Global trade is always big news today. But in prehistoric times, trade was also an especially huge affair for the Jomon community…even if news got out mostly by word of mouth … and on foot.
The Jomon trading network, by around 2,000 year ago, had already stretched over more than 3,000 kilometers from the south of the archipelago to Siberia to the north of the Japanese islands. In those early times, money hadn’t been invented yet, so people exchanged their goods, that is they bartered their items of value. Here is a list of some of the things that were bartered or traded in Jomon times:
Salt: Coastal Jomon people evaporated saltwater in pots to obtain salt. For example, salt produced by people on the Kanto lowlands was exchanged with people in the Chubu highlands for other goods of value. Kanto and Tohoku had known salt production centres.
Shell bracelets: Bracelets made of Patella optima shellfish were produced in a site in Izu Oshima and traded elsewhere. (Patella optimashells are rare and found only in a few places like Izu and Yakushma Island. These have turned up in places like the Usu site, Date city in Hokkaido far from their place of origin). At the Irie shellmound site, bracelets made from Patella Scutellastra optimashells found only in the seas south of Okinawa were found. These shell bracelets were prized items and worn by important people in the Jomon society. Other shell bracelets in the late and final Jomon period were produced in the Atsumi peninsula. Various exotic shells such as Cone shells (Conidae or imogai) and Cowrie (Cypraeidae or takaragai) shells were exchanged or traded to places like Hokkaido in the north faraway from the original habitats of the shellfish in the southern seas near the Ryukyu Islands.
Smoked shellfish: Chiba prefecture where many shell middens were located produced salted smoked shellfish that was exchanged for chert and obsidian from inland regions since the coastal area lacked stone resources.
Obsidian materials: A glassy volcanic rock that was valuable because it broke cleanly and with sharp edges that was excellent for making sharp cutting tools and projectile points like spear and arrow heads. Obsidian from Oki and Kozu islands were traded to far away places like Russia. Studies of the Mitakadanma site situated on the cape of Izu peninsula off Kozu Island showed that it was at first visited from time to time during the early Middle Jomon period by a mobile group of traders who procured obsidian from Kozu Island and who then engaged in obsidian trade from the site. Later during the Middle Jomon period, the site was settled by people who then controlled the distribution of obsidian from the site. Some of the obsidian had been exchanged for pottery brought in from the Kanagawa and Yamanashi prefectures. The site was then abandoned by the end of Middle Jomon period when obsidian from the Hoshikuso Pass and Hoshigato in the Shinshu area became more important.
Stone tools: Other than obsidian, tools were also made out of a variety of materials, including sandstone, slate, chert, andesite, agate, sanukite and serpentine. Settled specialists in stone tool-making turned out blades and points in mass quantities, which were then used in the surrounding region. Serpentine stone axes were traded extensively. The Ozaki site was a Middle Jomon site that specialized in the fabrication of polished stone axes, with a great proportion of both finished and unfinished axes, whetstones and hammerstones (both needed for the production of stone axes). More production sites for similar items have been identified in other regions, as well as for other types of tools.
Asphalt: The asphalt was used by Jomon people to repair earthenware and glue arrowheads to shafts, to haft bone tools such as harpoon heads and fish spears. Asphalt was also used as a base coat for producing lacquered baskets and lacquered pottery. It was an important natural resource found naturally in places with oil deposits like Akita and Niigata prefectures. An asphalt trade route is thought to have run from Akita beyond the Tsugaru Strait but asphalt was treated and processed by workmen at workshops and smelteries. Evidence of one such specialized site was found at the Makou site which has signs and evidence of an asphalt smeltery. Traces of asphalt were found at 145 Jomon sites, with hearths and asphalt were seen at the Toyosaki and Makou sites in Minamikayabe Town.
Amber: Amber is a yellow or brownish fossil resin from Kuji in Iwate prefecture was an item of trade found at Sannai Maruyama site. Amber from Sakhalin Island in the far north was also one artefact found. Amber was a popular material for jewellery making.
Jade ornaments and amulets: Many different jade ornaments including large flat pendants with a hole called taishu, magatama, a highly prized comma-shaped jade ornament called magatamathat was worn as pendant, and beads of various shapes (sphere-shaped ones known as marutama and small beads called kodama) were highly valued and traded extensively. Jade was obtained from various places such as the Itoigawa district, Niigata prefecture, the Kotaki district of Niigata prefecture, Mt. Osa in Okayama prefecture, and other sites on the Kanto mainland, and on the northern island of Hokkaido.The earliest known jade item dates back to the Early Jomon period. However, jade finds from large settlements of the Middle Jomon era were most common. Jade beads were prestige goods mainly produced in special production centres within a 40 kilometer radius of jade sources in Itoigawa, along the Kotaki River. The raw material was processed at various production sites in the Itoigawa vicinity. The amount of jade found diminishes in the Late Jomon before increasing again in the Final Jomon, when production centres this time had spread throughout Eastern Japan. What was traded during the Middle Jomon were finished beads, but what was traded duringthe Final Jomon was mostly raw materials.
Pottery of various types. Chemical analysis of pottery finds by scientists showed that pottery of the Early and Middle Jomon periods were locally made, but by the Late and Final Jomon period, that was no longer the case. The great quality of the fine pottery, their thin walls and the fact that they were fired at higher temperatures than during previous periods suggests a specialization in production at a certain number of sites. The finer pottery was made at specialist centers, than exchanged for other goods with nearby settlements or at special trading centers like Sannai Maruyama.
Clay figurines: More than 1,000 clay figurines were found at the Shakado site that was a major ceramic and figurine production centre. The surrounding areas on the eastern edge of Kofu Basin, Yamanashi prefecture, Sakai and Shukujin were also figurine production sites.
Earrings: Earrings were very fashionable items. Ceramic earrings were mass produced at sites in Gunma and Toyama prefectures.
Bone and antler items: Bone is a material that resilient compared with stone and becomes sharper when polished, so the Jomon people used them as needles, fishhooks, and the heads of harpoons.
Cinnabar (mercury sulphite) was a mined commodity that was an important coloring pigment for Jomon arts.
Lacquerware, baskets and textiles Lacquerware were produced at specialized sites, or at least by specialists at relatively long term settlements because of the incredible amount of labour and time required for the process. Lacquering was often applied to pottery, wooden bowls, baskets, combs, decorated bows and textiles (produced since the Initial Jomon) and these items were traded commodities as well.
The dugout canoe must have been a very crucial mode of transportation for trading goods, the earliest excavated finds of which, date back to the Early Jomon period.