Microblade industries emerged earliest on Hokkaido in the north …

Credit: Kuzmin, Keates & Shen, Origin and Spread of Microblade Technology in Northern Asia and North America

 

The emergence of microblade industries in the Japanese islands is dated to c. 20,000 bp. with the appearance of microblade industries on Hokkaido earlier than in other parts of Japan. Microblade industries spread all over Japanese archipelago from the continent, and the microblade technologies share similarities with those of Siberia, Northeast Asia and Northwest America.

On Honshu and Kyushu, the oldest dates are c. 17,000-15,000 bp, and their manufacture is associated with a particular strategy of raw material exploitation: The people who manufactured microblade industries, moved exotic lithic materials over long distances and occupied residential camps for short durations.

They had light inventories that suited their high mobility lifestyle as hunter-gatherers.

The period of the microblade industries with wedge-shaped microblade cores in northeastern Honshu is dated to approximately 14,000 BP.

The radiocarbon age of the Araya site (c. 14,000-13,000 BP). calibrated to c. 16,000-17,000 cal. BP (Kitagawawa 2003), is just before the Older Dryas. The succeeding period of bifacial point industries is dated to and after the Older Dryas.

In Origin and spread of microblade technology in Northern Asia and North America, p. 90, chap 5., SANO Katsuhiro in his article “Emergence and Mobility of Microblade Industries in the Japanese Islands” sums up the Paleolithic (through Incipient Jomon period) picture of lithics industries as follows:

“The emergence of microblade industries in the Japanese islands is dated to c. 20,000 BP. This date is in accord with the results of tephrochronology. The appearance of microblade industries on Hokkaido is earlier than in other parts of Japan. On Honshu and Kyushu, the oldest parts of Japan. On Honshu and Kyushu, the oldest dates are c. 17,000-15,000 BP, and these dates are from sites with subconical microblade cores. Wedge-shaped microblade cores spread over northeastern Honshu at c. 14,000 BP, and their manufacture is associated with a particular strategyu of raw material exploitation.

Hominids transported siliceous hard shale as the dominant raw material over a distance of more than 200 km for the manufacture of microblade industries in northeastern Honshu. This raw material was transported to sites in the form of microblade cores, tools, and flake blanks, although the total weight of these artifacts was very small. Limited amounts of local raw materials were introduced to sites in the form of pebbles, roughly prepared cores, and cortical flakes. These raw materials indicate a low degree of diversity.
The people who manufactured microblade industries had only a light set of inventories and exploited lithic raw materials systematically and economically. This strategy of raw material exploitation was advantageous to the highly mobile adaptation of the microblade industries.”

The extreme long distance movement of microblade industries – over 200 km! is said to be a unique characteristic of the Japanese Palaeolithic.

Read further details at Origin and spread of microblade technology in Northern Asia and North America by Sano Katsuhiro. .. .

“These results suggest that humans with microblade industries moved to Hokkaido Island earlier than to other parts of the Japanese islands. … charcoal samples from the Kashiwadai 1 site were recovered from fireplaces associated with lithic concentrations making these dates quite reliable.

The emergence of microblade industries in Japan, therefore, dates back to around 20,000 BP based on the evidence from Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the northernmost of the Japanese islands. A landbridge between Hokkaido and the Eurasian continent between Hokkaido and the Eurasian continent existed through Sakhalin island in OIS 2 (Ono 1990). In contrast, the sill depth of the Tsugaru and Tsushima straits between Hokkaido and Honshu and between Korea and Kyushu, respectively, is approximately 130m. This depth is close to the sea level drop during the Last Glacial Maximum (hereafter LGM), and it has been suggested that no landbridge was formed between Hokkaido and Honshu. The landbridge between the Korean Peninsula and Kyushu is estimated to have existed for a very short duration in the LGM (Matsui et al, 1998). This geographical disconnection may have caused the earlier appearance of microblade industries on Hokkaido compared to other parts of the Japanese Islands (Fig. 5.1).

On Hokkaido, the Rankoshi, Togeshita, and Pirika types of microblade cores were recovered below the En-a Tephra (Yamashita 2003; Terasaki and Miyamoto 2003) dated to about 18,000 BP. On the other hand, the Sakkotsu, Shirataki, Oshorokko, and Hirosato microblade core types have not been found below the En-a tephra. It has been argued that the Oshorokko and Hirosato microblade core types are from a later phase because they are found in concentrations with stemmed points that also date to a later phase. Togeshita and Pirika types of microblade cores have also been discovered in sites with the Sakkotsu microblade core type (Obihiro-Akira site), and the radiocarbon date is 10.900+-500 BP (KSU-889) (Sato and Kitazawa 1987).

On Kyushu, it is possible to confirm, the stratigraphic sequence of different types of microblade cores from the Fukui and Senpukuji cave sites. Sugihara (2003) established a chronology in which the Nodake-Yasumiba type (subconical microbladescores) was succeeded by the Funno type (boat-shaped microblade cores) and later by the Fukui type (wedge-shaped microblade cores) on the basis of the stratigraphic and morpho-typological relationship observed at several sites. The appearance of subconincal microblade cores, appear regarded as the oldest phase, is dated to approximately 15,000 BP based on radiocarbon dates from the Chaen site. Subconical microblade cores appear to have been produced in the later phase too. Boat-shaped microblade cores are associated with Incipient Jomon pottery at a number of sites. Additionally, microblade asasemblages have found with arrowheads in some sites. This pattern reveals that the microblade industries of Kyushu continued until a later phase than on Honshu.

