could have religious significance.

“Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality,” he added.

“It is said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid, you will never die.”

“There is a legend in many parts of Japan that a woman accidentally ate the flesh of a mermaid and lived for 800 years.”

“This ‘Yao-Bikuni’ legend is also preserved near the temple where the mermaid mummy was found.”

“I heard that some people, believing in the legend, used to eat the scales of mermaid mummies.”

“There is also a legend that a mermaid predicted an infectious disease,” Hiroshi stated.

Also, a historic letter from 1903, apparently penned by a former owner, was stored alongside the mummy and gives a story about its provenance.

“A mermaid was caught in a fish-catching net in the sea off Kochi Prefecture,” the letter states.

“The fishermen who caught it did not know it was a mermaid, but took it to Osaka and sold it as unusual fish. My ancestors bought it and kept it as a family treasure.”

It’s not yet clear how or when the mummy came to the Enjuin temple in Asakuchi.

But chief priest, Kozen Kuida, said it was put on display in a glass case some 40 years ago and is now kept in a fireproof safe.

“We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly,” he told The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

Kinoshita, however, takes a more pragmatic view of the creature.

One claim of the origins is that it might be a hoax and the creature may be an article of the show meant to be exported to Europe, according to another report.

The findings of the scientists are expected to be published later in 2022.

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan

Postholes and other archaeological remains that are believed to be from a dwelling for the empress at the Japanese imperial family’s official residence have been found in the ancient capital of Kyoto.

The remains appear to have been from the Tokaden pavilion, which served as a dwelling for the empress and female palace attendants, and is also mentioned in Heian literature, including “The Tale of Genji” and “The Pillow Book.” It was part of the emperor’s official residence located in the ancient Japanese capital and administrative centre of Heian-Kyo, as Kyoto was known during the Heian period (794-1185).

The postholes and other remains are thought to be from the time that the capital was moved to Heian-Kyo toward the end of the 8th century. It is the first time that remains from a building that was evidently part of the Heian-Kyo imperial residence have been discovered.

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan
The Mainichi Postholes and stone arrangements that served as ditches, which are believed to be remains of the Tokaden pavilion of the ancient Heian-Kyo residence of the imperial family, are seen in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward, on Aug. 11, 2015, in this image…

The remains were unearthed during excavation work in the city’s Kamigyo Ward, carried out in 2015 by the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute, ahead of the construction of a group home, and the institute compiled its findings in a report.

The emperor’s private residence is said to have stretched for about 182 meters from west to east, and some 226 meters from north to south, comprising 17 pavilions, among other structures.

The excavation took place in the northwest part of the residence, which is believed to have housed the Tokaden pavilion as well as the Kokiden pavilion situated to its south.

During the excavation, five holes with diameters of between 1.2 and 1.5 meters were found running from the north to south, with a distance of around 3 to 2.1 meters between each of them.

According to the investigation, the holes were used to bury pillars in the ground without placing foundation stones.

The research institute consulted a document from the Edo period (1603-1867), which detailed the positioning of the palace buildings, and determined that the holes had been located at the southwest section of the Tokaden pavilion, which extended about 12 meters from west to east, and about 27 meters from north to south.

Furthermore, an arrangement of stones forming an L-shaped ditch, which was used to carry off rainwater from the roof, was discovered in the southwest corner of the Tokaden, and a similar ditch was also found in the northern part of the Kokiden pavilion.

A foundation stone was placed between the stone ditches, which may be traces of a corridor that connected the two buildings. The ditches are thought to be remains from the 10th century or later after the original building was rebuilt using the method of placing pillars on foundation stones.

Emperor Kanmu, who established Japan’s capital at Heian-Kyo in 794, was devoted to the culture of the Tang Dynasty in China.

It is accordingly believed that major buildings at the time were constructed by placing pillars on foundation stones, which was a method that was introduced in China.

READ ALSO: 2,000-YEAR-OLD SCALE WEIGHTS IDENTIFIED IN JAPAN

The investigation at the site indicates that the Japanese traditional method of not using foundation stones was also adopted for Heian-Kyo.

