Tag Archives: Ritual tooth ablation

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 and how they brought rice cultivation with them when they dispersed to Taiwan and Japanese archipelago.

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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 42300 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 the origins of the O3e people:

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.

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.