Tomb secrets yet to be unlocked from 1,600 years ago

Click here to see video

Key-hole shaped tombs in Japan. Video by Matt Dworzańczyk
Image courtesy of Sakai City Government and Sakai City Museum

All kind of megalithic pyramids have awed the ancient local populace for generations. Japan’s ancient Kofun tombs remain relatively unknown or unvisited locations by tourists. This BBC video documentary clip gives a rare English view into the labour-intensive creations of the early centuries of the First Millennium.

Maedakochi site: Jomon village life during the Incipient Jomon Period

Maedakochi site and the recreated landscape of Tama Hills during the Incipient Jomon Period (Photo: Heritage of Japan)

First things first…

Announcement! We are slowly (it will be a laborious work in progress) moving to a new website (still with WordPress), uploading a few pages at a time. If you like the look of the new website, or have other feedback, please leave a comment over there.  Meanwhile, we continue to blog and keep all our previous content here. 

I have begun a series on the Jomon Village Historic Garden of the Tama Hills (which I have visited probably over 10 times!). Archaeologists have excavated 770 out of the 964 sites from the Tama Hills (aka the Tama New Town to locals). A “Jomon village” based on settlement traces was recreated, with archaeological exhibits from 40 years of diggings on display at the adjacent Exhibition Hall run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center.

Archaeological sites of the Tama Hills which straddles the cities of Tama Machida, Inagi and Hachioji today. The red star is the location of the Jomon Village / Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center’s Exhibition hall

People began living in this area around 32,000 years ago, towards the end of the Ice Age when the climate was colder and more like Hokkaido’s, and when people hunted game such as Giant Elk and Naumann elephants, salmon from the rivers and large animals that lived in the coniferous forests. (They left behind stone tools and burnt stones from their fires, but I will post in another episode about the Upper Palaeolithic traces and remains, because the focus of this post is the Jomon people from the Maedakochi site).

The Maedakochi site (see photo at the top of the page) is currently the central exhibit being featured at the Exhibition Hall of the Jomon Village.

The discovery of the Maedakochi site is an important one as it is one of the earliest sites of the Jomon people belonging to the Incipient Jomon Period radiocarbon dated to 15,500 years ago. Being at the transition phase between the Upper Paleolithic and the Neolithic Jomon Period, the excavation of the site reveals important clues to neolithic lifestyles, such as why early pottery was invented and what the ceramic pots contained and were used for. Numerous salmon teeth and bones were found at the site too. Much recent literature has emerged based on analysis of the archaeological evidence from this site, indicating that the Jomon neolithic package likely was part of an entire Aquatic Neolithic complex extending to Sakhalin Island and to the Russian Far East Amur region. To know more, read the rest at The earliest Jomon developed and used pottery for fishing salmon and molluscs 15,500 years ago

Shell mounds and what they tell us about the Jomon diet and way of life

Announcement! We are slowly (it will be a laborious work in progress) moving to a new website (still with WordPress), uploading a few pages at a time. If you like the look of the new Heritage of Japan website, or have other feedback, please leave a comment over there.  Meanwhile, we continue to blog and keep all our previous content here.

Shell mounds are basically ancient kitchen dumps but they are sexy icons for the whole field of Japanese archaeology. The excavation of the Omori shell mounds by Edward S. Morse in 1877 is associated with the dawn of scientific archaeology and anthropology in Japan; at the same time, the birth of the University of Tokyo regarded as having been launched with the publication of the report on the shell mounds as the very first volume of the Memoirs of Science Department, University of Tokyo.


Here is a cross-section of the Nishigahara shellfish mound, which is essentially the remains of a large kitchen dump of the Jomon period during the Late Jomon period.

Jomon villagers would process the shellfish and deposit the shells at a shell midden site between the riverside and their dwellings. After eating the shellfish, the empty shells would be deposited in a dumping site in a location away from the village as can be seen in the left foreground of the replica village below. This was probably so as to avoid stench as well as attracting predators such as wolves and other wild animals to their dwelling grounds.

The shellmound is in the foreground on the left-hand side of the photo.  (Photo: Heritage of Japan)

Research on the Nishigahara shell mound was featured as an exhibit this month at the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center adjacent to the Jomon Village Historic Garden.

Photo exhibit showing the excavation of Kita City’s Nishigahara Shell Mound at the Tama Center’s Jomon Village exhibition hall  Photo:  Heritage of Japan

Above: Exhibit at Tama Center’s Jomon Village Archaeological Center

The shell mound exhibit features research that showed that the Jomon people collected shellfish mostly during the spring to summer seasons. But how were the researchers able to ascertain this?  To know more, read the rest here

All rights reserved. Text and photos of exhibits by Heritage of Japan.

A study of maize weevils from ancient Jomon pottery shows they stored acorns and chestnuts long before rice cultivation

Image of a maize weevil impression from the surface of a pottery fragment.
CREDIT: Prof. Hiroki Obata

Researchers from Kumamoto University have studied nationwide maize weevil impressions from 10,000 year-old pottery,  from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima,  to pottery fragments from the Sannai-Maruyama site in northern Aomori., to Tatesaki archaeological site in Hokkaido.

The study comparing the differential in the size of  nationwide samples of weevil impressions in the west from the 20 per cent larger ones in the northeast revealed that pots in the west stored acorns while pots in northeastern climes stored chestnuts.

As chestnuts are not native to Hokkaido,  the presence of the maize weevils is evidence that the Jomon people of Tohoku  from south of Hokkkaido, carried supplies including chestnuts infested by weevils, over the Tsugaru Strait by ship.




See excerpts from the study below:

Hiroki Obata et al, Discovery of the Jomon era maize weevils in Hokkaido, Japan and its mean, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.10.037 Dec 19, 2018

Ancient Japanese pottery includes an estimated 500 maize weevils
by Kumamoto University.

Researchers have discovered an ancient Japanese pottery vessel from the late Jomon period (4500-3300 BP) with an estimated 500 maize weevils incorporated into its design. The vessel was discovered in February 2016 from ruins in Hokkaido, Japan. This extremely rare discovery provides clues on the cultivation and distribution of chestnuts, food in the Jomon era, and the spirituality of ancient Japanese people.

Maize weevils are beetles of the Dryophthorinae subfamily, and are destructive pests of stored rice and grains. By 2003, Jomon-period pottery and pottery fragments containing foreign-body impressions had been collected by various researchers from multiple archeological sites around Japan. Surveys of these impressions exposed hundreds of seed and insect traces on and in the pottery. Over the years, researchers found that maize weevils constituted over 90 percent of all recorded insect impressions.

In 2010, Professor Obata’s research group from Kumamoto University (KU) in Japan found maize weevil impressions in 10,000 year-old pottery that had been recovered from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima. They showed that maize weevils, which were thought to have come from the Korean Peninsula, had damaged stored food, such as acorns and chestnuts, long before rice cultivation began in the area.

In 2012, the KU research group found maize weevils impressions in pottery fragments from the Sannai-Maruyama site in the northern Japanese prefecture of Aomori. The fact that weevils inhabited an area with a cold winter is an indicator for the distribution food by humans and a warm indoor environment that persisted throughout winter. It is presumed that weevil infestation of stored food was well underway in the Jomon period.

Interestingly, when comparing the body size of 337 maize weevil impressions found nationwide, the team discovered that the body length of maize weevils from eastern Japan was about 20 percent longer than that of western Japan. It is presumed that this body-length discrepancy is due to the different nutritional values between the types of foods they infested—the sweet chestnuts of eastern Japan vs the acorns of western Japan.

Chestnuts are not native to Hokkaido and previous studies surmised that people carried them to the northern Japanese island. The discovery of weevils at the Tatesaki archaeological site in Hokkaido is evidence that the Jomon people of Tohoku (south of Hokkaido) carried supplies, including chestnuts infested by weevils, over the Tsugaru Strait by ship.

See more photos and read more about the research here.

References and further readings:

Hiroki Obata et al, Discovery of the Jomon era maize weevils in Hokkaido, Japan and its mean, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.10.037 Dec 19, 2018

Ancient Japanese pottery includes an estimated 500 maize weevils -The rare discovery of a vessel with a high number of weevils provides clues to life in ancient Japan (Kumamoto University website) The images above are used in compliance with the image use restrictions from this webpage. See more photos and read more about the research here.

A treasure trove of 103 ‘lost’ drawings by Hokusai emerges in the Piasa auction house in Paris

Preparatory drawing (hanshita-e) for an illustrated book, mounted on card. Sea monster assailing a ship. Ink on paper.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

103 recently uncovered drawings by the Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai were added to the British Museum’s collection. The works, which resurfaced for the first time since 1948 in Paris last year, were created in 1829 for an unpublished book titled Great Picture Book of Everything(Banbutsu ehon taizen zu 万物絵本大全図 )

The small-scale works were previously owned by Art Nouveau jeweler Henri Vever, and the museum said in a release that they had been held in a private collection in France before their reemergence in 2019 at Piasa auction house in Paris. AFP reports details about the discovery, see excerpts below:


British Museum acquires ‘lost’ drawings of Japan’s Hokusai

London (AFP)

The British Museum said Thursday it had acquired 103 “lost” drawings from the 19th century of Japanese artist Hokusai, whose internationally renowned work includes the iconic “The Great Wave”.

The black-and-white drawings were composed in 1829, when Hokusai was 70, as illustrations for an unpublished book. They resurfaced in Paris in 2019 after they were last publicly recorded at an auction in 1948.

Their subjects range from the religious and historical to the mythological, and include previously unknown features of Hokusai’s oeuvre such as a musing on the origins of human culture in ancient China, the London museum said in a statement.

“These works are a major new re-discovery, expanding considerably our knowledge of the artist’s activities at a key period in his life and work,” honorary research fellow Tim Clark said.

“All 103 pieces are treated with the customary fantasy, invention and brush skill found in Hokusai’s late works and it is wonderful that they can finally be enjoyed by the many lovers of his art worldwide,” he said.

The drawings are available to view online and will feature in a future, free exhibition, the museum said.

Read the rest of the article here… and also more at Artnews’

British Museum Acquires 103 Recently Resurfaced, Rarely Seen Hokusai Drawings

Large scale whole genome sequencing 2020 study elucidates the genetic and phenotypic landscapes of mtDNA in the Japanese population

Fig. 1: High-resolution spectra of mtDNA haplogroups in the Japanese population.

From: Genetic and phenotypic landscape of the mitochondrial genome in the Japanese population  (Open Access pub. under Creative Commons license)

c Stacked bar plots of the frequencies of the macrohaplogroups within the geographical regions in Japan and subpopulations from 1KG. The geographical regions in Japan are defined as Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto-Koshinetsu, Chubu-Hokuriku, Kinki, Kyushu, and Okinawa from northeast to southwest areas of Japan, as described elsewhere42.

Below is an excerpt of the open access 2020 paper:

Yamamoto, K., Sakaue, S., Matsuda, K. et al. Genetic and phenotypic landscape of the mitochondrial genome in the Japanese population. Commun Biol 3, 104 (2020). PDF


The genetic landscape of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been elusive. By analyzing mtDNA using the whole genome sequence (WGS) of Japanese individuals (n = 1928), we identified 2023 mtDNA variants and high-resolution haplogroups. Frequency spectra of the haplogroups were population-specific and were heterogeneous among geographic regions within Japan. Application of machine learning methods could finely classify the subjects corresponding to the high-digit mtDNA sub-haplogroups. mtDNA had distinct genetic structures from that of nuclear DNA (nDNA), characterized by no distance-dependent linkage disequilibrium decay, sparse tagging of common variants, and the existence of common haplotypes spanning the entire mtDNA. We did not detect any evidence of mtDNA–nDNA (or mtDNA copy number–nDNA) genotype associations. Together with WGS-based mtDNA variant imputation, we conducted a phenome-wide association study of 147,437 Japanese individuals with 99 clinical phenotypes. We observed pleiotropy of mtDNA genetic risk on the five late-onset human complex traits including creatine kinase (P = 1.7 × 10−12).

… Here we provide a comprehensive analysis that characterizes the genetic and phenotypic landscape of mitochondria in the Japanese population. (i) We constructed a high-resolution mtDNA variant list and haplotype classifications in the Japanese population based on deep WGS of ~2000 individuals. (ii) We conducted unsupervised clustering of the mtDNA variant patterns and assessed their correspondence with defined haplogroups by using a set of machine learning (ML) methods. (iii) We quantitatively assessed positional distributions and LD structure of the mtDNA variants by parallelly comparing with those of nDNA. (iv) We performed genome-wide scans to investigate the mtDNA–nDNA and mtCN–nDNA genotype associations. (v) Finally, we conducted mitochondrial genomewide genotype imputation of genome-wide association study (GWAS) data of more than 140,000 Japanese individuals, by using the population-specific WGS reference data. We then conducted a PheWAS [Phenome-wide association study] of 99 complex human disease and quantitative traits.


High-resolution mtDNA variant and haplogroup lists in the Japanese population

We re-analyzed the previously reported WGS data of the Japanese population (n = 1928)18. We realigned the WGS reads on the human reference genome GRCh37, which includes the revised Cambridge Reference Sequence (rCRS, NC_012920.1) as the human reference mitochondrial genome. The rCRS has been widely used in mitochondrial genome analyses including Japanese individuals. We only used the reads uniquely mapped on the mitochondrial region to avoid the contamination of nuclear copies of the mitochondrial genome (nuMTs)19. In this study, we focused on the analyses of homoplasmy. Then, we identified 2023 variant sites, of which 63 sites were multiallelic (the mean depth = 1488; Supplementary Data 1). Of these, 516 variants (25.5%) were newly identified in our WGS data. Minor allele frequency (MAF) spectra indicated that the majority of the identified variants were rare in Japanese; rare variants (MAF < 0.5%), low-frequency variants (0.5% ≤ MAF < 5%), and common variants (MAF ≥ 5%) accounted for 79.3%, 16.4%, and 4.3%, respectively (Supplementary Fig. 1). We observed clear concordances of the alternative allele frequencies with those in the previously reported two Japanese databases (1507 and 1025 variants with 3.5 KJPN [n = 3552] and Giib-JST mtSNP [n = 672], respectively; Supplementary Fig. 2)7,20,21. As previously reported22,23, mutational spectrum indicated a high transition to transversion (Ti/Tv) ratio of 16.44 (Supplementary Fig. 3).

Next, each individual was classified into the mtDNA haplogroup based on a variant list detected by the WGS using HaploGrep (v2.1.14)24. Haplogroups are classifications of the mtDNA haplotypes defined according to a set of the specific mtDNA variants. As mtDNA is a haploid genome, the detected variants could be directly used for haplogroup classification without phasing. Nomenclature of each haplogroup is hierarchically defined based on the number of the letters (from one to nine), which was divided into sub-haplogroups (e.g, “D4b” as three letters). The number of the haplogroups monotonically increased from the macrohaplogroup (n = 11 at one letter) to the sub-haplogroups with larger number of letters (n = 310 at nine letters; Supplementary Data 2). Increments in the number of the haplogroups became limited from seven to nine letters (Fig. 1a, b).

The frequency distribution of each haplogroup was obtained according to geographical regions in Japan (as defined by BioBank Japan Project: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto-Koshinetsu, Chubu-Hokuriku, Kinki, Kyushu, and Okinawa from northeast to southwest areas of Japan; Supplementary Fig. 4)18 and all the populations from the 1000 Genomes Project Phase 3 (1KG, n = 2504; Fig. 1c)25. In the Japanese population, macrohaplogroups A, B, D, M, and N had more than 1% of frequencies across all the regions. In the regions from Hokkaido to Kyushu, macrohaplogroup D was most prevalent (>28%), followed by M and B. In contrast, the different spectrum was observed in Okinawa (the islandic region at the most southwest area in Japan), where M and B were more prevalent (37.5% and 25%, respectively) than D (18.8%). Furthermore, although the D4a and D4b haplogroups were prevalent from Hokkaido to Kyushu, the D4c haplogroup was prevalent in Okinawa (Supplementary Fig. 5). Although the haplogroup spectra in 1KG East Asians (EAS) were relatively similar to those in Japanese, R was more enriched in 1KG EAS, and D, G, and M were more frequent in Japanese. 1KG populations other than EAS showed distinct haplogroup patterns from the Japanese population. M, A, H, and L were most prevalent in 1KG South Asians, Americans, Europeans, and Africans (AFR), respectively. Especially, 1KG AFR showed the least diversity within macrohaplogroups, of which African-specific macrohaplogroup of L accounted for >90% of frequencies.

Fig. 1: High-resolution spectra of mtDNA haplogroups in the Japanese population

c Stacked bar plots of the frequencies of the macrohaplogroups within the geographical regions in Japan and subpopulations from 1KG. The geographical regions in Japan are defined as Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto-Koshinetsu, Chubu-Hokuriku, Kinki, Kyushu, and Okinawa from northeast to southwest areas of Japan, as described elsewhere42.

Fig. 1: High-resolution spectra of mtDNA haplogroups in the Japanese population.

From: Genetic and phenotypic landscape of the mitochondrial genome in the Japanese population

Unsupervised ML approaches deconvoluted mtDNA classification patterns. To evaluate how the defined haplogroups reflect the mtDNA diversity within a population, we conducted unsupervised clustering of the subjects based on the mtDNA variants and evaluated the concordances with haplogroup assignments. We adopted three unsupervised ML classification approaches of phylogenetic approach, principal component analysis (PCA), and uniform manifold approximation and projection for dimensionality reduction (UMAP). We first constructed the phylogenetic tree of the WGS individuals, which was illustrated as an unrooted tree type (Fig. 2a). The tree branch was mainly divided into the major two lineages at the root base, which were known as the “M” and “N” clusters. Each major lineage was further divided into sub-lineages corresponding to the sub-haplogroups. Next, we applied the linear dimensionality reduction technique of PCA and examined up to the 20 PCs. The explained variances were 12.6% for the top 20 PCs. As the two-dimensional plot of the PC1 and PC2 was difficult to fully capture the cluster classifications (Supplementary Fig. 6), we adopted the three-dimensional plot consisting of the top three PCs (Fig.2b). The major M and N clusters were also illustrated as distinct groups in the PCA plot. In contrast to the M cluster, the N cluster was further divided into sub-haplogroups, such as A5a, B4a, B4b, B4c, B5*, F1a, F1b, N9a, and N9b.

Fig. 2 Unsupervised ML-based sample classification of the Japanese mtDNA variant data. All the three unsupervised ML method classifications were performed on the WGS variant data of the Japanese population (n = 1928). a The unrooted phylogenetic tree using maximum-parsimony method. b The 3D plot of the top three components of PCA. c The plot of the two components of UMAP. Each color and marker represents haplogroups. Distinction between the M and N haplogroup clusters is displayed with dotted lines in each panel.

Fig 2

Fig 2 UMAP

UMAP is a recently developed nonlinear dimensionality reduction algorithm, which has a merit in preserving the topology of the local and global structure26. Although UMAP has been previously applied to high-dimensional biological data such as single-cell RNA sequencing27, here we applied it to the genomic data of the mtDNA variants. An application of UMAP could classify the subjects into >20 clusters, which was concordant with the pre-defined sub-haplogroups with three letters (Fig.2c). UMAP could differentiate the sub-haplogroups belonging to the same macrohaplogroup in more detail (e.g., D4a, D4b1, D4b2,D4c, D4e, and D4g belonging to D). On the other hand, we did not find the clear delineation between the M and N clusters, which was observed in the phylogenetic approach and PCA. Several sub-haplogroups with small sample sizes were clustered closely with other macrohaplogroups (e.g., M7c clustered with D macrohaplogroup). These observations could be the potential limitations of UMAP. As each ML classification method hadunique advantages to classify mtDNA variations, we would propose a value of applying multiple ML methods to comprehensively visualize haplogroup diversity within a population.Distinct characteristics of mtDNA variant structure from nDNA. Due to lack of recombination and higher mutation rate, LD structure and tag variant distribution in mtDNA are considered to be distinct from those in nDNA, whereas the details have been unclear especially in non-Europeans. Thus, we conducted a comprehensive assessment of these features in Japanese by using the WGS data. In addition to calculate the haplotype correlations (r2) between common mtDNA variant pairs (MAF≥5%,n=80), we estimated those obtained from the randomly selected autosomal phased haplotypes with adjustment on variant positional differences (±8.3 kbp). Fractions of the variant pairs with high correlations were relatively smaller in mtDNA than in nDNA (2.4% and 20.2% of the variant pairs with r2≥0.9 in mtDNA and nDNA, respectively; Fig.3a).When we checked distance-dependent decay of LD, we observed clear LD decay in the nDNA variant pairs according to physical distances between the variant pairs, which would reflect LD blocks (R=−0.092,P=1.0 × 10−7, as highlighted with red; Fig.3b). However, mtDNA variant showed no distance-dependent LD decay (R=0.022,P=0.21). Although there existed controversial discussions16,28, our results did not support the hypothesis of potential recombination events in mtDNA. Lack of recombination and relatively weak LD in mtDNA should propose that the common mtDNA variants are sparsely tagged bythe surrounding single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) when compared with nDNA. The numbers of the tag variants per common variant were smaller in mtDNA than in nDNA, even when the variant distances were adjusted (Fig.3c). As many as 13.8% of the common mtDNA variants did not have any tag variants with r2≥0.5, whereas only 5.0% in nDNA. Systematic visualization of pairwise LD patterns revealed that mtDNA variants did not constitute LD blocks among neighboring variants (Fig.3d). On the other hand, we observed multiple common haplotypes spanning the entire mtDNA (n=8), which might have been the consequence of lack of recombination and no distance-dependent LD decay. Interestingly, mtDNA variants without any tag variants were mostly identified in the D-loop region, one of the non-coding but functional regions in mtDNA. By using WGS data, we highlighted the characteristics of the mtDNA variants28, which were (i) no distance-dependent LD decay (i.e., absence of LD blocks) and (ii) sparse tagging of the common variants, in non-European population. In addition, we could newly detect existence of the common haplotypes spanning the entire mtDNA. No evidence of mtDNA–nDNA genotype association. Mitochondrial function is regulated not only by the genes encoded in mtDNA but also by those in nDNA. As these two typesof genes confer synergistic biological functions6, co-evolutionof the genetic variants embedded within them5, namely “mtDNA–nDNA genotype association”, has been suggested17. Thus, we tested the hypothesis that there might exist preferential transmission between nDNA and mtDNA at a genotype level. To explore footprints of the mtDNA–nDNA genotype association,we conducted a genome-wide scan to assess genotype distribution dependence between mtDNA and nDNA variants using the WGS data. We investigated 86 common mtDNA (MAF≥5%) and the genome-wide 7,124,343 nDNA variants (MAF≥1%), but there was no significant mtDNA–nDNA genotype association when multiple comparisons were considered (P=5.0 × 10−8/86=5.8 × 10−10; Fig.4a). Even when we focused on the variants located within ±10 kbp of the previously defined nDNA mito-chondrial genes (n=1105)29, we still did not detect a significant association. In addition, we investigated the associations by using the imputed GWAS data (n=141,552; see details in the next section). We analyzed the association between the 8 mtDNA(MAF≥5%) and the 7,402,102 nDNA variants (Rsq≥0.7 and MAF≥1%), but no significant signals were detected (P=5.0 ×10−8/8=6.3 × 10−9). We neither observed the enrichment of the association signals in the mitochondrial-related gene variants in nDNA (Fig.4b).



UMAP is a recently developed nonlinear dimensionality reduction algorithm, which has a merit in preserving the topology of the local and global structure26. Although UMAP has been previously applied to high-dimensional biological data such as single-cell RNA sequencing27, here we applied it to the genomic data of the mtDNA variants. An application of UMAP could classify the subjects into >20 clusters, which was concordant with the pre-defined sub-haplogroups with three letters (Fig. 2c). UMAP could differentiate the sub-haplogroups belonging to the same macrohaplogroup in more detail (e.g., D4a, D4b1, D4b2, D4c, D4e, and D4g belonging to D). On the other hand, we did not find the clear delineation between the M and N clusters, which was observed in the phylogenetic approach and PCA. Several sub-haplogroups with small sample sizes were clustered closely with other macrohaplogroups (e.g., M7c clustered with D macrohaplogroup). These observations could be the potential limitations of UMAP. As each ML classification method had unique advantages to classify mtDNA variations, we would propose a value of applying multiple ML methods to comprehensively visualize haplogroup diversity within a population.

Distinct characteristics of mtDNA variant structure from nDNA
Due to lack of recombination and higher mutation rate, LD structure and tag variant distribution in mtDNA are considered to be distinct from those in nDNA, whereas the details have been unclear especially in non-Europeans. Thus, we conducted a comprehensive assessment of these features in Japanese by using the WGS data. In addition to calculate the haplotype correlations (r2) between common mtDNA variant pairs (MAF ≥ 5%, n = 80), we estimated those obtained from the randomly selected autosomal phased haplotypes with adjustment on variant positional differences (±8.3 kbp). Fractions of the variant pairs with high correlations were relatively smaller in mtDNA than in nDNA (2.4% and 20.2% of the variant pairs with r2 ≥ 0.9 in mtDNA and nDNA, respectively; Fig. 3a). …

Our study demonstrated a successful imputation of the mtDNA variants by using the large-scale WGS as a reference panel. …

In conclusion, through the large-scale WGS and PheWAS of mtDNA, our study could comprehensively elucidate the genetic and phenotypic landscapes of mtDNA in the Japanese population.

A walk on Mt. Mitake brings encounters with wolf and mountain lore


The Musashi-Mitake-jinja Shrine is believed to have been founded in 90 BC by Emperor Sujin, which makes it one of the oldest in Japan. However, the shrine also records that Priest Gyōki built a hall on this site and enshrined the Zaō Gongen statue in it in 736. The mountain, close to Tokyo, has been known as a sacred mountain and an object of worship since ancient times.

Musashi country (Musashi no kuni) painted by Ryusai Yukinobu Source: Great- Edo database

Hinting of the antiquity of the mountains’ ritual practices, the Hinode (Sunrise) Festival is the annual spring festival of Musashi-mitake Jinja Shrine. It is the most important of this shrine’s festivals.

The name of this festival comes from a ceremony held when reaching the peak of the mountain by Buddhist mountain priests, which is thought to be the origin of the 2000-year-old festival, which was supposedly held together with the sunrise on February 8 according to the old lunisolar calendar. These days the festival is held on May 8. (See photo of sunrise on Mt Mitake here.)  Despite the Shinto jinja’s presence being thought of as Shinto, we can see how the syncretism of faiths, of Shinto and Buddhism practices, was at work and was the norm from early times.

The Festival on May 7 includes a present-day solemn Shinto procession starts from the plaza in front of the cable car station on the mountain’s summit and winds through the Mitake village. Mainly focused on a mikoshi (a palanquin-styled portable shrine), this procession also includes Shinto priests, men dressed in white, armored warriors, and children.

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After passing through the village, the procession goes up 300 stone steps to the main shrine at the summit of Mt. Mitake (929 meters high). While the initial procession ends at the location of the sacred palanquin with the receipt of symbols of the deities accompanied by gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) performed at twilight and the faint light of the lamps. At the end, participants are entertained by a kagura (Shinto music-and-dance) performance at the end.

Mountain ascetics, numerous shugenja visited the mountain especially after the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), when mountain religions proliferated. Mountain ascetics secluded themselves in the mountain to perform purification rites, cleansing themselves ritually under the nearby waterfalls (Nanayo-taki and Ayashiro-no-taki).

From the 17th century, commoners began to visit the shrine, and to accommodate all the pilgrim visitors to Mt. Mitake to pray at Mitake-jinja Shrine, the path to the mountain shrine became dotted with Shukubo temples lodgings. Many of those Shukubo lodges remain open today especially to kendo martial arts practitioners and others here to practise mountain austerities and meditation.

As to the origin of the Japanese solar cult religions, author Jacques H. Kamstra – in his 1967 book, “Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism” has made strong connections between hi-kami and hinode matsuri practices and the northern Asian continental solar cults possibly via Korean immigrants.

Like most mystical mountains, this one comes with its own set of folklore and legends. But among the folklore, wolves are beloved heroes and not the big bad wolves of modern fairytales. And they are seen in several forms on this mountain, as guardians of the small Inari shrine here, and as venerable guardian Shirookami deity of the Musashi-Mitake jinja, and the sacred messenger that led the legendary imperial ancestor, Yamato Takeru to safety.

Strangely, the baddie in the folklore here is a stag which is honoured elsewhere as a messenger of the gods at Kashima shrine in the east and in Nara’s imperial sheine. According to legend, wolves led Prince Yamato Takeru back to safety after a mountain demon disguised as a stag, led him astray on the slopes of Mount Mitake. Not surprisingly, the prince declared the wolves divine, and that is how they became sacred guardians of the Mitake mountain peak. (One wonders if the stag vs wolf opposition is merely a depiction of totemic animal symbols representing euphemistically an ancient tribalistic rivalry between political factions’ rulers.)

Statue of Hatakeyama Shigetada

The statue of the Kamakura period warlord-Shigetada Hatakeyama on horseback adds an air of samurai splendour to the already colourful shrines. The shrine’s treasure house is also famous for the Akaito Odoshi Yoroi (red-thread-armour) offering (now designated a national treasure) dedicated by Hatakeyama Shigetada in 1191.

Shrine visitors are set to increase in the zodiac Year of the Dog as in 2018. Lots of votive emas of the wolf-dog will be offered up.

Votive ema of wolf

You can view the rest of the photos of my walk on Mt Mitake at Field trip: Following the trail of Mt Mitake’s mountain pilgrims

Finally, if you are planning a trip yourself, you can find information on access to the mountain, by clicking on this page and this page.

A map of Japan made during the Italian Renaissance

In 1587, Italian cartographer Urbano Monte created a world map with a unique perspective centred in the North Pole. This map is from one of the 60 pages of that work. Monte’s knowledge of Japan was apparently sourced from a Japanese delegation he had met in Milan, Italy in 1585. Monte is said to have laid out the islands in a horizontal fashion, according to his unique perspective, which differs from that of the modern globe we are used to. Credit: LIVESCIENCE


The Exact Opposite Idea of the Pirate Cliché

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Originally posted on PIRATES OF ASIA:
? By The original uploader was Yeu Ninje at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link The Murakami Pirates were a bunch of ordinary people that turned into a…

Facial tattoos of the Jomon, and what they may have been for

Below are a few sample closeup photos of tattooed faces of the Jomon mostly of clay figurines (called dogu) or of pottery relief:

Relief face in a clay pot from Yamanashi prefecture(Minami-Alps city) 3,000BC)

Dogu head from Saga prefecture, 3,300BC

Tattooed face of a dogu from Tokyo (Tama New Town), 3000BC

Dogu from Iwate prefecture, 1300BC

Dogu from Yamanashi prefecture, 3000BC

A sketch of a dogu from Kanaaraizawa site, Ibaragi prefecture

Bearded dogu from Goto site, Tochigi prefecture

tattooed dogu face from Gunma prefecture

Dogu from Yamanashi prefecture (minami-Alps city), 3000BC

Dogu with heavily tattooed eyes and lips from Akita prefecture, Final Jomon

National Treasure dogu figurine from Aomori prefecture, Final Jomon

Dogu from Akita prefecture, Final Jomon

Clay mask from Akita prefecture (Late Jomon Asao site)

Another clay mask showing ornate tattoo markings from Iwate prefecture (Shidanai site), Final Jomon


Dogu from Chiba Prefecture (Late Jomon period)

A rare figurine with ornate face markings and large headgear, from Ishikawa prefecture, Late Jomon period

Dogu from Ibaragi prefecture, Final Jomon

Dogu from Nagano prefecture, Middle Jomon period

“Mimizuku dogu” from Chiba prefecture, Final Jomon period

“Mimizuku dogu” from Saitama prefecture


Dogu from Kanagawa prefecture, Late Jomon period


Dogu from Kanagawa prefecture, Middle Jomon period


Dogu from the Ikawazu Shellmidden site in Aichi Prefecture (Late Jomon period)


Clay mask from the Sanganchi Shellmidden site in Fukushima prefecture (Final Jomon period)


Dogu from Miyagi prefecture (Late Jomon period)

Dogu from Niigata prefecture (Nagaoka city) 3000BC

The most common type of tattoo appears to a simple double line running in a curve or straight line from the eye across the cheek to the side of the face. Other figurines feature crow’s feet lines from the corner of each eye (pictured below).

Dogu from Akita prefecture, 600BC

Eyes and lips may also have completely been surrounded by scarification or needle punctures creating the famous goggle-eyed and thick-lipped look of many figurines.

A closeup of these clay dogu of body parts – lips give an idea of how highly tattooed lips may have been

Eyelids may have been tattooed as well.


The eyelids appear to have dotted lined tattoos, both upper and lower ones. Clay mask from Aomori prefecture (period unknown)

Why did the Jomon tattoo their faces?

Local fishing folk believe that tattoos are done for protection against predators like shark. This practice may have been handed down from Jomon times.

Some of the tattoos such as the double lines from eye across cheek appear to have been fairly stable features, lasting from around 3,300 BC through the final phase of the Jomon period in the Kanto region. They may have been rites of passage or cultural traits intended to have been cultural/tribe identifiers.

Ainu women were known (until fairly recent times) to have tattooed their lips. According to Ainu tradition, they attributed tattooing to a gift from the “Ancestral Mother” of the Ainu Okikurumi (Turesh) Machi, the younger sister of the creator god, Okikurumi. And (like with the Inuit people)the tattoos were a prerequisite for Ainu women to getting married (source: Lars Krutak). Other Ainus have attributed a healing or protective function to tattoos that are believed to repel evil spirits(source: Lars Krutak). As the Ainu have been established to be genetically partially of Jomon stock, we can postulate that the practice may have been part of the goddess culture of the Jomon people as well (other cultures like InuitEskimo Imooyok (see photo below) and Maoris women also tattooed their lips. Facial tattoos are especially sacred for the Maoris, a moko on the face is the ultimate statement of one’s identity as a Māori, and the head is believed to be the most sacred part of the body).

「tattoos orochi ulchi amur」の画像検索結果

Later periods also showed up more ornamental and varied types of tattoos, where perhaps they became fashion or artistic adornments as well.

Jomon tattoos were unlikely to have had warpaint uses, i.e. they were probably not intended to scare off their enemies. Internecine warfare was unknown until the arrival of the Yayoi immigrants

Sources and References

縄文の力 THE POWER OF JOMON (別冊太陽 日本のこころ Author: 小林 達雄 ISBN9784582922127

土偶・コスモス(Published by MIHO MUSEUM) ISBN9784904702376

列島の考古学 縄文時代 (by 能登) ISBN9784309714424

縄文人の道具 古代史復元 (3) Author: 達雄, 小林) ISBN4061864238

縄文のわざと道具 縄文時代1 (日本のあけぼの)Author: 小林 達雄 ISBN4620603023


Tattoo History: The Tattooed Ainu Women of Japan by Minerva

Tattooing among Japan’s Ainu people by Lars Krutak

Ta moko: The significance of Maori tattoos 

Between the Lines:
Tracing the controversial history and recent revival of Inuit facial tattoos
Sep 20, Ashleigh Gaul

‘This is so powerful:’ Kitikmeot women revive traditional Inuit tattoos CBC News,May 3, 2016

2015 paper concludes that migrants from Northeast China via Korea bearing the CY JC virus genotype brought the ALDH2 mutation to Central Japan forming the Yayoi populations

Fig. 2 a Map showing the distribution of the two major JCV genotypes (CY and MY) in Japan. The areas in which CY and MY were found more frequently (i.e., at rates >75 %) are indicated as CY-rich or MY-rich areas, respectively. The area designated as the intermediate area is where the genotypes CY and MY were found at almost identical frequencies. This map was created utilizing data reported by Kitamura et al. [14]. b The geographic distribution of the ALDH2 variant. The orange area indicates where the frequency of the ALDH2 variant is over 24 % of the population. The ALDH2 mutation-rich area is central Japan.


Miyamori, Daisuke et al., Tracing Jomon and Yayoi ancestries in Japan using ALDH2 and JC virus genotype distributions Investigative Genetics 2015 6:14 DOI: 10.1186/s13323-015-0031-1 ©  Miyamori et al. 2015

Overall findings of this study were that the ALDH2 variant is significantly higher in the population with the CY genotype JCV (51.5 %) than in the population with the MY genotype (24.2 %) (p < 0.05) in Japan



According to the dual structure model, the modern Japanese ethnic population consists of a mixture of the Jomon people, who have existed in Japan since at least the New Stone Age, and the Yayoi people, who migrated to western Japan from China around the year 300 BC. Some reports show that the Yayoi are linked to a mutation of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene (ALDH2).

Recent viral studies indicate two major groups found in the Japanese population: a group with the CY genotype JC virus (JCV) and a group with the MY genotype JCV. It is unclear whether either genotype of the JC virus is related to the Jomon or Yayoi.