A representative of the research institute commented, “There is great significance in finding remains from a building from the time of the establishment of the ancient capital in Kyoto. This is first-class material.”

The postholes and other archaeological remains that were found have already been backfilled.

Parasite eggs in old toilet came from pork eaten 1,300 years ago

Parasite eggs in old toilet came from pork eaten 1,300 years ago

Nara Prefecture–Denizens of the Asuka Period (592-710) feasted on pork and may have done so routinely, archaeologists deduced from parasite eggs excavated from a toilet structure found in the ruins of the ancient capital of Fujiwarakyo. 

The eggs, which serve as scientific evidence of pork consumption because humans are infected with parasites after eating undercooked pork, are one of the oldest findings in the country, researchers from the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, reported. 

It is possible that immigrants from the Chinese continent ate pork regularly, they added.

The institute excavated the ruins of Fujiwarakyo, which served as the imperial capital between 694 and 710 in Sakurai, also in the prefecture, in the year ending in March 2019. It found a toilet structure in the northeast of the remains of the Fujiwara no Miya palace, the centerpiece of the capital.

Masaaki Kanehara, a professor of environmental archaeology at Nara University of Education who also serves as a collaborative researcher at the institute, and his wife, Masako, head director of the Cultural Assets Scientific Research Center, a general incorporated association, analyzed soil samples.

According to the researchers, there were five egg shells found in the soil. The eggs were apparently laid by a parasite known as a pork tapeworm, which infects humans when they eat pork.

Although bones of boars or pigs possibly raised by humans had been found when the institute conducted a survey at Fujiwarakyo in the year ending in March 2001, no pork tapeworm eggs were discovered at the time.

Similar parasite eggs had also been found in toilet structures of the ruins of Korokan in Fukuoka, which is referred to as the “ancient guest palace,” and Akita Castle in Akita. Both structures apparently date to the Nara Period (710-784), meaning that the eggs were younger than those found at Fujiwarakyo.

Previously, what appeared to be pig bones were found from an archaeological site dating back to the Yayoi Period (c. 1000 B.C.-250 A.D.). But parasite eggs provide more direct evidence for pork consumption.

Professor Kanehara said that the parasite eggs were excreted by humans after they ate undercooked pork. It is also possible that they ate pork on a routine basis because the eggs were found in the remains of the toilet facility used on a daily basis.

In the late seventh century, just before Fujiwarakyo, believed to be Japan’s first full-scale capital laid out in a grid pattern on the ancient Chinese model, was built, the Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula both were conquered. It is thought that many of the emigrants fled to Japan.

The parasite eggs show that people who came from the food cultures of the Chinese continent and Korean Peninsula lived in Fujiwarakyo, the institute said in its report released in the spring.

“(The parasite eggs) are important pieces of information to shed light on a meat-eating culture in the history of eating habits in Japan because many facts about pig breeding and the regular consumption of pork at the time remain unclear,” said Masashi Maruyama, an associate professor of zooarchaeology at Tokai University’s School of Marine Science and Technology who studies the history between humans and animals from the standpoint of archaeology.

“Unlike cows and horses, pigs don’t require pastures. It is quite possible that they were bred inside Fujiwarakyo.”

‘CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE’ OF PORK CONSUMPTION

Various pieces of “circumstantial evidence” indicate that pork had also been consumed even in older times.

Excavated from a Yayoi Period site in Oita was what appeared to be a pig skull. With similar bones also having been unearthed at other Yayoi Period ruins, they are collectively referred to as the “Yayoi pig” to differentiate them from wild boars. It is possible that there were people who raised pigs and ate them.

Meanwhile, the word “ikainotsu” is mentioned in one section in “Nihon Shoki” (The Chronicles of Japan), a book of classical Japanese history compiled in the eighth century, which is dedicated to the period of time when Emperor Nintoku reigned. It suggests that there were people whose jobs were to breed boars.

Another entry shows that the meat from cows, horses, dogs, monkeys and chickens were forbidden from consumption in 675, just before the capital was relocated to Fujiwarakyo. However, there are no direct mentions of pigs and boars. The practice of eating animal meat became increasingly shunned with the spread of Buddhism, which prohibits killing.

