Mortuary Practices for Children in Jomon Japan: An Approach to Jomon Life History

 Above one of the 900 burial jars used for burying infants, at the Sannai-Maruyama historic site.
“Children were placed in pottery and buried after death. Approximately 900 tombs have been found in this site. Pottery used as coffins had a round hole or a broken rim or bottom, being differentiated from those used for cooking. A fist-size stone was found in one of the pottery.” — burial jars for children (Sannai-Maruyama site homepage)
For further reading:
Mortuary Practices for Children in Jomon Japan: An Approach to Jomon Life History” by Yasuhiro YAMADA (土井ヶ浜遺跡), Nihon Kokogaku(Journal of the Japanese Archaeological Association); ISSN:1340-8488; VOL.4; NO.4; PAGE.1-39; (1997)
Abstract: A model of Jomon life history was generated through an analysis of data collected on children’s burials. The data were first classed by the age of the child, as divided into the five stages of neonatal period (up to six months), later infancy (six months to two years), early childhood (two through five years), later childhood (six through twelve years), and adolescence (thirteen through sixteen years). Patterns of burials were then examined for variation by region and temporal period, with burial practices assessed in terms of type of burial facility, number of burials per facility, sex of other individuals in cases of multiple burial, and whether the burial is primary or secondary. The results show that, as for adults, single, primary burials are most prevalent for children, with jar burials most numerous up through infancy, and multiple burials most numerous from then on.
Further examinations were made of characteristics stemming from the time of burial, such as burial posture, location of the burial near or away from a residence, use of red pigment and of bodily ornaments; the age in weeks of infants in jar burials, and the sex of children in multiple burials were also considered, and the following observations were made. Burial posture differs little from that of adults. Burials connected with residences are common. Red pigment is used from the neonatal stage, but varies regionally. Ages of 38 weeks or more are common for infants in jar burials, which are thought to be examples of early infant deaths. Also, weekly ages of 38 weeks and less are common in pit burials. For burials of children together with adults, interment with women is common through infancy, with burial together with men being practiced from early childhood on. This means that early childhood is a point of change in the child’s sphere of activity. Full-scale use of bodily ornamentation is practiced from early childhood on, but is limited to necklaces and bracelets mainly of beads and shell; no ornamentation is known for the head, waist, and so forth. This is thought due to different principles governing the use of bodily ornaments for adults and children.
Six sites in which both child and adult burials are known were then examined to provide clear and concrete illustrations of differences in characteristics stemming from the time of burial.
A model of Jomon life history, summarizing these observations is presented showing the child’s position with age in the transition to adulthood.
Read the full text of the paper in Japanese here.
For a comparison of jar burial practices elsewhere, and a theory of their spread from the Near East or Mesopotamia to East Asia, see the following resources:

ORRELLE, Estelle, “Infant Jar Burials – a ritual associated with early agriculture? On jar burials in the Levant – an assemblage of twenty six burials of infants and children exposed in sites of the Pottery Neolithic Period of the sixth and fifth millennium BC in Lebanon and Israel. Found in the Neolithic levels at Byblos, and from Wadi Raba culture sites in Israel, they span much of the PN sequence of Israel and neighboring countries. Some thirty jar burials were recorded in the three Pottery Neolithic levels of Byblos in Lebanon (Dunand 1973). Data is available on 18 of these, and they are included in the Wadi raba site of Tell Dan