In this study, we attempted to detect JCV genotypes and ALDH2 mutations from the DNA of 247 Japanese urine samples to clarify the relationship between the dual structure model and the JCV genotype through ALDH2 mutation analysis and JCV genotyping.


The ALDH2 polymorphism among 66 JC virus-positive samples was analyzed, and it was found that the ALDH2 variant is significantly higher in the population with CY genotype JCV (51.5 %) than in the population with the MY genotype (24.2 %) (p < 0.05).


From these findings, it may be inferred that the ALDH2 mutation, which is related to the Yayoi, is related to CY genotype JCV. When the Yayoi migrated to the Japanese archipelago, they brought the ALDH2 mutation as well as the CY genotype JCV.

JC virus ALDH2 mutation Japanese


It is believed that the modern Japanese ethnic population consists of a mixture of the Jomon people, who have existed in Japan since at least the New Stone Age, and the Yayoi people, who migrated to western Japan from China via Korea approximately 2000 to 3000 years ago and were responsible for spreading rice cultivation [25] (Fig. 1). There are many studies that describe this dual structure model of the Japanese people based on analysis of elements such as the human Y chromosome, mitochondria, single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), archeological data and historical records [3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 19, 20, 21, 26, 28]. Sokal and Thompson [26] interpreted the cause of the genetic distribution to have resulted from the selection, admixture and resolving power of a locus that reflects a particular population event. The aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene (ALDH2) is one of the examples among studies.

Fig. 1

This map shows the migration of the Yayoi people and the Jomon people. The Jomon people moved to the north and south of Japan after the Yayoi people migrated to central Japan

Previous studies have shown that approximately 2000 to 3000 years ago, a variant of ALDH2 was present within the Chinese population. Citing historical evidence [18], researchers speculated that people with this ALDH2 variant migrated to western Japan 2000 to 3000 years ago. Oota et al. [22] claimed that based on actual DNA evidence, this ALDH2 variant was a young haplotype associated with low levels of genetic diversity. Therefore, it may be possible that this mutation of the ALDH2 gene and the Yayoi migration from China to Japan happened in roughly the same period.

The JC virus (JCV), one of the polyomaviruses, is a useful marker in tracing the dispersal of human populations [30]. This is because once an individual is infected asymptomatically with JCV during childhood [23, 24], the initially infected JCV strain persists in renal tissue for life, and other strains of JCV are unable to infect the already infected individual [2, 13, 29]. There are more than 20 main JCV genotypes that are distributed in geographically distinct domains throughout the world [30]. Two major types of JCV genotypes, CY and MY, are found in the Japanese archipelago [14] (Fig. 2a). The genotype CY is commonly distributed in western Japan, northeast China, and Korea [5, 6] and is not found in other places [27, 32]. Earlier studies suggested that the Chinese might have brought the CY genotype JCV to Japan when they migrated from China [14]. The genotype MY is commonly distributed in eastern Japan and among Native Americans [27, 32].

Fig. 2

a Map showing the distribution of the two major JCV genotypes (CY and MY) in Japan. The areas in which CY and MY were found more frequently (i.e., at rates >75 %) are indicated as CY-rich or MY-rich areas, respectively. The area designated as the intermediate area is where the genotypes CY and MY were found at almost identical frequencies. This map was created utilizing data reported by Kitamura et al. [14]. b The geographic distribution of the ALDH2 variant. The orange area indicates where the frequency of the ALDH2 variant is over 24 % of the population. The ALDH2 mutation-rich area is central Japan. This map was created utilizing data reported by Li et al. [17]

This JCV distribution may support the dual structure model of the Japanese population. However, there have been no studies verifying the correlation between the distribution of the CY genotype JCV and the dual structure model.

Therefore, through the detection of the ALDH2 mutation among JCV-positive Japanese samples, we investigated its correlation with the CY genotype JCV, and we discuss whether the dual structure model is also supported by JCV genotype in this study. …


JCV was detected in 66 samples. Among them, the genotype CY was detected in 33 samples and the genotype MY was detected in 33 samples. Among the 33 CY detected samples, the ALDH2 variant was detected in 17 samples (51.5 %). Among the 33 MY detected samples, the ALDH2 variant was detected in only 8 samples (24.2 %). All of the ALDH2 variants were Glu/Lys heterozygotes. Lys/Lys homozygotes were not detected in the samples. The ALDH2 variant was found more commonly in people who carry the CY genotype JCV than in people who carry the MY genotype JCV (Table 1) (p value 0.04, odds ratio 0.30).

Table 1

Association between the JCV genotype and the ALDH2 variant

MY genotype

CY genotype

ALDH2 variant



(Glu/Lys heterozygote)

ALDH2 wild type



(Glu/Glu homozygote)




Lys/Lys homozygote was not detected in this study.


The results of the present study suggest that the ALDH2 variants are more prevalent in people with CY genotype JCV than in people with MY genotype JCV (Table 1).

In an earlier study, the CY genotype JCV was found to be more common in western Japan, and the MY genotype JCV was found to be more common in Eastern Japan [14] (Fig. 2a). The CY genotype JCV was also found in China [5, 6], but the MY genotype JCV was found mainly in the Japanese archipelago and in North and South America [32]. Estimated from the substitution rate of the JCV genome, the MY clade occurred more than approximately 10,000 to 30,000 years ago [31], and the CY clade occurred approximately 10,000 years ago. Therefore, the MY genotype JCV initially occurred in the Japanese archipelago and spread to the Americas, and later, the CY genotype JCV migrated from China to Japan. It is possible that the ALDH2 mutation only occurred within people who carry the CY genotype JCV, explaining why it is uncommon for people who carry the MY genotype JCV to have the ALDH2 mutation. Another study indicates that Native Americans do not have the ALDH2 mutation [4]. Combining this information with the results of Zheng et al. [32], we can speculate that people who carry the MY genotype JCV may not have originally had the ALDH2 mutation. Those findings also support the relation of the CY genotype JCV with the ALDH2 mutation. Therefore, it is inferred that the ALDH2 gene mutation spread into East Asia in the past few thousand years. This may be a good example of a locus subjected to selection, displaying wide distribution, and high frequency with low associated variation, confined to a continental region.

However, there are some people with the ALDH2 mutation and the MY genotype JCV, and some people are without the ALDH2 mutation and with the CY genotype JCV.

It is believed that there are several reasons for this. First, extensive genetic mixing between Yayoi and Jomon is expected to have occurred after the major migration 2000 to 3000 years ago and before the present day, when our samples were collected. Second, the ALDH2 genes from both parents are passed down and combined forming their child’s ALDH2 gene type. As a result, there is a 50 % possibility of inheriting the ALDH2 mutation from a father or mother carrying the gene. However, in the case of the JCV genotype, the possibility of infection with JCV from one’s father or mother is affected by the number of exposures to their urine. As a result, if the infection rate of one JCV genotype is high within a given area, subsequent generations are less likely to be infected by JCV of other genotypes, which in turn becomes less common through natural selection. Minority groups of viral genotypes are excluded by the dominant genotype within a given area during a given period. These differences in the acquisition of infection from a local majority or minority strain of a virus or the inheritance of a mutant or non-mutant version of a gene on the other might be the cause of the differences in distribution of the JCV genotypes and the ALDH2 mutation in Japan (Fig. 2a, b).

After a study reported evidence of greater genetic affinity between Ainu and Ryukyuan people (i.e., people indigenous to Okinawa and a surrounding chain of islands between Japan and Taiwan) than between either group from the Japanese mainland populations [11], it was suggested that the Jomon migrated to the north and south of the Japanese archipelago in response to the Yayoi migration from China to western Japan (Fig. 1). Because the ALDH2 mutation is thought to be common among Yayoi, the distribution of the CY genotype JCV is believed to be the same as the distribution of those people who have the ALDH2 mutation (Fig. 2a, b). However, Kitamura et al. [14] reported that the most common genotype found in Okinawa is CY. This is contradictory to the idea of the Jomon migration to Okinawa and Tohoku (the northeast region of the main island of Japan) with their MY genotype JCV, following the migration of the Yayoi people to the main islands of the Japanese archipelago. According to our model, all specimens from before the Yayoi arrival would lack both the ALDH2 mutation and the CY viral genotype while bearing the MY genotype. Further studies are necessary to examine other aspects of the Yayoi arrival. The potential value of studying ancient DNA in pre-Yayoi era specimens of the Ryukyuans and other populations in Japan using viral genome capture techniques and ALDH2 mutation analysis could help solve the mystery of the apparent rarity of the MY variant JCV in modern Ryukyuan populations [15].


From these findings, it may be inferred that the ALDH2 mutation, which is related to the Yayoi, is related to CY genotype JCV. When the Yayoi migrated to the Japanese archipelago, they brought the ALDH2 mutation as well as the CY genotype JCV.

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


See also another 2015 paper:

Timothy A. Jinam, Hideaki Kanzawa-Kiriyama and Naruya Saitou, Human genetic diversity in the Japanese Archipelago: dual structure and beyond Genes Genet. Syst. (2015) 90, p. 147–152

The paper concludes that “genetic data strongly support the dual-structure model proposed by Hanihara (1991) whereby the Hondo Japanese are the result of admixture between the Jomon and Yayoi ancestral populations (Fig. 2). The indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan populations retain a genetic identity that most likely traces back to Jomon ancestors, while at the same time show indications of recent admixture with the Hondo Japanese”…whilst noting that “The genetic substructure in the Hondo Japanese also hints at a more complex model of human migrations and interactions than the dual structure model implies”.


On the origins of the ALDH2*487gene associated with the marked facial flushing and alcohol intoxication trait of East Asians, an earlier 2009 paper traced the source of this mutation and phenotype to Yunnan, South coastal, East coastal regions of China, on a cline decreasing gradually towards inland China, West, Northwest and North China:

“Five major haplotypes based on five SNPs across the ALDH2gene 40 kb were found in all East Asian populations. The frequencies of the ancestral haplotype GCCTG and the East Asian special haplotype GCCTA containing the atypical ALDH2*487Lys allele were 44.8% and 14.9%, respectively. The frequency of the atypical ALDH2*487Lys allele or the East Asian specific haplotype GCCTA is high in Yunnan, South coastal, east coastal of China, and decreased gradually toward inland China, West, Northwest and North China. Combined with demographic history in East Asian, our results showed that the presence of ALDH2*487Lys allele in peripheral regions of China might be the results of historical migration events from China to these regions. The origin of ALDH2*487Lys could be possibly traced back to ancient Pai-Yuei tribe in South China.” – Source: .Luo HR, Wu GS, Pakstis AJ, Tong L, Oota H, Kidd KK, and Zhang YP. 2009. Origin and dispersal of atypical aldehyde dehydrogenase ALDH2*487Lys. Gene. 435:96–103. PDF fulltext link

This proposed origin in the Pai-Yuei population group was expanded upon in Jennifer Gueldner, et al.,’s “Emerging Associations of the ALDH2*2 Polymorphism with Disease Susceptibility“, Gueldner et al., J Drug Metab Toxicol 2016, 7:2

Characterization of ALDH2*2 ALDH2 was first identified in 1987, with the X-Ray crystallographic structure of the gene product elucidated in 1999 [25]. Although the ALDH2*1 allele is most common in populations worldwide, the allele frequency of the ALDH2*2 variation as either homozygous or heterozygous is 35-45% in East Asians [8,26]. All individuals with ALDH2 enzymatic deficiency examined to date remarkably carry the same amino acid substitution, which can be traced back approximately 2000-3000 years to the Han Chinese [27]. Luo et al. noted that the specific halpotype carrying the ALDH2*2 allele was highest in frequency in the Yunnan, South coastal, and East coastal areas of China and decreases in frequency further inland. According to archeological and historical evidence from this time period, evidence points to the Pai-Yuei tribe as an origin of the mutation, as they occupied the Southeastern coast of China into the Yunnan area as early as 16 B.C. Нe Pai-Yuei people established an independent country in this area, which lasted for around 160 years until it was conquered by other tribes. Нe Yuei people then scattered to other areas of South and Southwest China, Vietnam, and Нailand where they integrated with other tribes, especially the Han tribe [27]. Нis scattering correlates with the distribution of the ALDH2*2 mutation amongst people of East Asian descent”

[See also William Meacham’s Defining the Hundred Yue Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association]

In another 2010 study however, it was further found that the

“geographic distribution of ALDH2*504Lys, … The allele is essentially absent in all parts of the world except East Asia. The ALDH2*504Lys allele has its highest frequency in Southeast China, and occurs in most areas of China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and Indochina with frequencies gradually declining radially from Southeast China. As the indigenous populations in South China have much lower frequencies than the southern Han migrants from Central China, we conclude that ALDH2*504Lyswas carried by Han Chinese as they spread throughout East Asia. Esophageal cancer, with its highest incidence in East Asia, may be associated with ALDH2*504Lys because of a toxic effect of increased acetaldehyde in the tissue where ingested ethanol has its highest concentration. While the distributions of esophageal cancer and ALDH2*504Lys do not precisely correlate, that does not disprove the hypothesis. In general the study of fine scale geographic distributions of ALDH2*504Lys and diseases may help in understanding the multiple relationships among genes, diseases, environments, and cultures.” – Source: Hui Li, et al., Refined Geographic Distribution of the Oriental ALDH2*504Lys (nee 487Lys) VariantAnn Hum Genet. 2009 May; 73(Pt 3): 335–345. doi:  10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00517.x

How did 3rd ~ 4th c. Roman coins end up in the 12th~15th c. Katsuren Castle on Okinawa?

Above: A coin issued by the Roman Empire and recently excavated from castle ruins in Okinawa is shown Monday at the Uruma Municipal Govt office in Okinawa Below: Other relics unearthed from the site include a coin from the 17th century Ottoman Empire Photo: KYODO

Above: A coin issued by the Roman Empire and recently excavated from castle ruins in Okinawa is shown Monday at the Uruma Municipal Govt office in Okinawa Below: Other relics unearthed from the site include a coin from the 17th century Ottoman Empire Photo: KYODO


Ancient Roman coins unearthed from castle ruins in Okinawa  KYODO SEP 26, 2016, via Japan Times

Coins issued in ancient Rome have been excavated from the ruins of a castle in Okinawa Prefecture, the local board of education said, the first time such artifacts have been discovered in Japan.

The board of education in the city of Uruma said the four copper coins, believed to date back to the Roman Empire in the third to fourth centuries, were discovered in the ruins of Katsuren Castle, which existed from the 12th to 15th centuries.

Okinawa’s trade with China and Southeast Asia was thriving at the time and the finding is “precious historical material suggesting a link between Okinawa and the Western world,” the board of education said.

Each coin measures 1.6 to 2 cm in diameter. The designs and patterns on both sides are unclear due to abrasion.

Based on X-ray analysis, however, the board said the coins appear to bear an image of Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. Other relics unearthed from the site include a coin from the 17th century Ottoman Empire, as well as five other round metallic items that also appear to be coins.

The ruins of Katsuren Castle were registered in 2000 on the World Heritage list as part of the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, a group of ancient monuments and castle ruins in the island prefecture.

The coins will be displayed at Uruma City Yonagusuku Historical Museum in central Okinawa until Nov. 25.

Corrected: On Sept. 28 we corrected the caption and added a new photo of the Roman coin

Archaeologists find world’s oldest fishhooks on Okinawa Island


Sakita Cave

FIshhooks carved from shells from Sakitari Cave

World’s oldest fishhook found on Okinawa by Michael Price, Science Magazine Sep 16, 2016

There’s no telling what kinds of fishermen’s tales they told, but the early modern humans who lived on tiny Okinawa Island between mainland Japan and Taiwan nearly 30,000 years ago are the world’s oldest known anglers. Now, archaeologists have discovered the oldest known fishhooks in a limestone cave in the island’s interior, dating back nearly 23,000 years. The fishhooks, all carved from shells, were found in Sakitari Cave, which was occupied seasonally by fishermen taking advantage of the downstream migrations of crabs and freshwater snails. Unlike their mainland counterparts, who fashioned tools and beads out of shells and stones, the ancient people of Okinawa Island used shells almost exclusively. Japanese archaeologists excavating the cave discovered both a finished and an unfinished fishhook that had been carved and ground from sea snail shells. By radiocarbon dating pieces of charcoal found in the same layer as the fishhooks, the researchers determined the hooks were between 22,380 and 22,770 years old. Accounting for margin of error, that gives them an edge over similar fishhooks found in East Timor (between 23,000 and 16,000 years old) and New Ireland in Papua New Guinea (20,000 to 18,000 years old). The findings lend support to the idea that these early modern humans were more advanced with maritime technology than previously thought, and that they were capable of thriving on small, geographically isolated islands.



Further source references:

This finding possibly reverses the finding that fishing technology emerged from the south Island South East Asia, diffusing northwards along the Pacific Rim. The direction of diffusion may thus have been in the opposite direction. While archaeologists may have found the oldest fishhook artefacts and this is evidence of early fishing technology in the Pacific Rim region, the oldest known maritime fishers were previously believed to have been the nearby prehistoric Timor islanders. See Fishing techniques of the Jomon people may have diffused from fishermen of the Wallacea-Spice Islander / Sundaland-Sahul region

This finding would also be more concordant with Matsumoto’s GM study The origin of the Japanese race based on genetic markers of immunoglobin G  which found that none of the Japanese populations surveyed, including the Ainu or those from the Okinawa and southern islands shared the same GM marker pattern as southern Melanesian or Micronesian groups southern group, who showed a remarkably high frequency of the afb1b3 marker (excepting a very small component of the mainland Japanese in Osaka and Sendai that attributable to later admixing influxes from the continent). Other Japanese early fishing technology have shown similarities to prehistoric Northeast Pacific Rim fishing lithics.



Scientists find largest Stone Age bone bonanza on Ishigaki island 


Anthropologists work at a dig site that contains human bones dating from as far back as 24,000 years ago at Ishigaki Island’s Shirahosaonetabaru cave in Okinawa Prefecture on Saturday. | KYODO

Below is the news article by Jiji Press via Japan Times

Ishigaki Island may harbor biggest Paleolithic ruins in East Asia

Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture could hold the largest Old Stone Age site discovered in East Asia.

More than 1,000 human bones and fragments, possibly from about a dozen men and women, have been uncovered so far by the excavation project in the Shirahosaonetabaru cave by Painushima Ishigaki Airport.

Some of the pieces date back 24,000 years, making them the oldest human remains found in Japan that can be precisely dated, researchers at the site said.

This is “one of the biggest Paleolithic ruins in East Asia,” said Naomi Doi, a former associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus. “I’m a lucky anthropologist.”

“The bones are fossilized and heavy. I can’t find words to tell you how I felt when I held them in my hands,” Doi said.

Research into the bones and the DNA in them is expected to shed light on how Old Stone Age humans lived on the island at the southern tip of the East China Sea after migrating from Eurasia.

The five-year excavation is set to end this month, but the ruins will be preserved, said Hisayoshi Nakaza, leader of the research team at the Okinawa Prefectural Archaeological Center.

The center will hold talks with the prefectural education board and the Cultural Affairs Agency on the future use of the 200-sq.-meter site, Nakaza said.

The cave was formed in limestone through erosion. While many human bone fragments were discovered, no stone tools have been found in it.

Reiko Kono, senior researcher at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, is trying to reconstruct facial features in 3-D from skull fragments through computed tomography analysis.

“We can obtain information on how humans lived at that time by analyzing how their physical constitutions were and how they used their muscles,” Kono said.

Further research needs to be conducted as to whether the people were ancestors of the Jomon Period, prehistoric hunter-gatherers whose culture, characterized by pottery decorated with rope patterns, once flourished in the Japanese archipelago.

Researchers, including Yosuke Kaifu, the head of the museum’s human history research group, believe humans reached the islands of Okinawa some 30,000 years ago by boat from Taiwan, which was still connected to the continent.

To back up their theory, in mid-July the team will attempt to sail from Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni to Iriomote Island on a boat made of plant materials.

Earlier news in 2011
Ancient human bone found in Ishigaki cave

Okinawa News, weekly update: 2011-12-02

Archaeologists are ecstatic as they study a 24,000-year-old human bone fragment that’s been discovered on Ishigaki Island in southern Okinawa Prefecture.

The Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum is among those poring over the bone piece found in the Shirahosaonetabaru cave. Officials believe the bone fragment is part of a rib. The bone’s already been tested using direct dating, and scientists now say the latest bone discovery is 4,000 years older than any other bone found in Japan.

The testing, using radiocarbon dating, is being supervised by archaeologists at the University of Tokyo to determine the age of the piece from the Paleolithic Period which ran from 2 million B.C. to 10,000 B.C. Being studied are some 300 pieces of human bone, as well as animal bones, found in the cave. One piece was identified as being from a wild boar.

Further reading:
Nakagawa Ryohei, et al. (2010), “Pleistocene human remains from ShirahoSaonetabaru Cave on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan, and their radiocarbon dating.” Anthropological Science 118.3; pp 173-183.

New study goes against theory of China as origin of domesticated rice

A new study could throw light on the origins of the migrants who brought rice culture to Japan and Korea…

New study suggests early rice farmers in three separate geographic locations independently domesticated rice.

Damien Dempsey/ Flickr/ Creative Commons

Damien Dempsey/ Flickr/ Creative Commons

By Dennis Normile 2 November 2015 Science AAAS

Rice—one of the world’s most important crops—was domesticated more than once, according to a new study. The work could lead to a better understanding of how civilizations arose throughout Asia and whether they developed independently, or whether agricultural and cultural advances in one region were copied in others. It could also guide programs to improve the grain crop that more than half of the world’s population depends on.

There are four main varieties of rice: japonica, a short-grained rice grown in Japan, Korea, and eastern China; indica, a long-grained variety common in India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia; aus, grown primarily in Bangladesh; and aromatic rice, which includes more exotic varieties such as India’s basmati and Thailand’s jasmine.

Scientists have primarily focused on indica and japonica because archaeological findings suggest both have a long history of cultivation. Researchers generally agree that humans living in what is now southern China domesticated japonica between 8200 and 13,500 years ago. The precise locale within southern China is still debated. But the spread of agriculture resulted in a more stable food supply that allowed hunter-gatherers to settle in villages with increasing populations and the more complex societies and cultures that led to the rise of Eastern civilizations.

Those claiming one domestication event believe indica emerged from crosses between japonica and wild species as rice cultivation spread through Asia. This hypothesis is strongly supported by Bin Han, a geneticist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology in Shanghai, and colleagues in an October 2012 paper in Nature. In this scenario, aus and aromatic varieties emerged from later crosses.

Those arguing for two separate domestication events generally agree that japonica emerged in southern China, but they contend that indica was independently domesticated in a region straddling India and western Indochina.

The new analysis, from a group led by Terence Brown of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, adds a third and separate domestication locale, for aus, in a region stretching from central India to Bangladesh.

Interestingly, both the Han and Brown teams rely on the same genetic data: sequences from 446 samples of wild rice and over 1000 cultivated varieties. But just as two detectives examining a crime scene might think the clues point to different culprits, the two teams reach differing conclusions. Both analyses center on what are called domestication sweeps, regions of the genomes of cultivated rice varieties that differ from wild populations and that researchers believe were selected for by early farmers seeking to enhance desirable plant traits. These include regions that allow plants to grow vertically and thus more densely, as opposed to spreading over the ground, and to keep ripe grain on the stalk, instead of shedding it as most wild varieties do, a characteristic called shattering.

Han and his colleagues contend that that the domestication sweeps found in all cultivated Asian rice varieties are very similar and can be traced back to a single group of wild ancestors in southern China. But the Brown team says the genetic evidence indicates that the genes that proved advantageous for farming were present in many wild rice varieties widely distributed across the southern Asian continent. Early farmers in three separate geographic locations were all striving to select rice plants showing the same desirable traits. And that resulted in similar domestication sweeps appearing in three different varieties of cultivated rice. “Rice domestication was a multiregional process separately producing the indica, japonica, and aus types of rice,” the group writes online today in Nature Plants.

The methods are “rigorous and well substantiated,” says Susan McCouch, a rice geneticist at Cornell University. Brown and his colleagues “clearly demonstrate that the most parsimonious and coherent interpretation for the data is that there were at least three independent domestications of [rice] from well differentiated ancestral populations in Asia,” she says.

Han is sticking to his conclusions. The new paper is “definitely wrong with the data analysis,” he wrote in an email. He says his team will publish a detailed rebuttal shortly.

There are some sticky questions. Briana Gross, a plant geneticist at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, says there is convincing evidence that at least one of the major domestication sweeps—causing white grains—arose in japonica, and spread to other variety groups. If the three varieties were domesticated separately, she asks how did this trait get into all three?

Even McCouch acknowledges this latest finding is unlikely to be the last word. “I look forward to the many discussions this paper is likely to provide.

Oldest basil pollen in Japan found in ditch of 3rd c. Makimuku ruins, Nara, is of Southeast Asian origin

A microscopic image of basil pollen, found at a third-century ruin in Nara prefecture, central Japan. Research Center for Makimukugaku Sakurai City

A microscopic image of basil pollen, found at a third-century ruin in Nara prefecture, central Japan. Research Center for Makimukugaku, Sakurai City

The Makimuku ruins

The Makimuku ruins in Nara prefecture where the basil pollen was found. Research Center for Makimukugaku, Sakurai City

Source: WSJ, March 2015
Researchers in Japan’s Nara prefecture said they have confirmed that the oldest basil pollen in the country originally came from China or the Korean peninsula, indicating that a trading society existed in the area then.

The pollen was found in 1991 in a ditch at the third-century Makimuku ruins, a national historic site thought to be one of the possible locations of the Yamataikoku kingdom, which was led by Queen Himiko. The kingdom’s exact location is still being debated.

Academics at the Research Center for Makimukugaku had compared the basil pollen in question to other types in Japan today, and traced its roots to those that grow in Southeast Asia.

The Makimuku ruins in Nara prefecture where the basil pollen was found. Research Center for Makimukugaku, Sakurai City
“The findings show that there was exchange between those in the area and other countries back then,” Teruhiko Hashimoto, a researcher at the center, told Japan Real Time Friday.

The pollen was found in a ditch which was a part of a drainage system that connected the central part of the town and its outskirts. Pollen from safflower has also been found there.

“Safflower was likely used for dyeing. Basil was probably used for medical purposes, but it isn’t clear. It was possibly used for a powerful figure,” Mr. Hashimoto said.

Recent research pinpoints North China as centre of millet domestication, could shed light on millet dispersal route to Jomon Japan


Source: PNAS study  Fig. 1 Cishan site in North China, proposed centre of millet domestication in East Asia

Broomcorn millet, barnyard millet, and foxtail millet were all species of millet cultivated by the Jomon people of Japan (see 1995, D’Andrea). Millet finds are from late Middle Jomon sites in Hokkaido, late Jomon Kazaharai site in Aomori, Northeastern Japan (see 1995, D’Andrea); and Yayoi Nabatake site in Kyushu (Cowan, The Origins of Agriculture p. 24). Broomcorn millet was present in southwestern Japan by the 2,000 B.C. (Crawford, Gary, Transitions to Agriculture, p 121). Foxtail millet cultigens are found in a widespread sphere from Southwestern Asia, Europe to Transcaucasian Russia and the Far East (C.W. Cowan et al., The Origins of Agriculture, p. 24; Rao et al., 1987). It is thought that from China foxtail millet spread westward towards Europe (Oelke, E.A., 1990).

It was earlier established that China is at the primary center of the diversity of broomcorn millet cultivation (see C.W. Cowan et al., The Origins of Agriculture, p. 23; Zeven and Zhukovsky, 1975:32). A new study on the origins of millet domestication, could establish the routes of dispersal of millet cultivation/gathering, storage pit usage and associated tools to Japan, and thereby also shed some light on the possible origins of the incoming migrations of people during the Jomon or on early exchanges with the continent. Historical documents show that foxtail millet was an important crop during Zhou dynasty China, while the earliest foxtail millet sites are from Hunamni and Hohnamni Bronze Age sites in South Korea ( C.W. Cowan et al., The Origins of Agriculture, p. 25). All evidence points to millet plant domestication and cultivation in Japan earlier than the Late Jomon period, and certainly, by the end of the Late Jomon period in northeastern Japan (Gremillion, KJ, People, Plants, and Landscapes: Studies in Paleoethnobotany, pp 102-103)


Research analysis in “Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago” concluded that

“the earliest significant common millet cultivation system was established in the semiarid regions of China by 10,000 cal yr BP, and that the relatively dry condition in the early Holocene may have been favorable for the domestication of common millet over foxtail millet. Our study shows that common millet appeared as a staple crop in northern China ≈10,000 years ago, suggesting that common millet might have been domesticated independently in this area and later spread to Russia, India, the Middle East, and Europe. Nevertheless, like Mesopotamia, where the spread of wheat and barley to the fertile floodplains of the Lower Tigris and Euphrates was a key factor in the emergence of civilization, the spread of common millet to the more productive regions of the Yellow River and its tributaries provided the essential food surplus that later permitted the development of social complexity in the Chinese civilization.”

The above study reported “the discovery of husk phytoliths and biomolecular components identifiable solely as common millet from newly excavated storage pits at the Neolithic Cishan site, China, dated to between ca. 10,300 and ca. 8,700 calibrated years before present (cal yr BP). After ca. 8,700 cal yr BP, the grain crops began to contain a small quantity of foxtail millet. Our research reveals that the common millet was the earliest dry farming crop in East Asia, which is probably attributed to its excellent resistance to drought.”

Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and common millet (or broomcorn millet; Panicum miliaceum) were among the world’s most important and ancient domesticated crops. They were staple foods in the semiarid regions of East Asia (China, Japan, Russia, India, and Korea) and even in the entire Eurasian continent before the popularity of rice and wheat, and are still important foods in these regions today….

Thirty years ago, the world’s oldest millet remains, dating to ca. 8,200 calibrated years before present (cal yr BP), were discovered at the Early Neolithic site of Cishan, northern China. The site contained >50,000 kg of grain crops stored in the storage pits (79). Until now, the importance of these findings has been constrained by limited taxonomic identification with regard to whether they are from foxtail millet (S. italica) or common millet (P. miliaceum), because the early reported S. italica identifications are not all accepted (4,912). This article presents the phytoliths, biomolecular records, and new radiocarbon dating from newly excavated grain crop storage pits at the Cishan site. Large modern reference collections are used to compare and contrast microfossil morphology and biomolecular components in different millets and related grass species (13). The renewed investigations show that common millet agriculture arose independently in the semiarid regions of China by 10,000 cal yr BP. Our findings contribute to our knowledge of agricultural origins across the globe and have broader implications for understanding the development of human societies.

The Cishan site (36°34.511′ N, 114°06.720′ E) is located near the junction between the Loess Plateau and the North China Plain at an elevation of 260–270 m above sea level (Fig. 1). The archaeological site, containing a total of 88 storage pits with significant quantities (≈109 m3) of grain crop remains, was excavated from 1976 to 1978 (7, 8). Each storage pit included 0.3- to 2-m-thick grain crops, which were well preserved and found in situ in the 3- to 5-m-deep loess layer (9). All grain remains have been oxidized to ashes soon after they were exposed to air. Archaeological excavations also revealed the remains of houses and numerous millstones (Fig. S1), stone shovels, grind rollers, potteries, rich faunal remains, and plant assemblages including charred fruits of walnut (Juglans regia), hazel (Corylus heterophylla), and hackberry (Celtis bungeana) (79). Only 2 14C dates of charcoal from previously excavated H145 and H48 storage pits yielded uncalibrated ages of 7355 ± 100 yr BP and 7235 ± 105 yr BP, respectively (8). These remains represent the earliest evidence for the significant use of dry-farming crop plants in the human diet in East Asia. They also suggest that by this time agriculture had already been relatively well developed here.

According to archeobotanical research, the early charred grains of common millet occurred during the initial stages of various Early Neolithic sites (Fig. 1), including Dadiwan (ca. 7.8–7.35 cal kyr BP) (21), Xinglonggou (ca. 8.0–7.5 cal kyr BP) (22), and Yuezhuang (ca. 7.87 cal kyr BP) (23) in North China, but foxtail millet was barely present during these stages. Lee et al. (24) have speculated that the Early Neolithic predominance of broomcorn over foxtail millet at Xinglonggou and Yuezhuang ca. 6000 cal B.C. might be a regional phenomenon, implying that broomcorn millet might have been domesticated earlier than foxtail millet. Our analytical results of both phytoliths and biomolecular components have established that the earliest cereal remains stored in the Cishan Neolithic sites, during ca. 10,300–8,700 cal yr BP, are not foxtail millet, but only common millet. After 8,700 cal yr BP, the grain crops gradually contained 0.4–2.8% foxtail millet. Our study also suggests that common millet was used as a staple food significantly earlier than foxtail millet in northern China. It provides direct evidence to show that, by 10,000 cal yr BP, the early people in northern China had developed various methods of maintenance and multiplication of millet seeds for the next generation, and had known how to store crops of staple food in secure, dry places of storage pits during the Early Neolithic epoch.

Common millet has the lowest water requirement among all grain crops; it is also a relatively short-season crop, and could grow well in poor soils (5, 6, 25). The geographical distribution of both foxtail millet and common millet in China (Fig. S4) shows that foxtail millet is more common in the semiwet eastern areas, and its optimal growth occurs at mean annual temperature (MAT) from 8 to 10 °C and mean annual precipitation (MAP) from 450 to 550 mm. However, common millet is more adapted to the drier interior areas, and its optimal growing conditions occur at MAT from 6 to 8 °C and MAP from 350 to 450 mm (5, 6). The origin and dispersal of millet agriculture is a key problem closely related to the history of human impact on the environment and transformation of natural vegetation.

Paleoenvironmental data from the Weinan section (2629) (Fig. 1) in the southern part of the Loess Plateau between the Cishan and Dadiwan sites are crucial for understanding the early stage of the forager–cultivator transition. The early Holocene was a period of significant environmental change marked by dry climate conditions as inferred from sediment texture (26, 28), magnetic susceptibility (26, 28), pollen (27), phytoliths (28), and mollusk assemblages (29). These proxy records show an environmental transition from cold–dry (ca. 11,000–8,700 cal yr BP) to warm–wet (ca. 8,700–5,500 cal yr BP) conditions. Many lacustrine and loess records from the Chinese Loess Plateau to Central Asia also support the scenario of a dry climate during the early Holocene (3034). Under the drier climate conditions, soil development was slowed, and the soil developed on the underlying older and coarser loess of the glacial period was poor in nutrients (28). This raises the possibility that common millet was more significant than foxtail millet in the early stages of food production in North China because it was more adaptable than foxtail millet to the dry condition prevailing during the early Holocene. The common millet cultivation may involve complex selection by natural forces and human activities, although no clear evidence has been documented in this region for the transitions from gathering to cultivation and/or from a wild ancestor to domesticated common millet.

References and source readings:

COWAN, C.Wesley., WATSON, Patty Jo; BENO, Nancy L., The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective p. 23-24).

D’Andrea, A. C. 1995. Later Jomon Subsistence in Northeastern Japan: New Evidence from Palaeoethnobotanical Studies. Asian Perspectives 34 (2): 195-227

This paper discusses prehistoric subsistence and the development of plant husbandry in northeastern Tohoku (northern Honshu). Archaeobotanical sampling was carried out at two sites in eastern Aomori Prefecture. Tominosawa is a Middle Jomon village site which produced a spectrum of nut and weedy plant species similar to that recovered from contemporary sites in southwestern Hokkaido. At the Kazahari site, pithouses from two phases of occupation were sampled for archaeobotanical remains: Tokoshinai IV (c. 1000 B.C.) and Fukurashima (c. 150 B.C.). The pithouse deposits produced evidence for Late Jomon rice, foxtail millet, and broomcorn millet dating to the first millennium B.C. Sampling of later Fukurashima contexts produced evidence of rice, foxtail and broomcorn millet, Japanese barnyard millet, and hemp. These data demonstrate that rice and millets have been present in northeastern Tohoku since c. 1000 B.C.

NASU, Hiroo The Initial Form of Rice and Millet Cultivation during the Final Jomon-Yayoi Transition Era from the View of Archaeobotanical Weed Assemblages Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History Vol. 187 July 2014

Gremillion, Kristen J., People, Plants, and Landscapes: Studies in Paleoethnobotany, pp. 102-3

Crawford, Gary, Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory, pp 117-132, Monographs in Archaeology, No. 4 Prehistory Press p. 121

Oelke, E.A., Oplinger, E.S., Putnam, D.H., Durgan, B.R., Doll, J.D. and Undersander, D.J. (1990) Millets, in Alternative Field Crops Manual)

Setaria introduction

Cormorant fishing began in Japan by the Kofun period at least, ancient earthenware discovered in Kofu shows

Courtesy of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government

Courtesy of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government

The ancient art of cormorant fishing is called ukai and is still practised in 13 cities in Japan today. Usho fishing masters are charged with procuring ayu fishes specially for the Imperial Royal Household.  Cormorant fishing is known to be a traditional fishing method in East Asia since the 3rd century, while the practice apears to have emerged in Europe in medieval times from Venice, in Europe, cormorant fishing is a practice restricted to a leisure activity of the royal courts and the aristocracy (see Marcus Beike’s “The history of cormorant fishing in Europe”). In Japan, engravings of cormorants and fish on earthenware excavated from 9th c. Kofu now informs us that cormorant fishing began much earlier than thought. In China, cormorant fishing is said to be dying out (Business Insider, Dec 2013).