However, according to Maruyama, the meat of pigs and boars were eaten in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Osaka, Hakata and Nagasaki’s Dejima island, on which the Dutch trading post was located, in the Edo Period (1603-1867). Animal bones were also excavated from historical sites in each region.

The Tokyo-based Japan Pork Producers Association states on its website that pig and boar breeding became widespread in Japan after techniques were presumably brought into Japan by immigrants from the Chinese continent and Korean Peninsula between 200 and 699.

But it makes it unclear as to exactly when livestock breeding began, citing there are varying opinions.

2,000-Year-Old Scale Weights identified in Japan

2,000-Year-Old Scale Weights identified in Japan

KASUGA, Fukuoka Prefecture–Prehistoric people in Japan apparently used an advanced system of weights and measurements on a decimal basis, excavations at a Yayoi Pottery Culture Period (1000 B.C.-A.D. 250) site here suggest.

2,000-Year-Old Scale Weights identified in Japan
Artefacts newly identified as a decuple weight, right, and a trigintuple weight shown at the Nakoku-no-Oka historical museum in Kasuga, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Sept. 1

Researchers identified what is known as a decuple weight with 10 times the reference unit mass of 11 grams among artefacts unearthed at a series of archaeological sites collectively known as the Sugu group, where many measurement weights have previously been discovered, the Kasuga municipal board of education said.

Board officials said on Sept. 1 that the decuple weight, the first artefact of its kind to be found in Japan, offers valuable insight into Yayoi culture.

The stone, which is cylindrical in shape, weighs 116.3 grams.

Unearthed in 1989 from the Sugu-Okamoto archaeological site, the artefact was recently re-examined by researchers who included Junichi Takesue, a Fukuoka University professor emeritus of archaeology, who identified it as a measurement weight.

The object was likely used with a set of scales, he said.

The archaeologists identified another artefact from the same site as a trigintuple weight, with 30 times the reference unit mass.

Weights with 1, 3, 6, 20 and 30 times the reference unit mass were identified last year among artefacts previously found at the Sugu sites.

Bronze weights measuring approximately 11 grams, which likely follow the same scaling system, have also been unearthed at an archaeological site in southern South Korea.

The Sugu site group is believed to have formed a core part of the early Japanese state of Na, which is mentioned in “Weizhi Worenzhuan,” a section of a Chinese history book dating from the third century.

It is believed a bronzeware workshop was located near the site where the decuple weight was unearthed. Researchers speculated that the weights may have been used to weigh copper and lead used for the mix.

“This latest find shows beyond all doubt that the area here was an advanced zone, a sort of ‘technopolis’ of the Yayoi Pottery Culture Period and that the Yayoi people were using the decimal system,” Takesue said.

The decuple weight was set to be displayed, along with a set of other weights, as part of a special exhibition at the Nakoku-no-Oka (state-of-Na hill) historical museum in Kasuga from late August. However, the museum remains closed due to a COVID-19 state of emergency declared for Fukuoka Prefecture.

In light of this, the museum Sept. 1 began displaying images of the weights on its website. The online exhibition, annotated in Japanese, runs through Sept. 26.

DNA Analysis Identifies Japanese Ancestors

DNA Analysis Identifies Japanese Ancestors

Researchers have rewritten Japanese history after uncovering a third, and a previously unknown, group of ancestors that migrated to Japan around 2,000 years ago, of modern-day Japanese populations.

DNA Analysis Identifies Japanese Ancestors
A buried skeleton from the early Jomon period.

Ancient Japan can be split into three key time periods: the Jomon period (13,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.), a time when a small population of hunter-gatherers who were proficient in pottery lived exclusively on the island; the overlapping Yayoi period (900 B.C. to A.D. 300), when farmers migrated to Japan from East Asia and developed agriculture; and the Kofun period (A.D. 300 to 700) when modern-day Japan began to take shape.