… a transition from subconical and boatshaped microblade cores to wedge-shaped microblade cores made with the Yubetsu technique, has been established (Suwama1988〕for central Honshu. The relationship between boat-shaped and wedge-shaped microblade cores is not always chronologically distinct, and some researchers have suggested that the knappers of both assemblage types lived in the same period. At the Yoshioka B site subconical microblade cores are dated to c. 17,000-14,000 BP. … Wedge-shaped microblade cores have been recovered from under and within the As-YP tephra (Machara and Sekine 1988; Sato and Sano 2002), which is dated to c. 14,000-13,000 BP (Machida and Arai 1992). Considering that the Araya site dates to c. 14,250-13,690 BP (see above), the manufacture of Yubetsu technique wedge-shaped microblade cores in northeastern Honshu possibly emerged about 14,000 BP. …

Studies of the bifacial point industries have determined that siliceous hard shale was not transported to sites located far from the sources. However, about 10 to 100 exotic varieties of obsidian were recovered from several sites. This, therefore, suggests that humans who manufactured bifacial point industries also moved relatively long distances. They may have acquired raw materials at several locations near the sites because large quantities and varieties of raw materials were abandoned. All these factors make it clear that inhabitants of the bifacial point industries’ sites spent long periods of time exploiting the resources in the vicinity of their sites and that these sites were occupied for longer periods than microblade sites. …

The period of the microblade industries with wedge-shaped microblade cores in northeastern Honshu is dated to approximately 14,000 BP as mentioned above. The radiocarbon age of the Araya site (c. 14,000-13,000 BP). calibrated to c. 16,000-17,000 cal. BO (Kitagawawa 2003), is just before the Older Dryas. The succeeding period of bifacial point industries is dated to and after the Older Dryas. It has been suggested that the transition from microblade industries to bifacial point industries occurred during a climatic amelioration (Nakagawa et al., 2002), with a decrease of the dominant vegetation of conifer forests and a gradual increase of deciduous forests (Tsuji et al., 1985; Tsuji 1997). The extreme long distance movement of microblade industries is a unique characteristic of the Japanese Palaeolithic. One phase of the backed blade industries is dated to around the LGM, and had a transportation strategy more similar to that of the bifacial point industries than to the microblade industries. If the change in mobility from microblade industries to bifacial point industries was caused by a climatic oscillation, it should be confirmed by more environmental and archaeological data.”

—  SANO, Katsuhiro, Origin and spread of microblade technology in Northern Asia and North America pp 79-90

But from whence did the Japanese Paleolithic microblade technology come?

Kuzmin, Keates and Shen in Origin and Spread of Microblade Technology in Northern Asia and North America give us an account:

“By 40,000 – 35,000 BP, dramatic cultural changes had occurred in North Asia, as they had elsewhere evinced by the sudden appearance of various stone tool technologies, such as blade technology, bifacial technology, and especially microblade technology (e.g., Bar-Yosef 2002;
Straus et al.1996; Soffer and Praslov 1993). In northern China, after about 30,000 years ago, these new technologies mixed with the indigenously developed lithic technologies (specifically the flake tool and pebble-core tool technologies), thereby forming the unique Upper
Palaeolithic culture of northern China. Blade tools are known from the Shuidonggou and Youfang sites, and bifacial tools from Qingfengling, Xiachuan, and other sites, while Xiachuan, Chaishi, and Xueguan are among the numerous representative microblade sites in China (Shen in press).
Migrations of modern humans from the Eurasian steppe, including Siberia, probably contributed to the complexity and variability of
Upper Palaeolithic lithic industries in China. The emergence of microblade technology in northern China might be the result of interactions with northern hunting-gatherer societies that are related to the event of the peopling of the Americas.
While hunter-gatherers of the Eurasian steppe, who mixed with the local resident populations acquring new cultural elements and skills, continued northeastwards to cross Beringia and hence into North America, another wave of migrating humans must have moved from eastern Siberia southward into northern China, where they interacted and integrated with the indigenous hunter-gatherer societies (Shen in
press). At the end of the Pleistocene, cultural manifestations in northern China, Japan, Korea, and the Russian Far East and Northeast, were part of a cultural interaction sphere that eventually reached the New World by at least 13,500–11,500 years ago.”

Updates on new literature:

Otsuka, The background of transitions in microblade industries in Hokkaido, northern Japan, Quaternary International 442 · August 2016

The earliest pottery on Hokkaido is reported from the Taisho 3 site, is associated with projectile points, burins and axes, and dates to 15 030-13 570 cal BP (Naoe 2014). New technological innovations, including stemmed points and axes, also developed contemporaneously in both Hokkaido and the Russian Far East, and are accompanied by the miniaturisation of microblades and a higher frequency in burin maintenance ( Morisaki et al. 2015;Otsuka 2016).

Kidong Bae, 2010, Origin and patterns of the Upper Paleolithic industries in the Korean Peninsula and movement of modern humans in East Asia

Bukit et al., Radiocarbon dates, microblades and Late Pleistocene human migrations in the Transbaikal, Russia and the Paleo-Sakhalin-Hokkaido-Kuril Peninsula, Quaternary International 425:100-119 · December 2016

Yan Axel Gómez Coutouly, The Emergence of Pressure Knapping Microblade Technology in Northeast Asia, Volume 60, Issue 3 June 2018 , pp. 821-855

Microblade sites in East Asia Distribution map of…

Shinji Kato, Human dispersal and interaction during the spread of microblade industries in East Asia Quaternary International 347(1) · August 2014

The background of transitions in microblade industries in Hokkaido, northern Japan 

Katsuhiro Sano, Emergence and Mobility of Microblade Industries in the Japanese Islands, Chap 5, book pub. 2007 Origin and Spread of Microblade Technology in Northern Asia and North America (ed. – Kuzmin, Yaroskav, Keates, Susan
& Shen, Chen) 2007 Publisher: Simon Fraser University Press ISBN: 978-0-86491-294-7 Project: The Shandong Project

 

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