Drawings reveal evidence of early cormorant fishing (The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2015)


KOFU — A piece of ninth-century earthenware excavated in Kofu at the ruins of an ancient village has been found to feature a drawing that may show cormorant fishing, the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum has announced. According to the Fuefuki-based museum, the earthenware — found in the Sotochudai ruins, which date back to a span of time from the Kofun period (ca 300-ca 710) to the Heian period (eighth-12th century) — shows pictures of cormorants believed to be diving into the water and catching a fish. It is said that local people usually fished with the assistance of cormorants in the Fuefukigawa river near the village ruins during the Kamakura period in the late 12th century to the early 14th century. A curator at the museum said the earthenware indicates that fishing using the birds had already started in the region before the Kamakura period. Excavated in 1993, the disc-shaped earthenware with a handgrip-like piece on the central part is about 16 centimeters in diameter, and researchers believe that it was used as the lid of a vessel for eating. Pictures on the reverse display up to nine cormorants, with lines carved using an implement with a spatulate tip. Fishermen are not seen in the drawing, but examination conducted by experts in April this year indicated the possibility that it describes the sequence of a cormorant’s actions in fishing — diving into water, catching a fish, returning to the water’s surface and so on. Nowadays, people in the Isawa district of Fuefuki engage in cormorant fishing in the summer. The unearthed lid will be on display at the museum through July 6.


Read more about the origin of cormorant fishing here.  The practice though both once widespread in both China and Japan, is recorded as an early practice of Japan’s by the Chinese in the Book of Sui (See Wikipedia article on Cormorant fishing.)

According to Amino Yoshihiko, see “Rethinking Japanese History” at pp. 36-37, cormorant fishing arrived in Japan together with rice agriculturalists around 300 B.C.E.

Where to see cormorant fishing in Japan today

Gifu Nagaragawa Ukai Cormorant fishing. It will be held every day during the period except on the night of the full moon (Sept. 28 this year) or when the water is excessively muddy. Fee is ¥3,100 (weekdays) or ¥3,400 (Sat., Sun. and national holidays), without meal. For reservation, please call 058-262-0104 (Gifu City Ukai Kanransen Jimusho), or reserve through major travel agencies, like JTB.

Schedule & Key events:
● daily (except Sept. 28)
7:15 p.m.-8:30 p.m. (Boarding time: 6:15 p.m.)

Location: Nagara River, Gifu, Gifu

JR Tokaido Honsen Line to Gifu Station. From there, take bus to Nagara-bashi Bus Stop (15 min.)

Festival information compiled in cooperation with the Tourist Information Center of the Japan National Tourist Organization. (10th floor, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Bldg., 2-10-1, Yurakucho, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo; (03) 3201-3331). Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

The size of the Mongol genetic footprint across Eurasia, a footprint that was stopped short at the shores of Japan

Depiction of the samurai Takezaki Suenaga repelling Mongol and Korean arrows and bombs at Hakata Bay.

Depiction of the samurai  Suenaga Takezaki repelling Mongol and Korean arrows and bombs at Torikai-Gata. “Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba” by 竹崎季長 – 蒙古襲来絵詞. Open source:  Wikimedia Commons

Genetics researchers in a 2003 report, The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols, AJHG,  Volume 72, Issue 3, March 2003, Pages 717–721, Tatiana Zerjal, et al., found that the Mongol Y-DNA marker showed up in 16 populations throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea. The report also identified the origin to be “most likely in Mongolia, where the largest number of different star-cluster haplotypes is found ( fig. 1). Thus, a single male line, probably originating in Mongolia, has spread in the last ∼1,000 years to represent ∼8% of the males in a region stretching from northeast China to Uzbekistan”.

Researchers show the footprint of Genghis Khan Y-chromosome star-cluster marker across Eurasia. Japan is unaffected, corroborating the historical accounts of having successfully repelled the Mongol invasion.

Researchers show the footprint of Genghis Khan Y-chromosome star-cluster marker across Eurasia. The Mongols left no genetic trace in Japan, however, corroborating the historical accounts of the Japanese having successfully repelled the Mongols and eventually driving them back to the mainland, despite the earlier devastating defeats during the Battles of Bunei. Fig. 2 from the report

Excerpted from the report:

“We have identified a Y-chromosomal lineage with several unusual features. It was found in 16 populations throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea, and was present at high frequency: ∼8% of the men in this region carry it, and it thus makes up ∼0.5% of the world total. The pattern of variation within the lineage suggested that it originated in Mongolia ∼1,000 years ago. Such a rapid spread cannot have occurred by chance; it must have been a result of selection. The lineage is carried by likely male-line descendants of Genghis Khan, and we therefore propose that it has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior.

The patterns of variation found in human DNA are usually considered to result from a balance between neutral processes and natural selection. Among the former, mutation, recombination, and migration increase variation, whereas genetic drift decreases it. Natural selection can act to remove deleterious variants (purifying selection), maintain polymorphism (balancing selection), or produce a trend (directional selection). Clear examples of the latter are rare in humans, but probable cases, such as those associated with resistance to malaria (Hamblin and Di Rienzo 2000) or unidentified pathogens (Stephens et al. 1998), can be recognized by the “signature” they leave in the genome. The rapid increase in frequency of the selected allele and its linked sequences results in a haplotype that is found at higher frequency than would be expected from its degree of variation. We have now identified such a haplotype on the Y chromosome, but we suggest that its spread results not from a biological advantage, but from human activities recorded in history.

In surveys of DNA variation in Asia, we typed 2,123 men with 32 markers to produce a Y haplotype for each man; these included 1,126 individuals described elsewhere (Qamar et al. 2002; Zerjal et al. 2002). Over 90% of the haplotypes showed the usual pattern (Mohyuddin et al. 2001): most males had a unique code; and the few haplotypes present in more than one individual were generally found within the same population. However, we also saw one pattern that was novel in two respects. First, there was a high frequency of a cluster of closely related lineages, collectively called the “star cluster” (fig. 1, shaded area). Second, star-cluster chromosomes were found in 16 populations throughout a large geographical area extending from Central Asia to the Pacific ( fig. 2); thus, they do not result from an event specific to any single population. We can deduce the most likely time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) and place of origin of this unusual lineage from the observed genetic variation. To do this, it is first necessary to distinguish star-cluster chromosomes from the remainder. For this, we used the criterion that haplotypes linked to the central one in the shaded area of the network without gaps would be included ( fig. 1). We then used two approaches to calculate a TMRCA for the star-cluster chromosomes. The program BATWING (Wilson and Balding 1998) uses models of both mutation and population processes, which were specified as described elsewhere (Qamar et al. 2002). With this program, we estimated ∼1,000 years for the TMRCA (95% confidence interval limits ∼700–1,300 years). The use of alternative demographic models with constant or exponentially increasing population size changed the estimate by <10%. A method that does not consider population structure (Morral et al. 1994), ρ, suggested ∼860 (∼590–1,300) years. In both calculations, we assumed a generation time of 30 years. The origin was most likely in Mongolia, where the largest number of different star-cluster haplotypes is found ( fig. 1). Thus, a single male line, probably originating in Mongolia, has spread in the last ∼1,000 years to represent ∼8% of the males in a region stretching from northeast China to Uzbekistan. If this spread were due to a general population expansion, we would expect to find multiple lineages with the same characteristics of high frequency and presence in multiple populations, but we do not (Zerjal et al. 2002). The star-cluster pattern is unique.”

Was it due to selection?

“This rise in frequency, if spread evenly over ∼34 generations, would require an average increase by a factor of ∼1.36 per generation and is thus comparable to the most extreme selective events observed in natural populations, such as the spread of melanic moths in 19thcentury England in response to industrial pollution (Edleston 1865). We evaluated whether it could have occurred by chance. If the population growth rate is known, it is possible to test whether the observed frequency of a lineage is consistent with its level of variation, assuming neutrality (Slatkin and Bertorelle 2001). Using this method, we estimated the chance of finding the low degree of variation observed in the star cluster, with a current frequency of ∼8%, under neutral conditions. Even with the demographic model most likely to lead to rapid increase of the lineage, double exponential growth, the probability was !10237; if the mutation rate were 10 times lower, the probability would still be !1010. Thus, chance can be excluded: selection must have acted on this haplotype. Could biological selection be responsible? Although this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out, the small number of genes on the Y chromosome and their specialized functions provide few opportunities for selection (Jobling and Tyler-Smith 2000). It is therefore necessary to look for alternative explanations. Increased reproductive fitness, transmitted socially from generation to generation, of males carrying the same Y chromosome would lead to the increase in frequency of their Y lineage, and this effect would be enhanced by the elimination of unrelated males. Within the last 1,000 years in this part of the world, these conditions are met by Genghis (Chingis) Khan (c. 1162–1227) and his male relatives. He established the largest land empire in history and often slaughtered the conquered populations, and he and his close male relatives had many children. Although the Mongol empire soon disintegrated as a political unit, his male-line descendants ruled large areas of Asia for many generations. These included China, where the Yuan Dynasty emperors remained in power until 1368, after which the Mongols continued to dominate the country north of the Great Wall for several more centuries, and the region west to the Aral Sea, where the Chaghatai Khans ruled. Although their power diminished over time, they remained at Kashghar near the Kyrgyzstan/ China border until the middle of the 17th century (Morgan 1986). It is striking that the boundary of the Mongol empire when Genghis Khan died (fig. 2), which also corresponds to the boundaries of the regions controlled by later Khans, matches the distribution of star-cluster chromosomes closely, with one exception: the Hazaras. We, therefore, wished to compare Genghis Khan’s Y profile with the star cluster. It is not possible to examine his remains directly, but history provides an alternative. The Hazaras of Pakistan have a Mongol origin (Qamar et al. 2002), and many consider themselves to be direct male-line descendants of Genghis Khan. A genealogy documenting these links has been constructed from their oral history (Mousavi 1998). A large proportion of the Hazara pro- files do indeed lie in the star cluster, which is not otherwise seen in Pakistan (fig. 2), thus supporting their oral tradition and suggesting that Genghis Khan carried the star-cluster haplotype. The Y chromosome of a single individual has spread rapidly and is now found in ∼8% of the males throughout a large part of Asia. Indeed, if our sample is representative, this chromosome will be present in about 16 million men, ∼0.5% of the world’s total. The available evidence suggests that it was carried by Genghis Khan. His Y chromosome would obviously have had ancestors, and our best estimate of the TMRCA of starcluster chromosomes lies several generations before his birth. … The historically documented events accompanying the establishment of the Mongol empire would have contributed directly to the spread of this lineage by Genghis Khan and his relatives, but perhaps as important was the establishment of a long-lasting male dynasty

See the rest of the report here.

Read also:

Around 500 confirmed sunken shipwreck sites in Japanese waters lack funding for underwater archaeological survey and research work (Heritage of Japan, this site)

Sex and power. The reproductive instinct of conquerors (Social Ethology)

The Mongol Invasions of Korea | The Mongol Invasions of Japan

The Mongol Invasions 1274 and 1281, by Stephen Turnbull, Osprey Publishing 2010

Mongol invasions of Japan (Wikipedia)

The Mongol conquests: What led to the conquests?

The latest find of seven dotaku bells from Awajishima Island pushes back date for the practice of burying bronze bells earlier by a century

Dotaku bells found on Awajishima Island (The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2015)

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Seven dotaku bronze bells from the mid-Yayoi period, or around the second century B.C., were found in Minami-Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, on Awajishima island, the prefectural and municipal boards of education said Tuesday.

The bells were found in a pile of sand taken from the city’s coastal district Matsuho, and they were named “Matsuho dotaku.”

This is the fourth-largest number of dotaku bells to be excavated from a single site. The biggest trove, 39 bells, was found at the Kamo Iwakura Ruins in Unnan, Shimane Prefecture. The latest discovery is the oldest trove of dotaku bells to be unearthed at one time. Experts say “These dotaku bells are worthy to be designated as national treasures as they could help understand the use of dotaku bells in ancient rituals.”

The dotaku bells are from 22 to 32 centimeters in height and from 13 to 19 centimeters in base width, and do not have any drawings on them. One of the seven bells has a handle — called a chu — with a lozenge-shaped cross section. This is believed to be the oldest type of dotaku bell, and only 11 other bells of this type have been confirmed in the nation so far.

Meanwhile, three of the seven bells have 8- to 13-centimeter tongues made of bronze. This is the largest number of tongues found at once.

Picture illustrates what a tongue is Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Picture illustrates what a tongue is Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

There are no other known cases of a number of dotaku bells with tongues found buried at one time. So there is a possibility that the recently discovered bells were used in the oldest form of rituals in which many dotaku bells were buried together.

Clue for use of dotaku bells in rituals

The seven dotaku bronze bells discovered on Awajishima island can provide clues for the study of their use in rituals in early times.

The practice of burying a number of dotaku bells together is believed to have been concentrated in two periods — the mid-Yayoi period — from the first century B.C. through to the first century — and the late-Yayoi period at the end of the second century. However, the latest discovery has pushed back the beginning of the practice by more than a century, and some theorize that the practice resumed after a certain period.

Regardless of region, burials of dotaku bells have some things in common — placing smaller bells inside larger bells and burying the nested bells with the fin (decorative plate) set in an upright position. In the latest discovery, the dotaku bells are presumed to have been buried in the same fashion. However, in the latest case, the tongues to sound the bells were excavated along with the dotaku bells. This indicates the possibility of the bells having been used in the earliest form of rituals, which involved burying numerous dotaku bells.

Hideto Morioka, a member of the prefecture’s Ashia municipal board of education, who is an expert on dotaku bells, said, “There is the possibility that dotaku bells were buried periodically in order to pass on rituals to later generations, and can be compared to the shikinen-sengu [periodic transfer of a deity] of a shrine performed once every predetermined number of years.”

Meanwhile, the place on Awajishima island where the dotaku bells were found also attracts attention. According to the Hyogo prefectural board of education and others, 21 of the 68 dotaku bells that have been found in the prefecture, including the recently discovered seven, have been excavated on the island.

Regarding the Matsuho district, from which the pile of sand in which the seven dotaku bells were buried was taken, there is a record that several dotaku bells were found as early as 1686, during the early Edo period (1603-1868).

Meanwhile, mythologies on the creation of Japan in “Kojiki” (Record of Ancient Matters) and “Nihonshoki” (Chronicles of Japan) refer to Awajishima as having been created first, prompting some experts to suggest a possible connection with these mythologies.


Masaaki Ueda, professor emeritus at Kyoto University on ancient history, said, “Awajishima was a strategic point in the Seto Inland Sea. The latest discovery may reflect the fact that the place had been important since the Yayoi period.”


To read more about the possible uses of ancient bronze bells, see Treasure finds: magical mirrors and bronze bells.

Ancient salt production and trade in Japan

Salt, and iron, aside from rice, were the most precious economic and trading commodities and resources of ancient East Asian states. When the rulers of the polities controlled or monopolized trade in those resources, they gained the keys to the kingdom (See Chinese Discourses on Salt and Iron and Yellow River Emperor Huang Ti is said to have presided over a war fought over salt).

Photo: Ryo Murakami

Photo: Ryo Murakami

Japan developed its own unique method of salt production because the islands lacked salt lakes and rock salt mines. Moshio salt-making techniques involving seawater and seaweed gathered from the Seto-uchi Inland Sea began 2,500 years ago, and the region remained the most important of salt centres in Japan throughout (see “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky, p. 373). The Shio no Michi or salt road to the inland regions such as Shinshu-Nagano was one of the most important trade routes, with salt being the most important commodity of all.

Below is an article on the ancient heritage of salt production …the article focuses on methods that have been known in Japan since at least the 5th c. that are still seen today, although even earlier salt production centres, and salt production involving evaporation pots from 100 sites have been found, and have been known since the prehistoric and neolithic Jomon period.

Preserving Japan’s Sea Salt Making Tradition (Preserving Japan’s Sea Salt Making Tradition by Laura Cocora and Kaori Brand United Nations University

Japan’s culture is one of sea salt. For centuries, salt production has been an important activity throughout Japan and coastal communities have developed sophisticated techniques for producing this vital mineral from seawater.

One of the oldest records of salt making appears in the eighth-century chronicles of Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Japan’s oldest mythological and historical writings. There it is said that when the ship that brought water for the imperial table became too old to be used, it was turned into firewood used to boil thick brine down to salt that was then given away to the provinces. Snapshots of salt making scenes also appear in court poetry and in noh theatre. Typically, they depict the lonesomeness and isolation of salt shores.

Outside the world of literature, the importance of salt is reflected in the presence of salt routes, place names associated with salt and shrines where salt gods are worshipped. Salt is used as a cleansing and purifying agent in a variety of ritual contexts.

Salt making in Noto Peninsula

The small artisanal salt farms still found today on the shores of Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture stand as a symbol of the co-evolution of human societies and their environment in the context of the extraction and use of salt as a fundamental marine resource.

Salt production in Noto dates back at least as far as the fifth century, when small ceramic pots were used to boil the seawater. Later, these techniques fell into oblivion, as a new salt manufacturing method, known as the agehama style, started to develop sometime around the eighth century. The new method consisted of two separate stages — water was first drawn from the sea and spread on banked sand terraces to evaporate and the resulting brine was then boiled down over a specially constructed kiln.

Even after technological advances led to the introduction of a more efficient, labour-saving production method elsewhere in Japan, older agehama techniques live on in the Noto Peninsula. Their survival was the result of a locally-specific combination of natural environmental characteristics and socio-economic factors.

The peninsula’s rocky shoreline, with minimal tidal flows, and its climate (characterized by high humidity and limited sunshine) were not suitable for the new method that relied on the flooding of terraces by natural tidal variations.

Despite the not so favourable natural conditions, the tax policies of the Edo period’s (1603-1868) ruling local authorities, the Kaga Clan, played a crucial role in shaping the peninsula’s identity as a salt producing area. During the Edo period, rice was the basis of the taxation system, but cultivable land was scarce in Noto. Under the Kaga Clan’s ‘rice for salt’ system, farmers who did not own enough land to allow them to pay their rice taxes and secure the food necessary for their subsistence borrowed rice from the government, paying for it in salt at a fixed rate.

The clan held a monopoly on the salt trade, with profits from sales being used to pay up to a quarter of the daimyo’s (territorial lord) travels to the capital Edo (now Tokyo) as part of the system of alternate attendance established by the Edo shogunate (feudal military dictatorship).

The rice for salt system was instrumental in making salt production one of the most important occupations of people along the coasts of Noto, while restricting the salt workers’ freedom for social or geographical mobility.

Thus, the salt terraces that once lined the peninsula’s shores — which can still be seen in photographs from the 1940s — emerged as veritable ‘cultural landscapes’. These reflected not only the specific constraints and opportunities of the natural environment, but also a unique socio-economic context that fused the local people’s dependence on natural resources with their control by the elites.

The knowledge heritage of agehama salt making

In 1868, the Meiji Restoration marked the end of feudalism and launched an era of modernization influenced by western models. Overall social and economic restructuring, the abolition of the clan monopoly on salt, and the introduction of new policies and technologies led to a sharp decline in traditional salt production in Noto Peninsula. With new employment opportunities offering different life choices, former salt makers moved to other industries and salt terraces disappeared from the landscape.

When a new wave of salt industry modernization measures — introduced by the central government in 1958 — threatened to wipe out traditional production, the local administration of Suzu City in Ishikawa Prefecture provided funding to the families still practising this cultural tradition. Eventually, only one family remained. In recognition of its value, both culturally and as a tourism resource, agehama-style salt making was designated an intangible folk cultural asset of Ishikawa Prefecture in 1992 and a national intangible folk cultural asset by the Culture Agency in 2008, stimulating new initiatives to revive traditional techniques in recent years.

Agehama-style salt making, as practiced today in Noto, evokes the shadows of the salt farms as places of intense labour and the working and social conditions of the people employed in salt making. However, it is not only in the reconstruction of the past that its value resides, but also in the transmission of the traditional knowledge and practices that are vital to its survival.

On a first level, such traditional knowledge encompasses the architectural aspects, equipment and ways of production associated with salt making. While many of the tools and materials used have undergone little change for centuries, others have been replaced with new ones in the quest for comfort and efficiency. The artisanal knowledge needed to craft these tools and build ovens using traditional techniques is increasingly in danger of being lost.

Agehama-style salt makers are also custodians of a wealth of experiential and traditional knowledge of their natural environment, which includes elements of integrated management of land and marine ecosystems. Such knowledge embraces various dimensions, from the salt makers’ renowned ability to predict the weather by reading cloud patterns and sea currents, to their empirical knowledge of the state and change of marine ecosystems and resources.

Although salt makers now tend to use cheap wood waste from construction sites as fuel, in the past, salt production practices were closely connected with inland regions through the supply of fuel wood, with salt makers owning and managing forest areas to ensure a sustainable wood supply. The two-stage process of agehama salt making reflects this interconnectedness in its effort to reduce fuel consumption by relying on human and natural forces to produce a highly saturated brine solution prior to boiling.

Such elements of sustainable land and resource use at the landscape level make salt farms more than just salt yielding sites. They have the potential of contributing to new approaches to resource conservation and use, such as ‘satoumi’, a recently introduced concept designating socio-ecological production landscapes in coastal areas, which are managed for the ecosystem services they provide.

The question that remains unanswered is how the knowledge associated with these unique cultural landscapes — which have developed as part of salt’s complex itinerary in the culture and history of Japan — can be integrated with scientific knowledge to develop models of resource use and management that maintain or enhance natural values in the landscape.

• ♦ •

This video was produced by Kaori Brand of United Nations University in collaboration with Ishikawa Prefecture as part of an initiative on traditional knowledge and the wisdom of satoyama/satoumi charcoal and salt making traditions in Ishikawa.

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Preserving Japan’s Sea Salt Making Tradition (2010•06•09, Our World) by Laura Cocora is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Fortune-telling bone of wild boar found at ancient Makimuku ruins

The Yomiuri Shimbun A bokkotsu bone of a wild boar found at the ancient Makimuku ruins in Sakurai, Nara Prefectur

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A bokkotsu bone of a wild boar found at the ancient Makimuku ruins in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture

Feb 7, 2014 The Yomiuri Shimbun

NARA — The bone of a wild boar believed to have been used for fortune-telling sometime between the late 3rd century and early 4th century was found among the ancient Makimuku ruins in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture.

According to the Research Center for Makimukugau, the wild boar bone, or bokkotsu, was found in a hole at the ruins, which is known as one of the potential spots of the legendary Yamataikoku kingdom.

Bokkotsu has been discovered in sites around the nation, but it was the first found at the Makimuku ruins, which was believed to be the political center at the period.

“The bone suggests that ancient fortune-telling may have been passed down from generation to generation, and developed into a nationwide religious service at that time,” said a spokesman for the research center.

In ancient times, animal bones were burned for fortune-telling, with the shape of cracks left on the bones serving as a guide to the future. This style of fortune-telling was depicted in the Chinese documents of the “Gishi Wajin-den” (The Record of Japan in the History of Wei).

The bokkotsu found this time was 16.7-centimeter long and 6.7-centimeter wide in its widest area and is believed to have been taken from the right shoulder of a wild boar. It was found in a one-meter-deep hole at the ruins. Part of the bokkotsu is missing, and no cracks remain in the bone, but three marks on the bone show that a burned rod was pressed against it.

The late 3rd century is believed to be the era of Queen Toyo, the successor of Himiko, the powerful queen of the Yamataikoku who also conducted religious rites of the kingdom.

“Bokkotsu is believed to have been used for fortune-telling on important occasions, such as war, marriage and burial,” said Hironobu Ishino, director of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology.

“There is a possibility that Toyo was involved” in the fortune-telling, Ishino added.

Timber of Jomon period processed to make mortise-tenon joint discovered

A tiber with a tenon discovered at the Mawaki remains of the Jomon period

A tiber with a tenon discovered at the Mawaki remains of the Jomon period Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun, 30 Jan 2015
KANAZAWA — A rectangular timber with its tip shaped into a tenon, presumably from the Jomon period, has been discovered among ancient ruins in Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, according to the town’s board of education.

The timber, discovered at the town’s Mawaki remains from the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.), is believed to be the oldest of its kind ever found in Japan, according to the education board.

Until today, the mortise-tenon joint technique is believed to have started in the Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C. to A.D. 300), as no timbers with a tenon were discovered from any timber remains before the Yayoi period.

The mortise-tenon technique is a method used to join two pieces of timber. According to the announcement, the discovered timber, about 1 meter long, had a 10-centimeter-long tenon that is 6 centimeters thick.

The timber is 16 centimeters wide at its widest area and about 7 centimeters thick. The tenon and the joint part were elaborately whittled so the timber could be connected vertically. The shape of the tenon was close to that of a contemporary tenon, according to observers. No timber pieces with a corresponding mortise have been found.

“It is an important historical discovery in terms of studying woodwork from the Jomon period,” said Tokyo Metropolitan University Prof. Masahisa Yamada, an expert on archaeology who participated in the excavation. “It is possible the timber was made as part of a column for a special facility for a ritual of some sort, not for a house.”

According to Yamada, timbers were excavated from the Jomon-period Miyanomae remains in Hida, Gifu Prefecture, but they were not processed to make a mortise-tenon joint.

Primitive tenons had been disocvered in two ruins of the Jomon period — the Oshorodoba remains in Otaru, Hokkaido, and the Shimoyakabe remains in Higashi-Murayama, Tokyo. However, they were logs, and their tenons had been made simply by shaving the edge of the log.

Moat and remnants of a 7th c. burial mound, possibly an emperor’s, in Asuka found

The moat in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, that is believed to be part of the first burial site of Emperor Jomei (593-641) (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The moat in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, that is believed to be part of the first burial site of Emperor Jomei (593-641) (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Possible ruins of ancient emperor’s grave unearthed in Asuka
January 16, 2015, Asahi AWJ

ASUKA, Nara Prefecture–Local archaeologists said Jan. 15 that they have unearthed the remnants of a possible mid-seventh century burial mound for an ancient emperor at the Koyamada ruins on the site of a school.

“The mound is highly likely the first burial site of Emperor Jomei (593-641), described in the ‘Nihon Shoki’ (The Chronicles of Japan) as the place where his body rested until it was later transferred to another location,” said Fuminori Sugaya, the director of the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture.

The researchers made the estimate based on the ruin’s location, size and unique construction method.

The ancient emperor was the father of two more well-known emperors, Emperor Tenji (626-671) and Emperor Tenmu (?-686).

The ruins were excavated during archaeological digging associated with school replacement work on the site.

An aerial view of newly discovered remains at the burial mound Photo:  Kazunori Takahashi

An aerial view of newly discovered remains at the burial mound Photo: Kazunori Takahashi

The excavation site contains what is believed to be part of a moat lined with boulders along one of its slopes, according to the researchers. The remnants of the moat measures 48 meters in length and 3.9 to 7 meters in width.

An artist rendering of how the burial mound originally looked (Provided by the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara)

An artist rendering of how the burial mound originally looked (Provided by the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara)

While 40-centimeter quartz diorite boulders line the northern slope of the moat, the bottom is covered with stones measuring 15 cm to 30 cm.

The southern slope is covered with flagstones made of two-step chlorite schist that are topped with special flagstones known as “Haibara,” a type of rhyolite stone, stacked in a staircase pattern. The total number of steps in some areas is 10.

Based on speculation that the ruins are a moat belonging to a burial site, the researchers estimate the mound was square-shaped with each side measuring 50 to 80 meters, far larger in size than the ancient and renowned Ishibutai grave in Asuka, which measures 50 meters by 50 meters.

It is rare for chlorite schist and Haibara stones to be laid out around a burial mound.

The Dannozuka burial mound in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, which has been designated as Jomei’s grave by the Imperial Household Agency, was built according to the same design and with the same materials.

Chinkon, cloudsoul, soul-summoning and soul-shaking practices – origins and theories

Emperor  the Raifuku (outer robe) of the ceremonial court costume of the emperor. This ceremonial court costume originates in the Nara-period (710-784) when the court-ceremonials were designed

The Raifuku (outer robe) of the ceremonial court costume of the Emperor Komei(r. 1846-1866). This ceremonial court costume originates in the Nara-period (710-784) Imperial Collections of Japan  Source: Japanese Symbols of Government

From a previous post “Ainu cloud motif and their creation myth of deity’s descent on five-colored cloud“, we traced the use of the cloud motif and symbolism in conjunction with deities or divinities, ancestors, sages and heroes to their early use both in art and in concepts in genealogies and myths of the peoples of the Northeast Eurasia or Far East.

From Eccentric Spaces, Hidden Histories: Narrative, Ritual, and Royal Authority” by David T. Bialock, comes an understanding of the origin of the “chinkon” and tama “cloudsoul” concept and the rites, and the purpose behind it and the cosmological framework that surrounded it:

Although Nihon shoki’s entry on Temmu’s rite is regarded as the earliest extant mention of the chinkon (spirit pacification), the graphs glossed as “mitama-furi” in the text are actually shokon, also read tama-yobai (“soul-summoning”). The conventional chinkon reading of the passage together with its vernacular gloss “mitama-furi” probably dates from a commentarial tradition transmitted by the Urabe lineage. Thus, according to a secret kun-reading given in the twenty-first scroll of the Shaku nihongi, the graphs were intended to be read “mitama-furi,” a ritual elsewhere represented in Shaku nihongi by the graphs chinkonsai. This eading of the graphs, now well established, was also argued for by Ban Nobutomo in his classic study Chinkon den, where he noted that the phrase “should be recorded as , but one can surmise that it was written in conformance with the usual Chinese practice.”51
… turn to some descriptions of the chinkon rite in the law codes and their commentaries, which have been the basis for most attempts to construct its ancient ritual function. These include the Taiho Code o 701 (extant only fragmentarily in the later Yoro Code), the Ryo no shuge (selected in 833), and the Ryo no guge (selected prior to 868). According to the Taiho Code , the chinkonsai was held in midwinter in the Eleventh Month on a tora no hi (days of the tiger), and followed by the daijosai on a u no hi (day of the rabbit), a period that coincided with the winter solstice. In Chinese yin-yang five agents thought, both of these days were identified with the agent wood (the beginning of the cycle), which corresponded to the direction east and the season spring. Both the month and days were a time when the positive yang pneumas were believed to mount upward and all things were held to be in a state of movement. It was thus an ideal time for initiating activities such as royal accessions. 52
turning to some actual definitions of the chinkon rite, we find the following explanation in the Ryo no gige under the heading chinkon: “The graph means to pacify. A person’s yang spirit (yoki) is called soul (tama). The tama moves about, meaning one summons back the tama that wanders about in a state of separation and pacifies it inside the body (literally “bowels”.] Therefore it is named “chinkon” (to pacify the soul), another definition from the Ryo no shuge contains some additional details: A person’s yang spirit is called ‘kon’ it moves about. A person’s yin spirit is called ‘haku’ it is white. Therefore one calls back the white soul wandering about in a state of separation and causes it to be pacified inside the bowels. Therefore it is called chinkon.
The exact source for the ideas contained in these descriptions remains uncertain, but the language recalls ancient Chinese ideas about the fate of the soul after death. According to the Li ji: the yang qi of the “cloudsoul” (hun) rises up to the sky (tian) after death, whereas the yin or dark elements associated with the body or “whitesoul” (po) return to the earth. 55 Another passage in the Li Ji , on the rites of mourning , speaks of summoning back the cloudsoul and returning it to the body (po)56. It was under the influence of such commentaries, according to Watanabe Katsuyoshi, that modern scholars developed the idea of a “soul that wanders about in separation from its body” and interpreted chinkon as a rite primarily aimed at preventing such separation by placating the “tama” and thereby obviating the illness and death that were held to result from such separation57.
The yin-yang five agents principles and the related concept of “qi” which informed the ritual setting (temporal and geomantic) of the chinkonsai and the descriptive language of the law doctors, were fundamental, of course to Chinese philosophical thought. In Daoism, the induction of qi into the body and its proper regulation became one of the basic practices for achieving longevity, a central concern of later Daoist literature, as in Xiang’er’s commentary on the Daodejing, which also functioned as a guide to the enlightened ruler.58 thus in Bokenkamp’s paraphrase of one Xiang’er passage “the pneumas of morning and evening should be caused to descend into the human body , where they should be mixed with the body’s own pneumas so that they are evenly distributed throughout.” On the other hand, this time citing directly from the Xiang’er “When the heart produced ill-omened and evil conduct, the Dao departs, leaving the sack (belly) empty. Once it is empty, deviance enters, killing the person.”60 As these citations make clear, the principle of balancing and harmonizing qu was of paramount importance; deviance” (xie) on the other hand, arose from a  failure to achieve a proper balance or mixing o pneumas resulting in illness and death. … The emphasis in the Xiang’er passage on the belly, for example, recalls what Watanabe characterizes as the peculiar language of the law commentaries where the aim of the rite was to draw the erring “tama” back into the “bowel“.  A related notion found in the Chuxue ji, a Tang period encyclopedia compiled at the order of Emperor Xuangzong (r. 712-756), states that on the winter solstice the yang qi is restored to the belly and hot things placed in qi are easily digested.61 If this Daoist medical advice offers a parallel to the ideas of the law doctors in their attempts to describe the chinkon rite, recipes for the production of immortality elixirs provide a suggestive context for understanding the relationship between the medicinal herb and Temmu’s spirit-summoning rite. An entry from scroll seventy-seven on “elixirs” in Yunqi qiqian (Seven Lots from the Satchel of the Clouds), an encyclopedia of older Daoist texts and extracts compiled under the Northern Song, describes a life-extending elixir called lingwan that allows one to “pacify the cloud souls, coagulate the white souls, and fly off into the seventy-four directions,” and in another passage “to sport about on the Five Mountain Peaks.” Not least interesting here is the combination of graphs chinkon, “pacify the cloud souls”) the same two graphs that are used for the Japanese chinkon or “mitama-furi” rite.  Another entry from the Inner Transmission of the Purple Sun Master (Ziyang zhenren neichuan, 399), collected in scroll 106 of the Yunji qiqian, relates that the consumption of zhu over a period of five years–the same medicinal herb ingested by Temmu–produces a glow in the body, gives one a vision that can see right through to the five viscera, and enables one to become an immortal.

By now it should be evident that Temmu’s ingestion of the herb hakuchi cannot be fully accounted for by a straitforward medical reading. The calendrical and yin-yang principles that informed its consumption and the accompanying shokon rite belonged to the same sphere of symbolic activity that would soon be housed in the Yin-Yang bureau and Medical bureau and as the following notice from Jito’s chronicle makes clear: “The Yin-yang Doctors, the priest (shoshi) Hozo and Doki, received twenty of ryo of silver.”64 The date of this third reference to Hozo, just prior to the establishment of the official Yin-Yang Bureau, indicates that he was one of than important group of technical experts who mediated the cultural assemblage transmitted from  the continent. Although the ingestion of the herb zhu (hakuchi) and its efficacy as both a medicinal and immortality elixir are well documented in Daoist lore and herbals the practice seems to have especially flourished in the period of the Southern dynasties (420-589) when Tao Hongjing composed his herbal and Daoist works.65  It can be assumed that Hozo, a Paekche immigrant would have been knowledgeable about this tradition–its influence having reached the Korean kingdom–as well as conversant with practices from Tao honjing’s region that were outside the written transmission.66  In the early Tang work Qianjinyaogang (Essential Prescriptions Worth a hundred Weight in Gold), composed by the Daoist master and physician Sun Simiao (d. 682) sometimes between 650 and 658. Predating the Tang medical reforms , this text transmitted a tradition very close to the earlier Southern dynasties ‘ tradition and contained detailed discussions on the preparation of zhu and its capacity to harmonize in accord with yin-yang five agents principles.67

The cosmological theory of resonance, much of which is recorded in the Gogyo taigi that reached Japan no later than the end of the seventh century invests Temmu’s ingestion of the elixir and the shokon rite with its reliopolitical significance. Held in the Eleventh Month on a a tora no hi (day of the tiger), the rite’s timing corresponded to the agent wood and the direction east. In Daoist medical lore pertaining to the five viscera, the cloudsoul (kon) resided in the liver (kan), which was identified with the element wood and controlled the eyes, hair, nail, and muscles. The liver was also known as the Office of the General, the faculty responsible for wise counsel; and its element wood was identified with “virtue” (jin) that actifies the myriad things making its analogous to the ruler.68 According to another text cited in Gogyo taigi, The lineage of Thearchs (DIXI pu), “Heaven and earth first arose, then generated the Heavenly Thearch (tenno) who rules through the virtue wood,” a formulation that derives from the symbolism of the hexagram zhen, identified variously with lightning, the dragon and the dark springs. The Yijing states that the thearch and myriad things arise from zhen, with zhen identified with the direction east.69 Although these correspondences add weight to the medical aim of this  hybrid rite, they do so by locating Temmu at the center of a radiating cosmological order, which gains additional significance because the rite took place at a critical juncture when the tenno was being newly adopted as a title of authority.70

The belief of musubi – binding the soul to keep it from wandering off (see also The symbolism of knots, and Frazer on the separable external soul)

During the Chinkonsai,

“The chief officiant counts eight times from one to ten, knotting the yufu each time. By tying knots in this symbol of the emperor’s life span, the officiant keeps his tama from slipping away. the eight times and eight knots refer to the eight musubi (binding) tama of deities.
As one can see by these examples, the mitamashizume or chinkon-sai was a ritual means to fix the emperor’s tama so that it would not leave his body. the ancient Japanese greatly feared wandering tama and made the utmost efforts to affix them. A similar ceremony is still being carried out secretly each year at the Isonokami shrine (Renri City, Nara prefecture). This ritual may have to do partly with the Kyujiki, a text which gives much more importance to the Mononobe clan whose ancestral deity is enshrined at Isonokami, than the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.
Such tamafuri and tamashizume rituals were often popularly called iki-bon, the Bon of living spirits. the Buddhist Urabon festival of late summer, however, a festival primarily concerned with the souls of the dead, has now superseded in importance this ceremony for the souls of the living.”

