The Jomon period lasted over 10,000 years (before 10,000 BC till 300 AD) and 10,000 years is a very long time. Archaeologists have a kind of time line for tracking developments and changes in Jomon culture. They divide the Jomon into six separate eras. These eras are called the Incipient, Initial, Early, Middle, Late, and Final Jomon periods. Below we note the major characteristics of the Jomon pottery culture that mark the different eras.
The Incipient Jomon (10,500 B.C. to 8,000 B.C.): Small rounded pots that were plain or that had bean, linear or fingernail applique decorations. At the end of the period, cord-marked decorations appeared from which we get the name “Jomon” for the period.
Excavations turned up only pottery fragments that were made by a hunter-gathering people living in the Kanto plain on the eastern side of Honshu, the plain on which Tokyo is located. The finds suggest the pottery shards dating back to 16,000 years ago, were once very small, rounded pots. See this page for a look at the world’s earliest pottery shards in the world.
Why are these finds important? They were the very first ceramics in human history, predating even Mesopotamian ceramics (Mesopotamia is often regarded as the world’s earliest cradle of civilization) by over two thousand years.
The Initial Jomon (8,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C. ): Intricately patterned cord-marked pottery with cone-shaped or pointy bases. Carved sticks (oshigatamon design) and shells (kaigara chinsenmon) were also used to create designs on pottery.
Finds of fairly whole pots were found during this period. The pots were used to boil foods. Flat bottomed pots are common.
The Early Jomon, (5,000 to 2,500 B.C.): Flat bottomed pots are common. New vessel shapes, such as deep vessels, narrow necked jars, and shallow bowls are produced. Pottery with twill patterns (ayasugimon) and feather patterns (ujo-jomon) appear.
The warming climate resulted in innovations in human habitation. The Jomon people began to lived in a more settled or sedentary lifestyle and in extended family groups in larger villages consisting of large pit houses that had floors about a foot below ground level. They had more time for crafts and refined their pottery work and fashioned earthern figurines. Many animal and human figurines were made…these were the first Japanese sculptural art.
The Middle Jomon (2500-1500 B.C.): Elaborately and flamboyantly patterned pottery often with raised rims. Decorative features include whorls, applique or molded features.
The Jomon moved from the Kanto plain into the surrounding mountainside. The Jomon began to live in very large villages with communal features. They developed very simple forms of agriculture or proto-agriculture, tending to nut groves, cultivating some vines, bean and root crops, herbs and hemp plants in their backyards. They became semi-settled people developing skilled craftsmanship and increasingly sophisticated artwork with flamboyant decorations. Their human figurines have abstract and perplexing meanings or associations with magic or ritual which scientists find hard to fathom.
The Late (1500-1000) and Final Jomon (1000-300): Pottery styles are varied. Decorative styles return to using cord-marking and incising lines. Simpler but more elegant style using erased cord-marking (surikeshi jomon) is developed at this time.
Temperatures cooled noticeable so the Jomon migrated from the mountains back down to the Kanto plain. They developed more sophisticated ritual practices and an identifiable religion. A large number of figurines, mostly heavy female figurines suggesting mother goddess or fertility goddess (prayer for better harvests) were produced. Many ritual tools, such as stone rods, stone phalli, and figurines, are produced in larger numbers during the Late and Final Jomon periods.And stone circles were constructed outside the main villages.