Previous research had suggested the two main genetic origins of modern-day Japanese populations were the original hunter-gatherers who lived during the Jomon period and the farmers who migrated to Japan during the Yayoi period. Now, an analysis of the DNA found in ancient bones has revealed a third genetic origin during the Kofun period, when a group of previously unknown ancestors migrated to Japan, researchers reported in a new study. 

“We are very excited about our findings on the tripartite [three-part] structure of Japanese populations,” lead author Shigeki Nakagome, an assistant professor in the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, told Live Science. “We believe that our study clearly demonstrates the power of ancient genomics to uncover new ancestral components that could not be seen only from modern data.”

Uncertain origins

The Jomon hunter-gatherers may have first appeared in Japan as early as 20,000 years ago and maintained a small population of around 1,000 individuals for thousands of years, Nakagome said. There is evidence of people living in Japan as far back as 38,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic, the researchers said in a statement, but little is known about these people.

“A long-standing hypothesis is that they were ancestors of Jomon,” Nakagome said. This means that the Upper Paleolithic people may have transitioned into the Jomon people around 16,000 years ago, he added. 

Another possible explanation is that Jomon people originated in East Asia and crossed the Korea Strait when it became covered in ice during the Last Glacial Maximum — the most recent time during the Last Glacial Period when ice sheets were at their greatest extent — around 28,000 years ago, according to the statement.

“However, whether these hypotheses are true or not remains unknown due to a lack of Paleolithic genomes from Japan,” Nakagome said.

At the start of the Yayoi period, there was an influx of people from China or Korea with experience in agriculture. These people introduced farming to Japan, which led to the development of the first social classes and the concept of land ownership. The Yayoi period transitioned into the Kofun period, during which the first political leaders emerged and a single nation, which later became modern-day Japan, was formed. However, until now, it was unclear if the Kofun transition was the result of the third mass migration or just a natural continuation of the Yayoi period.

“Cultural transitions could have happened without involving genetic changes,” Nakagome said. “Even if cultures look very different between two periods, it does not mean that process involved gene flow.”

Previous research had suggested a third genetic input from immigrants at the time, but until now, nobody had been able to sequence DNA from any Kofun individuals to find out.

Missing link 

In the new study, Nakagome and his team analyzed the genomes of 12 individuals from across Japan. Nine dated to the Jomon period, and three were from the Kofun period, making it “the first study that generated whole-genome sequence data from Kofun individuals,” Nakagome said. 

A skull from the late Jomon period was used in the analysis.

The results revealed that, as predicted by others, a third genetically distinct group of Japanese ancestors migrated to the country during the Kofun period. These ancestors came from East Asia and were most likely Han people from ancient China, Nakagome said.

“Han is genetically close to ancient Chinese people from the Yellow River or West Liao River, as well as modern populations, including the Tujia, She and Miao,” Nakagome said. “We think these immigrants came from somewhere around these regions.”

The team’s findings are not unsurprising to other historians who had suspected that this third group of Japanese ancestors existed.

“Archaeological evidence has long suggested three stages of migration, but the last one has largely been ignored.” Mikael Adolphson, a professor of Japanese history at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the study, told Live Science. “This new finding confirms what many of us knew, but it is good that we now get evidence also from the medical field.”

The findings also showed that a majority of genes among modern-day Japanese populations originated from East Asia, across the three main periods of genetic mixing. The team’s analysis determined that “approximately 13%, 16% and 71% of Jomon, Northeast and East Asian ancestry, respectively,” Nakagome said. “So, East Asian ancestry is dominant in modern populations.”

However, the study does not shed light on whether the migration of East Asian people contributed to the transition from farming to an imperial state during the Kofun period.

“The Kofun individuals sequenced were not buried in keyhole-shaped mounds [reserved for high-ranking individuals], which implies that they were lower-ranking people,” Nakagome said. “To see if this East Asian ancestry played a key role in the transition, we need to sequence people with a higher rank.”

Nakagome and his team are excited to have helped confirm a new piece of Japan’s history and hope the findings can open the door to further discoveries. It is important to know “where we came from and the unique history of our own ancestors,” he said.

The study was published online on Sept. 17 in the journal Science Advances.