Source: Rethinking Japan Vol 1.: Literature, Visual Arts & Linguistics (by Adriana Boscaro, Franco Gatti, Massimo Raveri)

The Taoist concept of soul summoning may have been transmitted via Korean immigrants, or directly by Chinese immigrants, or both.

A celestial being on a cloud motif seen on a bronze bell of the Korean kingdom Silla. c. 833  Photo:  Wikimedia Commons

A celestial being on a cloud motif seen on an ancient bronze bell of the Korean kingdom Silla. c. 833 Photo source: Imperial Japanese Commission to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition: Japanese Temples and their Treasures (The Shimbi Shoin 1915) Wikimedia Commons

Chinkon rituals of “shaking the soul”

From Ze’ev Erlich’s Torifune and tama furi:

TAMA FURI/ Furitama-no-Gyo
Tama(soul) Furi (shake) basic meaning is the self Chin-kon and relates directly to the furube-no-kamu-waza of Chinkon Saho.
Furitama ( Soul Shaking)
1. Stand with your legs apart about shoulder width .
2. Place your hands together with the right hand over the left. Leave space between them big enough for an imaginary ping pong ball.
3. Place your hands in that position in front of your stomach and 0shake them vigorously up and down.
4. While shaking them concentrate and repeat the words: Harae-do-no-Okami – an invocation to the kami of the place of harai.

The Object Furitama-no-gyo

The purpose of shaking the soul is to generate awareness of it within yourself. Kon, (the soul), in Shinto, is one of the four important elements along with Mei (life), Rei (spirit) and Ki (which means Spirit in its causal aspect – Ki is a kind of energy source). Kon is the most important of the four since human beings can also be described as Waketama (separated individual souls), which is another way of saying “children of the kami”.

In Chinese art, an ancient cloud “meander” motif is related to the Hun and Po concepts of the afterlife. The cloud is a commonly seen design and when repeated in a pattern symbolizes never-ending fortune.

Clouds, sometimes referred to as “auspicious clouds” (xiangyun 祥云), represent the heavens and also “good luck” because the Chinese word for cloud (yun 云) is pronounced the same as yun (运) meaning “luck” or “fortune”. Auspicious clouds may be seen on coins and charms or amulets.

The cloud motif or form often resembles the auspicious shape of the lingzhi “fungus of immortality”. These are concepts that are related to thunder and the ability to call down rain, and also closely related to dragon and star symbolism.  (Source: The Hidden or Implied Meaning of Chinese Charm Symbols)


Theories on the Taoist concepts of Hun and Po souls

Chinese Taoist or daoist texts

Hun controls yang spirits in the body,
Po controls yin spirits in the body,
all are made of qi.
Hun is responsible for all formless consciousness,
including the three treasures: jing, qi and shen.
Po is responsible for all tangible consciousness,
including the seven apertures: two eyes, two ears, two nose holes, mouth.
Therefore, we call them 3-Hun and 7-Po.

Master Hu continues with an elaboration of these dynamics; and ends by pointing out that, like all of cyclic existence, the relationship between Hun and Po is a seemingly “endless cycle,” which is transcended “only by the achieved,” i.e. by the Immortals (in their transcendence of all duality):

He Yin-Yang’s Framework For Understanding Hun & Po

Another way of understanding Hun and Po is as an expression of Yin and Yang. As Twicken points out, the Yin-Yang framework is the foundational model of Chinese metaphysics. In other words: it is in understanding how Yin and Yang relate to one another (as mutually-arising and inter-dependent) that we can understand how — from a Taoist perspective — all pairs of opposites “dance” together, as not-two and not-one: appearing without actually “existing” as permanent, fixed “entities.”

In this way of viewing things, Po is associated with Yin. It is the more dense or physical of the two “spirits,” and is known also as the “corporeal soul,” since it returns to earth — dissolving into gross elements — at time of the time of the death of the body.

Hun, on the other hand, is associated with Yang, since it is the more light or subtle of the two “spirits.” It’s known also as the “ethereal soul,” and at the time of death leaves body to merge into more subtle realms of existence.

In the process of Taoist cultivation, the practitioner seeks to harmonize the Hun and Po, in a way which gradually allows the Po (the more dense) aspects to more and more fully support the Hun (the more subtle) aspects. The outcome of this kind of refinement process is the manifestation of a way-of-being and way-of-perceiving known by Taoist practitioners as “Heaven on Earth.”

Staying & Moving In The Mahamudra Tradition

In the Tibetan Mahamudra tradition (associated primarily with the Kagyu lineage), a distinction is drawn between the “staying” and the “moving” aspects of mind.

The “staying” aspect of mind refers more-or-less to what is sometimes also called the “witnessing” capacity. It is the perspective from which the arising and dissolving of various phenomena (thoughts, sensations, perceptions) is observed. It is the aspect of mind which has the capacity to remain (and is quite naturally) “continuously present,” and unaffected by the “objects” or “events” that arise within it.

The “moving” aspect of mind refers to the various appearances which — like waves on an ocean — arise and dissolve. These are the “objects” and “events” that seem (at least initially) to have a space/time duration: an arising, an abiding, and a dissolution. As such, they seem to undergo change or transformation — in opposition to the “staying” aspect of mind, which is unchanging.

A Mahamudra practitioner trains, first, in the capacity to toggle back and forth between these two (“staying” and “moving”) perspectives (known also as the “mind-perspective” and the “event-perspective”). And then, eventually, to experience them as simultaneously-arising and indistinguishable (i.e. nondual) — in the way that waves and ocean, as water, actually are mutually-arising and indistinguishable.

Taoism Meets Mahamudra, For A Cup Of Tea

The resolution of the moving/staying polarity, I would suggest, is basically equivalent (or at least opens the way for) the transcending of what Master Hu refers to as the tangible-consciousness/formless-consciousness polarity; and the absorption of the more densely-vibrating Po into the more subtle Hun.

Or, to put it another way: the corporeal Po “serves” the ethereal Hun — in Taoist cultivation — to the extent that mind’s appearances become self-aware, i.e. conscious of their source & destination in/as the Hun — like waves becoming conscious of their essential nature as water.

Source: Hun and Po

Hun (ChinesepinyinhúnWade–Gileshun; literally: “cloud-soul”) and po (ChinesepinyinWade–Gilesp’o; literally: “white-soul”) are types of souls in Chinese philosophy and traditional religion. Within this ancient soul dualism tradition, every living human has both a hunspiritual, ethereal, yang soul which leaves the body after death, and also a po corporeal, substantive, yin soul which remains with the corpse of the deceased. Some controversy exists over the number of souls in a person; for instance, one of the traditions within Daoism proposes a soul structure of sanhunqipo 三魂七魄; that is, “three hun and seven po“. The historian Yü Ying-shih describes hun and po as “two pivotal concepts that have been, and remain today, the key to understanding Chinese views of the human soul and the afterlife.”[1]

The Chinese characters 魂 and 魄 for hun and po typify the most common character classification of “radical-phonetic” or “phono-semantic” graphs, which combine a “radical” or “signific” (recurring graphic elements that roughly provide semanticinformation) with a “phonetic” (suggesting ancient pronunciation). Hun  (or 䰟) and po  have the “ghost radical” gui  “ghost; devil” and phonetics of yun  “cloud; cloudy” and bai  “white; clear; pure”.

Besides the common meaning of “a soul”, po 魄 was a variant Chinese character for po  “a lunar phase” and po  “dregs”. The Shujing “Book of History” used po 魄 as a graphic variant for po 霸 “dark aspect of the moon” – this character usually means ba 霸 “overlord; hegemon”. For example, “On the third month, when (the growth phase, 生魄) of the moon began to wane, the duke of Chow [i.e., Duke of Zhou] commenced the foundations, and proceeded to build the new great city of Lǒ” (tr. Legge 1865:434). The Zhuangzi “[Writings of] Master Zhuang” wrote zaopo 糟粕 (lit. “rotten dregs”) “worthless; unwanted; waste matter” with a po 魄 variant. A wheelwright sees Duke Huan of Qi with books by dead sages and says, “what you are reading there is nothing but the [糟魄] chaff and dregs of the men of old!” (tr. Watson 1968:152).

In the history of Chinese writing, characters for po 魄/霸 “lunar brightness” appeared before those for hun 魂 “soul; spirit”. The spiritual hun 魂 and po 魄 “dual souls” are first recorded in Warring States period (475–221 BCE) Seal Script characters. The lunar po 魄 or 霸 “moon’s brightness” appears in both Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BCE) Bronzeware script and Oracle bone script, but not in Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 BCE) oracle inscriptions. The earliest form of this “lunar brightness” character was found on a (ca. 11th century BCE) Zhou oracle bone inscription (Yü 1987:370).


The po soul’s etymology is better understood than the hun soul’s. Schuessler (2007:290, 417) reconstructs hun 魂 “‘spiritual soul’ which makes a human personality” and po 魄 “vegetative or animal soul … which accounts for growth and physiological functions” as Middle Chinese γuən and pʰak from Old Chinese *wûn and *phrâk.

The (ca. 80 CE) Baihu Tang 白虎堂 gave pseudo-etymologies for hun and po through Chinese character puns. It explains hun 魂 with zhuan 傳 “deliver; pass on; impart; spread” and yun 芸 “rue (used to keep insects out of books); to weed”, and po 魄 withpo 迫 ” compel; force; coerce; urgent” and bai 白 “white; bright”.

What do the words hun and [po] mean? Hun expresses the idea of continuous propagation ([zhuan] 傳), unresting flight; it is the qi of the Lesser Yang, working in man in an external direction, and it governs the nature (or the instincts, [xing] 性). [Po] expresses the idea of a continuous pressing urge ([po] 迫) on man; it is the [qi] of the Lesser Yin, and works in him, governing the emotions ([qing] 情). Hun is connected with the idea of weeding ([yun] 芸), for with the instincts the evil weeds (in man’s nature) are removed. [Po] is connected with the idea of brightening ([bai] 白), for with the emotions the interior (of the personality) is governed. (tr. Needham and Lu 1974:87)

Etymologically, Schuessler says  魄 “animal soul” “is the same word as”  霸 “a lunar phase“. He cites the Zuozhuan (534 BCE, see below) using the lunar jishengpo 既生魄 to mean “With the first development of a fetus grows the vegetative soul”.

, the soul responsible for growth, is the same as  the waxing and waning of the moon”. The meaning ‘soul’ has probably been transferred from the moon since men must have been aware of lunar phases long before they had developed theories on the soul. This is supported by the etymology ‘bright’, and by the inverted word order which can only have originated with meteorological expressions … The association with the moon explains perhaps why the  soul is classified as Yin … in spite of the etymology ‘bright’ (which should be Yang), hun’s Yang classificiation may be due to the association with clouds and by extension sky, even though the word invokes ‘dark’. ‘Soul’ and ‘moon’ are related in other cultures, by cognation or convergence, as in Tibeto-Burman and Proto-Lolo–Burmese *s/ʼ-la “moon; soul; spirit”, Written Tibetan cognates bla “soul” and zla “moon”, and Proto-Miao–Yao *bla “spirit; soul; moon”. (2007:417)

Lunar associations of po are evident in the Classical Chinese terms chanpo 蟾魄 “the moon” (with “toad; toad in the moon; moon”) and haopo 皓魄 “moon; moonlight” (with “white; bright; luminous”).

The semantics of po 魄 “white soul” probably originated with 霸 “lunar whiteness”. Zhou bronze inscriptions commonly recorded lunar phases with the terms jishengpo 既生魄 “after the brightness has grown” and jisipo 既死魄 “after the brightness has died”, which Schuessler explains as “second quarter of the lunar month” and “last quarter of the lunar month”. Chinese scholars have variously interpreted these two terms as lunar quarters or fixed days, and (Shaughnessy 1992:136–145) Wang Guowei‘s lunar-quarter analysis the most likely. Thus, jishengpo is from the 7th/8th to the 14th/15th days of the lunar month and jisipo is from the 23rd/24th to the end of the month. Yü (1987:370) translates them as “after the birth of the crescent” and “after the death of the crescent”. Etymologically, lunar and spiritual po <pʰak < *phrâk 魄 are cognate with bai < bɐk < *brâk 白 “white” (Matisoff 1980, Yü 1981, Carr 1985). According to Hu Shih (1946:30), po etymologically means “white, whiteness, and bright light”; “The primitive Chinese seem to have regarded the changing phases of the moon as periodic birth and death of its [po], its ‘white light’ or soul.” Yü (1981:83) says this ancient association between the po soul and the “growing light of the new moon is of tremendous importance to our understanding of certain myths related to the seventh day of the months.” Two celebrated examples in Chinese mythology are Xi Wangmu and Emperor Wu meeting on the seventh day of the first lunar month and The Princess and the Cowherd or Qixi Festival held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

The etymology of hun < γuən < *wûn 魂 is comparatively less certain. Hu (1946:31) said, “The word hun is etymologically the same as the word yun, meaning “clouds.” The clouds float about and seem more free and more active than the cold, white-lighted portion of the growing and waning moon.” Schuessler cites two possibilities.

Since  is the ‘bright’ soul, hún is the ‘dark’ soul and therefore cognate to yún 雲 ‘cloud’ [Carr 1985:62], perhaps in the sense of ‘shadowy’ because some believe that the hún soul will live after death in a world of shadows [Eberhard 1967:17]. (2007:290)

Both Chinese hun and po are translatable as English “soul” or “spirit“, and both are basic components in “soul” compounds. In the following examples, all Chinese-English translation equivalents are from DeFrancis (2003).

  • hunpo 魂魄 “soul; psyche”
  • linghun 靈魂 “soul; spirit”
  • hunling 魂靈 “(colloquial) soul; ghost”
  • yinhun 陰魂 “soul; spirit; apparition”
  • sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 “soul; three finer spirits and several baser instincts that motivate a human being”
  • xinpo 心魄 “soul”

Hunpo and linghun are the most frequently used among these “soul” words.

Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-djen, eminent historians of science and technology in China, (1974:88) define hun and po in modern terms. “Peering as far as one can into these ancient psycho-physiological ideas, one gains the impression that the distinction was something like that between what we would call motor and sensory activity on the one hand, and also voluntary as against vegetative processes on the other.”

Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein (2008:521) cautions about hun and po translations: “Although the term “souls” is often used to refer to them, they are better seen as two types of vital entities, the source of life in every individual. The hun is Yang, luminous, and volatile, while the po is Yin, somber, and heavy.”


Based on Zuozhuan usages of hun and po in four historical contexts, Yü (1987:370) extrapolates that po was the original name for a human soul, and the dualistic conception of hun and po “began to gain currency in the middle of the sixth century” BCE.

Two earlier 6th century contexts used the po soul alone. Both describe Tian 天 “heaven; god” duo 奪 “seizing; taking away” a person’s po, which resulted in a loss of mental faculties. In 593 BCE (Duke Xuan 15th year, tr. Legge 1872:329), after Zhao Tong 趙同 behaved inappropriately at the Zhou court, an observer predicted: “In less than ten years [Zhao Tong] will be sure to meet with great calamity. Heaven has taken his [魄] wits away from him.” In 543 BCE (Duke Xiang 29th year, tr. Legge 1872:551), Boyou 伯有 from Zheng (state) acted irrationally, which an official interpreted as: “Heaven is destroying [Boyou], and has taken away his [魄] reason.” Boyou’s political enemies subsequently arranged to take away his hereditary position and assassinate him.

Two later 6th century Zuozhuan contexts used po together with the hun soul. In 534 BCE (Duke Zhao 7th year, tr. Legge 1872:618), the ghost of Boyou 伯有 (above) was seeking revenge on his murderers, and terrifying the people of Zheng. The philosopher and statesman Zi Chan, realizing that Boyou’s loss of hereditary office had caused his spirit to be deprived of sacrifices, reinstated his son to the family position, and the ghost disappeared. When a friend asked Zi Chan to explain ghosts, he gave what Yu (1972:372) calls “the locus classicus on the subject of the human soul in the Chinese tradition.”

When a man is born, (we see) in his first movements what is called the [魄] animal soul. [既生魄] After this has been produced, it is developed into what is called the [魂] spirit. By the use of things the subtle elements are multiplied, and the [魂魄] soul and spirit become strong. They go on in this way, growing in etherealness and brightness, till they become (thoroughly) spiritual and intelligent. When an ordinary man or woman dies a violent death, the [魂魄] soul and spirit are still able to keep hanging about men in the shape of an evil apparition; how much more might this be expected in the case of [Boyou]. … Belonging to a family which had held for three generations the handle of government, his use of things had been extensive, the subtle essences which he had imbibed had been many. His clan also was a great one, and his connexions [sic] were distinguished. Is it not entirely reasonable that, having died a violent death, he should be a [鬼] ghost?

Compare the translation of Needham and Lu (1974:86), who interpret this as an early Chinese discourse on embryology.

When a foetus begins to develop, it is (due to) the [po]. (When this soul has given it a form) then comes the Yang part, called hun. The essences ([qing] 情) of many things (wu 物) then give strength to these (two souls), and so they acquire the vitality, animation and good cheer (shuang 爽) of these essences. Thus eventually there arises spirituality and intelligence (shen ming 神明).”

In 516 BCE (Duke Zhao 20th year, tr. Legge 1872:708), the Duke of Song (state) and a guest named Shusun 叔孫 were both seen weeping during a supposedly joyful gathering. Yue Qi 樂祁, a Song court official, said:

“This year both our ruler and [Shusun] are likely to die. I have heard that joy in the midst of grief and grief in the midst of joy are signs of a loss of [xin 心] mind. The essential vigor and brightness of the mind is what we call the [hun] and the [po]. When these leave it, how can the man continue long?” Hun and po souls, explains Yu (1987:371), “are regarded as the very essence of the mind, the source of knowledge and intelligence. Death is thought to follow inevitably when the hun and the p’o leave the body. We have reason to believe that around this time the idea of hun was still relatively new.”

Silk painting found in the (168 BCE) tomb of Lady Dai at Mawangdui, interpreted (Yü 1987:367) as depicting her hun soul ascending to heaven and her family performing the zhaohun“summoning the soul” ritual below.

Soon after death, it was believed that a person’s hun and po could be temporarily reunited through a ritual called the fu 復 “recall; return”, zhaohun 招魂 “summon the hun soul”, or zhaohun fupo 招魂復魄 “to summon the hun-soul to reunite with the po-soul”. The earliest known account of this ritual is found in the (3rd century BCE) Chu Ci poems Zhaohun 招魂 “Summons of the Soul” and Dazhao 大招 “The Great Summons” (Csikszentmihalyi 2006:140–141). For example, Wu/Shaman Yang 巫陽 summons a man’s soul in Zhaohun.

O soul, come back! Why have you left your old abode and sped to the earth’s far corners, deserting the place of your delight to meet all those things of evil omen?

O soul, come back! In the east you cannot abide. There are giants there a thousand fathoms tall, who seek only for souls to catch, and ten suns that come out together, melting metal, dissolving stone …
O soul, come back! In the south you cannot stay. There the people have tattooed faces and blackened teeth, they sacrifice flesh of men, and pound their bones to paste …
O soul, come back! For the west holds many perils: The Moving Sands stretch on for a hundred leagues. You will be swept into the Thunder’s Chasm and dashed in pieces, unable to help yourself …
O soul, come back! In the north you may not stay. There the layered ice rises high, and the snowflakes fly for a hundred leagues and more…
O soul, come back! Climb not to heaven above. For tigers and leopards guard the gates, with jaws ever ready to rend up mortal men …

O soul, come back! Go not down to the Land of Darkness, where the Earth God lies, nine-coiled, with dreadful horns on his forehead, and a great humped back and bloody thumbs, pursuing men, swift-footed … (tr. Hawkes 1985:244–5)

Hu (1946:31–32) proposed, “The idea of a hun may have been a contribution from the southern peoples” (who originated zhaohun rituals) and then spread to the north sometime during the sixth century BCE. Calling this southern hypothesis “quite possible”, Yu (1987:373) cites the Chuci (associated with the southern state of Chu) demonstrating “there can be little doubt that in the southern tradition the hun was regarded as a more active and vital soul than the p’o. The Chuci uses hun 65 times and po 5 times (4 in hunpo, which the Chuci uses interchangeably with hun, Brashier 1996:131).  [On the other hand, it has been shown that that cloud symbolism and the cloudsoul hun has been a distinctive belief and genealogical tradition of all the northeast Asians and Central Asians since prehistoric times which suggests a much earlier northern provenance originating with the tumuli-building peoples.]

The identification of the yin-yang principle with the hun and po souls evidently occurred in the late fourth and early third centuries BCE (Yü 1987:374), and by “the second century at the latest, the Chinese dualistic conception of soul had reached its definitive formulation.” The Liji (11, tr. Legge 1885:444) compounds hun and po with qi “breath; life force” and xing “form; shape; body” in hunqi 魂氣 and xingpo 形魄. “The [魂氣] intelligent spirit returns to heaven the [形魄] body and the animal soul return to the earth; and hence arose the idea of seeking (for the deceased) in sacrifice in the unseen darkness and in the bright region above.” Compare this modern translation (Yü 1987:374), “The breath-soul (hun-ch’I 魂氣) returns to heaven; the bodily soul (hsing-p’o 形魄) returns to earth. Therefore, in sacrificial-offering one should seek the meaning in the yin-yang 陰陽 principle.” Yü summarizes hun/po dualism.

Ancient Chinese generally believed that the individual human life consists of a bodily part as well as a spiritual part. The physical body relies for its existence on food and drink produced by the earth. The spirit depends for its existence on the invisible life force called ch’i, which comes into the body from heaven. In other words, breathing and eating are the two basic activities by which a man continually maintains his life. But the body and the spirit are each governed by a soul, namely, the p’o and the hun. It is for this reason that they are referred to in the passage just quoted above as the bodily-soul (hsing-p’o) and the breath-soul (hun-ch’i) respectively. (Yü 1987:376)

Loewe (1979:9) explains with a candle metaphor; the physical xing is the “wick and substance of a candle”, the spiritual po and hun are the “force that keeps the candle alight” and “light that emanates from the candle”.

The Yin po and Yang hun were correlated with Chinese spiritual and medical beliefs. Hun 魂 is associated with shen 神 “spirit; god” and po 魄with gui 鬼 “ghost; demon; devil” (Carr 1985:62). The (ca. 1st century BCE) Lingshu Jing medical text spiritually applies Wu Xing “Five Phase” theory to the Zang-fu “organs”, associating the hun soul with liver (Chinese medicine) and blood, and the po soul with lung (Chinese medicine) and breath.

The liver stores the blood, and the blood houses the hun. When the vital energies of the liver are depleted, this results in fear; when repleted, this results in anger. … The lungs store the breath, and the breath houses the po. When the vital energies of the lungs are depleted, then the nose becomes blocked and useless, and so there is diminished breath; when they are repleted, there is panting, a full chest, and one must elevate the head to breathe. (tr. Brashier 1996:141)

The Lingshu (Brashier 1996:142) also records that the hun and po souls taking flight can cause restless dreaming, and eye disorders can scatter the souls causing mental confusion. Han medical texts reveal that hun and po departing from the body does not necessarily cause death but rather distress and sickness. Brashier (1996:145–6) parallels the translation of hun and po, “If one were to put an English word to them, they are our “wits”, our ability to demarcate clearly, and like the English concept of “wits,” they can be scared out of us or can dissipate in old age.”

Jade burial suits were believed to delay the bodily po soul’s decomposition.

During the Han Dynasty, the belief in hun and po remained prominent, although there was a great diversity of different, sometimes contradictory, beliefs about the afterlife (Hansen 2000:119; Csikszentmihalyi 2006:116–117, 140–142). (Many of Japanese tumuli period funerary beliefs were influenced by Han Dynasty period beliefs.) Han burial customs provided nourishment and comfort for the po with the placement of grave goods, including food, commodities, and even money within the tomb of the deceased (Hansen 2000:119). Chinese jade was believed to delay the decomposition of a body. Pieces of jade were commonly placed in bodily orifices, or rarely crafted into jade burial suits.

Generations of sinologists have repeatedly asserted that Han-era people commonly believed the heavenly hun and earthly po souls separated at death, but recent scholarship and archaeology suggest that hunpo dualism was more an academic theory than a popular faith. Anna Seidel analyzed funerary texts discovered in Han tombs, which mention not only po souls but also hun remaining with entombed corpses, and wrote (1982:107), “Indeed, a clear separation of a p’o, appeased with the wealth included in the tomb, from a hun departed to heavenly realms is not possible.” Seidel later (1987:227) called for reappraising Han abstract notions of hun and po, which “do not seem to have had as wide a currency as we assumed up to now.” Pu Muzhou surveyed usages of the words hun and po on Han Dynasty bei 碑 “stele” erected at graves and shrines, and concluded (1993:216, tr. Brashier 1996126), “The thinking of ordinary people seems to have been quite hazy on the matter of what distinguished the hun from the po.” These stele texts contrasted souls between a corporeal hun or hunpo at the cemetery and a spiritual shen at the family shrine. Kenneth Brashier (1996:158) reexamined the evidence for hunpo dualism and relegated it “to the realm of scholasticism rather than general beliefs on death.” Brashier (1996:136–137) cited several Han sources (grave deeds, Houhanshu, and Jiaoshi Yilin) attesting beliefs that “the hun remains in the grave instead of flying up to heaven”, and suggested it “was sealed into the grave to prevent its escape.” Another Han text, the Fengsu Tongyi says, “The vital energy of the hun of a dead person floats away; therefore a mask is made in order to retain it.”

Divisible hun and po soul concepts in Daoism 

Hun 魂 and po 魄 spiritual concepts were important in several Daoist traditions. For instance (Baldrian-Hussein 2008:522), “Since the volatile hun is fond of wandering and leaving the body during sleep, techniques were devised to restrain it, one of which entailed a method of staying constantly awake.”

The sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 “three hun and seven po” were anthropomorphized and visualized. Ge Hong‘s (ca. 320 CE) Baopuzi frequently mentions the hun and po “ethereal and gross souls”. The “Genii” Chapter argues that these dual souls cause illness and death.

All men, wise or foolish, know that their bodies contain ethereal as well as gross breaths, and that when some of them quit the body, illness ensues; when they all leave him, a man dies. In the former case, the magicians have amulets for restraining them; in the latter case,The Rites [i.e., Yili] provide ceremonials for summoning them back. These breaths are most intimately bound up with us, for they are born when we are, but over a whole lifetime probably nobody actually hears or sees them. Would one conclude that they do not exist because they are neither seen nor heard? (2, tr. Ware 1966:49–50)

This “magicians” translates fangshi 方士 “doctor; diviner’ magician”. Both fangshi and daoshi 道士 “Daoist priests” developed methods and rituals to summon hun and po back into a person’s body. The “Gold and Cinnabar” chapter records a Daoist alchemical reanimation pill that can return the hun and po souls to a recent corpse: Taiyi zhaohunpo dan fa 太乙招魂魄丹法 “The Great One’s Elixir Method for Summoning Souls”.

In T’ai-i’s elixir for Summoning Gross and Ethereal Breaths the five minerals [i.e., cinnabarrealgararsenolitemalachite, and magnetite] are used and sealed with Six-One lute as in the Nine-crucible cinnabars. It is particularly effective for raising those who have died of a stroke. In cases where the corpse has been dead less than four days, force open the corpse’s mouth and insert a pill of this elixir and one of sulphur, washing them down its gullet with water. The corpse will immediately come to life. In every case the resurrected remark that they have seen a messenger with a baton of authority summoning them. (4, tr. Ware 1966:87)

For visualizing the ten souls, the Baopuzi “Truth on Earth” chapter recommends taking dayao 大藥 “great medicines” and practicing a fenxing 分形 “divide/multiply the body” multilocation technique.

My teacher used to say that to preserve Unity was to practice jointly Bright Mirror, and that on becoming successful in the mirror procedure a man would be able to multiply his body to several dozen all with the same dress and facial expression. My teacher also used to say that you should take the great medicines diligently if you wished to enjoy Fullness of Life, and that you should use metal solutions and a multiplication of your person if you wished to communicate with the gods. By multiplying the body, the three Hun and the seven Po are automatically seen within the body, and in addition it becomes possible to meet and visit the powers of heaven and the deities of earth and to have all the gods of the mountains and rivers in one’s service. (18, tr. Ware 1966:306)

The Daoist Shangqing School has several meditation techniques for visualizing the hun and po. In Shangqing Neidan “Internal Alchemy”, Baldrian-Hussein says,

the po plays a particularly somber role as it represents the passions that dominate the hun. This causes the vital force to decay, especially during sexual activity, and eventually leads to death. The inner alchemical practice seeks to concentrate the vital forces within the body by reversing the respective roles of hun and po, so that the hun (Yang) controls the po (Yin). (2008:533)

Number of souls

The number of human “souls” has been a long-standing source of controversy among Chinese religious traditions. Stevan Harrell (1979:521) concludes, “Almost every number from one to a dozen has at one time or another been proposed as the correct one.” The most commonly believed numbers of “souls” in a person are one, two, three, and ten.

One “soul” or linghun 靈魂 is the simplest idea. Harrell gives a fieldwork example.

When rural Taiwanese perform ancestral sacrifices at home, they naturally think of the ling-hun in the tablet; when they take offerings to the cemetery, they think of it in the grave; and when they go on shamanistic trips, they think of it in the yin world. Because the contexts are separate, there is little conflict and little need for abstract reasoning about a nonexistent problem. (1979:523)

Two “souls” is a common folk belief, and reinforced by yin-yang theory. These paired souls can be called hun and Three “souls” comes from widespread beliefs that the soul of a dead person can exist in the multiple locations. The missionary Justus Doolittle recorded that Chinese people in Fuzhou

believe each person has three distinct souls while living. These souls separate at the death of the adult to whom they belong. One resides in the ancestral tablet erected to his memory, if the head of a family; another lurks in the coffin or the grave, and the third departs to the infernal regions to undergo its merited punishment. (1865 II:401–2)

Ten “souls” of sanhunqipo 三魂七魄 “three hun and seven po” is not only Daoist; “Some authorities would maintain that the three-seven “soul” is basic to all Chinese religion” (Harrell 1979:522). During the Later Han period, Daoists fixed the number of hun souls at three and the number of po souls at seven. A newly deceased person may return (回魂) to his home at some nights, sometimes one week (頭七) after his death and the seven po would disappear one by one every 7 days after death. According to Needham and Lu (1974:88), “It is a little difficult to ascertain the reason for this, since fives and sixes (if they corresponded to the viscera) would have rather been expected.” Three hun may stand for the sangang 三綱 “three principles of social order: relationships between ruler-subject, father-child, and husband-wife” (Needham 1974:89). Seven po may stand for the qiqiao 七竅 “seven apertures (in the head, eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth)” or the qiqing 七情 “seven emotions (joy, anger, sorrow, fear, worry, grief, fright)” in traditional Chinese medicine (Baldrian-Hussein 2008:522). Sanhunqipo also stand for other names.

Source: Hun and Po

Chinkon is a revived Shinto practice today in Japan, as a soul-binding or soul-summoning procedure or rite for healing (an ancient shamanic calling back the wandering soul spirit) Chinkon  kishin and as a ‘Chinkon’  (‘Pacifying and Deepening the soul’ exercise, which is “a quiet journey into  the interior. This involves meditation, and focusing on specific  mental images. These three elements, purification, spiritual movements, and meditation, are the bases of Shinto training” see Green Shinto’s “Spiritual exercises: misogi, furitama and chinkon” article. The chinkon ritual practice was revived by Shinto scholar Honda Chikaatsu who based the practice on the Chinkonsai court ritual and the Kojiki account of Okinaga Tarashi Hime’s medium spirit possession, see Birgit Staemmler’s “Chinkon Kishin: Mediated Spirit Possession in Japanese New Religions” at p 117.

The cloudsoul hun, we theorize, was likely a far older motif of Northeast Asia from prehistoric times, as the cloud spirals are a common motif in ceramics of the prehistoric Jomon people of Japan as well as the Amur populations(see Ainu cloud motif), although interpretations lend themselves variously to both solar as well as cloud symbols. As a pre-Hun and proto-Tartar-Mongol belief, cloud-symbol-associated sky, storm and thunder god beliefs likely spread westwards influencing early Indo-European and Anatolian populations as well as all of East Asian civilization, see Jacqueline Taylor Basker’s, “The Cloud as a Symbol“.  Cloud symbolism is given detailed treatment in Camman Schuyler’s article “The Symbolism of the Cloud Collar“, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Mar., 1951), pp. 1-9 URL:, as well as Hubert Damisch’s “A Theory of Cloud: Toward a History of Painting“. In The Language of Kilim of Anatolia, Uzeyir Ozeyurt showed that Mongolian princes of Hitay and Anatolian Hittite village weaving used the same fertility motifs, and that many basic motifs are shared between East and West, including cloud spirals and storm/thunder meander patterns. We may therefore surmise that while the cloud-soul meaning was lost during the cloud motif’s diffusion westwards, cloud symbolism associations with a divinity’s descent, and particularly that of sky-storm gods, remained.


Refugees who practised ritual tooth ablation brought rice cultivation techniques as they dispersed to Taiwan and Japan

As a followup to our last post entitled Ritual tooth ablation: Why did prehistoric peoples pull out perfectly good teeth?, we would like to add this excerpt on “The Dispersal of Teeth Extraction” which is pulled from Yoshinori Yasuda’s “Water Civilization: From Yangtze to Khmer Civilizations“, pp. 59-62. It reveals who the people who practised ritual tooth ablation people were, why they dispersed as well as who the people who brought rice cultivation with them when they dispersed to Taiwan and Japanese archipelago might have been.

FullSizeRender (23)

The Dispersal of Teeth Extraction

The period of climate deterioration* that began at 3500 cal. yr BO and climaxed at 3200 cal. yr BP triggered the massive ethnic migration in the Mediterranean. It also was a time in which similar large-scale migrations swept through East Asia. During this climate deterioration period, the wheat/barley/millet-cultivating pastoral people again started their southward invasion, plunging China into the tumultuous Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods. It also was during this period that waves of refugees moved into Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces, and even headed downstream along the Mekong, Hong Ha, and Irrawaddy rivers into Southeast Asia. Recent analysis of the Y-chromosome indicated that these invaded people slotted to characteristic Y-chromosomal 03e haplogroups# (Sakitani 2003, 2009). Refugees, however, had the Y-chromosomal 02a or 02b haplotypes.]

Thus widespread dispersal of rice cultivation in Southeast Asia did not take place until the onset of climate deterioration at 4200 cal. yr BP.

