Tag Archives: shellfish mound

Shell mounds and what they tell us about the Jomon diet and way of life

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Shell mounds are basically ancient kitchen dumps but they are sexy icons for the whole field of Japanese archaeology. The excavation of the Omori shell mounds by Edward S. Morse in 1877 is associated with the dawn of scientific archaeology and anthropology in Japan; at the same time, the birth of the University of Tokyo regarded as having been launched with the publication of the report on the shell mounds as the very first volume of the Memoirs of Science Department, University of Tokyo.


Here is a cross-section of the Nishigahara shellfish mound, which is essentially the remains of a large kitchen dump of the Jomon period during the Late Jomon period.

Jomon villagers would process the shellfish and deposit the shells at a shell midden site between the riverside and their dwellings. After eating the shellfish, the empty shells would be deposited in a dumping site in a location away from the village as can be seen in the left foreground of the replica village below. This was probably so as to avoid stench as well as attracting predators such as wolves and other wild animals to their dwelling grounds.

The shellmound is in the foreground on the left-hand side of the photo.  (Photo: Heritage of Japan)

Research on the Nishigahara shell mound was featured as an exhibit this month at the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center adjacent to the Jomon Village Historic Garden.

Photo exhibit showing the excavation of Kita City’s Nishigahara Shell Mound at the Tama Center’s Jomon Village exhibition hall  Photo:  Heritage of Japan

Above: Exhibit at Tama Center’s Jomon Village Archaeological Center

The shell mound exhibit features research that showed that the Jomon people collected shellfish mostly during the spring to summer seasons. But how were the researchers able to ascertain this?  To know more, read the rest here

All rights reserved. Text and photos of exhibits by Heritage of Japan.