The archaeology of the Jômon period of Japanese prehistory has been a major area of research for the Sainsbury Institute for the past two decades, and continues to be so. While most of us are unable to travel to Japan for our usual programme of field research and museum visits, we have continued to connect with our Jômon networks and follow the latest discoveries as best we can online and through our contacts in Japan. Here is just a small selection of our current Jômon initiatives.
We invite you, as this second pandemic year draws to a close, to join us in making some Jômon-themed seasonal decorations. We also encourage you to explore some other Jômon treasures in paper form, and enjoy the music of Saitô Kôtarô, inspired by the Jômon pottery designs themselves, accompanying a series of short ‘how-to’ movies. In creating these we once again joined forces with the artist Kasia Szczesna who designed our first major Jômon project for the Institute, an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge twenty years ago. Kasia’s striking ‘Jômon panels’ now adorn the walls of our major partner for that exhibition, the Niigata Prefectural Museum of History, which had just opened its doors to the public. Two decades on we continue to work with our colleagues at the Niigata Prefectural Museum of History as we finalise a new Jômon-themed exhibition at Stonehenge for 2022.
Just a couple of days ago I had the pleasure of joining the Norfolk Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) for a visit to the Sainsbury Centre, where they enjoyed what continues to be one of the best collections of Jômon archaeology on public display outside Japan, and had a go at making their own Jômon baubles. Through the autumn, supported by a grant from the University of East Anglia, we have been investigating the longer-term impact of our archaeology projects, in particular which explored the comparisons between key sites in our own region of East Anglia and sites in Japan and elsewhere. It is always wonderful to see new generations being inspired by the wonders of Jômon archaeology.
The Institute is also pleased to recognise the achievements of other Jômon-related projects, in particular when we have some involvement. Dr Liliana Janik of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Heritage Studies, with which the Institute has a formal research collaboration, recently published, along with the Okayama University project led by Professor Matsumoto Naoko, a fascinating study on the possible meanings of Jômon faces. Liliana is our co-investigator on the Online Jômon Matsuri. The Early Pottery project based at the University of York, with whom we partnered on an exhibition of Flame Pots at the Embassy of Japan in London in 2016, continues to produce ground-breaking research on the early use of pottery around the world, including Japan. The European Union-funded ENCOUNTER project, led by Dr Enrico Crema of the University of Cambridge is reshaping understanding of the transition to agriculture in the Japanese archipelago, as the food-procuring Jômon societies gave way to their Yayoi successors. Our latest Handa Jômon Archaeology Fellow, Professor Uchiyama Junzo continues to produce the highest calibre of research, notably an article in Nature with colleagues from the TriAngle Project at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, which brings together the latest research in archaeogenetics, historical linguistics and archaeology greatly advancing our understanding of the early peopling of Japan. Junzo also appeared recently on the popular TBS show TBS quiz show 世界ふしぎ発見 (Discoveries of the World’s Mysteries) talking about prehistoric stone circles in the UK and Japan. Our Academic Associate Dr Ilona Bausch of Leiden University co-authored an important new study setting the later Jômon period in the context of Bronze Age globalisation.
As we have noted previously, 2021 saw the inscription of 17 Jômon sites in northern Japan as UNESCO World Heritage. It also saw the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics take place, thankfully without the feared upsurge of Covid-19 cases in Japan. I took the opportunity to check in with archaeological friends in Tokyo to take the pulse of archaeology in the megacity, resulting in a short piece in Current World Archaeology, now available on their associated website, The Past . We were delighted to be able to reissue Kobayashi Tatsuo’s Jomon Reflections as a freely available downloadable e-book courtesy of our friends at Oxbow Books who published the original in 2005. This volume distils the observations of a lifetime of Jômon archaeology by Professor Kobayashi Tatsuo, who as our Senior Adviser on Archaeology has done so much to support our archaeological activities at the Institute.
With the approach of 2022 – 145 years after Edward Sylvester Morse identified pottery sherds he found during his pioneering investigation of the Omori shell mounds as Jômon or cord-marked – we look forward to more Jômon archaeology at the Sainsbury Institute, with a series of new activities and publications with (hopefully) the resumption of field visits and in-person research. We are currently engaging with fascinating new research which is demonstrating how engagement with archaeology is beneficial to a sense of well-being: we could all benefit from a booster for that.
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