As with the refugees who fled to the Yunnan, Guizhou and Fujian Provinces and across the sea to Taiwan and the Japanese archipelago, the people who fled into Southeast Asia adhered to the practice of ritual teeth extraction (Fig. 2.11), Matsushita and Matsushita (2011) clearly were able to confirm the teeth extraction practice from human skeletal samples unearthed during the 2007 excavation at the Phum Snay site in Cambodia (see Chap 6). The people who conquested from the north and west during the climate deterioration events at 4230 ca. yr BP and they had been wheat/barley/millet-cultivating pastoral people on horse back who bred sheep and goats and cultivated wheat and foxtail millet. They did not practice the ritual teeth extraction and seem to have the prototype-M8a mtDNA haplogroup and Y-chromosome O3e haplogroup, which typify the present Han people, as pointed out by Shinoda (2007) and Sakitani (2009). In contrast, the peripheral people who were forced to flee from their homeland into the Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces and into the mountainous regions of the Fujian Province, and then eventually across to the Taiwan and Japanese archipelago as boat people or down the Mekong or Hong Ha rivers into southeast Asia, were rice-cultivating piscatory people who adhered to the practice of teeth extraction.

The migration of people from north to south in Neolithic Asia also identified by Higham (1996, 2002) and Bellwood (2004, 2006) was mainly based on linguistic studies…Recent studies using DNA, physical anthropological, environmental archaeological, and lead isotope ratio analyses also point to the migration of the Asian people from north to south. In this chapter, I describe how this southward movement of Asian people that took place at 4200 cal. yr. BP, triggered by climate deterioration. The rice- cultivating piscatory people expanded as refugees to East and Southeast Asia with their various customs and cultural values.

In addition to the movement of people from southern China, results of lead isotope ratio analysis of bronze artifacts by No et al. (2011) seem to indicate the possibility that the people who migrated down the Mekong and those who traveled down the Hong Ha into Vietnam had different ancestries.
A group of boat people who may bear a resemblance to those who lived in the ancient times are those who now lie on the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Originally, these people came from Vietnam. Now they live on wooden boats and bamboo rafts on which various facilities for everyday life are erected–pigpens, hen houses, and even soccer fields (Fig. 2.12). The boats are moored in the lake during the dry season and are moved inland as the waters rise during the wet season. Such may have been the lifestyle of the people who introduced rice cultivation to Japan–a migrating community living on wooden boats with bamboo rafts tied to them, complete with pigpens and fishing wells. Although researchers are inclined to maintain the preconceived idea that the transportation of pigs and fowl would require large vessels, a setup like the one described would have been sufficient for crossing the East China Sea with livestock. The expansion of rice-cultivating piscatory people and the direction of their migration is summarized in Fig. 2.13″

*p. 54 “Nearly a millennium after the climate deterioration at 4200 cal. yr BP there was another episode of climate deterioration at 3200 cal, yr BP that had a critical impact on rice dispersal. The period of severe cold in 4200-4000 cal. yr. BP was followed by a period of slight climate amelioration in 4000-3500 cal. yr BP. However, again the climate changed for the worse from 3500 cal. yr BP and a period of severe cold was reached at 3200 cal . yr BP.
Sakaguchi (1984) and Yasuda (2003) point out, as well as numerous researchers conducting palynological studies, that 3200 cal. yr BP, the final Jomon period in Japan, corresponds to a cold period. According to the pollen diagram of the Karakemi Marsh in Nagano prefecture (Sakaguchi 1986), an abrupt increase in Abies, Picea, Pinus parviflora and Pinuspumila, and Tsuga are observed at the horizon corresponding to approximately 3300 cal yr BP, which clearly indicates the onset of climate deterioration Sakaguchi (1989) also has performed a more detailed reconstruction of the paleoclimate based on the results of pollen analusis of the Ozegahara moor , which also supports the trend of climate deterioration during this period. According to Sakaguchi’s temperature variation curve drawn using P. pumila pollen revealed an onset of dramatic climate changes at 3500 cal. yr BP.”

(The authors also find Cambodian pottery artifacts that resemble closely the hajiki blackware pottery found in Japan)

# A word about O3e migrations:

A study on oesaphageal cancer occurring in O3 an O3e populations sheds light on the origins of the O3e people, see Huang H, Su M, Li X, Li H, Tian D, et al. (2010) Y-Chromosome Evidence for Common Ancestry of Three Chinese Populations with a High Risk of Esophageal Cancer. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11118. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011118:

High rates of esophageal cancer (EC) are found in people of the Henan Taihang Mountain, Fujian Minnan, and Chaoshan regions of China. Although these regions are geographically distant, we hypothesized that EC high-risk populations in these three areas could share a common ancestry. What is that ancestry?

The Chaoshan Population, Fujian Population and Henan Taihang Mountain Population are more closely related to Chinese Hans than to minorities, except Manchu Chinese, and are descendants of Sino-Tibetans, not Baiyues.

The predominant haplogroups in these three populations are O3*, O3e*, and O3e1, with no significant difference between the populations in the frequency of these genotypes. Frequency distribution and principal component analysis revealed that the Chaoshan Province is closely related to the Henan Taihang Mountain Population and Fujian Province, even though the former is geographically nearer to other populations (Guangfu and Hakka clans).

Correlation analysis, hierarchical clustering analysis, and phylogenetic analysis (neighbor-joining tree) all support close genetic relatedness among the Chaoshan People, Fujian People and Henan Taihang Mountain People. The network for haplogroup O3 (including O3*, O3e* and O3e1) showed that the Henan Taihang Mountain People have highest STR haplotype diversity, suggesting that the Henan Taihang Mountain people may be a progenitor population for the Chaoshan People and Fujian People.

Chaoshan HTMP migrations

Historical records describe great waves of populations migrating from north-central China (the Henan – marked red in the photo below, and Shanxi Hans) through coastal Fujian Province to the Chaoshan plain.


Ritual tooth ablation: Why did prehistoric peoples pull out perfectly good teeth?

The Jomon culture in the Japanese Archipelago, dating from 13,000 to 2300 years BP, practiced this ritual extensively for ceremonial purposes and during rites of passage.

According to FUNAHASHI Kyoko, her observations of tooth ablation through the ages was as follows:

1) In the Final Jomon period, the extraction of upper and lower canines and lower incisors were carried out when the recipients were between 13 and 20 years of age, and the percentages were 80-90%.
2) In the early Yayoi period, the extraction of upper and lower canines and lower incisors was carried out, at percentages of between 80-90%.
3) From the end of the Early Yayoi period, the extraction of upper and lower incisors, canines and premolars were carried out when the recipients were at adult and mature ages, and the percentage was low.

Anthropologists from the University of Nevada who studied Jomon tooth ablation samples detected five types of systems of tooth ablation, mostly based on kinship,  and the following extracted passage contains their reasoning that tooth ablation was practised because the altered appearance was crucial for the Jomon person’s self identity as well as a means of indicating his or her status within the Jomon community:

“The body is a physical symbol of membership in a social community, conveying social information in a permanent manner. It is shaped by and contributes to social rapport (Meskell, 1998). Changes in social environment can affect patterns of body modification, in this case dental ablation (Torres-Rouff, 2009). As the mouth is a primary social organ, teeth are one of the most visible parts of the body that are culturally treated through some form of cultural modification (filing, chipping, insets, ablation, etc.) to construct identity in relation to broader social and political networks (White et al., 2009).

Personal identity is a dynamic, multi-component concept that includes self-defined expressions of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, kinship, politics, religion, and age (Buikstra and Scott, 2009). The self-referential nature of the various parts of identity is limited by archaeological possibilities (Barth, 1969); hence,the body is needed to create a better understanding of how earlier peoples’ self identified social status within a community. Identity research is not a construction of who people were or where they came from, but represents an attempt to define who they thought they were  (Knudson and Stojanowski, 2009:5). It relates to the larger social phenomena that characterize an individual’s existence in society. Identity is a form of habitus   (Bourdieu 1977), indoctrinated into an individual’s sense of self by their culture.

For the Jomon, life milestones were commemorated by the extraction of different tooth classes. The removal of particular teeth immediately marked your place in society. The various examples (Figs. 1, 2,3, 4, 5, & 6) display individuals at different places/ranks within society. With a flash of a smile, one would know the individual’s family, if they were an adult or not, if they were married, if they had experienced the death of a loved one,or if they had children. There was no need to ask as your body openly displayed your identity.

All the common types of ablation noted by other scholars (Harunari. 1979; Kusaka et al., 2008; Kusaka et al., 2009; Temple et al., 2011) were observed in this sample.

Previously unnoted forms of ablation involved the extraction of the upper premolars (Type 4I4C2P in Figs. 6 & 6A) and upper and lowerpremolars Type 4C4P in Figs. 5 & 5A) for an unknown rite of passage. We do not attempt to attribute specific ablation patterns to particular life events, but

Scholars noted that ablation types vary between males and females, as well as between the young and the old, suggesting various levels of identity within the community.

It was considered that tooth ablation was carried out to shape the individual’s visage. Considering the human face is one of the most interactive parts of the body, not just a smile told of your place in society, but talking, laughing or even arresting open mouth, would indicate a person’s current identity or a change in social position within the Jomon community. Thus, dental ablation was an important part of Jomonese identity at the Yoshigo Shell Mound site.”

In the anthropology blogpost “Bones, Teeth and Climate Change in Japan“, an anthropology student looks at the question of whether tooth ablation was practised to indicate immigrant status. The relevant interesting observations and conclusions are extracted from the post below:

“A new study by Kusaka et al (2012) seeks to address similar types of changes by looking at migration during a period of population increase in Japan due to improving weather conditions.

The study aims to test two hypotheses: first, that there was an increase in immigrants to Japan from the middle to late Jomon period (5000-4000 BP to 4000-2300 BP), and second that ritual tooth ablation is a feature that can be used to distinguish immigrants from locals. Analysis of climate in this region has revealed a warming period from 7000-4000 BP, followed by a cooling period from 4000 to 1500 BP. During the warming era there was an increase in large settlements based on archaeology and a focus on marine and faunal resources based on isotope analysis. However, in the cooling period these large settlements were disbanded, and an increase in caries prevalence shows a changing focus on plant resources. It is this period of increased immigration that they wish to examine through ritual tooth ablation patterns and strontium isotope analysis.

Ritual tooth ablation is removal of specific teeth for ceremonial purposes or rites of passage. Analyses of these activities in this period have determined there are a number of types of ablation as suggested by Harunari (1979): 1) individuals with two maxillary incisors removed, representing the coming of age tooth ablation; 2) individuals with additional four mandibular incisors removed, whose burial offerings suggest high prestige; 3) individuals who lacked all canines and who were immigrants married to type 2 individuals; 4) individuals with all canines and four mandibular incisors removed; 5)  individuals with all canines and two mandibular central incisors removed, which characterize people married more than once. Since migration into a group meant a specific type of tooth ablation it should be possible to use this as an indicator of increased immigration.

Strontium isotope analysis revealed that only one individual from the Ota site was an outlier and all individuals from the Tsukumo site were within the same distribution. This means of the entire sample only one individual was identified as a potential immigrant based on isotopic analysis. Based on these results, the authors argue that either people weren’t moving as much as previously thought or they were moving to areas with similar strontium isotope signatures. If populations from the coast remained in these areas or moved only along the coast it would be difficult to determine migration from their strontium ratios. Comparing types of ritual tooth ablation with strontium isotope levels shows that there is no clear correlation between the ritual and migration. The site contained a number of individuals with type 4I tooth ablation, which was proposed by Harunari (1979) to be a sign of an immigrant, however these had the same strontium ratios as the types of ablation thought to be associated with locals.

Based on their analysis, Kusaka et al (2012) argue that there isn’t a correlation between ritual tooth ablation and immigration, and that movement of people in this region during the Jomon period needs to be re-assessed. Previous studies have argued the migration increased throughout Japan, but Kusaka et al (2012) posit that it may be restricted to movement in specific regions and not in the region they studied.”

According to M. Takenaka et al., “Tooth removal during ritual tooth ablation in the Jomon period”  ritual tooth ablation was practised from the Jomon through the protohistoric Kofun periods, but was most actively practised between the Late to Final Jomon periods. The study also confirmed above findings that ritual ablation was performed on teeth for visible effects, as incisors, canines, premolars were chosen (all visible teeth).

The same dental study also determined that the practice of tooth ablation was rather painful as it used not extractive methods (e.g. by means of a cord or forceps to remove the tooth), but the traumatic method (by strong force in a single blow) to remove teeth which sometimes resulted in incomplete removal of teeth leaving residual broken roots in about 10.2% of cases examined (5 out of 49 samples). OUCH!

Finally, some light may be thrown on possible common origins or relationships with continental populations, through the HAN and T. NAKAHASH study, “A comparative study of ritual tooth ablation in ancient China and Japan” which concluded:

 “In China, as far as it is known at present, ritual tooth ablation
first appeared among the people of the Shandong-North Jiangsu region, at least 6500 years ago, and then became very popular amongst the people of the Dawenkou culture of coastal China. In Japan, on the other hand, this custom was performed extensively among the people of the Late-Final Jomon period. This results in a time lag in their periods of prevalence of about 2000 years. There are also significant differences in the form of tooth ablation in ancient China and Japan. China is represented by the bilateral ablation of the upper lateral incisors (2I2 type), and with the exception of a small group, showed no remarkable temporal change after its inception. Ritual ablation in Japan was more complex and the number of teeth extracted during this custom’s most prevalent period was more numerous than that of China. On the other hand, there exist several points which
may suggest some relation between both countries, such as the basic similarities in the age at commencement of ablation, the prevalence of extraction of under incisors from the Late Jomon period in western Japan and the existence of the same tyle of ablation in the peoples of nearly the same period in China. Especially, as the abrupt increase of extraction of the upper lateral incisors in the people of the Yayoi period, such as Doigahama, who show morphological resemblances with the neolithic people of northern China, may suggest the influence of Chinese tradition.”

Locations of ritual tooth ablation in China and Japan

Locations of ritual tooth ablation in China and Japan

At the same time another paper reported evidence from the Nukdo site in Korea which faces Japan, of signs of ritual tooth ablation and given its strategic location, should be studied for possible cross-straits relations between the peoples (source: Fujita and Choi’s report, “Dental Information about Human Skeletal Remains from Nukdo, South Korea from a Period Corresponding to the Yayoi Period in Japan” J. Oral Biosci. (50)4 215-221, 2008


Ritual tooth ablation found in Nukdo site in Korea (compared with other ritual ablation sites in Japan)

Ritual tooth ablation found in Nukdo site in Korea (compared with other ritual ablation sites in Japan) Source: Fujita and Choi, 2008

Source and further readings:

FUNAHASHI Kyoko (Kyūshū University) “Ritual tooth ablation and social organization from the Final Jomon to the Yayoi in Northern Kyushu, Japan” – This study investigates the meaning of tooth ablation and its socio-cultural background in the period between the Final Jomon and the Yayoi in Northern Kyushu by examining a) the percentage of those who received tooth ablation among individual age/sex groups, b) attrition, and c) the pre-auricular groove of the ilium.

A Biocultural Perspective on Jomon Dental Ablation: Visage, Identity, and Social Status by Amanda R. Harvey, G. Richard Scott, and Evan Pellegrin

Bones, teeth and climate change in Japan by Katy Meyers Emergy citing:

– Harunari, H., 1979. Postmarital modes of residence of the Final Jomon period. J. Facul. Low Litera. Okayama Univ. 4,; and

– Soichiro Kusaka, Takanori Nakano, Wataru Morita, & Masato Nakatsukasa (2012). Strontium isotope analysis to reveal migration in relation to climate change and ritual tooth ablation of Jomon skeletal remains from western Japan Journal of Anthropological Archaeology DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2012.05.004

M. Takenaka et al., “Tooth removal during ritual tooth ablation in the Jomon period

Funahashi, K and Tanaka, Y (2001) ‘A study of the social meanings of lower tooth ablation in Yayoi period’ in Basic Structure of Human Societies, Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies of Kyushu university (ed), Study of the History of Exchange between the Kyushu island and the Korean Peninsula, Fukuoka: Midori insatsu

Funahashi, K (2003) ‘The age of tooth ablation and its ritual meanings in Jomon period’, Archaeological Research (50)1, 56-76

Funahashi Kyoko., 2000. Social meaning of a ritual tooth ablation in Doigahama group. Kobunkadanso, 25:pp43-71

Funahashi, K and Tanaka, Y (2001) ‘A study of the social meanings of lower tooth ablation in Yayoi period’ in Basic Structure of Human Societies, Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies of Kyushu university (ed), Study of the History of Exchange between the Kyushu island and the Korean Peninsula, Fukuoka: Midori insatsu

HAN KANGXIN and Takahiro NAKAHASHI, “A comparative study of ritual tooth ablation in ancient China and Japan” Anthropol. Sci. 104(1), 43-64, 1996

M. Takenaka et al., “Tooth removal during ritual tooth ablation in the Jomon period

Himiko and Japan’s Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai” by Jonathan Edward Kidder:  Tooth ablation was a dying practice during the Kofun period.

Magic mushrooms may have been used in Japan since Jomon times

Ceramic mushroom "amulets"?, ritual implements, Rokaku-shi, Akita prefecture

Ceramic mushroom “amulets”?, ritual implements of a Jomon period site, Rokaku-shi, Akita prefecture

Ceramic mushrooms (see above photo) have been excavated from a Jomon archaeological site in Akita prefecture, indicating that the Jomon people as with many cultures elsewhere, probably used “magic mushrooms” (i.e. psychoactive mushrooms) ritually. The mushrooms reproduced in clay were found in a ritual context along with other ritual implements such as ceramic human figurines and as such likely indicate their central function and symbolism attached to shamanic rituals possibly at solstice or other festivals where they may have been distributed to other members of the society. Similar pottery mushroom representations have been found in Native American digs.

Around 30 species of magic mushrooms inhabit Japan and the archipelago is among the category of countries with the richest finds of magic mushrooms (see below)


Source: Inflammation and Regeneration journal, Jan 1, 2009

Apart from the graphic clay representation above, magic mushrooms are referred to in the Konjaku Monogatari Shuu (compiled in the Heian period 12th c.) which records the story of some nuns who climbed a mountain and ate some mushrooms that caused them to dance. Magic mushrooms references in Japan are often referred to as dance-inducing(Odoritake and Maitake) or laughter-inducing (Waraitake) mushrooms. These “laughing mushrooms” are the subject of a number of folktales as well as the names of ancient dance forms in Japan (source: Historical Overview of Psychoactive Mushrooms, Yoshihiro Matsushima, et al., Inflammation and Regeneration, Jan 1, 2009)

On the religious and ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Giorgio Santorini wrote:

“The use of vegetable hallucinogens by humans for religious purposes is very ancient, probably even older than its use for healing, magic or teaching purposes. The profound alterations in one’s state of consciousness brought about by the use of a hallucinogen has served as a founding axis for religious systems, and in the development of established religions throughout the history of humanity.” —  Giorgio Samorini, ethnobotanist and psychedelics researcher, Integration, 5: 105-114

The art and skill of using magic mushrooms, along with other herbal resources for healing would have conferred upon ancient shaman great prestige, see “Shamanism“:

“Shamanic knowledge usually enjoys great power and prestige in the community, but it may also be regarded suspiciously or fearfully as potentially harmful to others.

By engaging in their work, a shaman is exposed to significant personal risk, from the spirit world, from enemy shamans, or from the means employed to alter the shaman’s state of consciousness. Shamanic plant materials can be toxic or fatal if misused. Failure to return from an out-of-body journey can lead to death. Spells are commonly used to protect against these dangers, and the use of more dangerous plants is often very highly ritualized.”

Central Asian shamans served as sacred intermediaries between the human and spirit world. In this role they took on tasks such as healing, divination, appealing to ancestors, manipulating the elements, leading lost souls and officiating public religious rituals. The shamanic séance served as a public display of the shaman’s journey to the spirit world and usually involved intense trances, drumming, dancing, chanting, elaborate costumes, miraculous displays of physical strength, and audience involvement. …

Shamans perform in a “state of ecstasy” deliberately induced by an effort of will. Reaching this altered state of consciousness required great mental exertion, concentration and strict self-discipline. Mental and physical preparation included long periods of silent meditation, fasting, and smoking. In this state, skilled shamans employ capabilities that the human organism cannot accomplish in the ordinary state. Shamans in ecstasy displayed unusual physical strength, the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, the bearing of stabbing and cutting without pain, and the heightened receptivity of the sense organs. Shamans made use of intoxicating substances and hallucinogens, especially mukhomor mushrooms and alcohol, as a means of hastening the attainment of ecstasy. [Balzer, Shamanism pp 12-21] — See The Siberian Shamanism Origins of Santa Claus: Reindeer, Pine Trees and Mushrooms

In some cases, the mushrooms were not only regarded as sacred, but as deities in themselves, or flesh of deities, or mediators of gods (see Giorgio Samorini).

On the role of magic mushrooms in the development of religion, see also Mushrooms and Religion, lectures by George Wong:

“Gordon Wasson put forth his own hypothesis on the origin of religion from mushrooms containing entheogens, psychoactive compounds that is taken to bring on a spiritual experience. Usually, these are of plant origin, e.g. peyote, but may be of fungal origin, e.g. Amanita muscaria, as well. Wasson gave examples from several cultures that he had previously described, in details. In addition, Wasson, with respect to Soma, he believed that it was responsible for..

“A prodigious expansion in Man’s memory must have been the gift that differentiated mankind from his predecessors, and I surmise that this expansion in memory led to a simultaneous growth in the gift of language, these two powers generating in man that self-consciousness which is the third of the triune traits that alone make man unique. Those three gifts – memory, language and self-consciousness – so interlock that they seem inseparable, the aspects of a quality that permitted us to achieve all the wonders we now know.

R. Gordon Wasson, from pg. 80, Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven MA.

A modified version of this hypothesis was later developed by McKenna, in the late 1980’s. His hypothesis differed from Wasson in that Mckenna believed that mushrooms involved contained the entheogen psilocybin, and he specifically says Stropharia cubensis, was responsible for the origin of religion and development of memory, language and self-consciousness. According to Mckenna, both events occurred in Africa, and began during the prehistoric, nomadic, hunting/gathering period of man’s existence.”

The collection and distribution of the mushrooms were the traditional domain of the Siberian shaman:

The name of the mushroom is Amanita muscaria, also called Fly Agaric. Muscaria is a psychotropic, causing visions and altered states.  It is also toxic, and must be handled in a particular manner so as to get the psychedelic effects without the toxic ones. You may have heard of the word “shaman”, which is a word from the Tungus-speaking people of Siberia, to connote a religious specialist.(1)  The Tungusic are Russian indigenous people who live in the arctic circle (north pole) and they are reindeer herders. A shaman dealt with the mushrooms, as both a safety practice and as part of the spirituality of the people.

The shaman would collect the mushrooms in a bag and deliver them to families, who would then often hang them in socks around the fireplace to dry – the mushrooms would be ready to share their revelatory gifts in the morning of the solstice.

Amanita Muscaria grows only beneath a Christmas tree (coniferous/pine tree) in a symbiotic, non-parasitic relationship with the roots of the tree. (6) It used to be thought to be the fruit of the tree.

Coming in through the Chimney

And of course, the final touch is how the shaman would enter homes to distribute the “gifts”:

The tradition of the Shaman,[…], was to go into the forests and collect these shrooms that grow under pine trees or evergreen trees. The Shaman would collect enough for the entire tribe and then go to each of the houses, sometimes due to heavy snow the doors would be snowed in and the Shaman would have to enter through the smoke hole in the roof!

Ornaments and Santa’s Outfit

And what about Santa’s outfit and Christmas tree ornaments? Well… from JungleApocalypse:

To this day Siberian shamans dress in ceremonial red and white [also the most dominant Shinto ritual and sacred color] fur-trimmed jackets to gather the magic mushrooms. First they pick and place the mushrooms to partially dry on nearby pine boughs which prepares them for ingestion and makes the load lighter.

 See Mushrooms and Religion: Psilocybe, Conocybe, Stropharia, Panaeolus, Copelandia, etc for more on the use of mushrooms and religious experience.

The following  articles may contain possible scientific explanations for the altered states of consciousness that shamanic figures have.

Magic mushrooms link unconnected brain regions (LiveScience, Oct 30, 2014)

Users of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, often report altered states of consciousness and a synesthesia-like melding of the senses. Now, scientists studying the drug may have found an explanation for these bizarre sensations: Psilocybin changes the brain’s wiring on a macroscopic scale, LiveScience reports. Researchers placed experienced magic mushroom users into an MRI machine after giving them either a placebo or a dose of psilocybin. They discovered that in addition to disrupting normal communication channels, the drug also created a hyperconnected brain that contained links between regions that don’t typically communicate with each other (see image from Wired). The new linkages might account for the blending of senses and may even explain why some users report profound shifts in perspective and worldview even after the drug has worn off.

In an earlier report:

Mapping the Psychedelic Brain (Science Now, 23 Jan, 2012) by Greg Miller

Drugs like psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, play all sorts of tricks on the mind. They distort the perception of time, space, and self, and even untether the senses. Some researchers thought these strange effects might result from the drugs overexciting the brain. But the first study to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain activity in people who’ve taken psilocybin finds that the drug reduces neural firing in key communication hubs, essentially disconnecting some brain regions from each other.

In Central America and elsewhere, hallucinogenic drugs have been used for centuries in healing and religious ceremonies. Recent years have seen renewed interest in exploiting them to explore the neural basis of spirituality and potentially to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Yet neuroscientists know little about how these compounds act on the brain to cause such intensely altered experiences. Hallucinogenic drugs are tightly regulated, and few previous studies have tried to gauge their effects on the human brain. One study, using positron emission tomography (PET), found that psilocybin increases brain metabolism, especially in the frontal cortex.

In the new work, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by psychopharmacologists Robin Carhart-Harris and David Nutt of Imperial College London used a different method, fMRI, to scan the brains of 30 people who were under the influence of psilocybin. The tight confines and loud noises of the scanner could be scary for someone on psilocybin, Nutt says. To minimize the chances of anyone having a bad trip, the researchers recruited people who’d taken hallucinogens previously, and they delivered the drug intravenously so that it would have a faster—and shorter—effect than, say, eating magic mushrooms.

The researchers performed two different types of MRI scans, one that measured blood flow throughout the brain and one that determined blood oxygenation, which neuroscientists generally assume is an indicator of neural activity. Contrary to the previous study, the scans showed that psilocybin reduces blood flow and neural activity in several brain regions, including the posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. The researchers quizzed the volunteers after the psilocybin had worn off and found that people in which these regions were most inhibited tended to report the most intense hallucinatory experiences. Nutt says he’s not sure why the findings differ from those of the PET study, but he speculates that it could be due to the different time courses of the injectable drug his team used and the oral tablets used in the other research.

The posterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortices are hubs in the so-called default mode network, a web of interconnected brain regions that becomes active when people allow their minds to wander. Some researchers have proposed that the default mode network is crucial for introspective thought and even for generating the sense of consciousness, and Nutt thinks the finding that psilocybin inhibits this network could help explain the surreal experiences the drug causes. “What I think is going on is that this network in the brain that pulls together a sense of self becomes less active,” he says, “and you get this fragmented or dissipated sense of being.”

“It’s a very interesting study that raises lots of new questions,” says Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He says the possibility that the drugs work by interfering with the default mode network is an appealing hypothesis that deserves further investigation.

Nutt and Griffiths are interested in the therapeutic potential of hallucinogenic drugs. Griffiths is involved in a pilot study testing whether psilocybin and psychotherapy can ease end-of-life anxiety in cancer patients. Nutt’s group is looking into using the drug to treat depression, and this week in The British Journal of Psychiatry, he and colleagues report that psilocybin can increase neural activity in brain regions related to memory when people recall events from their past. The drug also improved people’s ability to access personal memories and related emotions, which the researchers say could be helpful during psychotherapy.

Further readings and resources:

Japan’s Laughing Mushrooms by James H Sanford (read in pdf format or at ReadcubeEconomic BotanyApril–June 1972, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 174-181

The representations of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the world (Sahara Desert, 9000-7000 BP)

Tsujikawa K., et al., Morphological and chemical analysis of magic mushrooms in Japan, Forensic Sci Int. 2003 Dec 17;138(1-3):85-90.

Morphological and toxicological analyses were performed on hallucinogenic mushrooms that are currently circulated in Japan. Researchers found: The psilocin/psilocybin contents in Psilocybe cubensis were in the range of 0.14-0.42%/0.37-1.30% in the whole mushroom (0.17-0.78%/0.44-1.35% in the cap and 0.09-0.30%/0.05-1.27% in the stem), respectively. The hallucinogenic alkaloids in Copelandia were 0.43-0.76%/0.08-0.22% in the whole mushroom (0.64-0.74%/0.02-0.22% in the cap and 0.31-0.78%/0.01-0.39% in the stem). It thus appears that P. cubensis is psilocybin-rich, whereas Copelandia is psilocin-rich.

Japanese Magic Mushrooms

Five types of Japanese poisonous wild mushrooms

Masked drama-dance traditions of Central Asia reached Japan during the Asuka period (592-710)

Gigaku Mask of Konron (Gigakumen Konron) (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)

Gigaku Mask of Konron (Gigakumen Konron) (Source: Yomiuri Shimbun)

Gigaku, a form of drama-dance performance is said to arrived from China during the Asuka period (592-710). It was performed in Japan at Buddhist services at temples and to entertain foreign missions. The Mask of Konron, the photo above of a half-man, half-beast, is believed to have been used in the Consecration Ceremony of the Great Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara nearly 1,300 years ago (source: Oct 29, 2014 Yomiuri Shimbun’s “Deep cultural significance behind warm charm of squirrel-eared Konron”). The Konron mask is one of rare 250 ancient masks preserved by the Buddhist monasteries in Japan, and is from among the Shosoin Treasures in Nara.

The Smithsonian Museum has a rather informative writeup called “Nara Gate” that suggests to us that gigaku performances were probably rather lively and occasionally shocking or raunchy theatrical performances (not unlike the early Roman and Shakespearean plays) that evolved into the more sombre institutionalized and politically-correct court performances of gagaku:

“When Todaiji’s Great Buddha was dedicated in 752, sixty masked gigaku performers and drummers were part of the celebration. The masked dance form gigaku had traveled northward from India through the western regions of China and eventually to Japan. The masks, each over a foot tall, portrayed lively, often outlandish characters from China, Central Asia, and Iran, as well as Japan. Gigaku masks were often used in Buddhist ceremonies. Large masks were popular in Central Asia and China before they came to Japan and were likely used to teach about Buddhism.

After the capital moved to Kyoto, the court became increasingly refined, and the gigaku dances were criticized for their informality. Another dance form, bugaku, that told more courtly stories and used smaller masks eventually became the dance form of the imperial house. Later, even smaller masks were used in Japanese Noh dramas that are still performed today. These forms are strictly Japanese, and, unlike gigaku, do not incorporate as characters the many foreigners who traveled along the Silk Road to Japan.

The Shosoin, the treasure house of the Todaiji Temple, holds one of the best collections of 8th-century gigaku masks in the world. Most of the masks are made of paulownia wood, and it is rare to find such well-preserved wooden objects.”

The origin of the gigaku masked drama-dance tradition is believed to be ultimately Central Asia, the stories performed involve a Persian king, the King of Wu and the mythical bird of India, the Garuda. It is said to have been introduced via China and Korea (source: above article “Nara Gate”, as well as from Yoshida Minosuke, bunraku puppeteer).

Mannojo Nomura revived the ancient tradition of gigaku masked performance in Japan. During research across the Silk Road, Mr. Nomura discovered the connections between the gigaku masks of Japan and other large-mask traditions in China, Tibet, and India. Based on this research he has organized a troupe, Ethnos, whose dancers come from several countries and in gigaku masks perform dance dramas drawn from Japanese tradition.  Many 8th-century gigaku masks in Japanese collections have features of characters from China, India, and Iran. Mannojo Nomura has recreated some of these masks for his dance troupe.

According to the following excerpt from the Asian Traditional Theatre & Dance website’s “Gigaku, Buddhist Mask Theatre” article, the dance was introduced via a Korean actor in 612:

“Gigaku was a form of Buddhist processional dance drama, which reached Japan in the 7th century from Central Asia through Korea and China. Gigaku blended religious themes with comedy, and even burlesque scenes, while the performances took place in temple courtyards. Its performance tradition died out in the Heian period (794–1192). Wooden gigaku masks are now valued as high-quality artefacts, preserved in temple treasuries and museums.

The History

It is assumed that gigaku originated in India, from where Buddhism spread to Central Asia and from there, via the so-called Northern Silk Road, further to China, Korea and Japan. The Silk Road was a network of caravan routes, which for thousands of years connected the Mediterranean world with India, Central Asia and East Asia.

Before the Muslim invasions in Central Asia there flourished numerous prosperous Buddhist centres, with which China, Korea and Japan had close contacts. Central Asian Buddhism and arts deeply influenced the culture of East Asia.

Among the cultural expressions adopted from Central Asia was also a tradition of Buddhist mask processions, known in Japan as gigaku. In fact, most of the evidence of the tradition, in the form of wooden masks, can now be found in Japan. Due to the Japanese tradition of carefully preserving religious artefacts in monastery treasuries, there still exist as many as some 250 masks.

Besides the masks, there also exists textual evidence that throws light on gigaku’s history. According to this evidence, it was in the 7th century that gigaku was brought from Korea to Japan, although gigaku masks and costumes had already been known there. It is believed that gigaku was performed in Japan for the first time by a Korean actor in 612.

The dancer was invited to teach the art of gigaku to Japanese boys. Thus this tradition, which was widely practised in the Buddhist world, was also adapted to the Japanese context. It replaced earlier Buddhist types of performance and it flourished particularly in the 8th and the 9th centuries. Its popularity gradually diminished in the 10th to 12th centuries and soon the tradition completely died out.

The Mask System

Gigaku masks are classified as follows:

  1. Kojin, foreigners or “barbarians”
    This group includes masks representing members of various nations from the Silk Road regions, such as the Drunken Persian King.
  2. Gojin, people of the Wu kingdom
    This group includes the King and the Princess of Wu as well as Buddhist guardian spirits and several ordinary citizens, such as a wrestler, an old couple with children etc.
  3. Nankaijin, native of the Southern Sea
    The main character in this group is the Konron, or the demonic arch-villain, who represents greed and other “low” human qualities.
  4. Irui, various animal characters
    This group includes a lion, a protector of Buddhist doctrine and a bird related to the mythical bird of Hinduism, Garuda.
    The Performance
    According to textual sources the performance took place in a temple courtyard at which the masked actors and their accompanying musicians arrived in a solemn procession. The orchestra included two flautists, two cymbalists and twenty drummers.

The procession proceeded for a couple of times around the temple building and was led by a lion and its attendants, two dancers wearing children’s masks. They performed a dance in order to venerate the five cardinal points of the universe. Variants of the Lion Dance are still known in many parts of Asia today.

After the procession, the actual play, called Konron, began with the entrance of the King of Wu, after which a mythical bird performed its dance. The beautiful Princess of Wu was then introduced. She inspired the lustful demon Konron to perform his wild dance with a phallic staff in his hand. The demon kidnapped the princess. However, Kongo, the frightening, yet benevolent, guardian of the Buddhist doctrine arrived and was able to bin the phallic staff with ropes.

Three mime scenes followed the main play. The first one showed a poor, fallen monk, who is washing his baby son’s clothes. The second mime scene described a poor grandfather, who with his orphaned grandchildren is making offerings in a temple. The third scene elaborated the stock character of a Drunken Persian King. The whole programme ended with a joyous procession.”
Ultimate Central Asian roots of the tradition

The lion mask (shishimen) was an integral part of gigaku performances of the 8th century. Similar figures are still found in Southeast Asian dance in Bali, in Tibetan ritual, and in many Chinese and Vietnamese New Year celebrations. The lion mask and dance also remains an important heritage especially found in the northern areas of Korea, called the Bukcheong Saja-Nori lion dance. According to Korean historical sources, the lion sanye dance came from the West, India and Central Asia, thus corroborating the evidence from other sources.

The masked dance tradition in China has existed since the 3rd c. AD, according to ethnomusicologist Laurence Picken, the Chinese word for lion itself, shi (獅, written as 師 in the early periods), may have been derived from the Persian word šer, and lions were originally presented to the Han court by emissaries from Central Asia and the Parthian Empire. Detailed descriptions of Lion Dance appeared during the Tang Dynasty and it was already recognized by writers and poets then as a foreign dance, however, the practice of the Lion dance may have been recorded in China as early as the third century AD where “lion acts” were referred to by a Three Kingdoms scholar Meng Kang in a commentary on Hanshu. In the early periods it had association with Buddhism: it was recorded in a Northern Wei text, Description of Buddhist Temples in Luoyang that a parade for a statue of Buddha of the Changqiu Temple was led by a lion to drive away evil spirits.


Further resources:

Mask makers’ Web provides further resources for comparing the different mask traditions of Mongolia, India, Bali, China, the Silk Road, etc…

Bukcheong Saja-Nori lion dance

Wikipedia, “Lion Dance”

Y chromosome haplogroups of Japanese population analysed in a 2013 forensic paper

Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree

Fig 1 Phylogenetic tree of 22 Y chromosome binary polymorphisms analyzed in this study

Yuta Harayama et al., Analysis of Y chromosome haplogroups in Japanese population using short amplicons and its application in forensic analysis Leg Med (Tokyo) January 2014, Vol.16(1):20–25, Epub 2013 Nov 1.  doi:10.1016/j.legalmed.2013.10.005 Excerpts follow below.