Extensive Hyper-Violence in Japan’s Ancient Yayoi Period Revealed by Researcher

Extensive Hyper-Violence in Japan’s Ancient Yayoi Period Revealed by Researcher

The human capacity for warfare and whether it is an inescapable part of human nature is a hot button issue at the heart of various disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, and so on.

Researchers have posited a range of ideas about why humans engage in war, and the running list of various triggers for inter-group violence is long, be it the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture, the development of weapons, ecological constraints, or population pressures.

Among these, the population pressure hypothesis has become more prominent recently as people globally experience climatic changes and environmental breakdown.

The hypothesis states that population increase can result in resource scarcity, leading to competition and conflict over resources. While there is wide acceptance of this claim, there are very few studies that have quantitatively backed up the origin of inter-group violence due to population pressure based on actual archaeological data.

To correct this gap, Professor Naoko Matsumoto from Okayama University and her team surveyed the skeletal remains and jar coffins, called kamekan, from the Middle Yayoi period (350 BC to AD 25 CE) in northern Kyushu, Japan.

These images from the recent study show evidence of violence in the cut mark on this Yayoi period man just above his right eye socket.

This region has been the focus of inter-group violence investigations because the skeletal remains in the Yayoi period indicate a significant increase in the frequency of violence compared to those living in the preceding Jomon period.

“The inhabitants of the Yayoi period practised subsistence agriculture, in particular wet rice cultivation,” says Professor Matsumoto. “This was introduced by immigrants from the Korean peninsula along with weapons such as stone arrowheads and daggers, resulting in enclosed settlements accompanied by warfare or large-scale inter-group violence. However, those living during the Jomon period were primarily pottery-makers who followed a complex hunter-gatherer lifestyle and had low mortality rates caused by conflict.”

Professor Matsumoto and her team inferred demographic changes using the numbers of well-dated burial jars as a proxy for population size and estimated population pressure from the ratio of population to arable land.

The team calculated the frequency of violence by using percentages of injured individuals identified within the skeletal population, followed by a statistical analysis between population pressure and the frequency of violence.

Analyses of the human skeletal remains excavated at the Middle Yayoi period Doigahama site (near Shimonoseki, Japan; the closest point on Honshu island to Kyushu island) showed that Yayoi people skulls (upper two) were relatively longer and flatter than those of the earlier Jomon people (lower two).

The results of the investigation were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The researchers uncovered 47 skeletal remains with trauma, in addition to 51 sites containing burial jars in the Itoshima Plain, 46 in the Sawara Plain, 72 in the Fukuoka Plain, 42 in the Mikuni Hills, 37 in the east Tsukushi Plain, and 50 in the central Tsukushi Plain, encompassing all six study sites.

They found that the highest number of injured individuals and the highest frequency-of-violence levels occurred in the Mikuni Hills, the east Tsukushi Plain, and the Sawara Plain. Interestingly, the Mikuni Hills and the central Tsukushi Plain also showed the highest overall values for population pressure. Overall, statistical analyses supported that population pressure affected the frequency of violence.

However, the peak population did not correlate with the frequency of violence. High levels of population pressure in the Mikuni Hills and the central Tsukushi Plain showed low frequency-of-violence values, while the relatively low population pressures of the east Tsukushi Plain and Sawara Plain were linked to higher frequency-of-violence levels.

Professor Matsumoto reasons there may be other factors that could have indirectly influenced such high levels of violence in the Middle Yayoi period. “I think that the development of a social hierarchy or political organization might also have affected the level of violence.

We have seen stratified burial systems in which certain members of the ruling elite, referred to as ‘kings’ in Japanese archaeology, have tombs with large quantities of prestige goods such as weapons and mirrors,” she says.

“It is worth noting that the frequency of violence tends to be lower in the subregions with such kingly tombs. This suggests that powerful elites might have a role in repressing the frequency of violence.”

The evidence collected by Professor Matsumoto and her team undeniably confirms a positive correlation between population pressure and higher levels of violence and may help devise mechanisms to avoid seemingly never-ending conflicts in motion today.

Further research based on these insights could identify other variables at play in determining the root causes of inter-group violence and actively prevent them.