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8 May 2005
Tantalizing clues in ancient Japanese mounds

Ancient Japanese mounds may prove that the original owners were pretty inventive for their day. Recent excavations at the Higashimyo archeological site indicate the shell mounds date back 7,000 years-to the early Jomon Period (8000 BCE - 300 BCE). Higashimyo has western Japan's largest such mounds. They are believed to have been created mainly by the dumping of shells. Remains of more than 40 baskets, hand-woven from thin strips of wood, have been found there. Experts say they may be the oldest so far discovered.
     Many large mounds have been found in eastern Japan, mainly in the Kanto region, that date from the Jomon Period. But sites as large and as old as those in Higashimyo are rare, experts said.
"The mounds illustrate how people shifted from hunting to cultivating marine resources," said Masayuki Komoto, a Kumamoto University professor who heads the excavation. "The findings will allow us to make a thorough study of ancient people's daily lives." The city's board of education, which is overseeing the excavation, concluded the shell mounds are from the early Jomon Period because pottery particular to that time was found.
     The mounds were excavated in May 2004. Six mounds, covering a total area of about 1,250 square meters, are being examined. Stratum in the soil shows evidence of a shell layer at least 1 meter deep and up to 15 meters wide that runs north to south for about 500 meters across the entire area. About 10 percent of the site has been excavated. Archaeologists have discovered also fish bones and tools fashioned from deer antlers.
     The hand-woven containers are in four styles. The tools are patterned with regular notches of about 1 millimeter in diameter. Tatsuo Kobayashi, a professor of archaeology at Kokugakuin University, said the containers and tools are evidence that, despite popular belief, Jomon Period people had a relatively high level of technology. The Higashimyo site was discovered during the construction of a reservoir designed to offset flood waters. Experts believe the area used to be an estuary which was connected to a shoreline during the Jomon Period.

Source: IHT/Asahi (4 May 2005)

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