We designed three mini multiplex PCR systems using single-base extension reactions to identify Japanese Y chromosome haplogroups. We selected a group of 22 Y chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from the haplogroups most commonly reported in East Asia. To make the systems more useful in analyzing degraded DNA samples, we designed primers to render amplicons of 150bp. Applying these systems, we classified the Japanese population into major haplogroups and confirmed the applicability of these systems in forensic DNA analysis.

1. Introduction

Short tandem repeat (STR) markers are highly effective in determining personal identity, and Y chromosome STR loci and population genetic data from a wide range of ethnic groups are now routinely used in forensics [1], [2], [3], [4]. While SNPs have also been applied in kinship testing, more of these binary markers than STRs are required to be useful. However, SNPs have certain advantages over STRs, including much greater mutational stability and good performance when typing highly degraded DNA [5], [6], [7]. The Y chromosome carries the largest amount of non-recombining DNA and contains stable binary markers that can be used in evolutionary studies. Y chromosome SNPs typing can help trace the origins and history of human populations by tracking migrational patterns [8].

The human Y chromosome tree contains 20 major clades, consisting of 311 distinct haplogroups defined by hundreds of binary markers [9], [10]. To classify the Japanese population, we selected haplogroups C, D, and O, reported as major haplogroups in Japan and East Asia, and haplogroups N and Q, found at low frequencies in Japan [9], [11]. Recent reports indicate that much of the Japanese population can be subdivided into sub-haplogroups D2 and O2 [9]. We established three mini multiplex PCR systems to classify the Japanese population. System 1 is capable of classifying the Japanese population into the major clades C, D, D1, D2, D3, O, O1a, O2, O3, N, and Q. System 2 subdivides clade D2; System 3 subdivides clade O2. These PCR systems use single-base extension (SBE) reactions.

The goal of this study was to develop methods for analyzing difficult DNA samples encountered in forensics. The analysis of highly fragmented DNA or samples containing PCR inhibitors using commercially-available STR typing kits often fails to resolve informative profiles. Several methods have been proposed to remove the inhibitors or reduce their effects. MiniSTR analysis allows us to analyze degraded DNA samples efficiently by obtaining short PCR products [12], [13], [14], [15], [16]. We focused on Y chromosome SNPs used in haplogroup classification and applied the present systems to personal identification tasks. The advantage of using the simultaneously detected multiplex system of Y chromosome SNPs is the capacity to predict the haplogroup even if the typing of the alleles is incomplete. To make the systems more useful with such samples, we designed primers to render amplicons of 150bp. We analyzed highly degraded DNA to determine the efficacy of these multiplex systems.

2. Materials and methods

2.1. Samples and DNA extraction

This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Shinshu University. After obtaining informed consent, we collected samples from 432 healthy unrelated adult Japanese males representing virtually every prefecture in Japan (including Hokkaido and Okinawa) and extracted DNA from blood or buccal mucosa cells using the QIAamp DNA Blood Mini Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany). We also extracted DNA from various male bone samples by SDS-proteinase K treatment followed by phenol/chloroform extraction.

2.2. Primer design and multiplex PCR amplification

We selected 22 SNPs from the non-coding regions of the Y chromosome using the phylogenetic tree of Y chromosome haplogroups, focusing on Japanese groups (Fig. 1). Each primer set was designed using Primer3Plus software ( to generate amplicons (including each SNP) of ⩽150bp by setting each primer binding site close to SNP. Each primer was checked for the potential self-dimer structures using AutoDimer software ( We checked each PCR primer set by agarose gel electrophoresis to confirm that each product was peculiar to male DNA and confirmed the allele typing of single base extension products by DNA sequencing with a 3130xl Genetic Analyzer (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA).

      • View full-size image.
        • View Large Image (top of the page)
      • Fig. 1.

        Phylogenetic tree of 22 Y chromosome binary polymorphisms analyzed in this study. Marker names are indicated above the lines. SNPs are indicated by red letters in System 1, blue letters in System 2, and green letters in System 3.

We ran three mini multiplex PCR systems. System 1 (undecaplex M15, RPS4Y711, M231, P31, P191, M119, IMS-JST021355, M242, P99, M179, and M122) roughly subdivided the Japanese population into haplogroups C, D, D1, D2, D3, O, O1a, O2, O3, N, and Q. System 2 (octaplex IMS-JST022457, M116.1, M125, P151, P120, P42, M179, and P12) further subdivided haplogroup D2, while System 3 (pentaplex SRY465, M95, P31, M88, and PK4) further subdivided haplogroup O2. …

3. Results

We established three mini Y chromosome SNP multiplex systems using 22 Y chromosome binary markers to identify 23 haplogroups in the Japanese population. Sensitivity studies detected allele peaks at >150 relative fluorescence units. In investigating template DNA concentrations with System 1, we observed several additional peaks with 50pg of template DNA. Interpretation of analyses with 50pg of template DNA in Systems 2 and 3 proved difficult due to low peaks. To avoid mistyping attributable to extra peaks, we set the low template level between 50 and 100pg. While allele typing was successful in the group with 5ng of template DNA, the target peaks were too high, and extra peaks were observed. Thus, we set the maximum template level at <2ng. Typing proved possible for all samples with template DNA amounts between 100pg and 2ng, and no significant extra peaks were observed. Within these limits established by DNA detection range analysis, allele typing for all selected SNPs proved successful with each system. Fig. 3 shows the results for DNA from 9948 DNA (Promega, Madison, WI) obtained using our systems. When SNP analysis was performed using female DNA as a template or negative control, no PCR bands were detected. Non-expected peaks were occasionally visible, but these peaks did not affect SNP evaluations.


  • Fig. 3.

    Electropherograms for 9948 DNA obtained using the present SNP systems.

Most of the Japanese population can be classified using these three mini Y chromosome SNP multiplex systems. Table 1 shows the frequency for the Japanese population. Mutations RPS4Y711 (haplogroup C), IMS-JST021355 (haplogroup D), and P191 (haplogroup O), respectively, were 8.3%, 30.3%, and 59.0%, haplogroup frequencies similar to those found in past studies [18], [19], [20], [21]. Mutations M231 (haplogroup N) and M242 (haplogroup Q) were rarely found in this study. Using Systems 2 and 3, we subdivided populations of haplogroups D2 and O2. In this survey, haplogroup D2a1b (16.2%) was the most frequent in Japanese haplogroup D populations and haplogroup O2b (32.2%) the most frequent in the haplogroup O population. The haplogroup frequencies observed in haplogroup D2 and O2 were similar to those reported in previous studies[19], [20].

Table 1. The haplogroup frequencies for Japanese population.
Haplogroup No. of samples Frequency
C 36 0.083
D 0 0
D1 0 0
D2 22 0.051
D2a 29 0.067
D2a1 3 0.007
D2a1a 6 0.014
D2a1a1 0 0
D2a1b 70 0.162
D2a2 0 0
D2a3 1 0.002
D3 0 0
N 4 0.009
O 0 0
O1 0 0
O1a 7 0.016
O2 15 0.035
O2a 0 0
O2a1 0 0
O2a1a 0 0
O2b 139 0.322
O3 94 0.218
Q 2 0.005
Not determined 4 0.009

We also investigated the effectiveness of our systems in analyzing degraded samples. We re-analyzed a set of 30 hard tissue samples unsuccessfully examined using the protocol for a commercially available AmpFLSTR Yfiler Kit. This protocol had produced unsatisfactory results for at least 7 of the 16 loci. Fig. 4 shows the results of our analysis of the degraded DNA samples. Only 8 alleles were successfully typed using the AmpFLSTR Yfiler Kit; in contrast, the present systems proved able to detect all alleles and define the haplogroup. Table 2 presents the results of our analysis. The present systems proved capable of classifying 29 of 30 degraded DNA samples previously examined unsuccessfully using the AmpFLSTR Yfiler Kit. We also used the three systems to analyze an artificially degraded DNA sample (Table 3). In tests of degraded DNA digested with DNase, typing had failed for more than half the loci. In contrast, the present systems also proved effective with these degraded samples (Supplementary data 3).

      • View full-size image.
      • Fig. 4.

        (a) Electropherograms for degraded DNA sample from a male, extracted from a hard tissue sample and obtained using the AmpFLSTR Yfiler Kit (Applied Biosystems). (b) Electropherograms for degraded DNA samples from a male, extracted from hard tissue sample and obtained using the present SNP systems.

Table 2. The result of allele typing using the Y-SNPs multiplex systems for degraded DNA.
Sample No. AmpflSTR
Yfiler Kit
System 1 System 2 System 3 Haplogroup
1 9a 9b 3 3 (–)c
2 7 9 8 5 O2b
3 3 11 6 5 O2b
4 8 10 6 5 O2b
5 9 10 6 5 D2a1
6 9 11 7 5 D2a1a
7 9 10 8 5 D2a1b
8 9 10 8 5 O2b
9 8 8 7 5 O2b
10 9 8 7 5 D2a1b
11 9 8 7 4 D2a1b
12 9 8 8 5 D2a1a
13 9 10 6 4 Q
14 6 7 7 5 O2b
15 6 5 5 5 O2b
16 7 8 5 4 O3
17 3 9 6 4 D2a1a
18 6 11 8 5 O3
19 2 8 7 2 O1a
20 9 11 7 4 O3
21 8 7 8 5 D2a1b
22 4 8 8 5 D2
23 7 10 8 5 D2a
24 7 10 8 5 O2b
25 9 9 8 5 O2
26 9 9 6 4 O3
27 6 8 7 5 O2b
28 8 8 8 5 D2a
29 6 9 7 5 D2a1b
30 9 7 8 5 D2a

aNumber of loci typed successfully in the AmpflSTR Yfiler Kit.

bNumber of loci typed successfully in miniY-SNP systems.

c(–) Indicate not fully information.

Table 3. The result of allele typing using the Y-SNPs multiplex systems for artificially degraded DNA.
Enzyme reaction
time (min)
Yfiler Kit
System 1 System 2 System 3
0 16a 11b 8 5
2 16 11 8 5
5 16 11 8 5
10 16 11 8 5
30 16 11 8 5
60 11 11 8 5
90 7 11 8 5
120 7 11 8 5

aNumber of loci typed successfully in the AmpflSTR Yfiler Kit.

bNumber of loci typed successfully in miniY-SNP systems.

4. Discussion

STR and SNP analyses have become essential tools for determining personal identity based on biological samples. Current research is especially active in the area of autosomal and Y chromosome STRs and SNPs [22], [23], [24], [25], [26], [27]. Commercially available STR multiplex kits are not specifically manufactured for the analysis of forensic samples; forensic scientists often encounter problems during analysis of degraded DNA. To date, multiplex SNP analysis of degraded DNA samples has not been investigated extensively. We configured three systems to perform simultaneous analysis of biallelic markers on the Y chromosome that classify haplogroups in the Japanese population and began by evaluating the performance of our systems with Japanese haplogroup classification. We applied the newly devised mini Y chromosome SNP multiplex PCR systems to the analysis of samples from 432 Japanese men. The results indicated frequencies of major haplogroups consistent with those found in previous studies [18], [19], [20], [21]. For 0.9% of the Japanese population, we failed to discover any mutations using our three Y chromosome SNP analysis systems. These samples appear to belong to haplogroups I and R [11]. The haplogoup D lineage occurs most frequently in Central Asia and in Japan; the haplogroup D2 lineage is rarely found outside Japan [11]. In this survey, all haplogroup D instances belonged to haplogroup D2, while the frequencies of subhaplogroups D2, D2a1, and D2a1b showed no significant differences from previous reports and fine classifications, suggesting that System 2 may be very useful in subdividing the Japanese haplogroup D2 population. Where further classification is required, IMS-JST022456 may help define the subclades of haplogroup D2 [20].

Haplogroup O, the most prevalent haplogroup in Japan, was divided by System 1 and further divided by System 3. In System 1, 21.3% of samples branched into haplogroup O3. Using System 3, we demonstrated that haplogroup O2 branched into haplogroup O2b (32.2%). Haplogroups O2b and O3 accounted for more than half the Japanese population. Introducing still another system to subdivide haplogroups O2b and O3 should make it still more useful for personal identification. Reports indicate many individuals in the Japanese haplogroup O2b have the 47z mutation (haplogroup O2b1) [11], [25]. Additionally, the Japanese haplogroup O3 can be divided into further subgroups [27], [28].

We found that …

– haplogroup O accounted for 59.0% of the samples;

– haplogroup D for 30.3% of the samples; and

haplogroup C for 8.3%.

Several studies indicate haplogroups C, D, and O are found in more than 95% of the East Asian population [18], [28], but at differing proportions from country to country. Japan features high proportions of haplogroup D, while South Korea features high proportions of haplogroup C [28]. Genetic differences between East Asians are also evident in mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. Mitochondrial DNA is an excellent tool for forensic genetics due to the high copy numbers per cell and maternal inheritance. Certain mitochondrial haplogroups, such as M7a and N9b, occur frequently in the Japanese population but are rarely encountered in other East Asian populations [29]. Using mitochondrial and Y chromosome SNPs, we can exploit these differences to categorize East Asian populations into the appropriate haplogroups.

Personal identification requires further classification; forensic scientists often encounter major difficulties in analyzing degraded DNA samples. Quite often, degraded DNA samples cannot be successfully analyzed using commercially available kits subject to sample volume limitations. In forensic examinations, an additional system capable of fine sub-classification may help. The objective of the present study is to apply these methods to analyze degraded samples for forensic purposes. Allele typing by Y chromosome SNPs analysis is easier than with autosomal or X chromosome SNPs because heterozygosities and systems that detect stimulatory Y chromosome SNP can often predict haplogroups, even with incomplete allele typing. STRs are known to produce stutter artifacts differing from true alleles that may complicate analysis; on the other hand, SNP analysis is very simple.

Our new systems containing 22 Y chromosome SNPs promise effective and efficient analysis of highly degraded DNA samples in the Japanese population. The short amplicons used in this study offer the potential to become the tool of choice for analyzing degraded DNA samples [17], [30]. To test these hypotheses, we used amplification product lengths between 77bp (M122) and 150bp (M231 and M95) for all Y chromosome SNPs. On this basis, our systems proved capable of generating favorable results with highly degraded DNA samples. … these systems proved effective with samples in which STRs could be detected in >2 loci. Analytical results for artificially degraded samples substituting for highly degraded forensic DNA sources were also superior to those obtained using commercial STR kits. For degraded DNA samples for which alleles were not completely detected, this means these systems can easily determine haplogroups and that even if haplogroups are not determined to precise subgroups, the detected SNPs can help achieve personal identification.

Selecting 22 Y chromosome SNPs and developing Y chromosome SNP multiplex systems (mini Y chromosome SNP) to analyze degraded DNA samples, we demonstrated these systems are capable of identifying polymorphisms in Japanese subjects and of analyzing highly degraded samples for personal identification in forensic studies.

Scholars confirm first discovery of Japanese sword from master bladesmith Masamune in 150 years

Around 500 confirmed sunken shipwreck sites in Japanese waters lack funding for underwater archaeological survey and research work

13th c. Mongol shipwreck found off Japanese waters (Photo: The Telegraph)

13th c. Mongol shipwreck found off Japanese waters (Photo: The Telegraph)

What historical secrets lie hidden within sunken ships around japan?

The Yomiuri Shimbun Aug 25, 2014

Surveying and exploring sunken ships on the seafloor off Japan’s coasts could reveal new historical facts and information. We think more efforts should be made to research such underwater wrecks and sites.

About 500 such sites have been confirmed in Japanese waters.

On the seabed off Matsuura, Nagasaki Prefecture, lie the remains of a military vessel thought to have sunk during the Mongolian invasions of Japan in the 13th century. It was discovered three years ago by a research group from the University of the Ryukyus. Items including spherical fragmentation bombs, which were drawn as “tetsuhau” (grenades) in “Moko Shurai Ekotoba,” illustrated narratives of the Mongolian invasions, were found at the site and recovered.

The sea area near this site is home to what is known as the Takashima Kozaki site. This was the first submerged site in Japan to be registered as a national historic site. Furthermore, underwater exploration of the area was conducted this summer.

The Cultural Affairs Agency plans to use the achievements and results of this research in future surveys of underwater ruins and sites. It has launched an exploratory committee of scholars to oversee this task. We have high hopes that there are outstanding developments in store.

The Seto Inland Sea is the final resting place for the Iroha Maru, the ship carrying Sakamoto Ryoma that collided with a ship run by the feudal Kishu domain during the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate. Furnishings thought to have been used in the ship’s cabins have already been retrieved from the site.

Chinese ceramics from about the 13th century have been found in the sea near Ojikajima island, which is one of the Goto Islands that are part of Nagasaki Prefecture and have served as key traffic lane on the sea route to China from ancient times.

Despite such examples of the historically significant items under the sea, in actuality most submerged sites around Japan have been left untouched.

Funding main problem

Underwater archaeology is the study of sunken ships and ancient cities that have sunk below the surface of the sea, a field that can provide insight into the levels of craftsmen’s skills and technology, as well as into people’s ways of life at the time. Since the end of World War II, this discipline has mostly developed in Europe and the United States.

In recent years, advances in sonar, remotely controlled cameras and other technologies have helped researchers learn even more about what lies under the sea. Japan lags behind many other countries when it comes to underwater archaeology and needs to strengthen its foundation in the field.

The greatest obstacle to this is funding. Surveying underwater reportedly costs about 10 times as much as examining ruins on land, so finding the cash for such projects is daunting. In many cases, local governments and research institutes play a central role in conducting such surveys.

However, underwater surveys can, on occasion, run up bills of hundreds of millions of yen. Such exorbitant costs have probably given organizers of many potential projects cold feet. To conduct surveys of ruins with historical value, financial support from the central government is essential.

Japan also will need to nurture more underwater archaeology experts.

Japan is a member of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The convention states for objects of an archaeological and historical nature “particular regard” will be “paid to the preferential rights of the State or country of origin, or the State of cultural origin.” There will likely be cases in which the examination of foreign ships that sank in waters near Japan will require coordination with the nation from which the ship came.

The first task for the government will be sorting out and examining the various issues involved in the survey of underwater wrecks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 25, 2014)

Study Reveals DNA Links Between Ancient Peruvians, Japanese

Aug 17, 2014 Latin American Herald Tribune reports…

LIMA — A study has revealed genetic links between people who inhabited northern Peru more than 1,000 years ago and Japanese, El Comercio newspaper reported Thursday.

Japanese physical anthropologist Ken-ichi Shinoda performed DNA tests on the remains of human bodies found in the East Tomb and West Tomb in the Bosque de Pomas Historical Sanctuary, which are part of the Sican Culture Archaeological Project, funded by Japan’s government.

The director of the Sican National Museum, Carlos Elera, told the daily that Shinoda found that people who lived more than 1,000 years ago in what today is the Lambayeque region, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Lima, had genetic links to the contemporaneous populations of Ecuador, Colombia, Siberia, Taiwan and to the Ainu people of northern Japan.

The studies will be continued on descendents of the Mochica culture, from the same region, who are currently working on the Sican Project and with people who live in the vicinity of the Bosque de Pomac Historical Sanctuary.

Peruvian archaeologist Luis Chero told El Comercio that “currently, the DNA results have great value because they can be understood to show that there were people who arrived in these zones from Asia and who then converted these zones into the great culture of the New World.”

The results of the studies will be presented at an exhibit on the Sican culture that will be set up for a year at the Tokyo Museum of Science and Nature.

Also to be displayed at that exhibit will be gold, silver and copper jewelry found in the tombs of the ancient Sican rulers and priests.

Bold new 2014 DNA study proposes when and where the three major populations of Africa, Europe and East Asians diverged and suggests why the Ainu look like Europeans

The traditional view that humans fall into three major populations, Africans, East Asians, and Europeans, with the latter two diverging from the African ancestors ∼55,000 years ago, has been re-examined by a group of researchers, who have come to a bold and different conclusion — and who have put forward a new view that East Asians diverged from Africans first, and that only later did the Europeans diverge from the East Asian grouping.

The study also proposes a new theory of origins of the Ainu. The long-debated and mystifying European appearance of the Ainu people is explained, as congruent with the idea that the Ainu people emerged at the point of time when Europeans were beginning to diverge from East Asians.

The results of the research has just been published in the Genome Biology and Evolution Journal, entitled “Divergence of East Asians and Europeans Estimated Using Male- and Female-Specific Genetic Markers” by Yoshio TATENO et al. Genome Biol Evol (2014) 6 (3): 466-473. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evu027

Excerpted from the paper:

“We sequenced Y-STR makers in Y chromosome and collected complete mtDNAs for many East Asian and European individuals to reexamine that view” … “focused on the divergence of three major populations — Africans, Europeans, and East Asians—and East Asians and Europeans in particular, because they lived together for a while after coming out of Africa and likely interbred, perhaps similar to the hybridizations reported between Neanderthals and modern humans (Noonan 2006). After the divergence between Mongoloid (East Asian) and Caucasoid (European) people ~55,000 years ago (Nei and Roychoudhury 1993), they might have still interbred while en route to settlement in their present localities…”

“For the male lineages, we used the Y-STR markers for 453 individuals covering Japanese, Korean, Mongolian (Khalkh), American, and European people. We determined the evolutionary distances (RST) among them, and constructed a phylogenetic tree using the NJ method (Saitou and Nei 1987), as shown in figure 1. The Y-STR tree revealed that the male ancestral lineage contained two clades (Yap-A and Yap-B). While Yap-A clade includes the East Asian individuals only, Yap-B clade contains the East Asian and European individuals together. Surprisingly, the European males never formed an independent clade. Instead, they formed separate clades within Yap-B.”

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

” We then constructed a phylogenetic tree (Mt tree) for the 72 complete mtDNAs including the four ethnic groups, as shown in figure 2. We used Kimura’s two parameter method (Kimura 1980) for computing evolutionary distances among them and the NJ method for the tree construction. The Mt tree revealed two female descendant clades (Mt A and Mt B). Mt B consisted of the East Asian females only, while Mt A contained the East Asian and European females together. As in the case of males, the European females did not form an independent clade, but comprised several groups within the Mt A tree. As the Mt A cluster includes roughly as many European individuals as East Asian individuals, it is not clear which of them is ancestral to the other. The node marked with the blue circle in figure 2 suggests that the East Asians are ancestral to the Europeans. The bootstrap value of the node is 99%. Therefore, both male and female lineages suggest that Europeans diverged from within East Asian ancestors or that they interbred with East Asian individuals up to a certain divergence time.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Our next question was thus to estimate the divergence time of the European clade within the East Asian lineage, for males and females separately. To address that question, we computed the evolutionary distance (RST) between every pair of the male individuals to construct the Y-STR tree in figure 1. The researchers’ conclusion was that “the divergence time of the European males is ∼40,100 years ago” while they “estimated the divergence time of the European females, as ∼41,500 years ago.”

Our results suggest that the European people settled down in their territories ∼41,000 year ago, and have developed their own cultures and languages since then.

On the other hand, the East Asians were classified into two clusters; one is Type 1 East Asians denoted as Yap-A [this is the grouping that carries C,D hgs and YAP+ genes, i.e. the Jomon and Ainu ancestral line] and Mt B clusters in the male and female trees, respectively, and the other is Type 2 East Asians denoted as Yap-B and Mt A clusters in the male and female trees, respectively.

While Type 1 includes East Asian individuals only, Type 2 contains East Asians and European individuals together.

FIG. 4.— The general view of the East Asian and European divergences is summarized in figure 4.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Fig. 4 Phlyogenetic tree of the major human populations Africans, Type 1 East Asians, Europeans and Type 2 East Asians

Both the Y-STR and mtDNA trees consistently show that Europeans diverged from East Asian ancestors ∼41,000 years ago.”

Dealing with the question of differences in facial morphology and phenotypes, the paper proposed:

“Population genetic theory indicates that 41,000 years, or about 2,000 generations, are long enough to accumulate SNPs in the same loci in each lineage (Kimura 1983; Nei 1987) to account for the present genetic and phenotypic differences between the East Asians and Europeans, but too short to acquire independent loci between them. Recently, Liu (2012) reported on five genes responsible for the facial morphology of European people. The East Asian people must have the counterparts that differ at the SNP level from those in the European people. As our phylogenetic trees demonstrate, the European alleles at the five loci have diverged from the ancestral East Asian alleles.

Our result contrasts with the traditional view that Europeans and East Asians simultaneously diverged from African ancestors 55,000 years ago. It is noteworthy, however, that Shinoda (2007) investigated into the haplogroups of mtDNA, and revealed a number of evolutionary haplotype lineages. The lineages include L3 (African), N (East Asian), W (European), and L3 to N to R (East Asian) and then HV (European) among others. Though they did not explain their results, their haplotype lineages can now be understood by our finding that the Europeans diverged from the East Asians. Therefore, the discrepancy between the traditional view and ours lies mainly in that the traditional view was based on autosomal genes that evolved much slower than Y-STR or mtDNA, and could not distinguish the evolutionary lineages at the individual level. Note that, as estimated earlier, the evolutionary rate of mtDNA is 2.4 × 10−8 per site per year, while that of nuclear neutral sequences is 2.0 × 10−9 per site per year (Fukami Kobayashi 2005). The discrepancy also is due to the fact that while we dealt with many male and female individuals in our study, the other studies did not.

Our result contrasts with the traditional view that Europeans and East Asians simultaneously diverged from African ancestors 55,000 years ago. It is noteworthy, however, that Shinoda (2007) investigated into the haplogroups of mtDNA, and revealed a number of evolutionary haplotype lineages. The lineages include L3 (African), N (East Asian), W (European), and L3 to N to R (East Asian) and then HV (European) among others. Though they did not explain their results, their haplotype lineages can now be understood by our finding that the Europeans diverged from the East Asians. Therefore, the discrepancy between the traditional view and ours lies mainly in that the traditional view was based on autosomal genes that evolved much slower than Y-STR or mtDNA, and could not distinguish the evolutionary lineages at the individual level.

… according to the classification agreed at the Y Chromosome Consortium (2002) and elsewhere (Karafet et al. 2008), we found that all individuals in the Yap-B1 in figure 1 belonged to either haplogroup C or D, while the majority in the Yap- B2 belonged to haplogroup O. Since Yap-B1 includes mainly Japanese and Korean males, in which 91% individuals share haplotype O2b, the Korean and Japanese males are definitely closest to one another within East Asian humans. We also found a high frequency of the O2b haplotype in Manchu (Northern China) and Korean-Chinese samples (Katoh et al. 2005b; Kim et al. 2011).
The origin of the Ainu people is still an unresolved issue (Tajima et al. 2004). On the basis of our results, we propose a possible scenario for the origin of the Ainu people, who now live in the north-most island of the Japanese archipelago, Hokkaido. The Ainu people have European phenotypic characters, but they are genetically closer to East Asians than to Europeans (Watanabe 1975). These contradictory features of the Ainu people are puzzling. As shown in figure 4, Europeans may have diverged from East Asians ∼41,000 years ago, it is possible that hybrid individuals were born before the divergence, and some of them looked more like the Europeans while possessing a generally East Asian genotype. We suggest that the ancestor of the Ainu people was such a group of the hybrid individuals. We note that the present Ainu people share the mtDNA haplotype not with the Japanese but with the European living in Siberia, Russia (Adachi et al. 2009). Thus, we furthermore suggest that the ancestor of the Ainu originated in northern Eurasia and took a route through Siberia and north China before settling in northern regions of Japan and nearby places. There is a report that other people than the Ainu also lived in the northern regions but disappeared (Adachi et al. 2009). As the people in Okinawa islands are closest to the Ainu people in the East Asians (Jinam et al. 2012), they might also be descendants from of mixing of East Asian and European lineages.

Phylogenetic trees of Y-STR makers and Mt genes suggest that the Europeans interbred with East Asians until ∼41,000 years ago. On the other hand, East Asians diverged from their African ancestors ∼55,000 years ago. Therefore, we suggest that the European and East Asian lineages diverged ∼41,000 years ago.


What are the implications for Japanese settlement and migrational history theory:

To recap, this is what we can glean from this study with respect to the populating of Japan.

– East Asians diverged from their African ancestors ∼55,000 years ago –>

Earliest East Asian grouping

YAP-A   which is made up of C, D and YAP+ hgs. This group comprises mainly of Khalkh Mongolians and predominantly Japanese (all arching Japanese grouping, note: ancestral lineages Jomon, Ainu showed highest frequencies of YAP+, but a significant component of the lineages of the modern Japanese population today still carry a strong signal of the ancient YAP+ gene. YAP+ is an ancient Out-of-Africa marker – borne only by group), Koreans and Europeans in somewhat more miniscule numbers. (This is presumably is the oldest Out-of-Africa grouping, because it includes YAP+ genes.)

The study proposes that Ainu arose out of hybrid individuals were born before the divergence of Europeans from East Asians ∼41,000 years ago, and some of whom looked more like the Europeans while possessing a generally East Asian genotype may have diverged. The ancestor of the Ainu originated in northern Eurasia and took a route through Siberia and north China before settling in northern regions of Japan and nearby places.

The study also proposes that the people in Okinawa islands being closest to the Ainu people in the East Asians (Jinam et al. 2012),were likely descendants from of mixing of East Asian and European lineages.

According to the study, the Y-STR tree (focusing on male lineages comprising Japanese, Korean, Mongolian (Khalkh), American, and European people only), revealed that the male ancestral lineage contained two clades (Yap-A and Yap-B). While Yap-A clade includes the East Asian individuals only, Yap-B clade contains the East Asian and European individuals together.

– East Asian and European groups diverge at around 41,000 ya

in the East Asian-only group – Yap-B1 in figure 1 belonged to either haplogroup C or D [Other studies have proposed that C and D lineages are the earliest or among the earliest groups to settle East Asia.  Hg C is thought to have come from a southerly possibly coastal origin, while D from a either a southerly or southwesterly direction]  However, since Yap-B1 includes mainly Japanese and Korean males, in which 91% individuals share haplotype O2b, the Korean and Japanese males are definitely closest to one another within East Asian humans (a high frequency of the O2b haplotype also found in Manchu (Northern China) and Korean-Chinese samples).

– The branching of NO – and the branching of Y-DNA O into subclades on the continent is a highly complex picture and the roots of the tree only beginning to be understood.  According to the study the majority of Yap- B2 belonged to haplogroup O.  The European males never formed an independent clade. Instead, they formed separate clades within Yap-B.

A few points I wish to make here:

Given that the study’s groupings of Yap A and YAP B1 and B2 groups involve the haplogroups C, D and O, it is surprising that the paper does not cite or try to reconcile the results of important studies that have proposed the origins and migrational paths for these groups.  For example,

Abstract: “…our detailed analysis of hg N suggests that its high frequency in east Europe is due to its more recent expansion westward on a counter-clock northern route from inner Asia/southern Siberia, approximately 12–14 ky ago. The widespread presence of hg N in Siberia, together with its absence in Native Americans, implies its spread happened after the founder event for the Americas. The most frequent subclade N3, arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe. Another branch, N2, forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian (N2-A) and European (N2-E), the latter now mostly distributed in Finno-Ugric and related populations. These phylogeographic patterns provide evidence consistent with male-mediated counter-clockwise late Pleistocene–Holocene migratory trajectories toward Northwestern Europe from an ancestral East Asian source of Paleolithic heritage.”

Excerpts from the body of the paper:

” … the spatial distributions for ancestral paragroup NO-M214*, paragroup N-M231* and the prevalent hg O-M175 (Figure 2a, c, d) are generally congruent and highlight Southeast Asia as the most parsimonious source region of these clades. The spread pattern of paragroup NO*approximates the same regions of Southeast Asia as paragroup N*, although being present at an even lower frequency compared with N*18, 19 (data from Kayser et al19 updated in present study). More notable, however, is the fact that the spatial dynamics of the whole N and O haplogroups greatly differ from each other. The split between N* and O is dated to 34.6plusminus4.7 thousand years (ky). The age of STR variation of hg O in Southeast Asia probably exceeds 26 ky,10 and its numerous subclades currently predominate in southern and southeastern Asia extending into northern China, Manchuria and some Siberian populations,7, 9, 11,20, 21 as well as westward to the eastern sector of the Indian subcontinent10 and eastward to Oceania.

The phylogeography of the NO* and N* lineages (Figure 2a, d) and the presence of N* chromosomes in southern East Asia (South China and Cambodia, see Supplementary Table 1) suggests that this region could be the source of the initial spread of hg N. In this scenario, the Altay/Sayan/southern Siberia region might have been a place of transition of hg N westward as all major subclades of hg N are still to be found there. …

In summary, Y chromosome haplogroup N presents a case of gene flow to eastern Europe that has its likely ultimate source in east Asia.”

See also the other paper by SHi H, et al, “Genetic Evidence of an East Asian Origin and Paleolithic Northward Migration of Y-chromosome Haplogroup N” and also  Austro-Asiatic Tribes of Northeast India Provide Hitherto Missing Genetic Link between South and Southeast Asia Mohan Reddy et al., PLoS ONE. 2007; 2(11): e1141. 2007 (alternative theory for the origin of O-M95 in the Austro-Asiatic tribes of N-E India.


The 2014 paper in ignoring the aforementioned research papers leaves hanging other fundamental questions: Before East Asia, what was the route taken out of Africa of all these founding haplogroups – a southern one or northern one, single migration route or multiple (See Single, Rapid Coastal Settlement of Asia Revealed by Analysis of Complete Mitochondrial Genomes, Vincent Macaulay et al.,  Science 13 May 2005: Vol. 308 no. 5724 pp. 10341036DOI:10.1126/science.1109792; ; Extended Y chromosome investigation suggests postglacial migrations of modern humans into East Asia via the northern route. Zhong H, et al. Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Jan;28(1):717-27.

Finally, the Japanese samples are classified broadly as Japanese samples (but Ainu and Okinawan and ancient Jomon DNA, are usually differentiated from modern Honshu Japanese samples, here it is all lumped here into one great grouping). Would the study’s results have showed a vastly different picture had they tested against specific samples of Ainu, ancient Jomon (different locations in Japan), as well as against against different continental populations of Altai-Buryat Mongols, Tibetans, Tungusic-Amur or Nikhs peoples, Yakuts, Evenkhs, Kazakhs???

See also:

DNA analyses and inferred genetic origins of the Ainu

Making sense of DNA data and the origins of the Japanese

YAP-positive element in the Y-chromosomes of the Ainu people

Resources on Ainu DNA

NHK World: A late 6th c. pyramid newly uncovered at Asuka, Nara, may belong to Soga no Iname

Reconstructed scene of what the Miyako-zuka pyramid looked like

Reconstructed scene of what the Miyako-zuka pyramid looked like

A pyramid has been uncovered by archaeologists at Asuka, Nara, NHK World news announced his evening.



Pyramids, though not unknown in Japan, are very rare. The Zuto and Doto pagoda pyramids also in Nara are from the 8th century, but this newly discovered pyramid, is believed to be from the latter part of the 6th century (and contemporaneous with the reign of Prince Shotoku).

Miyakozuka pyramid site

Miyakozuka pyramid site

Located in Asuka village, a village already well known for its many unusual megalithic discoveries, this pyramid is located at Miyako-zuka only 400 metres away from the Ishibutai tomb.

Ishibutai tomb's occupant is thought to be related that of the Miyako-zuka tomb

Ishibutai tomb’s occupant is thought to be related that of the Miyako-zuka tomb

The Ishibutai tomb thought to be the tomb of the Soga no Umako, a powerful minister of the imperial court and leader of the ruling clan of the Yamato state. Miyako-zuka is believed to pre-date the Ishibutai tomb.

Experts believe the pyramid likely belonged to the father of Soga no Umako. Soga no Iname (蘇我 稲目, 506 – March 22, 570). Soga no Iname was a leader of the Soga clan and a statesman during the reign of Emperor Kimmei in the Asuka period. He was the first person to hold the position of Ōomi that can be verified with reasonable accuracy, in 536 AD.


Pyramids, the closest ones in proximity to Japan’s, are found in Jilin (modern-day China) which belonged to the Korean Kingdom of Koguryo (in yellow above)


According to the experts, based on a reading of the text of the ancient Nihon Shoki (see photos above) Soga no Iname is the most likely candidate for the occupant of the pyramid tomb, and because his two wives are known to have been from the Koguryo Kingdom,  this provides a strong reason why the pyramidal tomb design of Koguryo would have been introduced at this time.

