Jomon Culture

The Jomon culture of Japan was a pottery-using Neolithic or Mesolithic society that flourished approximately 10,500–300 b.c.e. Most archaeologists accept a division into six periods within Jomon culture, which are the incipient, initial, early, middle, late, and final periods.

The term Jomon means "cord mark" and was coined by the 19th-century American archaeologist Edward S. Morse to describe the pottery of that culture. The Jomons produced possibly the world’s first pottery, of a particularly innovative and vibrant style.

Early pottery sites have been found in the Russian Far East and in China, and it is possible that resulting from lower sea levels during the Jomon period, land migration might explain the replication.

Pottery in Japan has been found at the same level as shale arrowheads, demonstrating the simultaneity of the two forms of production and predating development in other parts of the world. Shards from a site at Odai Yamamoto in the north of Honshu indicate the vessel was used for boiling, and this has provided material suitable for carbon dating testing.

The melting of ice during the period led to the isolation of the Japanese islands and, ultimately, the creation of the Japanese state, although this did not happen for a considerable period.

Maritime activities such as fishing and collecting shellfish were important, although the Jomon also hunted land animals and gathered plants. By the end of the Jomon period, people had begun to organize rice paddy farming.

Evidence of environmental change across the islands of Japan is accompanied by changes in diet and hunting patterns. This includes the extinction, presumably by hunting, of some large mammals.

Jomon culture is unlikely to have coincided with the presence in the Japanese islands of either mammoths or elephants. Jomon people were primarily sedentary, although they may not have remained in the same site the whole year round, and they were culturally complex.

Villages supplemented their diets with chestnuts and other plant products, some of which were cultivated in early forms of agriculture. The presence of decorated ceramics suggests the possibility of trade and economic exchange, as well as the gendered distinction of labor.

There has been some speculation that Jomon culture people reached northwestern America, but there is no evidence for this. The Jomon culture was succeeded by the Yayoi culture, which is dated from 250 b.c.e. to 350 c.e.