reference to Crete by P.J.P Mc George
Bacvarov, Krum, “Early Neolithic jar burials in southeast Europe: a comparative approach” UDK 903.5.233(4)”633/634″ documenta Praehistorica XXXIII (2006)  
Jar burials in the Kura-Araxes, Transcausia region and in Azerbaijan (Wikipedia) Called in Russian, kuvshinnykh pogrebenii kul turd, an archaeological culture that was widespread in the second century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. in the basins of the Kura and Araks rivers in Transcaucasia, particularly in Caucasian Albania. The culture was characterized by the burial of the dead in a strongly flexed position on their sides in large clay jars. The burial inventory contained articles made of metal (bronze and primarily iron tools and weapons and bronze, silver, and gold ornaments), wood, stone, clay, glass, and paste. Roman, Arsacid, and Sassanid coins have been found in later burials. The Jar-Burial culture belonged to a settled farming population, which also engaged in stock raising, hunting, fishing, and the production of handicrafts
Babies Reborn: Infant/Child Burials in Pre- and Protohistory“, Vol. 24, Section WS26, paper from Proceedings of the XV World Congress of the International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences Actes du XV Congrès Mondial de l’Union Internationale des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistorique ed. krum Bacvarov .
On jar burials in the Struma and Vardar valleys of Rhodope mountains of Southeast Europe. Bacvarov theorizes that the clay pot (noting the tradition from the Levant of burying in a silo) symbolizes womb of the female divinity or mother goddess (claypots sometimes had breasts), and these burial pots were re-used as grain pots, thus giving rise to the idea of  grave/death/burial-> grain/fertility/rebirth. The act of burying an infant in foetal position, then possibly reflected a world view of sending the infant by burial back into the mother goddess’ womb [with a view to being rebirthed?] A Korvacevo infant burial was noted to have been contracted on the right side with the head facing or aligned to the north. Jar burials were also noted of the Starcevo burials at Vinca and Gorza. Closest analogies were deemed the ones in Central Anatolia. Chronological jar burials were Tell Azmak, Gorza, Vinca, Souphli, Plateia. Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic era jar burials at Tell Ezero, Upper Thrace dating to the late Neolithic Karanovo III period and then Tells Mandolo in Greece and Lerna Margolis. Infant burials also were practiced in the final Neolithic cases in the tells at Polgar, from the Alfold  Linear Pottery period at the Hungarian Plain, Laconia,Greece and Rachmanni, Thessaly. [aDNA – mitochondrial haplogroup N1a was the marker for early Neolithic lineages: “Studies from Central and West Europe, especially the analysis of mitochondrial diversity of LBK culture groups, showed no continuity between the first farmers of Europe and the modern Europeans, thus proposing that these Neolithic pioneers had little genetic impact on the current European population [11, 1415, 21]. This hypothesis is supported by our data, which show a close genetic proximity of Early Neolithic group from Romania (Starčevo-Criş culture) with Early Neolithic populations such as LBK but no genetic continuity with modern Romanian populations (Figs 2 and 3, S3 Table). These data are in line with the idea of a common origin of the LBK and Starčevo-Criş cultures (between 6200 and 5500 BCE) from the Aegean Neolithic cultures of Northern Greece/Thessaly, the first Neolithic complex in Europe [24]. … Based on aDNA studies from sites of the Starčevo-Criş culture (Cârcea/Gura Baciului/Negrileşti sites), we confirm their genetic relationship with the LBK culture, both originating in the Proto-Sesklo cultures of Northern Greece. In addition, our data support the strong genetic differences between these first European farmers and the later Neolithic farmers. In addition, we provide for the first time a glimpse to the genetic make-up of the farmers from a later Neolithic migration from Anatolia Vinča and Dudești cultures that later evolved in the Boian, Zau and Gumelniţa cultures in South-East Europe. The strong genetic resemblance of individuals from these cultures with the modern populations leads us to propose the hypothesis that they had an important contribution to the genetic heritage of Eastern and Central Europeans. In contrast, no such influence could be demonstrated for Late Bronze Age migrations.” Source: Hervella M, Rotea M, Izagirre N, Constantinescu M, Alonso S, Ioana M, et al. (2015)   Ancient DNA from South-East Europe Reveals Different Events during Early and Middle Neolithic Influencing the European Genetic Heritage. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128810. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128810.Together these results demonstrate the significance of the western Carpathian Basin as a prehistoric corridor on the Continental route of the Neolithic expansion, connecting the Near East with Central Europe.
Both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA supports a Near-Eastern origin of the Starčevo and LBK cultures, see Anna Szécsényi-Nagy,Tracing the genetic origin of Europe’s first farmers reveals insights into their social organization   [This begs the question whether the clay jar burial practice was spread by demic diffusion along Eurasia to northern China, Siberia and to the ancestors of Jomon Japan, via mtDNA N lineages to Eastern Asia , see Mitochondrial Genome Variation in Eastern Asia and the Peopling of Japan Starcevo culture shows many features in common with that of the Jomon, including pottery female figurines and spiral pottery motifs, in addition to clay jar burials]
The Starcevo culture See this article on “The Treatment of the Dead”
Jar burial practices in Southeast Asia:

The_Mystery_of_the_Jar_and_Coffin_Burials_in_the_Cardamom_Mountains (Royal Geographical Magazine) Cambodia’s cardamom mountains jar burials of pear-Po peoples

Jar burial tradition in Southeast Asia, 2003 in Journal of Sciences VNU, Museum of Anthropology, Hanoi National University. Jar burial traditions can be traced to the Neolithic cultures dating from around 3000 ybp.

Ancient burial ground discovered at the Plain of Jars, March 24, 2016  A project is underway for DNA as well as strontium isotope analysis of the teeth remains found at the ancient burial grounds, at the Plain of Jars in central in Laos. The project also aims to discover who made the jars, what they were used for and how the sites came into existence. See also Ancient burials revealed at mysterious Plain of Jars in Laos, Apr 23, 2016 Japan Times (The latter article indicated that the sites are thought to date from about 500 or 600 B.C. to A.D. 550.)

Jar burials in the Cardamom Mountains   

“Exposed jar and coffin burials have been recorded elsewhere in Mainland and Island Southeast Asia. Some are of great antiquity, while other examples are as late as the 19th century AD. In Thailand, the exposed coffin burial sites of Tham Lod and Ban Rai in the Mae Hong Son province are 14C dated to between 2080 ± 60 and 1240 ± 90 BP (Hotchkis et al. 1994:23; Wannasri et al. 2007:48, no lab numbers provided). The Ongba cave coffins in Kanchanaburi Province are of similar age (2180 ± 100 BP; K1300; Sørensen 1973:139). In northern Vietnam, a group of quite deteriorated exposed coffins were discovered in the Lung Mu caves, in a Thai ethnic community of Hoi Xuan Commune, Thanh Hoa Province, but no direct dating has been reported for them. In the Xieng Khuang Province in Laos, the same region as the famous Plain of Jars, the Muang Sui caves hold badly looted and deteriorating coffins; a general survey of the site some 50 yr ago is the extent of research (Horr 1959:2–3). In Island Southeast Asia, there is an extensive practice of exposed coffin burials, and in Borneo and Sulawesi, of wooden burial structures (Bellwood 2007:151–2). In the Niah cave sites of Sarawak, Tom Harrisson identified both jar burials and boat-type coffins in several locations (Harrisson 1962) and embarked on a sophisticated plan for the dating of coffin wood, including an estimation of inbuilt age. The direct dating of 1 site that produced a calendar date age range of between AD 891 and 1117 was thought to be in good agreement with associated ceramic tradeware and Chinese coins (Table 2, Figure 8; Szabo et al. 2008:159–60). The Agop Batu Tulug caves in the Kinabatangan Valley, east Sabah, have hundreds of hardwood coffins estimated to be between 700 and 900 BP. In the Philippines, human remains placed in hollowed tree trunks in the Kabayan caves of northern Luzon may be ~400–500 yr old, and the Lungun Cave in Palawan holds a boat-coffin set on a cliff ledge and estimated to be 13th or 14th century, as are the coffins of the Kuruswanan Ledge, which have associated Yuan Dynasty ceramics (Mouret 2000, 2004).