Update from Jiji Press via The Yomiuri Shimbun, 15th Aug, 2014

6th century tomb likely step pyramid in shape

NARA (Jiji Press)—A large ancient rectangular tomb in the village of Asuka in Nara Prefecture may have had a rare pyramid shape, according to a group of archeologists.

The Miyakozuka tomb is believed to have been built in the latter half of the sixth century.

It was likely a step pyramid made of multiple stone layers, experts at the municipal education board and Kansai University’s Archaeological Research Institute said Wednesday.

The tomb may have been influenced by ancient tumuli built near the border between China and North Korea given its similar structure, according to the experts.

It is thought that Soga no Iname, a Yamato Dynasty leader who died in 570, was buried in the tomb. He is known to have had close links with people from China and the Korean Peninsula who immigrated to Japan.

After excavating the mound and surrounding areas of the Miyakozuka tomb, the group of archeologists found stair-like architectural remains at three locations.

Four layers of stones were found at one location, and one layer was discovered at each of the two other locations.

Based on the findings, the group said it believes the tomb had a pyramid-like structure with seven or eight stone layers.

The mound is estimated to have been at least 4.5 meters high on the east side and 7 meters high on the west, with each side being more than 40 meters long.

Soga no Iname is known to have had strong ties to Koguryo as he is believed to have had two wives from the ancient Korean kingdom.

The village of Asuka is known for many megalithic discoveries. They include the Ishibutai tomb believed to have been built in the seventh century for Soga no Umako, son of Iname, who died in 626.

Clay pots and ironware were unearthed from the Miyakozuka tomb in a survey started in 1967 by the Kansai University research institute and others. But the size of the mound, its structure and other details remained unknown.


For further reading, see Sakai’s list of 12 pyramids

The pyramids of Suzuki Akira

Ram’s horns motif on painted tomb murals of western Japan points to the identity of the immigrant groups from the continent

Painted tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka tomb, Fukuoka

Painted tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka tomb, Fukuoka (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A distinctive spiral form motif appears on the painted mural walls of tombs in Western Japan of the Kofun Period. Depicted in the photo of the tomb mural above, the “ram’s horn” symbol appears as a herald banner on a funerary “Boat of the Underworld” scene (a fairly universal motif and belief in ancient times).

Thought locally to represent warabi fernfronds, they are actually recognizable tamgas and cultural motifs from specific Turkic clans of (Karakalpak, Kazakh, Qipchak) Central Asia, known as rams’ horns, though they have become common rug motifs today seen along the migration trail blazed by the Turkic tribes through lands in antiquity times.

A closeup section of the Ozuka tumulus shows the repetitive motif of the ram's horn in an animalistic context rather than vegetative one

A closeup section of the Ozuka tumulus (Fukuoka, Kyushu) shows the repetitive motif of the ram’s horn in an animalistic context rather than vegetative one

The marked appearance of the ram’s horns pattern raises the intriguing and strong suggestion of the arrival of certain ancestral Turkic lineages in Japan. This is especially distinctive in the light of the total absence of sheep and rams as an animal species in the Japanese archipelago. Alternatively, the motif came from the East, diffusing westwards.

The ram's horn motif on a 5th c. Armour, 国立中央博物館 suggests a male virility and valour motif

The ram’s horn motif on a 5th c. Armour ( 国立中央博物館) suggests a male virility and valour motif. The artefact is thought to be associated closely with the Korean Kaya confederation of tribes, some of which may thus have been of  Turkic lineages

On ram’s horn symbolism in Central Asia, the Azerbaijan Rug Project reported:


The motifs of this type of rugs have pre-Islamic Turkic totemic sources. Many geometric devices used in Oysuzlu type of rugs can be found commonly in rugs of Turkic speaking people of Central Asia: Turkmen, Kyrghyz, Kazak* and Karakalpak.

Although the design is attributed to Oysuzlu by L. Kerimov, it is almost certainly known that the rugs with this specific design were produced in the villages of Lowland Bordjalou Region, not in Oysuzlu village of Tovuz District (Kazak Region). The main feature of this design is having two interlocked grounds in the central field: the green and red areas in this example (background vs. foreground).


The composition of the central field consists of the three hooked medallions and half hook-rimmed lozenges on the sides of the central field aligned on the vertical axis.

Rams' horn and cruciform motif

Rams’ horn and cruciform motif

The cruciform device inside the ketebe of the central medallion is often found in Kazak, Ganja, Bordjalou and even in some Kuba rugs in different forms. The device basically consists of a cross with the four ends of which terminate in a pair of horns. Here are the same type of hooked devices in various shapes used in so called “Sewan” rugs.

What does this motif represent for? It could well be representing a tamga – a mark used mainly by Turkic people representing an emblem of a particular tribe or a clan. They used tamgas to identify property or cattle belonging to a specific Turkic clan, usually as a stamp. Some tribes, like the Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep), put their tamga on their flags and stamped their coinage with it.

The Karakalpak Kochot Pattern

A considerable number of Kyrgyz and Kazak rugs contain a motif frequently described as Karakalpak kochot. The similarity of the Karakalpak kochot and Borchaly/Oysuzlu device is clear. Karakalpak kochot also consists of a cross, the four ends of which terminate in a pair of horns. A very similar motif occurs in the embroidery of the Karakalpaks of the Aral delta (especially on the top of skull caps). In fact, this motif can be found in the applied art works of all Turkic People, from Central Asia to Iran, from Caucasia to Anatolia:

Karakalpak kolchot

Karakalpak kolchot

Koch or Kosh (qošqar) means a ram in all Turkic languages. As the name of this motif in Kyrgyz and Karakalpak is related to a ram, this suggests us the motif could be representing ram’s horn.

The hooked gül /inner medallion which is containing the ketebe and the cruciform device can be related to the early Central Asian forms and a number of Turkish rugs from Anatolia.”

*Kazakh or Qazakh: They are considered as a subtribe of Kypchak. The subgroups of Kazakh are Salahli, Kesemen, Poylu, Demirchiler etc.

Source: Some notes on the so-called ‘Oysuzlu’ design

Although these motifs are most associated with Kazakh-Turkic-Qipchak peoples today, they were also seen as tamgas belonging to the Sarmatians of the 1st c.-mid 2nd c. AD. (See The Tamgas Were Marks of Identification of the Hungarian Tribes and of their Religion ( (The earliest ram’s horn symbols may have appeared at Metsamor’s Karahunj astronomical observatories (around 3000 BC) indicating their early origins/presencein the region). Deborah Houlding in The origins of the constellations Taurus and Aries traces the Origin of the Aries-Taurus-ram’s horn symbol association to sun veneration (and the related turning of the ox’s wheel) by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.

The immigrants buried in the Fukuoka tombs may have have a mixed Iranic(Sarmatian)-Turkic tribe (see Dybo on early Turkic contacts). Cockerel standards, terracotta and metallurgy motifs also proliferate from the 3rd c. tumulus mounds onwards, the cock is a well-known known Sarmatian standard and tamgas symbol. The ram’s horn has been adopted as a symbol on the flag of the Crimean Tartars, an ethnic native Turkic group who arrived in the Crimea in thr 15th c.

The Metal Age nomadic tomb and warrior armour technology point to Eurasia as a source of the Mezurashii tomb “Solar Boat of the Underworld”, however, the close resemblance of the Austronesian motif of their ubiquitous “Spirit Boats”  on the Mannungul jar and on the Austronesian boat-houses leaves a perplexing question as to how and where the two cultures may have intermingled and adopted the same cosmology of the Underworld. See the Mananggul jar from the Philippines in the photo below, which carries both the spiral motif and “Spirit Boat” motif in the same combination as that of the Fukuoka tombs, minus the (West Asian-Egyptian) solar imagery. The Manunggul jar dated to 890-710B.C.E., may represent the same outflow migrations of Austronesian people from Southeast Asia, that also send branch migrations to Japan. The jar was found alongside of the Tabon man fossil, which is said to resemble either the Ainus or ancient Australian and Tasmanian fossils.


Genetics research suggests that the roots of the Austronesians lie in the zone of South China, Southeast China and East Asia(Kampuansai et al.,; Min-Sheng Peng et al. etc., scroll down to the bottom of this page for links to articles on Austronesian origins). The spirit boat cosmology appears to be shared by the haplogroup O tree from the earliest subclades. More research needs to be conducted on the early interactions between the Eurasians and the Austronesians/Austric peoples and on the diffusion of the shared ideas and technologies.

Further reading:

The tamga by Richard Wright

Tamgas and runes, magic numbers and magic symbols, by H Nickel

Color Appearance Recognition of Mural in the Ozuka Tumulus in Sunlight and Taper Light (Masuda et al.) a joint report of the University of Tokyo, Kyushu National Museum, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties

Sacred ram and the significance of the discovery of the 9000-year old ritual ram-arte by Niccolo Manassero

Chronology of the Turkic languages and linguistic contacts of the early Turks

Exploring the River of the Dead … (Heritage of Japan)

The Mannungul Jar as History Genetic history of Southeast Asian populations as revealed by ancient and modern human mitochondrial DNA analysis. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2008 Dec;137(4):425-40. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20884

Insight into the Peopling of Southeast Asia from the Thai Population Genetic  Structure

Min-Sheng Peng, Tracing the Austronesian Footprint in Mainland Southeast Asia: A Perspective from Mitochondrial DNA

Kampuansai, Jatupol et al., Mitochondrial DNA variation of Thai-speaking populations in northern Thailand

Houlding, Deborah : “The origins of the constellations Taurus and Aries   In ancient Egypt the ram was revered as an emblem of the Sun and held inviolate except during the New Year ceremonies when lambs were offered to the Sun in sacrifice.[9] This was a time of great spiritual significance; the re-emergence of the Sun, the resurrection of the light, the resurrection of God. Like the mythical phoenix, which arose in its own ashes, the ram was chosen as a natural symbol of resurrection because of its ability, when shorn, to replenish its stock of wool”
Note however: The appearance of the ram’s horn Taurus-Aries symbol on the at least 3000 BC old Metsamor Karahunj astronomy observatory (in Armenia)  suggests that she may be wrong about Egyptian use of the symbol predating that of the Mesopotamians.

Cranial deformation not found anywhere in Japan except on Tanegashima island

 Signs of cranial deformation in the skulls of Hirota site, Tanegashima Island

Signs of cranial deformation in the skulls of Hirota site, Tanegashima Island

One puzzling question that has persistently perplexed archaeologists and scholars is that of why no skulls with artificial cranial deformation have ever been found on the Japanese islands. This is despite the evidence in genetics that a substantive part of the Japanese genepool is shared with Korea where the cranial traits are marked.  Historical texts too say a great many immigrants called toraijin from the continent and Korea settled in the Japanese archipelagos, so it is a mystery why no cranial deformation has been observed. That is, until now. All of the skeletons uncovered at the Hirota site on Tanegashima Island (continuous settlement between Final Yayoi to Late Kofun period, 3rd to 7th century) were found to have cranial deformations. Another cranial traits study (Kato et al.) puts Mongolians, the Yayoi and Japanese and North Americans (Aleut Eskimos Arctic grouping) together in the same cluster as well as on a gradual distance cline (the Chancay were noted to show resemblance to the Ainu and Jomon in terms of facial flatness).

However, a further puzzle remains, faced to the Pacific Ocean and of a southerly orientation (being part of Kagoshima prefecture, and its procuring of shells from the southern seas), the closest head-binding practising culture would have been from the Philippines, rather than from the Hun-inhabited Eurasian continent. Being of a short stature, the Hirota people also don’t seem to fit the continental types, but appear to be closer to the Philippine type (see Mizoguchi, Conese)

From the Historic Site Hirota report:

“Lateral view of the skeleton recovered from burial No. 1, northern sector (Final Yayoi) Viewed from the side, the skull is seen to be flattened at the back. Not only this skeleton, but all of the skeletons found at Hirota were flat-headed. For this reason it is thought that the Hirota people followed the custom of deliberately deforming the skull. As people practicing this form of cranial deformation have not been found in any other region in the Japanese archipelago, it may be regarded as a special characteristic of the Hirota residents.”

The Hirota people (today Minamitane town, Kagoshima prefecture) had a unique material culture that was completely different from that on any of the other Japanese islands: they were buried in multiples in a “stone-covered graves” at the top of coastal dunes. They had an extremely rich shell-jewelry items numbering nearly 3,000 pieces, of southern seas’ Amami and Okinawan islands’ provenance. The people were all of extremely short stature, none of whom, not even the men, were over 154 cm high.


In areas contiguous to Japan on the continent:

Chinese records mention that in the 3rd century, the people of Chen-Han (Jinhan) in Korea practiced cranial deformation, and this is confirmed by skulls unearthed in the Kaya/Gaya region (see Pusan National University Museum page):

“about 30% of the Yean-ri women buried in the early 4th century site had the indications of pyeondu (“frontal cranial deformation”). The pyeondu custom is a kind of the cranial deformation custom to make a deformed head shape by pressing the forehead with a wooden board or stone since infancy. It is known that this custom was a unique custom of Byeonhan and Jinhan because it also corresponds to the article about Byeonhan and Jinhan in Sanguozhi Weishu Dongyizhuan: it says that “all the Jinhan people have a deformed skull as before because their heads were pressed with stones during their infancy.”

A Youtube Video (in Korean) highlights the customary practice in Korea and elsewhere; in Russia

Brachycephalic skulls were also reported of the Okunev Culture from amongst the “Cultures and Ethnic Groups West of China in the Second and First Millennia B.C.”,

“IN the northern zone, the progressive cultures with incipient metallurgy are Krotovo and Samus’ (between the Rivers Ob and Irtys) as well as Okunev in the Minusinsk Basin, an island of steppe on the Upper Yenisei surrounded by forested mountains (Molodin 1977). Examples of pottery with affinities to these cultures are said to have been observed in Inner Mongolia on Chinese territory (Clenova 1977; KK 1964[1]: 2). Engravings where found on stone slabs which were used as building- material in burials of the Okunev Culture. Two stylistic groups can be discerned: a realistic one, representing bulls and men with bird-masks, and a schematic one, the essential motifs of which are a horned mask with three eyes and a symbol of the sun (a ring with four tips). …The realistic style could possibly be derived from the south of Central Asia (Matjuscenko 1977). The schematic one may possibly have a relation to “cryptic magic,” which was presumed to have been the background of some painted designs of the Yangshao Culture in Kansu (Chang 19777:110-132; cf. Formozov 1969: 109, 194).

The affinities are significant, since there is a Mongoloid component of Central Asian origin in the Okunev population (brachycephalic skulls) (Ivanova 1966). Within the framework of this northern complex, a center of bronze casting and metal trade arose that later influenced Eastern Europe….”. …

In Khalcajan, a dynastic sanctuary of the Kushans, a relief of high artistic value displays a solemn act of alliance. The men of one of the participating groups were characterized by Pugacenkova (1971) as follows:

There is a marked, artificially inflicted deformation of the skull, particularly noticeable in side-view: the occiput is flat, the receding forehead bulges in a triangle over the bridge of the nose, lending a rather stern look to the faces of the men, young and aged alike. The faces are thin, the straight nose is not large. The dark eyes of average size have no trace of epicanthus, but their corners are outlined in black towards the temples; this, coupled with the high cheek-bones, lends the faces a certain “Tartar” look. The specific trimming of the black hair does not occur among other ancient peoples: the hair, bound by a strap, rises over the forehead, is combed away from the ears and clipped below them: the small arrow-shaped moustache frames the upper lip: there are side-whiskers. …

Pugacenkova compared the sculptured heads of the first group (evidently those who were in a somewhat superior social position) with the face on the coins of Heraos, who was of Yueh-chih origin and who is considered to be the ancestor of the early Kushan kings. She thinks that fraternization between the nomad invaders and the Bactrian nobility of Iranian origin belonged to the political aims of Heraos, and that his success in this respect is depicted here.

In my opinion, the main scene could even portray a double marriage which united a local dynasty with that of Heraos. This would explain how the Bactrian language prevailed over the idiom of the immigrants”

“T’ao-hung-pa-la may really represent an early stage of Hsiung-nu-Culture. The predominance of Western (from Altai and Tuva) and northern elements (from the Slab Grave culture mentioned earlier) is striking, and may have produced conditions where the Hsiung-nu were able to make the transition from the tribe to state earlier than their neighbors in regions farther to the east, such as the Hsien-pi. In addition, as is known from the historical sources, the Hsiung-nu were strongly influenced by the Yueh-chih, who lived at their southwestern borders. Embroideries on a tapestry found in Noin-Ula but only preserved in fragments (Rudenko 1962/1969, pl LX-LXIX) show male heads similar to those of the Heraos family. “


The earliest recorded evidence of artificial cranial modification dates to 45,000 BC in Neandertal skulls from the Shanidar Cave in Iraq (see Fig. 2.1, Trinkaus, Erik 1982).  Skull flattening was observed of the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE.). See “Artificial Cranial Deformation in the in Shanidar 1 and 5 Neandertals”. Current Anthropology 23 (2): 198–199. doi:10.1086/202808. JSTOR 2742361; A. Agelarakis, “The Shanidar Cave Proto-Neolithic Human Population: Aspects of Demography and Paleopathology”, Human Evolution, volume 8, no. 4 (1993), pp. 235-253] as well as among the Neolithic peoples of SW Asia

The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates’ description of the Macrocepahes people who were named for their practice of cranial modification (Gerszten and Gerszten, 1995).

” … the same practice of nursing the child and carrying it about, bound to a flat cradle-board, prevailed in Britain and the north of Europe long before the first notices of written history reveal the presence of man beyond the Baltic or the English Channel, and that in all probability the same custom prevailed continuously from the shores of the German Ocean to Behring’s Strait.” (“Smithsonian Report,” 1862, p. 286.)

Skull flattening was also observed of ancient Sumerian peoples of the Al-Ubaid period (see p. 312 of Taxila). John Marshall’s “Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization” as well as “Anthropology” (by Ram Nath Sharma, Rajendra Kumar Sharma) in addition to Al-Ubaid burials, wrote that cranian deformation features were also seen of skulls of Kish; Ur of Mesopotamia; Additanallur in Madras; Veddahs of Ceylon(Sri Lanka); Naga of Calcutta; jar burials of Harappa; Mediterranean; Nal in Baluchistan; Sialkot in Punjab; and Bayana (Aryan skulls) in Uttar Pradesh.

In the Old World, Huns and Alans are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. See a facial reconstruction of a Hun woman  Das Historische Museum der Pfalz. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom (Gepids, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Rugii and Burgundians).

Nazca SkullCredit: Didier Descouens, Creative CommonsA deformed skull dating to between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. and belonging to an individual of the Nazca culture, which flourished along the Peruvian coast

Nazca SkullCredit: Didier Descouens, Creative Commons A deformed skull dating to between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. and belonging to an individual of the Nazca culture, which flourished along the Peruvian coast

Dr. L. A. Gosse testifies to the prevalence of the same custom among the Caledonians and Scandinavians in the earliest times; and Dr. Thurman has treated of the same peculiarity among the Anglo-Saxons. Crania Britannica,” chap. iv., p. 38.)

Here, then, is an extraordinary and unnatural practice which has existed from the highest antiquity, over vast regions of country, on both sides of the Atlantic, and which is perpetuated unto this day in races as widely separated as the Turks, the French, and the Flat-head Indians. Is it possible to explain this except by supposing that it originated from some common centre?

The following heads are from Del Rio’s “Account of Palenque,” copied into Nott and Gliddon’s “Types of Mankind,” p. 440. They show that the receding forehead was a natural characteristic of the ancient people of Central America. The same form of head has been found even in fossil skulls. We may therefore conclude that the skull-flattening, which we find to have been practised in both the Old and New Worlds, was an attempt of other races to imitate the form of skull of a people whose likenesses are found on the monuments of Egypt and of America. It has been shown that this peculiar form of the head was present even in the fœtus of the Peruvian mummies.

Hippocrates tells us that the practice among the Scythians was for the purpose of giving a certain aristocratic distinction.

Amedée Thierry, in his “History of Attila,” says the Huns used it for the same reason; and the same purpose influences the Indians of Oregon.

Dr. Lund, a Swedish naturalist, found in the bone caves of Minas-Geraes, Brazil, ancient human bones associated with the remains of extinct quadrupeds. “These skulls,” says Lund, “show not only the peculiarity of the American race but in an excessive degree, even to the entire disappearance of the forehead.” Sir Robert Schomburgh found on some of the affluents of the Orinoco a tribe known as Frog Indians, whose heads were flattened by Nature, as shown in newly-born children …

there was some race characteristic which gave this appearance to their heads. These heads are all the heads of priests, and therefore represented the aristocratic class.

The first illustration below is taken from a stucco relief found in a temple at Palenque, Central America. The second is from an Egyptian monument of the time of Rameses IV.

The outline drawing on the following page shows the form of the skull of the royal Inca line: the receding forehead here seems to be natural, and not the result of artificial compression.

Both illustrations at the bottom of the preceding page show the same receding form of the forehead, due to either artificial deformation of the skull or to a common race characteristic.

We must add the fact that the extraordinary practice of deforming the skull was found all over Europe and America to the catalogue of other proofs that the people of both continents were originally united in blood and race. With the couvade, the practice of circumcision, unity of religious beliefs and customs, folk-lore, and alphabetical signs, language and flood legends, we array together a mass of unanswerable proofs of prehistoric identity of race.” – Sacred Texts

In 1849 a remarkable memoir appeared from the pen of M. Rathke, showing that similar skulls had been found near Kertsch, in the Crimea, and calling attention to the book of Hippocrates, “De Aeris, Aquis et Locu,” lib. iv., and a passage of Strabo, which speaks of the practice among the Scythians. In 1854 Dr. Fitzinger published a learned memoir on the skulls of the Avars, a branch of the Uralian race of Turks. He shows that the practice of flattening the head had existed from an early date throughout the East, and described an ancient skull, greatly distorted by artificial means, which had lately been found in Lower Austria. Skulls similarly flattened have been found in Switzerland and Savoy. The Huns under Attila had the same practice of flattening the heads. Professor Anders Retzius proved (see “Smithsonian Report,” 1859) that the custom still exists in the south of France, and in parts of Turkey…”

Wikipedia‘s entry says:

In the Americas the Maya, Inca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was especially known among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. The Native American group known as the Flathead did not in fact practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder. However, other tribes, including the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians, did practise head flattening by strapping the infant’s head to a cradleboard. The Lucayan people of the Bahamas practiced it.

The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines. The nobility of the Paracas Culture on the coast of Peru, south of the capital Lima, practiced skull binding, resulting cranial deformation. The Paracas situation is somewhat unique in that researchers Juan Navarro and Brien Foerster have found the presence of at least 5 distinct shapes of elongated skulls, each being predominant in specific cemeteries. The largest and most striking are from a site called Chongos, near the town of Pisco, north of Paracas. These skulls are called “cone heads” by many who see them, because of their literal conical appearance. Testing of these have illustrated that, on average, the cranial capacity is 1.5 liters, approximately 25% larger than contemporary skulls, and weigh as much as 60 percent more. Also, eye orbit cavities are significantly larger than contemporary skulls, and the jaws are both larger and thicker. Moreover, the presence of 2 small holes in the back of the Chongos skulls, called foramen, indicate that blood flow and perhaps nerves exited the skull at the back in order to feed the skin tissue.

Head elongation was also practiced in Oceania, especially on the islands of Vanuatu and Borneo (see also the 19th c. head-flattening board used by the Melanau, of Sarawak (Source: Pitt Rivers Museum)) Source: Head Flattening Facts .

The archaeological records show that in the Andean areas of Peru, both types of head shaping were known among men and women. This figurine is typical of the unglazed cuchimlico figures of the Chancay civilisation in the central coastal region of Peru, north of Lima, that prospered between AD 1200 and 1450. It has large ornamental earplugs and may have been dressed in rich textiles. The exact significance of the flat, bi-lobed head is unclear but since such figures were often found in graves, it is likely to have represented a particular virtue such as wisdom, beauty or godliness.– Source: Pitt Rivers Museum Body Arts | Head shaping: flattening”

Also excerpted from “Sacred Texts“:

AN examination of the American monuments shows (see figure on page 269) that the people represented were in the habit of flattening the skull by artificial means. The Greek and Roman writers had mentioned this practice, but it was long totally forgotten by the civilized world, until it was discovered, as an unheard-of wonder, to be the usage among the Carib Islanders, and several Indian tribes in North America. It was afterward found that the ancient Peruvians and Mexicans practised this art: several flattened Peruvian skulls are depicted in Morton’s “Crania Americana.” It is still in use among the Flat-head Indians of the north-western part of the United States.

 Why is or was head-flattening practised?

According to the article Head Flattening

“…there is  recorded evidence of intentional cranial deformation—a practice of intentionally changing the shape of the human skull… It is believed that cranial deformation was performed to signify group affiliation or to demonstrate social status. By changing the shape of the skull, some felt it was aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and southwestern Malekula, a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits….It is believed that cranial deformation was performed to signify group affiliation or to demonstrate social status. This possibly played a key role in Egyptian society. Both Queen Nefertiti and King Tutankhamen are often depicted with what may be an elongated skull… there are still some isolated groups in Africa and South America who continue this practice.”

African cultures reshaped the skulls of their members to increase an individual’s beauty and to improve social status. Among the people who practiced head flattening, an elongated head indicated a person’s intelligence and spirituality. The Mangbetu people of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo wrapped their babies’ heads with cloth to elongate their skulls. Once the desired shape became permanent, the cloth was removed, and a woven basket frame was attached to the head at an angle, and the hair was styled over the frame to exaggerate the look of elongation (source:

Nicolette Parr suggests that head binding may have been done for aesthetic reasons, to signify group affiliation or enhance social status.

However, of the thirteen deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery (South Sonora), many of the burials “were healthy children, suggesting the process of cranial deformation may have been inept and dangerous”[see photo 2/10 in picture gallery.

The first evidence of deforming skulls was found in the northern Mexican state of Sonora when residents were digging an irrigation canal in 1999. The practice, which is well documented among Mesoamerican peoples, had never been seen this far north before.

Past Horizons suggested the practice may have been gruesome:

Of the skeletal remains of 25 individuals recovered, 17 are between 5 months and 16 years and 8 are adults. The researcher noted that the number of infants and pre-pubescents identified in the cemetery may be an indicator of poor practice in regards to cranial deformation and death likely was caused by excessive force while squeezing the skull. This she said, is derived from studies conducted on the remains and the results did not show any apparent diseases that could have caused death. [Read more about this remarkable discovery at Past Horizons.]

We would like to note that one of the best-ever documented sources and insights on cranial deformation is actually to be found in the old 1931 writings of  Eric John Dingwell’s “Artificial Cranial Deformation: A Contribution to the Study of Ethnic Mutilations“. Here below we summarize his observations and findings in Chapter III specific to Asia. Omitting the examples mentioned only from art, portraits or sculpture, Dingwell writing in 1931 did an amazing job of documenting instances of artificial cranial deformation in Asia. Practices of cradle boarding, use of moulds, stones, head massaging to induce cranial deformation were, according to Dingwell, found:

  • In Kingdom of Kucha, at Kashgar
  • Among the Hepthalites [or Epthalites in his writings], the White Huns
  • Among the Sarts, and the Uzbeks
Reports of head flattening were reported among the:
  • Armenians of Kurdistan (40%), Kurds of Ararat, Armenia (75%)
  • Ansariyeh in Lebanon
  • Juruks, a Turkoman nomadic tribe of Anatolia
  • Bakhtayans (considered native Persians), a Lurish Bakhtiari tribe, Iran, [nomadic peoples today primarily inhabiting Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari and Eastern Khuzestan, Lorestan and Isfahan.]  The Bakhtiari consider themselves to be descendants of Fereydun, a legendary hero from the Persian national epic, Shahnameh.
  • Persians * Note: “Choresmiens” were reported as flattening the heads of the infants only in order to trick the Persians into not taking their babies as slaves.[Khwarezm (Chorasmia), centered in the lower Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea (the northern part of the modern Republic of Uzbekistan, and the adjacent areas of Turkmenistan].
Deformed skulls were found:
  • Among the Nosairis, Druzes, the Marotes, the Melkites (the Lebanon-Syria-Palestine region)
  • At the Smryna Greek settlement of Anatolia
  • Among the Mediterraneans Cyprus, Crete, Sidon, Tyre (among the ancient cemeteries of the Phoenicians)
  • In Crimea, in the tombs of the Caucasus
In South Asia and Eurasia, Dingwell recorded cranial deformation evidence among:
  • The White Huns# from Sakala (Sialkot, located in the north-east of the Punjab province in Pakistan) which was the capital city of Mihirakula Hepthalite king. [# Known to the Greeks as Ephthalite to the Indians as Sveta Huna (“white Huns”), they were called the “White Huns”, Chionite to the Armenians as Haital, and to the Persians and Arabs as Haytal or Hayatila …possible origin of Hata and Hayato clans in Japan?. The Hepthalite Empire was at the height of its power (in the first half of the 6th century), was located in the territories of present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and China. The stronghold of the Hephthalite power was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains, present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdiana and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured areas of present-day northwestern China (Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin). The Hephthalites invaded India for the first time in the 5th century]
  • Brahui and Baloch people and by the Jats peoples of North India and Pakistan (in Kachi, Bela and Sibi in Pakistan, a cloth bandage was tied around the head, and the head managed massaged by the sole of the mother’s foot)
  • Among the Multan, Afghanistan
  • Among the people of Orissa, Oraon of Bengal
  • Among the Nicobarese
Cranial deformation was observed in Lower Burma, among the Arakan people but not among the Rohtuck of Punjab or in Siam and Annam.
In East Asia, cranial deformation practices were documented among:
  • The Khalkhas, Mongols
  • The Manchus, north of Korea (said to be fugitives from further north) practised cranial deformation
  • In China: among the Ba tribes [Bak Sing], in Southeast Hunan and Shansi, in Northwest Chinese, and cranial deformation was said to have been practised in South China until 9th c.See also Edward Lerner, “the mutilations the Chinese were in the habit of inflicting were but few. They flattened the skulls of their babies by means of stones, so as to p. 39 cause them to taper at the top..” and on the Akkadian-Chinese connection, see Lacouperie, Ballon on the western origins of the Chinese language
  • Among the servant-class only of the immigrant Hainam population in the Malay states

Of particular interest to us here, are Dingwell’s writings on Korea:

“After the fall of the Qin [Tsin] dynasty it seems that part of the population of Hunan and Shansi fled to south-east Korea and settled in Samhan [Shin-han]. in the records of the Han dynasty and afterwards mention is made of these people and it is said that they flattened the heads of their children with stones and that this practice was confined to the male sex. If a boy is born in Samhan [Shin-han], so the saying is reported, then his head must be pressed with a stone because it must be flat, and so all the men in Samhan[Shin-han] have flat heads. A smililar practice was said to be carried out in ther parts of Korea. The origin of this custom may perhaps be found, as Terrien de Lacouperie is inclined to believe, in an attempt to imitate the form of head found in some ruling family, and as we proceed, further evidence may emerge which probably supports this view”

Dingwell also writes there were reports written that the transverse groove upon the Ainu skull said to be caused by the carrying of heavy burdens suspended from a strap passing over the forehead, but that the evidence on cranial deformation among the Ainu, Kamchadal and Chukchee was ambiguous and inconclusive of cranial deformation.
Noting that “The custom spread eastwards in the Dutch East Indies, Melanesia and Polynesia and lost itself finally in Australia and New Zealand, reappearing in the vast continent of America”, Dingwell concluded that “It would seem possible that the origin of the custom may be sought either in the home land of the nomadic peoples of Turkestan and the Trans-Caspian Provinces or in the area now roughly defined as Turkey in Asia. The evidence from India and China would, I think, suggest that the custom may have originally been connected with ruling families, and possibly the idea spread from the fact the common people imitated a royal or aristocratic privilege.”
It would seem as the nomadic peoples of Turkic or West Eurasian lineages radiated outwards, the further East they went, the greater the incidence in which the head-flattening or head-binding practices became lost. Some possible explanations for the fact that almost no cranial deformation has hitherto been found in Japan (barring Tanegashima Island), are that the influx of Korean immigrants has not been as large as popularly believed, OR that immigrants who arrived in Japan from the continent and Korean peninsula were mostly of Chinese commandery lineages that had already abandoned the custom, and/or that the Koreanic lineages emerged in Japan at such a late stage where head binding/flattening customs in East Asia had already been abandoned.

Further reading:

Suzuki, H., Y. Mizoguchi, and E. Conese, 1993. Craniofacial measurement of artificially deformed skulls from the Philippines. Anthropological Science, 101: 111-127

Kato, Katsumoto, et al., Incidence of nonmetric cranial traits in the Pre-Columbian series of the Chancay site, Peru Anthropol. Sci. 103(2), 115-116, 1995

Childress DH, Foerster B. “The Enigma of Cranial Deformation: Elongated Skulls of the Ancients”. Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press; 2012.

Gerszten PC, Gerszten E. Intentional cranial deformation: a disappearing form of self-mutilation. Neurosurgery. 1995;37(3):374-382.

“Head Flattening.” Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. 2004. Retrieved January 18, 2013 from

Parr, Nicolette, Cranial deformation” Intentional Cultural Modifications to the Skeleton ANT 4468 Health and Disease in Human Evolution

Artificial cranial deformation Wikipedia

Brown, P., and Y. Mizoguchi, 2011. Identifying the influence of artificial neurocranial deformation on craniofacial dimensions. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Series D, 37: 1-33

Amit Ayer et al. The Sociopolitical History and Physiological Underpinnings of Skull Deformation (Medscape)

Deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery by Nicolette Parr

The Legend of Sanai-Isoba, heroine of Yonaguni Island

Excerpted from Ryukyu Survey 1960 ~51~ By Naioichi Kokubu and Erika Kaneko

Sanai-Isoba is said to have lived on top of the rocky hill top

Sanai-Isoba is said to have lived on top of the rocky hill top

“Yonaguni history is shrouded in complete mystery. Neither local traditions, nor outside sources provide reliable data for a reconstruction. Official written sources like the course gazette of the ‘Shuri ofu’ (AD 1707) offer no detailed information on the outlying Yayeyama islands, let alone isolated Yonaguni. The Yaeyama to Yurai ki and other locally compiled documents , originally in 7 volumes, was lost in the tidal wave of AD 1771; and it was subsequently reconstructed by order of the officials Miyara, Ishigaki and Ohama.

Sanai-Isoba. In local tradition the key figure is the female chieftain Sanai-Isoba.
Ikema and Arazato (1957:46) explain the name as a combination of the given female name Isoba with the place-name Sanai which in turn denotes ‘the place of the gajumaru’ (ficus retusa, small-leafed banyan).

Sanai-Isoba is a female of superhuman stature and strength; she performed astonishing feats and taught the islanders agriculture and improved ways of life. She also established her four brothers as village heads of Donanbaru, Dateg, Dannu, and Tebaru. She is said to have gone abroad to Ishigaki and Iriomote, thereby initiating a cultural pattern, whereby the less advanced must learn from their superiors, viz. the Okinawans from the Chinese, the Miyakoans from the Okinawans and so forth, isolated, marginal Yonaguni was the lowest rung on the ladder.

Is Sanai-Isoba a historical person and if so when did she live? Every Yonaguni child can point out the field ‘where her house once stood’ and knows the location of her grave where under a large tree village trials were held until quite recently.

Sannai Isoba is worshiped in a ritual which takes place once a year. The high ranking Chimafuka family consider er their ancestor and until a generation ago reckoned from her its matrilineal descent.”

Note: Details from the story check out with written histories from the Shuri court in Ryukyu or Okinawa, and put Sanai-Isoba’s rule at 1500 AD, but the extent of her powers are seriously questioned, given that Yonaguni and Yaeyama were recorded to have been taken in an invasion by Nakayama Kanemaru who conquered Lord Oyake Akahachi in that year. As Sanai-Isoba’s name is not recorded anywhere else, the authors surmize that Sanai-Isoba is a tradition that comes from other Yonaguni. Since all ships from Yonaguni putting out to sea first pay a visit to the Ohaketa site on Sonai, Iriomote Island, the authors believe that this is the ancestral grave of Sonaito Otakegisha, of the Yonagunians.

Himeji Castle dazzles and startles with new all-white roofing

Restoration of all-white tiled roofing

Restoration of all-white tiled roofing Photo courtesy: Brian Ashcraft

The visual impact of the recent renovation works of the Himeji Castle is startling – it used to be thought that the white-plastered walls were the reason why the structure earned it the name Shirasagi-jo or White Heron Castle (aka Egret Castle) – but now that the roofs have been restored to its original gleaming white-tiled roofing, the effect is even more complete, and shows how the regal, elegant and graceful structure must have mesmerized the ancient medieval world.

From the UNESCO World Heritage organization, this is their assessment of the value of Himeji Castle as a World Heritage site …paraphrased below:

Combining an effective functional defense role with great aesthetic appeal, both in the use of white-painted plaster and in the subtle design in the layering of multiple roofs, Himeji castle represents the culmination of Japanese castle architecture in wood.

