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Reviewed by:
  • Ancient Jomon of Japan
  • Gina L. Barnes
Ancient Jomon of Japan. By Junko Habu. Cambridge University Press, 2004. 348 pages. Hardcover £50.00.

Junko Habu has written a definitive volume on the Jōmon culture of early Japan, giving historical background to the study of this period, consensus opinions on its various aspects, challenges to the framework by new ideas and data, and projections for future research. Immediately upon opening the book, one encounters the new dating of Jōmon pottery back to 16,500 years ago (p. 3); together with new evidence for rice agriculture early in the first millennium B.C. (p. 258), these dates make it difficult to sustain the traditional timespan for the Jōmon period, usually stated to be 12,500-300 B.C .

The book is divided into four parts. The first (chapters 1 and 2) gives background to the theoretical approach and particulars of the Jōmon period; the second (chapters 3 and 4) deals with subsistence and settlement; the third (chapters 5 and 6) discusses rituals, crafts, and trade; and the fourth (chapter 7) offers discussion and conclusions— especially regarding the articulation between the subsistence-settlement system and other aspects of Jōmon society.

Habu employs as her principle model and framework of explanation the forager-collector continuum, proposed by Lewis Binford, with pure foragers representing mobile residential patterns. To this she adds Watanabe Hitoshi's Ainu model as representing "fully sedentary collectors" (pp. 7-12) and the concept of "complexity." She specifically rejects the restricted definition of social complexity based on hereditary hierarchical status differences and instead adopts the broader definition that includes both "complexity in subsistence-settlement systems and social complexity" (p. 16). She thereby separates the concepts of social inequality from organizational complexity, which allows exploration of variability without adopting an evolutionary stance. She makes special provision, however, for the role of "historically unique factors" (p. 14) that contribute to our understanding of the Jōmon culture. One of these factors is the richness of the rescue archaeology database that has provided insights into prehistoric occupation of the islands unparalleled for other sequences. Another is the specific cultural context of interpretation in modern Japan that adopts the Jōmon people as "ancestors," even though half or less of modern Japanese genes derive from the Jōmon. Habu also eschews the assumption that subsistence and settlement necessarily structure social and ideological phenomena.

As background to her study, Habu explains radiocarbon dates and their previous use in tracking the beginning of Jōmon in early pottery making (from the Fukui cave, Kamikuroiwa, and Torihama sites). The addition of new dates from the ōdai Yamamoto I site in Aomori, excavated in 1999, take pottery back to between 16,500 and 14,900 years ago (p. 29), but these dates are almost equalled by early pottery in [End Page 525] the Amur river basin (16,000-16,250 calibrated B.P.). No point of origins is in sight yet, but there is a growing consensus that pottery making arose in response to climatic oscillations (rather than gradual warming) at the end of the Pleistocene. Given the importance of climate change to Jōmon origins, it was disappointing to read the background section on "Environment and Climate," which is based on works published between 1968 and 1986. Have not Pleistocene climatic studies moved on in the past twenty years? Jōmon people themselves are given fairly short shrift in the background section; Habu reviews in detail methods of estimating population densities without reaching conclusions, but returns to the issue later in the text. Similarly, she introduces Hanihara Kazurō's hypothesis of the dual structure of the modern Japanese peoples as an adjunct to population estimates. There is little discussion of DNA or genetic studies of Jōmon affinities.

In each chapter of the substantive sections, Habu begins by reviewing the history of research on the subject. The reader thereby learns of important progress in the field, problematic aspects of the research, and failures in the discipline to address some issues. In the subsistence chapter, Habu inventories the sites where domesticated plant remains have been found but decries the general lack of "problem...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 525-528
Launched on MUSE
2005-12-20
Open Access
No
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