Exposed jar burials holding secondary burial of bone rarely occur in Mainland Southeast Asia. The Tam Nang An Cave, Luang Prabang Province, northern Laos, yielded a 14C age of 1010 ± 50 BP (OZD 769) for human bone from the single exposed burial jar (Sayavongkhamdy and Bellwood 2000:103). In the Tak Province between Thailand and Burma, exposed jar burial sites are associated with the Lawa hill people, and the 14th–16th centuries AD age of the sites is inferred from associ- ated Chinese blue and white ware and Burmese and Sawankaloke ware (Shaw 1985:93–102, 1986: 10–3; Pitiphat 1992:11–5). But while the Tak sites are contemporaneous with those of the Cardamom Mountains, the former are of cremated bone. In Island Southeast Asia, jar burials of exposed and interred types are predominant in eastern Indonesia from ~1000 BC and continue to as late as the 19th century AD (Bellwood 1976:254–84, 290). However, we consider here only the occurrence and ages for exposed-type jar burials. In the Philippines, the Tabon caves jar burials are ~1st millennium BC (Fox 1970); those of the Seminoho rockshelter and the Cotobato Highland jar burials of southern Mindanao could date to AD 600 (Kurjack and Sheldon 1970, 1971). The Minahasa (North Sulawesi, Indonesia) stone burial jars carved with European-costumed figures, and associated Chi- nese ceramics, infer a ~AD 1500 period (Bellwood 1976:254). Exposed burials using stoneware jars in Borneo’s Kelibit Highlands and in Berawan may date to about the 14th–16th centuries AD, and aspects of the ritual form are still used in modern funeral rites (Harrisson 1962, 1974; Metcalf and Huntington 1991:74–83).

These examples provide a brief overview of the prevalence, wide geographical range, and chronologies of exposed burial rituals in the Southeast Asian region, and that these are the ritual practices of highland cultures. The Cardamom Mountains jar and coffin”

Pietrewsewsky, Michael, Ban Chiang, a Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand I: The Human Skeletal Remains on Nom nok tha and ban na di prehistoric subadult jar burial sites of Ban Chiang northeast Thailand

On Ban Lam khao infant jar burials.  The cemetery included 110 individual burials, men, women, children and infants laid out in rows typical of Bronze Age Thailand, primarily extended burials with the heads pointed to the southeast. Infants were placed in jar burials found almost universally near the head of the extended burial of an adult. Most adult burials included pottery, generally cord-marked, red-slipped and burnished pots with broadly flaring rims. Ban Lum Khao is an early Angkor civilization site, located in the Mun River valley of northeast Thailand. The site was settled during the late Neolithic, but used throughout the Iron Age (ca 2500 BC-AD 400). One important element of the site is a Bronze Age cemetery, begun ~1050 BC. The cemetery includes at least 110 graves, with very few differentiation in grave goods, suggesting an egalitarian community, despite its location 20 km from the sharply socially divided and similarly dated site of Ban Non Wat.
SEAsia Prehistory told in jar burial, No.10, Vol.1, Dec 2011 Vietnam Heritage Magazine
Indian jar burial traditions are seen from the Chalcolithic period from Karnataka to West Bengal, but they are deemed to be very different from Southeast Asian ones, see Globalizing the Prehistory of Japan
Jomon jar burials of Japan:
Documenta Praehistorica XXXVIII (2011)
This paper notes that communal graves emerged only in the Kanto region and during the Late Jomon period
Kaneko, Erika A review of Yayoi period burial practices, Asian Perspectives, IX, 1966 Examining jar burial sites at the Uenojiri, Nishidaihata, Minami-koizumi, Joban and Kashiyama sites, these jars were deemed to be most similar to the ones excavated from South Korea, possibly the Yongsan River as the probable source of origin of the practice, within an identified nuclear area of radial expansion from “the Lungshanoid horizon of South China”. The Japanese burial jars were distinguished from the ones found in North Korea. In this connection, see also Riotto, Maurizii, Jar-Burials in Korea and Their Possible Social Implications, Korea Journal Vol.35. No.3 ( Autumn, 1995 )   (pp.40~53) 

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