Research Objectives

 This research project is an interdisciplinary collaborative study of the Iyai rock shelter site located in Naganohara-machi, Gunma Prefecture, Japan. The aim of the Iyai Project is to investigate the social, ecological, and cultural context of semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers during the Initial Jomon period, based on the analysis of human skeletal remains, artifacts, and animal and plant remains excavated from the site. In addition to analyzing the figures and group structures of the people of the earliest Jomon period, we also aim to reconstruct the subsistence practices, utilization of animal and plant resources, and settlement and behavioral systems at the Iyai rock-shelter site.

 The Iyai rock-shelter site shows evidence of repeated use from the Jomon periods through to later historical periods, but the most common type of pottery discovered by far dates to the Initial Jomon period, indicating that the site was most actively used during this time, a period when Jomon culture was being established. The Initial Jomon period (ca. 11,300-7200 years ago) is marked by the beginning of the Holocene epoch, a time of rapid global warming that created an enriched natural environment in which the Jomon culture was developed. However, the Jomon people were still in the process of settling in the area, and many sites, including caves and rock shelters scattered across the landscape, were frequented and abandoned, leaving numerous ruins in the mountains and highland areas. The Iyai rock-shelter site is one such example.

 The Jomon people developed a variety of techniques for obtaining food and exploiting resources, demonstrating a strong ability to adapt to diverse environments. They left behind remains in a wide range of areas, from coastal regions to mountainous ones. While the conditions of coastal and lowland populations have been studied in detail through a wealth of archaeological evidence from shell middens and settlement sites, the realities of life in mountainous regions and the use of caves and rock shelters are still not well understood. How did the people of the Japanese archipelago adapt to the dramatic changes in their natural environment from the end of the Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene, and how did they establish a “Jomon culture”? The study of the reasons for the emergence of the Jomon culture requires indispensable archaeological data from mountainous areas, and research into caves and rock shelters is of particular scientific importance.

 In addition to many human skeletons from the Initial Jomon period buried at the Iyai rock-shelter site, there is an artificial ash deposit containing domestic wastes from the period, in which organic remains such as animal bones and plant seeds are in remarkably well-preserved. The site therefore acts like a time capsule, making it an ideal research target. In this project, our research organization, consisting of collaborators from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, zoology, botany, dating, and analytical chemistry, is addressing the following research topics.

1) Initial Jomon people and social organization: physical and genetic characteristics, kinship among individuals, demographic structure
2) Health status and life history: individual life history, including health and disease, diet, place of origin and migration
3) Livelihood and settlement patterns: animal and plant use techniques, subsistence activities, settlement patterns, and behavioral domains
4) Material and spiritual culture: pottery use, stone tool technology, ornaments, brial systems

 The basic aim of this study is to investigate issues related to human adaptation to environmental changes from the Pleistocene to the Holocene and the origin and development of the Jomon culture. Many questions regarding the origin of the Jomon culture and the beginning of the Jomon period remain unanswered. Even basic questions, such as the origin and descent of the Jomon people, the origin of the pottery culture, and the function and use of early pottery remain unanswered. Based on a comprehensive analysis of archaeological artifacts, food remnants, animal and plant remains, and human skeletal remains buried at the Iyai rock-shelter site, this research project aims to specifically clarify human groups, their ecology, society, and culture during the formative years of the Jomon culture.

Yasuhiro Taniguchi

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