The look BEFORE restoration Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The look BEFORE restoration Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Himeji-jo is a masterpiece of wooden construction, and the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, preserving all its significant features intact.

The castle is also a powerful and evocative symbol of the feudalism that prevailed for almost three centuries, until the events of 1868 Meiji restoration when the Shogun fell.

The castle property, situated on a hill summit in the central part of the Harima Plain, covers 107 hectares and comprises eighty-two buildings. It is centred on the Tenshu-gun, a complex made up of the donjon, keeps and connecting structures that are part of a highly developed system of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period.

Himeji Castle at the centre of the feudal domain prevailed for three centuries

Himeji Castle at the centre of the feudal domain prevailed for three centuries. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan. It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features (such as the concentric circular moats, and maze-like approach designed to confound and stall attackers) associated with Japanese castles. Himeji Castle sits ensconsced within concentric moats and walls, and today within extensive grounds that, in its heyday would have contained barracks, stabling, and residences for the lord of the castle’s samurai.

The curved walls of Himeji Castle are sometimes said to resemble giant fans (扇子 sensu), but the principal materials used in the structures are stone and wood. Feudal family crests (紋 mon) are installed throughout the architecture of the building, signifying the various lords that inhabited the castle throughout its history.

By the way, the Himeji Castle is commonly contrasted with Matsumoto Castle, another authentic and non-ferro-concrete structure, which is nick-named the Black Crow Castle(see: Japan Visitor)

Further readings:

Himeji Castle: Design and meaning of its roof By Dr Adrianna Piccinini Nagashino

Himeji Castle

R&D: Japanese gold leaf artists worked on the nanoscale

Photographs of the two pairs of screens belonging to the Momoyama period a. MNAA-Naizen; b. MNAA-Domi

Photographs of the two pairs of screens belonging to the Momoyama period a. MNAA-Naizen; b. MNAA-Domi

“Even though the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to gild artwork with it, the Japanese have long been credited as being able to produce the thinnest gold leaf in the world.”

Via R&D 7/02/2014

Ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft. An analysis of six ancient Namban paper screens show that these artifacts are gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. Study leader Sofia Pessanha of the Atomic Physics Center of the University of Lisbon in Portugal believes that the x-ray fluorescence technique her team used in the analysis could also be used to date other artworks without causing any damage to them. The results are published in Springer’s journal Applied Physics A: Material Science and Processing.

Photographs of the two screens belonging to the Edo period a MO; b private

Photographs of the two screens belonging to the Edo period a MO; b private

Gold leaf refers to a very thin sheet made from a combination of gold and other metals. It has almost no weight and can only be handled by specially designed tools. Even though the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to gild artwork with it, the Japanese have long been credited as being able to produce the thinnest gold leaf in the world. In Japanese traditional painting, decorating with gold leaf is named Kin-haku, and the finest examples of this craft are the Namban folding screens, or byobu. These were made during the late Momoyama (around 1573 to 1603) and early Edo (around 1603 to 1868) periods.

南蛮美術 - Namban Culture and First European Contacts with Japan

南蛮美術 – Namban Culture and First European Contacts with Japan

Pessanha’s team examined six screens that are currently either part of a museum collection or in a private collection in Portugal. Four screens belong to the Momoyama period, and two others were decorated during the early Edo period. The researchers used various x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy techniques to test the thickness and characteristics of the gold layers. The method is completely non-invasive, no samples needed to be taken, and therefore the artwork was not damaged in any way. Also, the apparatus needed to perform these tests is portable and can be done outside of a laboratory.

The gilding was evaluated by taking the attenuation or weakening of the different characteristic lines of gold leaf layers into account. The methodology was tested to be suitable for high grade gold alloys with a maximum of 5% influence of silver, which is considered negligible.

The two screens from the early Edo period were initially thought to be of the same age. However, Pessanha’s team found that gold leaf on a screen kept at Museu Oriente in Lisbon was thinner, hence was made more recently. This is in line with the continued development of the gold beating techniques carried out in an effort to obtain ever thinner gold leaf.

“This simple comparison allowed establishing a timeline between the manufacture of two pieces attributed to the same period, proving that X-ray fluorescence techniques can be an important asset in the dating of artworks,” says Pessanha.

Read the full article at Springer: Comparison of gold leaf thickness in Namban folding screens using X-ray fluorescence Pessanha, S. Et al., (2014) DOI 10.1007/s00339-014-8531-z Excerpts follow:

“In this work, the thickness of the gold leaf applied in six Japanese folding screens is compared using a nondestructive approach. Four screens belonging to the Momoyama period (~1573–1603) and two screens belonging to the early Edo period (~1603–1868) were analyzed in situ using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence, and the thickness of the applied gold leaf was evaluated using a methodology based on the attenuation of the different characteristic lines of gold in the gold leaf layer. Considering that the leaf may well not be made of pure gold, we established that, for the purpose of comparing the intensity ratios of the Au lines, layers made with gold leaf of high grade can be considered identical. The gold leaf applied in one of the screens from the Edo period was found to be thinner than the gold leaf applied in the other ones. This is consistent with the development of the beating technology to obtain ever more thin gold leafs. …

Gold was one of the first metals manipulated by men Because of its remarkable malleability, which makes it easily beaten to form the desirable shape [1]. Its noble metal stability and resistance to tarnish gives durability to The objects on which it is applied to. Its suitability to adorn small or larger areas renders it an excellent material and the finest among metals for use in the decoration of artworks.

Two different terms have been employed to define metal sheets of varying thickness: foil and leaf. The former is generally used to describe a sufficiently thick sheet that can support its own weight while the latter, which mainly
applies to gold, refers to a very thin sheet that has almost no weight and that can only be handled by specially designed tools.
With modern technology, the gold leaf can be obtained as thin as 0.1 lm [2]; however, the thickness of the leaf used in ancient artworks could be as thick as the 5–10 lm applied in an Egyptian 50 BC ceramic masque, or as thin as
0.2–0.5 lm used in the gilding of medieval Islamic glazed ceramics [3]. According to Koyano [4], the Japanese gold Leaf is said to be the thinnest in the world. …

The gold leaf applied to six Nanban screens was compared, and the leaf applied to the screen kept at Museu Oriente was found to be the thinnest. … Considering that the thickness of the gold leaf tends to decrease significantly with the advent of gold beating technological development, these results are indicative that this specimen from Museu Oriente is the most recent. This comparison allowed establishing a timeline between the manufacture of two pieces attributed to the same period–from 1603 to 1868, proving to be an important asset in the dating of artworks.” End of excerpt.




Asahi Shimbun reports: Tens of thousands of coins from Muromachi Period unearthed in Kyoto

The pot containing more than 40,000 coins dating back to around the 15th century that was recently unearthed in Kyoto (Tsuyoshi Sato)

The pot containing more than 40,000 coins dating back to around the 15th century that was recently unearthed in Kyoto (Tsuyoshi Sato)

The Asahi Shimbun, July 09, 2014

By TSUYOSHI SATO/ Staff Writer
KYOTO–Construction workers in the city’s central Kawaramachi shopping district unearthed a huge earthenware pot containing more than 40,000 coins from the 15th century.

The discovery, made during work for an apartment complex, was announced July 8 by Gifu-based archaeological research company Ibisoku Co.’s Kansai branch.

The 66-centimeter-tall Bizen ware pot was found 50 cm below the surface in the city’s Shimogyo Ward. The site lies toward the southern side of Takashimaya Kyoto Store.

The coins, each drilled through the center, are tied together in bundles of 97 by thongs. It was customary during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) to count a bundle of 97 coins as 100, Ibisoku officials said.

The coins are estimated to be worth 4 million yen ($39,400) in today’s value. The company is considering exhibiting the pot filled to the brim with coins.

By TSUYOSHI SATO/ Staff Writer

The Legend of how Lake Titicaca got its name from Japanese (Jomon period) settlers

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Photo: Wikipedia

A Japanese documentary recently broadcasted on NHK terrestrial TV, featured the theory of the origin of the name Lake Titicaca, and various lines of evidence supporting the theory that Japanese settlers arrived to populate the Americas (forming one of several waves of Asian migrants). The article “Establishing Japanese Ancestry” by Ariel Takada sums up the same points examined and made in the documentary:

– Waves of migration from Asian Siberia to the American Alaska occurred approximately 14,000 years ago. From then on, a slow movement southward began to take place all the way to Chile itself.

– In a substantial Brazilian project of ethnic research, for instance, researcher Heinz Budweg affirms that across the ocean “the Japanese, Chinese and even Indians traveled constantly to South America between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C.”

– Some of these migrants arrived via the land bridge, others by sea. The Japanese are thought to be later arrivals on the American continent

– Traces have been found demonstrating their presence have become increasingly more significant. Of these, here are a few examples:

1) Japanese vases of the Mid-Jomon period (1,600 B.C.), excavated at Napo, Ecuador. [Much earlier work focused on the similarity of Valdivian pottery to the Jomon period pottery of Japan]

2) The use of Japanese words for place names in the Americas. Here are two examples: “water” in Japanese is “mizu,” and it is suggested that it may have been the root basis for naming the Missouri River. The name of Mount Suyama in Bolivia is thought to have been derived from “yama,” which means “mountain.”

3) At the end of the ’70s, archaeologist Charlotte Emerich lived with a tribe of the Upper Xingu, proved that they communicated by way of an ancient Japanese dialect.

4) In December 1999, a team of Japanese scientists led by Kazuo Yajima of the Center of Cancer Research of Nagoya discovered Chilean mummies, buried more than 1,500 years ago, that were infected with the HTLV-1 virus (a leukemia variant), which is particular to certain regions of Japan and a few other spots in Asia. (The Chilean mummy — “Miss Chile” — infected with the virus can be found at the Museo San Pedro de Atacama in Arica.)

The Legend of the Japanese naming of Lake Titicaca

Excerpted from “Establishing Japanese Ancestry: “A Japanese myth that we grew up with and that mentions Chile talks about one of those possible currents. Additionally, the story brings to light a number of geographical names that remain in use, as well as the possible realization of a dream that may have given grounds for genetic and cultural influences over the Amerindian peoples:

“It is said that the oldest son of a great Japanese lord, obsessed with a prophecy foretelling that he was destined to be the founder of an empire across the ocean, set sail, accompanied by several faithful followers, around the year 1,100 B.C. The ocean current ‘kuro-shiö’ brought them to a beach they called ‘Arika’ (Arica), which can be translated as ‘here it is.’

Later, they traveled south while looking for the promised land, but they came to a halt at “Asaban” (“morning and night” – Azapa [in Spanish] to us) after surmising that they were on the wrong track. They retraced their steps and traveled northwest from the ‘Yutoo’ (Lluta) River, which means ‘something better’ or ‘better than the other.’ They crossed desert and mountain ranges, finally arriving at a great lake they called ‘Chichi-haha’ (‘Dad and Mom’ — Lake Titicaca), which was supposed to have been the divine sign that would lead them down the final route to the place where the prophecy would be fulfilled.”

Chichi means “father” and haha means “mother” in Japanese. Lake Titicaca a.k.a. Titiqaqa (Quechua) is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America.

Further reading:

Presence of D1 haplogroup (mtDNA) is direct evidence of genetic affinity between the Hokkaido Jomon and Native American populations

In An Historical and Philosophical View of the Chinese Empire
by William Winterbotham, at p. 126, we are alerted to the existence of a district called Tcitcicar [also known as Jijihar] that extends over the Merguen and the Saghalien-ou-hotan, City of the Black River, located on the southern banks of the River Sakhalin, another possible cognate and indication that the use of the word may have been more widespread in ancient times.

Mural paintings of ‘Asuka beauties’ to be conserved outside burial mound

Mural paintings of 'Auka beauties', a group of female figures found on the mural wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in Asuka Nara Prefecture, are shown in this photo taken in August 2013 after being cleaned (Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)

Mural paintings of ‘Auka beauties’, a group of female figures found on the mural wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in Asuka Nara Prefecture, are shown in this photo taken in August 2013 after being cleaned (Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)

Mar 28, 2014 Asahi Shimbun

Stunning murals painted 1,300 years ago in the stone chamber of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound, currently under repair, will continue to be preserved in an outside facility.

The government panel that made the decision March 27 said the colorful wall paintings can stay “for the time being” outside the stone chamber even after the decade-long repair process winds up.

A key reason for this is the lack of established technology to prevent mold from re-emerging and destroying what is left of the paintings.

The murals created a huge buzz when they were discovered in 1972 at the burial mound in Asuka, Nara Prefecture.

“Given existing technologies, it would be difficult to return the mural paintings to the burial mound, although we will continue our research for doing so,” said Yorikuni Nagai, an adjunct professor of education policy with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, who chairs the 17-member panel, which reports to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “We will have to build a solid preservation facility if the process is going to take 20 to 30 years to complete.”

The Agency for Cultural Affairs initially envisaged returning the mural paintings to the Takamatsuzuka burial mound once the repair work was finished.

The panel’s decision represents a departure from established policy, which is based on the notion that archaeological finds should in principle be conserved on site.

“It would be appropriate to preserve, maintain and display the mural paintings at an appropriate location outside the burial mound for the time being,” said part of a draft plan the agency presented to the panel, which subsequently approved it.

The Takamatsuzuka paintings, designated a national treasure, include the famous “Asuka beauties,” or a group of female figures originally found on the west wall of the stone chamber. The entire stone chamber was removed in 2007 from the tumulus, which dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century and is designated a special historic site by the government.

A similar decision had earlier been reached on colorful mural paintings from the Kitora burial mound, another government-designated special historic site in Asuka. They are being preserved outside the tumulus, which also dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century.


Evidence of Japan’s oldest human tools uncovered in Okinawa

These 20,000 -year-old shell artifacts on display in Naha, have chips at their tops and are believed to have served as blades (Shunsuke Makamura)

These 20,000 -year-old shell artifacts on display in Naha, have chips at their tops and are believed to have served as blades (Shunsuke Nakamura)


Oldest signs of Japanese using tools uncovered in Okinawa

Feb 15, 2014 Asahi Shimbun

NAHA, Okinawa Prefecture–Archaeologists have unearthed shell tools around 20,000 years old that could help clear up mysteries surrounding the ancestors of modern Japanese people, a museum said Feb. 15.

The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum said the shell tools–the first uncovered in Japan from the Paleolithic Age–were dug up at the Sakitari-do cave site in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture, near the site where the country’s oldest whole skeletons were found.

It was Japan’s oldest concurrent discovery of both human bones and artifacts.

Around 40 fragments of shells of the Veneridae family, ledge mussels and other species were found that are believed to have been used as tools by humans.

A human tooth and a foot bone were also found in the same geological formation. Carbon dating of charcoal from the same formation indicated the remains were 20,000 to 23,000 years old.

Also unearthed were two tusk shell fragments believed to have been used as beads, museum officials said.

The Minatogawa Man, the only known group of whole skeleton remains in Japan, was found only 1.5 kilometers south of the Sakitari-do cave site in the town of Yaese. The shell artifacts from the cave site are about as old as the Minatogawa Man.

Recent studies by the Okinawa museum have turned out 8,000-year-old earthenware–Okinawa’s oldest–and human bones and stone tools at the Sakitari-do cave site that are more than 12,000 years old.

Bones are preserved better in the typically calcareous soil of Okinawa than in the acidic soil of mainland Japan. This accounts for the large number of human bones from the Paleolithic Age found in these southern islands, while such finds are rare in the rest of the country.

Anthropologists and archaeologists had long been puzzled by the absence of artifacts accompanying Paleolithic human bones from Okinawa.

If any implements were to be found, experts had expected them to be made of stone, like those unearthed on the Japanese mainland. The shells from the cave site dramatically countered that accepted theory.

“The discovery of tools other than stone implements indicates there was cultural diversity in the Paleolithic Age,” said Shinji Yamasaki, a curator with the museum.

The latest finds also help prove the adaptive ability of prehistoric humans, who relied on a variety of readily available materials depending on their environment.

Experts have held high hopes for studies on shell artifacts used as tools to provide clues on the cultural genealogy of the ancestors of modern Japanese people. Such tools could show the influence of marine cultures of islands to the south, where the use of shells has a long tradition.

In fact, a dominant anthropological theory says the ancestors of the Japanese had southern traits in their skeletal builds, such as well-defined facial features. Some argue that Paleolithic humans traveled north by way of the sea via the Okinawa islands before arriving on Japan’s mainland and creating the Jomon culture about 12,000 years ago.

While that theory has little material evidence for support, the latest discovery could provide a push to revisit that hypothesis.

By SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA/ Senior Staff Writer

NHK news: Lost paintings of Horyuji digitally restored

NHK — Mar 29

Digitally restored Horyuji painting

Digitally restored Horyuji painting

A group of experts has recreated Japan’s oldest Buddhist wall paintings with cutting-edge digital technology. The paintings were lost in a fire 65 years ago.

The group led by Professor Masaaki Miyasako at the graduate school of Tokyo University of the Arts reconstructed 12 murals at Horyuji Temple’s Kondo, or main hall, in Nara Prefecture.

The paintings dated back to the late seventh century, but a fire destroyed most of them in 1949.

The group used photos taken before the fire and the salvaged murals to produce the digital images. They were printed on sheets of paper whose surface is made uneven with fine seashell powder.

One of the paintings measures three meters long and two and a half meters wide.

It shows the Amitabha Buddha and various images in bright red and green.

Professor Miyasako says the group hopes to use the technology to preserve other cultural assets.

The reimaged paintings will be on display at the university from April 26th.

Watch this video on YouTube:

6th c. terracotta figurine find from major silk manufuring region of Japan shows roots of silk weaving from ancient times

Japan archaeological find shows 1,400-year-old roots of silk weaving.

City of Shimotsuke education board A terracotta image of a person weaving silk with a loom. The figurine was found in a sixth-century burial mound in Shimotsuke, 50 miles north of Tokyo.

City of Shimotsuke education board A terracotta image of a person weaving silk with a loom. The figurine was found in a sixth-century burial mound in Shimotsuke, 50 miles north of Tokyo.

by Mitsuru Obe, AWSJ Mar 6, 2014

Japan’s prewar economic development depended in significant part on exports of one item–silk. Young girls recruited from poor farm families worked day and night to make Japan the world’s biggest silk exporter, allowing it to purchase raw materials, warships and other Western industrial technology.

Now an archaeological find is showing the industry’s ancient roots. In the first such discovery in Japan, researchers unearthed a terracotta figure depicting a woman weaving silk on a loom. The find came from a sixth-century burial mound, or kofun, in Shimotsuke, some 50 miles north of Tokyo.

The unglazed pottery figure, known as haniwa, provides evidence that techniques of silk weaving already existed in the sixth century and that women played a central role in the manufacturing of silk at that early date.

Shimotsuke used to be a major silk manufacturing region, with the local silk industry designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an example of intangible cultural heritage.

Immigrants from China are believed to have brought sericulture and silk weaving to Japan around the fifth century. Rice farmers grew mulberry trees and wove silk during the off-season.

The figure of a weaving woman, 69 centimeters high, was found near the burial chamber of an 80-meter-long tomb mound, where a local chieftain or a prominent weaver was apparently buried, said Tomonori Kimura, a official in charge of cultural affairs for the city of Shimotsuke. The city unveiled the find this week.

Silk was apparently used to make kimonos and may have been offered as a gift to the court, according to the researchers.

They also discovered a clay figure depicting a more primitive loom, 22 other clay figures and some 360 unglazed pots.

Such grave mounds were built between the third and the seventh century by the ruling clan that went on to establish Japan’s present-day imperial household. The practice was also widely adopted by local chieftains.

Various kinds of terracotta figures were buried with the dead, including horses, birds, swords, shields and soldiers. The exact reason for such clay offerings is not known, but Mr. Kimura speculated that they may have been meant to honor the achievements of the deceased during his or her lifetime.

City of Shimotsuke education board This reconstruction shows what a sixth-century figurine of a woman weaving silk might have originally looked like.

City of Shimotsuke education board This reconstruction shows what a sixth-century figurine of a woman weaving silk might have originally looked like.

Study finds ancient Han Chinese ancestors of the Hakka and Minnam peoples carried the ADLH2 genetic marker into Japan during the Yayoi period

A 2009 study found that the Japanese in Central Japan and Chiba share a genetic trait with the Han Chinese Hakka and Minnam populations (with origins in Central China) – high frequencies of their ALDH2*504Lys allele marker and concluded that migrants likely carried the gene marker from ancient populations in East China to Japan During the Yayoi period. The marker is associated with high incidence rates of oesophageal cancer. See excerpts from the study below:


 Figure 1. The geographic distribution of ALDH2*504Lys allele frequency. The grey scale refers to the interpolated allele frequency and correspondences are on the right, e.g. 0.12 means an allele frequency of 12% in the region. The open red triangles represent the locations of the population samples. The encircling black lines are the 0.12 and 0.24 frequency borders.

“In total, the map shows a pattern of a single center of expansion within East Asia. The highest frequencies appear in a restricted area in Southeast China, among the Han Chinese in south Fujian province and east Guangdong province (the Hakka and Minnam populations), decreasing gradually to the north and west. Hakka from Changting County in Fujian have the highest frequency, 40.9%. The Hakka population samples from Taiwan and Sichuan also exhibit high frequencies, indicating that Hakka have maintained a high frequency during their migrations. The allele frequencies in other Han Chinese populations range from 9% to 40%, exhibiting a cline clearly decreasing from southeast to northwest, except for two small peaks in Shanghai in East China and Shandong in Central China.

Another high frequency area for the ALDH2*504Lys allele is Central Japan with 34.1% in Chiba. However, this high frequency area seems to be an extension from East China. The frequency decreases from around 30% in Honshu to around 10% in Ryukyu and Hokkaido, corresponding well to the migration history of modern Japanese (the descendants of Yayoi People, Hammer et al., 2006). Therefore, it is most probable that the ALDH2*504Lys allele in Japan was brought by the early Yayoi migrants from mainland East Asia.”

The researchers also “hypothesize that the oriental ALDH2*504Lys variant might have originated in the ancient Han Chinese population in Central China and spread to most areas of East Asia with the expansion of Han Chinese and their genetic influences on neighboring populations over the past few thousand years.”

Source of study: Hui Li, et al., Refined Geographic Distribution of the Oriental ALDH2*504Lys (nee 487Lys) Variant, Annals of Human Genetics, Volume 73, Issue 3, pages 335–345, May 2009 doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00517.x

Origin of the Japanese number system

The system of Japanese numerals is the system of number names used in the Japanese language, and its forms evolved as the language evolved.

There are two sets of counter words and two sets of pronunciations for the numerals exist in Japanese: one is based on Sino-Japanese (on’yomi) readings of the Chinese characters and the other on the Japanese yamato kotoba (native words, kun’yomi readings). The older is the native Japanese reading and is appended with “〜つ” when counting things without counters.
From around 1,300 years ago, as an increasingly larger number of Chinese words were adopted and integrated into Japanese, came the Chinese numbers. Their reading is called onyomi (音読み, おんよみ) and they are used for numbering most things, such as time, months, and counting. There are still four numbers where the native kunyomi pops up: ひ, ふ, よん and なな(see Wikipedia entry on Japanese numbers and numerals).
Some insights into the introduction and evolution of the Chinese numeral system are to be found in Bjarke Frellesvig’s “A history of the Japanese language”, at P.289-291

“The native system of numerals is simple and partly based on vowel alterations to show doubling: pito ‘1’~puta ‘2’; mi ‘3’ ~ mu ‘6’; yo ‘4’ ~ ya ‘8’.

However, the system does not provide easily for formation of higher numbers … Some SJ numbers were used in OJ … But the intake of SJ numerals is usually thought not to have taken place until EMJ.

Sino-Japanese loanwords in Late Middle Japanese
During the LMJ period the use of SJ loanwords in the texts increased. This is probably in part related to the genres represented in the sources, including more kanji-kana majjribun, but the establishment of SJ was a major factor… It should have be noted that most SJ loanwords from the EMJ period which were in everyday use derive from the pre-kan-on(that is, go-on) norm of J-Ch (and is often corresponding to the SJ go-on readings), showing the persistence of the J-Ch go-on also after the decrees promoting the use of the kan-on * making use of originally Ch words more freely available in Japanese and thereby facilitating both intake and use of SJ loanwords. …
In addition to the increased intake and use of loanwords taken in from kan-on and go-on SJ, a new layer of J-Ch came to Japan during the first half of the period, used especially in some Zen Buddhist sects. Thus is the To-on variety of J-Ch …which also gave use to loanwords, and also eventually to the to-on SJ… J-Ch to-on is said to be based on Southern Chinese varieties, but the loanwords taken during the LMJ period also include words deriving from contacts between Japanese fishers and traders with their continental colleagues. In that sense, some of the words characterised as To-on are direct loans from Chinese rather than SJ loanwords (which are based on J-Ch or SJ). Also a number of everyday SJ loanwords still in common use today, such as niku …’meat’, netsu…’fever’, or ‘konnichi’ …’today’ are based on go-on, as are the SJ numerals, except kiu(kyuu) ‘9’ numbers.
Most SJ loanwords taken in during the LMJ period on the other hand, are reading loans based SJ go-on and kan-on. The establishment of SJ made vocalization of original Chinese words far more freely available in Japan.”

The Japanese numerals in writing are almost entirely based on the Chinese numerals and the grouping of large numbers follow the Chinese tradition of grouping by 10,000.  For most purposes today, the Chinese number system is used, rather than native numbers. However, native numbers are often used for counting numbers of items up to 10 – as in hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu (one item, two items, three items), notably days on the calendar, and with other Japanese counter words – and for various exceptions (fossils). These exceptions include 20 years old (hatachi), the 20th day of a month (hatsuka), 八百屋 (yaoya, greengrocer, literally “800 store”), and 大晦日 (ōmisoka – last day of the year, literally “big 30th day”)…see The Number System of the Ancient Japanese.

Origin of the number systems

The origin of the earlier ‘native ‘ number system is obscure, scholars attribute it to various Uralic-Altaic/Finno-Ugric/Melanesian sources, but so far clear evidence and proof is lacking. See Stefan Tanaka’s summary of earlier theories on the origins of the native counting system, including Shiratori’s that:

“…placed them within the Ural-Altaic family. the Ainu language, though monosyllabic like the languages of Southeast Asian cultures, provided, he said, objective proof of a Ural Altai affinity, for it exhibited agglutination like some Ural-Altaic affinity, for it exhibited agglutination like some Ural-Altaic languages, particularly Finn-Ugri and Samoyed, and also a similarity in the basic construction of some numbers, especially six through nine.”

“…The original numerical system, he suggested was based on a reduplicative scheme that was in turn reflected in the counting system. ancient Japanese used two hands to count: two (puto) was formed by adding one (pito) finger on one hand to the identical one on the other hand; three (mi) doubled to six (mu); four(yo) doubled to eight (ya); and five (it) doubled to ten(to)..”–Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts Into History by Stefan Tanaka

The task of tracing the origin of the Chinese number system, however, is more productive, and strong similarities can be seen in the number system adopted in ancient Japan with those used by the earliest Sino-Tibetan tribes…see the closest cognates charted below:

Japanese   English Proto-Sino-Tibetan         Written Tibetan/ Tibetan /Kannauri

ichi     ONE*ʔit / *kat / *tjak ~g-t(j)ik.                       geig   / cheek.     / id

ni       TWO*g/s-ni-s                                                       gnis   / nyee         / nis

san      THREE*g-sum                                                      gsum/ soom       / sum

yon/shi  FOUR*b-ləj                                                            bzi  / zhee           / pu

go       FIVE*l/b-ŋa                                                         lgna / nga            /ga

roku     SIX*d-(k-)ruk                                                      drug/ drook       / kuk

shichi   SEVEN*s-ni-s                                                         bdun / dun        / stif

hachi    EIGHT*b-r-gjat ~ b-g-rjat                              brgyad / gyay        / rai

ku1/kyū2  NINE*d/s-kəw                                                      dgu / goo         / zgui

1) From Early Middle Chinese Goon, the initial reading when first borrowed into Japanese

2) From Middle Chinese Kan’on, a later reading. Borrowed after palatalisation occurred in Middle Chinese.

juu      TEN*gip / *tsi(j)i(j) ~ tsjaj                                   bcu / choo        / sai

ni-juu   TWENTY*(m-)kul

hyaku    HUNDRED*b-r-gja

sen      THOUSAND*s-toŋ

Further comparative sources and references:

Korean counting system (non-native, Sino-Korean):

1-Il  2-i  3-sam  4-sa  5-o  6-yuk  7-chil  8-pal  9-gu  10-ship

The above system is close to the Hakka counting system (below)

1-jit 2-ngi 3-sam 4-si 5-ng 6-liuk 7-cit  8-bat. 9-giu  10-siip

Ainu counting system:

1-sirep 2-tup 3-rep 4-inep 5-asiknep 6-iwanpe 7-arwampe 8-tupesanpe 9-sinepesanpe 10-wanpe 20-hotnep 100-asikne hotnep
Source: Systems of the world

Mongolian counting system:

1 – neg. 2 – hoyor. 3 – guraw. 4 – doruw. 5 – tav. 6 – zurgaa 7 – doloo. 8 – naym. 9 – yes. 10 – araw

Buryat counting system:

1-Nigen 2-Qoyar 3-rurban 4- Dorben 5 -Tabun 6-Jiryuyan 7-Doloyan 8-Naiman 9-Yisun 10-Arban

Hmong counting system:

1-Ib  2-ob  3-Peb  4-Plaub  5-Tsib  6-Rau  7-Xya  8 – Yim 9-Cuaj  10 – Kaum

Chinese numerals

Wu Chinese numerals


Sino-Tibetan numerals and the play of prefixes

Systems of the world

Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts Into History By Stefan Tanaka, P. 164

Kurakichi Shiratori, “The Japanese Numerals”, Memoirs of the Research Department

 “A history of the Japanese language”, by Bjarke Frellesvig, P.289-291

The number system of the Ancient Japanese

Volume 86 1977 > Volume 86, No. 1 > Kapauku numeration: reckoning, racism, scholarship, and Melanesian counting systems, by Nancy Bowers, p 105-116

Indo-European Numerals by Jadranka Gvozdanović

The Tang Dynasty cosmic worldview that Nara Japan inherited

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: "Scenes of Flourishing Tang", P27. Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: “Scenes of Flourishing Tang”, P27. Zhejiang People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

During the Nara period, the Japanese court actively sought to absorb the body of advanced ideas and knowledge of astronomy, engineering and city-building, medicine, technology, arts and music and governmental organization, that were coming out of the Chinese Tang Dynasty’s capital city Changan (Cho-an to the Japanese).  These ideas were transmitted via two-way diplomatic missions between Nara and the Changan capital, and for the most part, the incoming corpus of knowledge and ideas, studied, embraced and adopted enthusiastically, including its fashions — much of which almost wholesale. More details and background on this here.

Plan of Nara (image source: wiki college notes by Angelo di Franco

Plan of Nara (image open source: Wiki College Study Blue notes by Ornello di Franco)

The city of Changan,

“continued to be the principal capital of the empire and entered the greatest period of its development under the Tang Dynasty (618-907). “At the height of its glory in the mid-eighth century, Chang’an was the most populous, cosmopolitan, and civilized city in the world” (Richard B. Mather, foreword to Xiong, p. ix), occupying some 84 sq. km. with around one million inhabitants. It suffered major damage during the An Lushan rebellion in the mid-8th century, but even toward the end of the Tang period, when the empire was in disarray, the “enormous size” of the city impressed an Arab visitor.

Under the Tang, the city was a major religious center, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several religions which were relatively recent arrivals in China: Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism… a Japanese pilgrim noted in 844 that there were over 300 Buddhist temples in Chang’an.” — “Chang’an (Xian)” (a University of Washington’s resource)

The writer Anthony Aveni in “Bringing sky to earth” gives us a good account and concise summary of the Tang Empire-Son of Heaven’s worldview that would have been transmitted to Japanese during the Nara period.

“…cities with long written histories – like Beijing – provide us with some unanticipated connections.

The written legacy helps us understand the reasons behind the desire to orientate one’s capital to the stars. A strong bond existed between astrology and good government: a mandate from heaven underlay all Chinese dynastic ideology.

Chinese society has always been bureaucratically organized. Family histories contain lengthy chapters on astronomy, with data such as where and when celestial objects appeared or disappeared, their colour, brightness, direction of motion and their gathering together in one place. These histories also suggest implications that such data might have on family affairs: thus one Chinese historian and court astrologer explains that when planets gather, either there is great fortune or there is great calamity. He knows this because when they gathered in Roon (Scorpio), the Zhou dynasty flourished, but when they gathered in Winnowing Basket (Sagittarius), Qi became the emperor.

The Chinese called their constellations the ‘heavenly minions’. But when they looked among them in the north they saw not a pair of wheeling bears flanked by a dragon as we do, but rather a celestial empire. Which constellations did they recognize and what do the Chinese stars tell us about their ideas concerning rulership and the orientation of the city? Confucius compared the emperor’s rule with Polaris, the north star: just as the emperor was the axis of the earthly state, so his celestial pivot was the polar constellation. The economy revolved around the fixed emperor the way the stars turn about the immoveable pole. According to one legend, the Divine King was born out of the light radiated upon his mother by the Pole Star. Four of the seven stars in what we know as the Little Dipper, plus two others, constituted the Kou Chen or ‘Angular Arranger’ of the Chin Shu dynasty. These stars made up the great ‘Purple Palace’ and each of their celestial functionaries had its terrestrial social counterpart. One member of the group was the crown prince who governed the moon while another, the great emperor, ruled the sun. A third, son of the imperial concubine, governed the five planets, while a fourth was the empress, and a fifth the heavenly palace itself. When the emperor’s star lost its brightness, his earthly counterpart would sacrifice his authority, while the crown prince would become anxious when his star appeared dim, especially when it lay to the right of the emperor.

The four surrounding stars of the palace proper are Pei Chi, the ‘Four Supporters’. On Chinese star maps they appear well situated to perform their task, which is to issue orders to the rest of the state. The ‘Golden Canopy’ is made up of seven stars, most of them corresponding to the pole-centred stars of our constellation Draco. It covered the palatial inhabitants and emissaries. Beyond them lay the stars of the Northern Dipper. More concerned with realizing celestial principles in the earthly realm, these ‘Seven Regulators’ are aptly situated to possess the manoeuvrability to come down close to Earth so that they can inspect the four quarters of the empire. According to one version, the Big Dipper is the carriage of the great theocrat who periodically wheels around the central palace to review conditions. Its stars are the source of Yin and Yang, the two-fold way of knowing what resolves the tension between opposing polarities: male and female, light and dark, active and passive. Yin and Yang wax and wane with cosmic time and make up the potentiality of the human condition. For every affair of state the starry winds of good and bad fortune blow across the sky.

Why this royal fixation with the stars of the north? Like the power invested in royalty, they were eternally visible, never obscured by the horizon. Indeed in temperate latitudes the stars that turn about the pole are raised quite high in the sky. The fixity of the polar axis is a cosmic metaphor for the constant power of the state.

Given the close parallel between the events surrounding the palace economy and the celestial arrangement, it seems logical to enquire whether Chinese royal architecture, like that of Stonehenge and Teotihuacan, is also situated in perfect harmony with the land- and skyscape.

To harmonize the arrangement of the royal capital with the local contours of cosmic energy, the king would call in a geomancer to perform the art of feng shui. This expert would decide where to select and how to arrange a site. His sources of cosmic knowledge were the local magnetic field, the paths of streams and the land forms; he might also consult oracle bones, engraved pieces of bone and shell used in divination. Sometimes workers would need to remove vast quantities of boulders or plant forests of trees to regulate the disposition of Yin and Yang energies passing in and out of the site.

There is an account of the foundation ritual associated with the city of Lo-yang of the Zhou dynasty at the close of the second millennium bc. On the second day of the third month:

Diog-Kung, Duke of Zhou, began to lay the foundations and establish a new and important city at Glak (Lo) in the eastern state. The people of the four quarters concurred strongly and assembled for the corvée … In the second month, the third quarter, on the sixth day in the morning the King walked from the capital of Diog (Chou) and reached P’iong (Feng). The Great Protector preceded Diog-Kung to inspect the site. When it came to the third month … on the third day the Great Protector arrived at Glak in the morning and took the tortoise oracle as bearing on the site. When he had obtained the oracle, he planned and laid out the city. On the third day the Great Protector and all the people of Yin began work on the public emplacements in the loop of the Glak river.

The attention to detail regarding place and time suggests that acquiring proper urban form depended on getting things right with nature – especially the cardinal axes. If it were to function properly, the city needed to be accurately partitioned into its quarters.

Beijing still preserves its ancient cosmic plan. If you stand in Tiananmen Square you can line up t